Wikipedia: The Lost Source

By Jamie Reese
SC Staff Writer

Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has gained a reputation as an unreliable source.  While manipulation of content is sometimes a problem, in many instances, Wikipedia is a better source than other books or website.

Unreasonable condemnation by teachers and professors stems from a misunderstanding of the website’s inner workings.  According to Wikipedia, there are around-the-clock editors preventing and correcting erroneous contributions.

If someone wishes to source Wikipedia, he can be sure of the article’s reliability by captions left by the editors.  Because newer articles are sometimes biased or incomplete, the editors will mark them as so.

Over time, as articles become less biased and more concrete, editors will either sanction them as good or put a star in the corner, indicating a superior quality to the article. Instead of a professor rejecting all of Wikipedia, what he/she should really reject is all un-starred Wikipedia articles.

Some of the un-starred articles are newer and are typically less reliable because they are often developing.  Editors take time to weed out bias, hearsay and other corrupt information.   This being the case, the date of the articles on Wikipedia should be determinants to their validity, just like all other publications.

In high school, a friend of mine and I changed Lindsay Lohan’s page, claiming that she was his girlfriend.  We refreshed the page to make sure it was posted and a few minutes later our editing had been reversed.

In reality, the anyone-edits myth is only true about unusual topics, which are rarely academic.  This myth is destructive.  It distracts from the many advantages that Wikipedia offers, such as its vast contributions, its superior validity and its environmental friendliness.

Wikipedia will sometimes have many different professional contributors on any given topic, making the information included less biased and more complete.  A standard encyclopedia will sometimes skimp out on sources to keep costs down.

Furthermore, it is true that anyone can write a Wikipedia article, but it is also true that anyone can write and anyone can edit a book.  This is proven in literature, such as Beowulf.  Monks translated this epic and infused their religion into it.

Wikipedia is better than the standard encyclopedia and other sources in multiple ways.  Information on Wikipedia articles can be updated immediately, whereas standard encyclopedias require a new publication, and educational and government websites often lack immediate editing.  This means that unless a reader might be sourcing outdated information.

The standard encyclopedia creates a paper trail, an outdated practice that impacts our environment.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, only pollutes as much as its servers and contributors computers’ pollute, which is comparably insignificant.

If proper precautions are taken when sourcing a Wikipedia page, such as double-checking information, there should be no reason to discredit it as a source.  After all, Wikipedia garners many advantages that other sources cannot.  Rather than view Wikipedia as a dangerous or misleading source, it should be treated as what it is—a highly edited and renewed collection of knowledge shared by people from every country, culture and language.

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