Monday, February 09, 2015

How do Librarians Feel about Wikipedia?

The blog post title isn't intended as click bait, but it is a bit of a misdirect as I am just a librarian, so I can't speak for all librarians. So what does this librarian think about Wikipedia? It's a useful tool like all databases and websites, but it is only useful if you know how the site is organized and where it gets its content so that you can make an educated assessment of your search results.

Which is why a recent article, The Wikipedia Ourboros, is so interesting. If you're trying to get a little traction on your research so you have a basic framework to understand what you're looking for, Google and Wikipedia aren't the worst places to start. But they're not remotely where your research should stop. The lead of the article says it all: "The online encyclopedia chews up and spits out bad facts and its own policies are letting it happen."

Here's the critical quote:
The rule of Wikipedia is that authority trumps accuracy. Editors are not allowed to contradict what established “reliable” sources like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian say, lest editors be accused of dreaded “original research” (a big no-no on Wikipedia). Philip Roth found this out when he tried to correct an error about one of his own books, only to be told by a Wikipedia administrator, “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources.” Wikipedia has a policy of “Verifiability, not truth,” which means that citations, even wrong citations, trump all else.
So, if The New York Times gets a fact wrong, that fact must continue to exist on Wikipedia. Editors can't correct The New York Times's mistake!

That's helpful to know. It gives you one more piece of information for evaluating what you find online, and that's the essential skill (evaluation) all good researchers need.