General Question

rojo's avatar

What are your thoughts and opinions about Wikipedia?

Asked by rojo (24159points) March 29th, 2012

I look there first to get a broad overview and then, if interested or I feel like I need further information will look elsewhere as well. Generally, I think that it is reliable. My son, however, rolls his eyes if you even mention that you got info from that site. He feels that since the entries can be (and are) re-written by the public-at-large it is of dubious quality. How do you feel about the site and the information provided?

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28 Answers

whitecarnations's avatar

Doesn’t really link to it’s sources which I don’t think is fair. Most of the time from what I’ve noticed is that there will be a source link, into another link, within Wikipedia however.

dappled_leaves's avatar

It depends on what purpose you’re using it for. If you’re writing a university-level research paper, for example, you would want to avoid it like the plague. If you’re interested in a topic that is new to you, and need a general introduction to that topic, then it’s a good place to start.

There has been at least one study showing that Wikipedia is relatively accurate, compared to other encyclopedias. I guess the question is whether you would turn to an encyclopedia for the type of project you’re doing.

DeanV's avatar

I think it’s a great source for early information and really simple research. I’d never cite it in a research paper, though.

funkdaddy's avatar

I think it’s great for the 99% of information out there that I don’t want to be an expert on, but just want to understand.

The primary knock on it seems to be that it’s written by people.

I’m not sure where they store the space age technology that stores the real knowledge, you know, the kind not written by people. Until I find out, an open source encyclopedia that’s constantly reviewed for inconsistencies will work for me.

YARNLADY's avatar

I believe wikipedia has a lot of positive potential. I use it to find sources for my research.

I am also a wikipedia volunteer, and I spend hours every day verifying the sources which are cited in the articles, and reporting the false sources.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Studies say it’s as reliable as Britannica, and overall, I find that to be true. Now, I have some doubts about the reliability of Britannica…

CaptainHarley's avatar

Great for basic information and introduction to a subject, but pretty much sucks as a valid resource for research projects.

anartist's avatar

Wikipedia deserves respect. I have used it for years, much as you do @rojo. Over the years it has grown credible. The monitoring of the pages by subject matter experts keeps things up to snuff. Weak starter articles gradually improve.

I became a writer/editor when I noticed some information on CSS Alabama that was incorrect or needed adding to. From my first-hand experience with source documents at the Naval Historical Center as well as many years working on a Civil War exhibit I added both information and rarely seen outside of Washington artifact images. That page collected its own group of experts in the field, as do others. That is why it is so good.

On the CSS Alabama wheel brass are engraved the words “Aide-toi et Dieu t’aidera” (God helps those who help themselves). The wheel was recovered by a french salvage company and was only exhibited briefly before undergoing conservation. This was particularly poignant when placed near the shell Alabama fired at Kearsarge which lodge in sternpost of Kearsarge and failed to detonate [this artifact owned by the U.S. Navy Museum]..

I have added to other pages, but only when I have unique and specialized knowledge. Sloppiness and inaccuracy gets weeded out by the sheer number of subject matter experts working these pages. It is like having Encyclopedia Britannica with limitless number of unpaid employees. The self-governing mechanism works.

Always use it, and when you get the info you need, cross check it with a source that looks better in a footnote.

Luiveton's avatar

I think it’s a very good source for information be it complex or fundamental. It has everything from basic letters in the alphabet to extremely complex science and theories. And don’t forget that it’s all based on donations. (Assuming there exists a person who donates.)
And in terms of validity and such, I believe that whatever article is there, was written by a person who values the subject and is very good at it. Why would you write an article if you have no idea what it’s about? (Minus the idiots.)
Take this scenario for instance: You’re a physicist, it’s your job. You find yourself with nothing to do, so you find a missing article on Wikipedia… And guess what? It’s about physics. You’re going to fill it in with everything you know, all the information you extract (Which is from other websites your son might claim are more valid, by the way.) It is bound to be reliable, after all, it’s your area of expertise.

Never have I once found it irrelevant or not useful in terms of research. (From my experience, obviously.)

Coming back to the idea of some people fooling around; Usually, people might decide to write wrong information in any article whether it is a science one or.. an online gaming one, shall we say. Now millions of users visit Wikipedia, per second even. And (statistically) you’d find that people who visit the more complex topics are more mature, and potentially older. This means that if they do happen to find incorrect information, or people who are just fooling around, they’ll feel it’s their job to correct it.
(Even a gaming professional might notice lack of reliability and fix it.)

I can honestly go on forever, as it is a very open ended argument from many perspectives, but I have honestly never found a better information site than Wikipedia.
Besides, aren’t other websites also written by ’people’? I’m pretty sure they’re not robots.
The only time where I wouldn’t use Wikipedia is for high level research, as I would need to extract (in some situations) the information myself.

anartist's avatar

For those Civil War buffs who read the above, some images:
drawing of Alabama wheel for temporary exhibit
engraving of the sternpost of Kearsarge, from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War [4 volumes], original edition, The Century Co., New York, 1887. [In Naval Historical Center’s library. But the Museum has the actual artifact.
painting of the battle by Eduoard Manet, who went out on a small boat to watch the battle up close

Sorry the Manet is so small. I couldn’t find my larger version.

