Wikipedia, and similar sites, have become incredibly robust and useful tools for finding information on the internet. However, they are somewhat demonized in academic and critical circles. Why is this the case, and where do I stand on the issue?
It’s no secret that in the college world, or academia at large, Wikipedia and other Wiki sites are not permitted to be used as references for research or cited as a resource. At best, one professor that I’ve had said that such sites are good places to start, but from that starting point you need to locate more credible pools of information to draw from.
I agree with that assessment, largely. After all, the double edged sword of Wiki sites is that they can be edited by anyone. It’s great for when someone comes along who actually knows what they are talking about, but who might not have the academic, social, or professional credentials to be involved with an official encyclopedia or database. However, it’s also terrible because anyone else, who may not know what the heck they are talking about, or may have an agenda against a particular subject, can edit Wiki pages.
Wiki sites, including the master, Wikipedia.org, are great sites, and I use them quite frequently to help refresh myself on a topic that I may not have explored in awhile, or to get a nice, “layman’s terms” breakdown of a subject. Particularly in blogging, whether on this page, or most especially on The Uncommon Geek, I have cited Wikipedia as a reference. I do so casually, especially about subjects which are by and large the purview of fiction, such as, for example, time travel. While time travel is being explored by real world scientists, such as the great Michio Kaku, most of the information about the topic is steeped in popular culture, and much information about said culture is readily accessible through Wikipedia.
While I agree, by and large, with the instructors and teachers that I have talked to, I do have some mild apprehension with the vilifying of Wiki sites. As I mentioned in a previous article, “Books can’t lie, right,” I did point out how “official,” trusted material is as vulnerable to the pull of money, politics, and personal agendas as any publicly malleable Wiki site. It is harder for trusted material to be corrupted, which is why it is trusted in the first place, but the possibility still exists. As we leap further into the future of the information age, where more and more data is digitized, there will come a point where the open internet, and the resources of academia, will have to come to a new understanding.
But while the status quo remains as it is, I am content to refer to Wikipedia as a casual blogging resource; it is a quick and easy way to access relevant information about most any topic that you are fuzzy on. But for any serious research, or for topics that are not the stuff of far-flung fiction, I will back up the professors and instructors that I’ve spoken to, by saying, “find a credible source to cite. Wikipedia doesn’t count.”