Wikipedia: How Accurate Is This Website?
Wikipedia is known to not be a very reliable source. This is especially the case when students are required to write essays and theses. Many professors and journal employers will state loudly: no sources from Wikipedia. But why is this the case? Surely, people remember a period when Wikipedia was thought of as the best online encyclopedia.
Wikipedia and Its Rise to Fame
Wikipedia’s strength is, undoubtedly, the fact that any topic or subject can make it on the website. This is why it is considered an encyclopedia of knowledge. Therefore, the first instinct of a curious and desperate student will be to seek immediate help from Wikipedia. Because everyone knows that this is the website that is guaranteed to contain information on anything one can come up with.
Hence, this is what brought Wikipedia its fame. Axel Bruns (2008) in his book called “Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond” confirms this, claiming that the website’s produsage principles are the cause behind its popularity. This means that this website welcomes collaborations between different authors who wish to evaluate each other’s articles with the mutual aim of its improvement. This is why this website became more popular than any other online encyclopedias like, for example, Encyclopaedia Britannica. The latter does not contain some articles that Wikipedia does.
There are no limits to who can edit or write an article on Wikipedia (Coomer, 2013). Therefore, creators of this website had no ill intention in mind. They simply desired Wikipedia to succeed and become the leading online encyclopedia. For a certain period, it worked. However, there are always people who abuse the freedom that they are given.
Decline of Wikipedia
As was stated earlier, Wikipedia does not control who can input content into the website. One does not have to be a working professional or an expert in order to add content there. Tom Simonite (2013) states that Wikipedia articles are written under pseudonyms, at times, even celebrities or politicians edit articles to remove rumors that are written about them. Is the content regulated? No. This means that even you, dear reader, can go to Wikipedia right now and edit its information.
Since this rumor has become public, many people have made it their own amusement to edit articles. Surely, many of us know at least one person who has gone to Wikipedia to add or edit its content. Hence, the reliability of this website started to decline as did its positive reputation. This displays how untrustworthy Wikipedia is. However, the website’s accuracy has not been discussed just yet.
Accuracy of Wikipedia
It is understandable why the pervasive rumor screams not to trust Wikipedia. It is easy to assume that the website is not accurate because anyone can go online and edit its contents. Thus, making the information on Wikipedia seem inaccurate and false.
But is this indeed so?
One way to avoid risking copying faulty information from Wikipedia is to follow the links in the References section. Those are more likely to be taken off of scholarly journals or websites that actually do contain correct content. But what about Wikipedia content itself? Several journals have attempted to investigate this question.
Wikipedia is not that inaccurate when it comes to certain subjects, according to Natalie Wolchover from Live Science (2011). They compared its information to the one from Encyclopaedia Britannica – an online encyclopedia that is the more scholarly one out of the two – and found many accuracies. Neither of the websites bested the other one, but rather they resulted in a tie. Both Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica contains some incorrect information.
Wolchover (2011) states that Live Science conducted an experiment to test Wikipedia’s validity by consulting experts on theoretical physics and pop music. The results found that while the expert on physics found many accuracies in the website’s content, the pop star did not. He claims that Wikipedia contains many inaccuracies and false information (some rather major) on the band he is a member of.
Another source supports Live Science’s statement regarding Wikipedia. Mihai Andrei (2016) writes that while Wikipedia has as much as 99.7% accuracy of drug information, it is, otherwise, incomplete. However, the website does contain at least a quarter of the information that one can find in a scholarly journal or a textbook. Forbes (2015) attempted to investigate the question of bias; perhaps, Wikipedia is largely prejudiced, however, no such result has been found. The website has been compared to its rival – Encyclopaedia Britannica and found that neither of the sites is more or less biased than the other.
Wikipedia suffers much criticism to this day, but is it justified? The answer to that question is both yes and no. Wikipedia is more or less accurate, but only regarding certain topics. If one wishes to research more on a celebrity’s life, perhaps, it is not the best bet as it might contain publicity material. However, even if one attempts to research scientific articles, Wikipedia might not be the best place to go to. It might contain incomplete information and one never knows just how much of the content is actually correct and factual. Because of these reasons, the best decision is to rely on scholarly journals, peer-reviewed articles, and textbooks.
Blanding, M. (2015). Wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica: Which Has More Bias? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/01/20/wikipedia-or-encyclopaedia-britannica-which-has-more-bias/#314ddf807d4a
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Coomer, A. (2013). Should University Students Use Wikipedia? TheGuardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/may/13/should-university-students-use-wikipedia
Mihai, A. (2016). Study Shows Wikipedia Accuracy is 99.5%. ZMEScience. Retrieved from https://www.zmescience.com/science/study-wikipedia-25092014/
Simonite, T. (2013). The Decline of Wikipedia. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/520446/the-decline-of-wikipedia/
Wolchover, N. (2011). How Accurate is Wikipedia? LiveScience. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/32950-how-accurate-is-wikipedia.html