Is Wikipedia Incredible?

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H. G. Wells believed what was needed in our ever-growing world was a “ ‘world brain’, a collaborative, decentralized repository of knowledge that would be subject to continual revision”.  Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger have realized Wells’ dreams in creating Wikipedia, an online, collaborative encyclopedia that can be written and edited by anyone with access to a computer and the Internet.  Wikipedia has been attacked as a non-credible website with articles containing false information due to the open editing policy.  And although Wikipedia is a great source for basic information, it should not be used for scholarly purposes or as a cited source.

Wikipedia articles can be edited or created by “anyone”.  “Anyone” is all-inclusive; it can be a PhD professor with expert knowledge in ancient Sumerian languages and culture or a teenager who only read a book about Sumerian culture in fifth grade. If someone researches ancient Sumerian culture and uses Wikipedia, there is no way to know whether they are reading the material of an expert or a novice.  There is no accountability by the contributors; not all are knowledgeable and certainly not experts. Thus, Wikipedia is not as credible a source as a real encyclopedia.

Another problem is the editors’ degree of knowledge (or lack thereof).  It is impossible to have an expert editor ensure the accuracy of every single article.  Instead, Wales appointed a group of administrators to police the site.  Administrators are in charge of protecting articles from vandalism and unruly changes as well as editing the articles.  There are also robots that look for noticeable sabotage and defacement, but do not edit the articles because those require human interference.  Even with the administrators and robots, it is not enough.  Therefore, false information can masquerade as fact and people using Wikipedia as a resource may unknowingly read the false information as fact.

An online, collaborative encyclopedia is a great idea in theory.  Wikipedia tries to accomplish this, but does not execute it flawlessly.  Wikipedia definitely has some trustworthy information in their articles, but no one can be sure which information and which articles are trustworthy.  For this reason, Wikipedia should not be used for research papers or as a cited source.  Instead it should be used as a basic informational search for personal use and understanding.