The Wikipedia Dilemna

Originally published during my 7th grade year in _The Daily Urinal, the “underground” newspaper of my middle school._

Try googling “Pompeii Vesuvius eruption,” or “Amyloidosis.” Can you guess what will be on the first page? That’s right: a Wikipedia article. If Wikipedia is so ubiquitous, why are our teachers restricting its uses for research?

This may have been a valid view almost 10 years ago, when Wikipedia started and was the Wild West of the Internet. Since then, things have changed: there are strict editorial guidelines and over 150,000 active registered users on the English Wikipedia alone, not even counting unregistered users, who make most of Wikipedia’s edits. Wikipedia has become good for research: the collective “brain” of a ton of people on the Internet is much greater than the brain of one expert writing an Encyclopædia Britannica article, for example.

Imagine that there is an error in Encyclopædia Britannica. When would it be corrected? In the next edition. On Wikipedia, such an error would typically be corrected in the next five minutes.

In denying that Wikipedia gives people an advantage in research, we’re assuming that this “collective brain” concept is bad. We mainly fear anonymous editing. While there is a lot of vandalism created through this practice, Wikipedia requires information to be properly cited and there are many recent changes patrollers checking sources and removing vandalism.

While direct citing of Wikipedia in research may be unacceptable, we should allow the use of it as a resource. Students should be allowed, and even encouraged, to read Wikipedia articles and follow the cited sources to find excellent research information. This way, we can still have the advantage that Wikipedia offers of countless brains over one brain, while avoiding the possibility of unnecessary vandalism and inaccurate information being presented.

Here are two responses to my article that were published the following day. One is by the head librarian, the other is by an English faculty member.