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Engl 1213-079 - Wikipedia: Poor Source of Information

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Mike Klaus

Engl 1213-079

Unit 1 Essay: Wikipedia

February 21, 2011

Wikipedia: Poor Source of Information

In the past decade, the use of the internet for school work has nearly replaced the use of a general library of books and printed material. Today, it is nearly impossible for a high student to write any form of essay or research project without the use of the internet. In fact, internet is required by most teachers and advisers. Anything a student might be able to find in a library is almost guaranteed to be found on the internet as well. With this being said, it is nearly impossible to limit what can be found on these computers and what can be trusted. With the touch of a button, information can often be changed, invalidating much of these sources. Wikipedia.org is a major front running example in this argument.

It is often very time consuming to search the internet for detailed information and articles, sometimes becoming not even worth the trouble. Jimmy Whales sought to change that problem when he launched his masterpiece, Wikipedia.org, in 2001. Wikipedia is a form of editable encyclopedia whose articles are created and edited solely by the general public. This new generation form of information retrieval is growing exponentially in its ten years of existence. "The site has 3.1 million articles and receives roughly 2.5 billion page views per month, according to the site's parent company, Wikimedia" (Kwong). To help researchers determine how well an article is done, Wikipedia created an internal way to rate their articles. Featured articles are the ones that seem to be virtually perfect in the eyes of the "Wikipedians." These featured articles are determined based on what Wikipedia believes to be accurate, reliable and complete (ABC Premium News). With featured articles being at the top, they continue rating articles as A-, B-, and C-level entries (USA Today). However, with Wikipedia being based solely on the public, it is merely impossible to determine whether the article can be trusted.

One of the main problems with Wikipedia is the fact that anyone with access to the internet can create and edit these articles. The average "Joe Blow" with no education and simple access to the internet can easily log into Wikipedia and edit articles that he may know nothing about. One of the biggest problems with Wikipedia that makes this an issue is the fact that the identity of contributors, editors, and administrators is not transparent (Santana). How could the researcher be able to determine whether the editor of the article was someone who knew the information and used practical research techniques to get facts, or some kid who thinks it would be funny to edit a source simply to throw people off? It is nearly impossible to tell.

There have also been many studies to compare the accuracy of Wikipedia to other encyclopedia works. One study in particular performed by Reference Service Reviews compared nine Wikipedia articles to comparable sources such as major competitor, Encyclopedia Britannica, and The Dictionary of American History and American National Biography Online to determine the comprehensiveness of Wikipedia. This study showed inaccuracies in eight of the nine articles and major flaws in two of those. Overall, Wikipedia's accuracy rate was eighty percent compared with ninety-five to ninety-six percent accuracy within the other sources. This study clearly supports the claim that Wikipedia is less reliable than other reference resources. These problems, however, go much further than simple issue of inaccuracy.

This ability to edit sources by anyone can be detrimental not only to educational resources, but can easily cause a threat to the reputations of what is being researched. Many sources are not often checked. If the source is not seen often, it is impossible for inaccuracies to be corrected. A prime example of this is the testimony of Mark Cuban, investor and Owner of the Dallas Mavericks. On a day in 2006, he checked his Wikipedia biography and found multiple inaccuracies in the article. Concerned about his reputation and corrected the problem. His correction saved his bio for exactly thirty-nine minutes before someone had already changed it back to the false information (eweek).

In May 2005, an even bigger hoax was made that could have ruined journalist and administrative assistant to Robert F. Kennedy, John Seigenthaler Sr. In this hoax, someone added false information to his biography. Some of these false statements went as far as tying him into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy (Carnevale). This could have completely ruined this innocent journalist's reputation. Can you imagine if something as simple as Wikipedia caused people to believe you were a part in the assassination of a United States President and Governor?

The most severe example of this major weakness of Wikipedia was the quick aftermath of the death of Kenneth Lay, CEO of the corrupted Enron. Reports of his death were revealed to the public at around 10:00 AM. Within minutes, his Wikipedia article read that he had died in an apparent suicide! Less than two minutes later, it was changed

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