I am an unabashed fan of Wikipedia, but it still shouldn’t be relied upon for anything more than hobbyist-level interest in a subject. If you’re curious about the historical context for the TV series The Pillars of the Earth, Wikipedia is an outstanding resource. On the other hand, if you’re writing a news story about outbreaks of infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals, you shouldn’t rely on what you read in Wikipedia. Science journalist Steve Silberman writes about how spurious information sourced from Wikipedia is pervasive in stories about acinetobacter, and why that bad information could cost people their lives.
September 9, 2010 at 10:30 am
My wife teaches college freshman English classes, and she drills into the students’ heads that they can’t use wikipedia as a source.
September 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm
Wikipedia has about the same rate of mistakes as printed Encyclopedias.
Academics just dislike Wikipedia because it’s new and it threatens their information stranglehold.
September 10, 2010 at 9:41 am
I’d hope that a journalist writing a scientific story wouldn’t rely on a printed encyclopedia for up to date information in an area where our knowledge is changing rapidly, either. I think that’s the trap of Wikipedia, to a certain extent. When you look at an encyclopedia, it’s clear that some of the information in it is outdated. Wikipedia is updated all the time, and so people have the expectation that it is up to date.
Generalizing about what academics like and don’t like is silly. So is the idea that academics have an information stranglehold. Most people don’t pay attention to academics or read academic writing at all.