Wikipedia or What?
By: Jennifer Lenington, Libraries Thriving Intern
Millions of people are using Wikipedia every day. But are we selling ourselves short by selecting what is easy and the first thing that pops up in our Internet searches? While I have been known to browse Wikipedia every now and again, I haven’t completely fallen in love. Is the information reliable and unbiased? If not, then what?
Most everyone knows that Wikipedia’s content is created by its users and doesn’t always have a formal review process. This can lead to biased and unreliable content that is not credible and not able to be cited in academic papers. But just because some information might not be good doesn’t mean that we should discount all of Wikipedia’s articles. Their most rigorous review/evaluation process is called “Featured Article Candidacy” (FAC), where one of the most important criteria for passing is that the article must have all of its material covered by inline citations. In addition, FAC now requires a “spot-check” of the article that includes evaluating a sample of an article’s citations. However, not all articles have been checked for plagiarism or accuracy in the past. This means that even among Featured Articles, many of the citations are not checked, which is one of the reasons that professors do not allow students to cite Wikipedia in academic papers.
What about bias? The main demographic of editors for Wikipedia are young white males. There is definitely more coverage for recent topics and topics of interest to that core demographic. For example, across Wikipedia as a whole, there is more coverage of The Simpsons than psychology. Individual articles can also contain imbalanced coverage. There are several things that the reader can do if they suspect bias in a Wikipedia article, such as reviewing the edit history, reading the discussion page and review processes, or skipping the article to read the citations. These do not guarantee that the information will be free from bias, and it can be a time consuming process. What should you do if you want to guarantee that the information you look up is credible, but still want an experience that is user friendly?
A great alternative to Wikipedia is Credo Reference. Credo’s services combine the ease and user friendliness of Wikipedia with the ability to cite what you see. They don’t create content themselves, but instead package it with multimedia and external links. The entries are 100% citable as the information comes from encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference sources. Having a formal process of review along with expert authors is what I want to have when I need credible reference information. Many believe that having multiple points of view represented (since anyone can edit Wikipedia) would lead to less bias, but this is not necessarily the case. With Credo Reference you know that you are getting an article that has been written and edited by a professional author with a background and education that has been verified. Professional articles are much more credible as they have had their facts diligently checked by people that are paid to do this. Credo also provides several different reference articles on each subject, so if a reader doesn’t like a particular article or authors view, they can choose another article on the topic page without having to search anywhere else. If I am going to choose a reference source I want to be sure that it will save me time, give me information that I can count on as being written by a credible author and checked and evaluated with a formal review process. It seems that many in academics feel the same way. I am not saying that there is no value in Wikipedia, but one must remember the pitfalls it can present. It’s important to evaluate the potential downside of research materials to ensure that we receive the best information in the most effective way possible without sacrificing credibility.