Wikipedia? Feh!

I know, I know, I know: Wikipedia is one of the wonders of the online world. I hear this regularly, especially from young journalist friends and also in e-mails concerning Freakonomics. A casual mention in our book concerning the derivation of the Chicago Black Sox’ nickname began a debate chronicled here, a debate in which participants regularly cited the Wikipedia entry as a definitive source. Michael Kinsley is so enamored of the communal encyclopedia idea that he experimented with turning the L.A. Times editorial page into a wikitorial page, wherein readers could add and subtract from the paper’s editorials. (This experiment ended abruptly when one reader contributed a porn link.) But if anyone ever needs a reason to be deeply skeptical of Wikipedia’s dependability, I urge you to click on this entry, which is introduced thusly: “This is an alphabetical list of well-known economists. Economists are scholars conducting research in the field of economics.” It is true that the list includes George Akerlof and Paul Samuelson and Jeffrey Sachs and even Steve Levitt. But if you want to see how truly pathetic Wikipedia can be, check out the sixth “economist” listed under “D.” [NOTE: “Carl Johnson” (see first comment below) was helpful/mischievous enough to read this blog item and quickly amend the Wikipedia entry; until then, the sixth name listed under “D” belonged to yours truly, and though some of my best friends are economists, I am very much not.]

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  1. Carl Johnson says:

    And the strength of Wikipedia:

    Already fixed.

    Yes, yes, Wikipedia is a terrible source to cite, since it has no credibility. But, it’s a wonderful place to go to get more of the gist of things you already know a little about. The information you find there is useful for giving you more jumping off points with which to do further, credible research. And besides, for people of a certain temperament, editing an encyclopedia is fun.

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  2. Rory Parle says:

    Wikipedia articles are supposed to be accompanied by full references, so that all of the information can be independently verified byany reader. The fact that so few contributers bother to do this is dissapointing but understandable. Many don’t know they should cite references, most don’t know how, and in some cases the information they add is first-hand knowledge so they have no reference material to cite. If you want a reliable source you could simply restrict yourself to featured articles, which are all fully referenced.

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  3. Carl Johnson says:

    Actually, it was already fixed before I checked, but I had every intention of doing it myself, if someone else hadn’t.

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  4. ZuG says:

    The value of wikipedia lies not in its 100% accuracy *right now*, it’s value lies in that it is an in-depth source for information that is only getting better over time.

    I wouldn’t cite it in a scholarly article, certainly, but it’s great for the average person to learn something they didn’t know.

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  5. SJD,

    Wikipedia is like the Internet, Encyclopedia, and Dictionary, they are “information” only.

    All of these resources at best may be informational, but knowledge, no way. Folks please don’t confuse the two.


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  6. Anonymous says:

    Wiki wouldn’t be dangerous, just pathetic, if web users could also look at credible sources without paying money, sometimes big money.

    Only amateurs and fanatics spend time writing articles for free. If you want a well-researced article (say from the NYT or a reviewed encyclopedia) it will cost you.

    AND as a result, the credible sources don’t come up in Google.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t the value of Wikipedia kind of like natural selection?

    Some form gets put out there, it gets edited, added to, edited, and so on. If it’s a bad entry, nobody will use it, if it’s a good one, people will. The sourcing is really the key, but ultimately, it is always moving forward, pushed through a design process.

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