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Is Wikipedia A Reliable Source?

posted on 2014-11-15 by Spencer Bravo


If you're a student, then I bet you've heard this from a teacher at some point: "No! Wikipedia is NOT a source!" No matter what(logical) argument you give, they always deny it and go back to the "anyone can edit pages" approach. But that's what makes it good. This approach is similar to that of Open source code, it improves because many people have the opportunity to look over it and fix things that are wrong. Sure, these some people out there who may just go around screwing up articles, but the amount of people fixing and contributing information far outweighs the people screwing them up.

According to an article written in 2005, it says that "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries", although Wikipedia's articles were often "poorly structured"(Nature, 2005). Though does structure change reliability? I certainly don't think so. Of course, this article was written nearly ten years and many things are likely to have changed since then. According to a statistic released by Wikipedia, there are about 900% more articles on Wikipedia now than in 2005. This is a huge amount of articles, free to anyone. There are 4,647,987 articles in wikipedia now whereas the Encyclopedia Britannica only has 32,640 pages in their most recent edition. With Wikipedia having so many more articles and being almost if not as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica it makes it a very useful source.

Even though it is about as accurate as other (non-free) encyclopedias it does every once in a while have outlandish articles. This is what usually scares away researchers and teachers from using it as a source. For example: for over seven years there was an article on a completely made up football player. This is a pretty big concern because supposedly any article could have "made up" information. But there are so many more people improving the articles and fixing the mistakes than changing them to be false and fabricating information. If you see something that's questionable you should check with other sources and then if the Wikipedia article isn't accurate, change it! Then the next person that looks at it will have the right information. That's the beauty of it being open for anyone to edit.

In conclusion, I would say it's fine to use Wikipedia, but as with any source, you should check multiple articles on the same topic to make sure they all agree on the information you find.

Sources:

Size_of_Wikipedia, Wikipedia
Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica, CNET
Special Report Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, Nature