Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wikipedia is Not Satanic!

I am currently an active (albeit part time) member of the faculty of two universities and one college. All three of these institutions of higher learning (and all universities and colleges, I assume) have a policies against students using Wikipedia as an approved research source for assignments or scholarly papers of any kind. As an employee of these institutions of higher learning, I understand the policies and fully comply with them, even though I do not agree with them. And here's why I don't. 

As a training, business management and IT (Information Technology) professional outside the university setting, however, I have found Wikipedia to be at least as well, and sometimes better, verified and supported than "mainstream" sources in the area(s) of these professions. 

While I absolutely agree that one needs to be careful to verify the information found in Wikipedia, the exact same thing is true about EVERY source, even such mainstream paragons of research virtue as this course's text book, the Encyclopedia Britannica and virtually ANY mainstream media outlet.  At least Wikipedia makes it clear when material in an article is NOT confirmed, verified or fully / properly supported. They flag those articles with a notice to that effect and ask for help from readers verifying and/or correcting the material.

To my knowledge, none of the mainstream outlets does this. 

If you look at the number of cases in recent years where such paragons of mainstream research virtue have published fiction as fact ("faction"); where other people's work is published  as their own; where unverified statements and works of "faction" from one media outlet is propagated around the world by other media outlets who don't bother to check even their most basic facts. Virtually every mainstream media outlet has had more than one of these type incidents in recent years, including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, NBC, and  FoxNews.

Do a Google search on "plagiarism scandals in _________" (fill in virtually any profession, publication or broadcast channel) and you may be surprised at exactly how poorly vetted these "trusted" sources really are.  

Visit to see a few of the current scandals.

Read the article on "Plagiarism in medical / scientific literature" found at

Additionally, the fact that virtually anyone can offer articles for publication (not every article submitted is automatically published) means that it is easier for new ideas to be published and offered for professional peer review than in the "established" professional journals where financial gain and internal politics often play a larger part in what gets published than "truth" and "fact". In most articles on professional topics, the fact that there are so many practitioners reading the article and the fact that practitioners in the field have an opportunity to comment on and challenge the article, actually works to make Wikipedia a better-vetted source than any other I'm aware of.

Having said all this, of course, and in compliance with University / College policy, I, of course inform all my students in all my courses that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source to use for their assignments...but I can't stop them from using it in the real world.

There. I met my "toe-the-party-line" professional obligations.

This BLOG is based on an answer I wrote to a student's question on 01/08/2011. I'd love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment here or e-mail me at:

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