This is the quality of information that is provided by volunteer editors and writers

JustPlainBarb's avatar

I think it’s just another resource we can use to do general research. As with anything else, it should be taken “with a grain of salt”. It’s always a good idea to check multiple sources though.

LostInParadise's avatar

So often I find Wikipedia the place to start, which is what an encyclopedia ought to be. Wikipedia’s self-policing has been very effective. I also love the idea of a people’s encyclopedia. It has won out over the mighty Microsoft’s Encarta.

anartist's avatar

An aspect of Wikipedia that readers don’t see are the back channel pages that show how the editing process works. As an editor I see these options when I log in—

my talk any page that is available to a reader also has a “talk” page where the editors collaborate and debate material being considered for addition or material that has been recently added.

my sandbox a private page where an article can be developed before it is actually posted on Wikipedia

my preferences profile information and preferences as to notification about articles one is involved with

my watchlist articles I have worked on or otherwise wish to be notified about if changes are posted

my contributions a detailed description of every edit I have done

additionally, each article has a revision history link that shows at least the last 500 edits, and probably goes back to the beginning of the article, and each contribution is attributed to the editor who did it.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@anartist I love reading the talk page!

whitecarnations's avatar

@anartist I agree that is respectable. But it doesn’t stop professors from wanting multiple sources. Fact checking should fall into the same as social gatherings, the more the merrier :D

dappled_leaves's avatar

@whitecarnations Umm… professors? I’d be surprised if you could find a university professor who would allow Wikipedia as a source.

As to mining Wikipedia for sources for research papers, you have so many superior tools for this at the university level that you’d be wasting your time hoping to find appropriate sources at Wikipedia. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please spend some time with a university librarian for more information, because you’re missing out.

YARNLADY's avatar

@dappled_leaves I agree with your assessment about University Level research. For the casual reader like myself, wikipedia is a good starting place.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@dappled_leaves I would agree with you, that professors won’t allow Wikipedia. In fact, they actually could stand to loosen up on the issue; I have one professor who will randomly interrupt her lecture to talk about how we can’t use Wikipedia in papers, and another two who won’t let students use other things (like, more non-wikipedia sources than are assigned, or Google Search) because it might lead students to cite and/or plagiarize from Wikipedia.

flutherother's avatar

It wins out for comprehensiveness as it covers just about everything and I have found it to be reliable though not particularly well written.

anartist's avatar

@whitecarnations Absolutely agree. I thought I made that clear in my posts.
@dappled_leaves Standards for scholarly research cited in papers is just one of the many reasons for cross-referencing, but Wikipedia is a humongously advantage when beginning the research process and useful all during it.

btw the same professor who won’t allow you to cite Wikipedia probably uses it him or herself but also obtains more credible references through cross checking.

Jeruba's avatar

I use it with caution, but I use it all the time. Its entries are at risk for being flaky, slanted, or incomplete, despite some dedicated watchdogs who keep the vandalism down. But it is nevertheless an awfully good place to begin a quest for information.

If the information is sound, or even just in the ballpark, it can be (and should be) verified elsewhere. Many entries are generous with resource information and links. Some of them even point to—gasp!—books.

I would not rely on Wikipedia as my sole source of anything important; for instance, I would not cite it in an article or term paper. I’ll speak up for it, though, as a better gathering place than my brain for a treasury of both general and esoteric information.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@anartist My point is that if you are supposed to be researching a paper at that level, you don’t want to start with secondary sources, then work your way back. It’s a waste of resources. There are plenty of tools available that search primary sources for research purposes, and these are not only far better suited to the task, but also come without the risk of problems like vandalism and misinformation.

Again, I like Wikipedia for some things. But researching above the high school level is better done elsewhere.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@dappled_leaves Wikipedia is great for all papers when you’re just trying to get the feel of your topic and what resources may be out there.

anartist's avatar

@dappled_leaves when starting a project of which you have little to no knowledge, sometimes it takes secondary sources to find the best primary sources.

whitecarnations's avatar

@anartist Oh I know, just kind of reiterating. @dappled_leaves I think you mis-read my post, you and whoever great answered your response to me. I’m in a agreement with you.
Here’s what I said,

“But it doesn’t stop professors from wanting multiple sources.”

And Wikipedia alone is not so much a viable source because they rarely link to other sources. Thus, if Wikipedia isn’t a viable source, it is not acceptable for a professor. Of any level. :D

mattbrowne's avatar

It’s not of dubious quality, for the same reason Linux isn’t either. The principle of “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” applies to Wikipedia too, see

funkdaddy's avatar

@whitecarnations – Wikipedia almost always lists it’s sources (it’s a requirement, not always met) at the bottom of each article.

Make sure to read all the way down to “Notes”, “References”, and “External Links”

It’s all there. Generally any quote or assertion needs citation.

anartist's avatar

@mattbrowne good link. Thanks.

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