Wikipedia: The Pros and Cons

Tue, Nov 11, 2008, by V Frost

Web Talk

Many procrastinators eager for information often site incorrect information from the very popular website Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia  describes themselves best in the article “Wikipedia: About” portraying themselves as “a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project.” The online encyclopedia includes entries from members all over the world who add to, edit, and create articles. Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, however, its team of editors continually edit content to create what they call “fair and balanced” articles. According to the BBC News article entitled “Wikipedia survives research test,” many of the editors are experts in what they are revising. Throughout this article the pros (including diverse contribution and up to date information), and cons (including the potential for biased misinformation) of Wikipedia being used for research will be explored to share information on a controversial subject.

The Good

Wikipedia’s diversity of contributors and constantly updated information make it a great tool.  People from all over the world have the ability to add to, create, and edit articles. The Wikipedia article, “Why Wikipedia is so great” captures the advantage of this by stating: “because these highly intelligent people come from all over the world, Wikipedia can give the reader a genuine “world view.”” In theory, Wikipedia offers users more culture and less bias. 

Information in Wikipedia is updated and edited so often, the likelihood of information being out of date is low.  It is a great resource that opens possibilities on many subjects and continues to update as more information becomes available. According to the BBC News article“Wikipedia survives Research test,” a British Journal did a review of articles in Wikipedia and found only eight serious errors.       

The Bad

Wikipedia as a research tool has many positive sides, but the fact remains that within these articles lay the potential for vandalism and misinformation. Open access allowing anyone to create, edit, or add to articles increases the likelihood for inaccurate information. The BBC News article “Wikipedia survives research test,” discusses the situation involving the founding editorial director of USA Today. According to The BBC News article, a Wikipedia article indicated him as a suspect in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. Although Wikipedia does not attempt to hide its potential for misinformation, a user unaware of these things may find an article, not follow up, and end up citing false information. In Wikipedia’s article, “Why Wikipedia is not so Great” it clearly states: “Anyone can add subtle nonsense or accidental misinformation to articles that can take weeks or even months to be detected and removed.”     

Wikipedia as a research tool is risky; however, it can serve as a starting point. It provides an array of up-to-date information, and the potential for this information to lead to other sources that possibly include more credible ideas. The fact that Wikipedia emphasizes in their article “Why Wikipedia is not so great,” that “misinformation can take weeks or even months to be detected and removed,” presents the idea that although highly informational Wikipedia is not favorable as a sole research tool. An article entitled “Wikipedia Founder Discourages Academic Use of His Creation” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education remarks that Wikipedia’s founder clearly said that Wikipedia is not intended as a serious research tool. This single statement presents enough evidence to discourage the use of Wikipedia for Research.

Great research tools:

Six Great Research Resources

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3 Comments For This Post
  1. K Kristie Says:

    This is a well researched piece that explains everything I want and need to know about the site. Thanks for the info.

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