By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I have been hearing for years that it is unwise to use the website Wikipedia.com for my research because, people say, “anyone can put anything in there.” Which is largely true.
Wikipedia — a combination of “wiki,” the Hawaiian word for quick, and encyclopedia — is a collection of nearly 5 million articles in its English version, written and edited by people who feel they have expertise to offer on a particular subject. This means that when you look up a topic on Wikipedia you are reading articles by anonymous individuals, who may or may not know what they are talking about.
The people who run the website state that they “strive for articles that document and explain the major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone” and that “all articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources, especially when the topic is controversial or is on living persons.” But they can’t remain on top of all 5 million articles.
Anyone reading an article on Wikipedia can click on the “edit” button at the top of the page and add corrections or observations about the content. The hope is that readers of Wikipedia will call attention to anything erroneous that has been posted. It is hard to tell whether that happens in a reliable manner.
That said, I have found Wikipedia a valuable research tool. I would not trust it as the final arbiter on a controversial topic, such as Obamacare or papal infallibility. The last editing of the article may have been by an angry partisan or mischievous tenth-grade student from Beverly Hills. But the site can provide quick access to basic information. … Continue Reading