Is the reliability of "debatable" here?

Discussion friends:

Recently in that newletter some of you may remember me writing about, I submitted an article on the Iranian New Year upon the Vernal Equinox.

At the end of the article I waxed enthusiastic and wrote that Wikipedia was a great place to find out about just about anything. Two of the smarter people here (one is an MD) asked nicely enough how I or anyone could be certain about info from what I described as a “democratically-run encyclopedia.”

I did tell the good doctor that the Norouz [various spellings] article pretty much echoed everything else that I came up with through a general online search. But it did get the wheels rolling. How do we know that the site is reliable in terms of monitoring the contributions?

Is this a debatable issue, or is there such a consensus, at least here, that this should just be a General Question? I should mention that I’m pretty sure that this is where I first came across the site, that is, SDMB.

Depending how a debate goes, if one develops, I will either be more careful about Wikipedia, or write a newsletter article defending the whole concept, and the sitye in particular.

Meanwhile, I have plumbed the site itself for more info on how they operate. So I don’t really have a General Question.

True Blue Jack

I don’t have access to the Economists archives, so unfortunately I can’t provide a cite. However, an issue that came out several months ago had an article about wiki. Apparently a scientific journal did a study and found that Wikipedia is pretty accurate in terms of science, and about as accurate as most encyclopedias. the fact is that if someone is writing an article in Wikipedia, they probably have at least an educated layman’s expertise in the subject. Normal encyclopedias hire researchers to write their articles, and any expertise the researcher gains in the subject is likely the result of preparing the article. In my experience the great weakness of Wikipedia is not the accuracy of it’s facts but the eccentricity of some of its entries.

Based on the following threads, I would say that Wiki is an excellent place to begin a search for information. Often, it will turn out to be the best source. However, on matters of life and death (figuratively), I would strongly recommend seeking substantiation from other sources.

Wikipedia may have limitations but it’s becoming a very powerful reference tool
Wikipedia & Glass Houses
What’s wrong with Wikipedia?
So be careful what you add to Wikipedia.
Nature declared Wikipedia Accurate (Discusses Stentor 2.5’s point.)
The Danger of Wikipedia AKA "A false Wikipedia ‘biography’
Nature: Wikipedia close to Britannica in accuracy of its science articles (Also discusses Stentor 2.5’s point.)
When did Wikipedia become the defacto reference source website?
What do you like/dislike in Wikipedia articles
Wikipedia advice

They make no claims to be reliable.
You inferred that from their generally admired reliability.
But they make no claims.
People play games with the definitions every single day and they freely acknowledge that.

Well, the scientific journal was Nature, but Britannica did a devastating rebuttal if it is confirmed.

Even so, the fact remains that in academia ALL encyclopedias are frowned if you use them as the only cite, so really Wikipedia is great for the first step in your research or for a good cite in a message board, but always follow the sources and search deeper.

I can’t swear to the site’s overall reliability on science/medical issues, but it was recently called to my attention that a really dubious article appears on Wikipedia dealing with “glyconutrients”. The article is full of misstatements and exaggerations that look as though they were inspired by a particular supplement company’s advertising. That article will be enshrined there as gospel until someone hopefully gets around to debunking it.

I always hesitate to link to a Wikipedia article here unless I have corroborated it elsewhere on a reliable site or know it to represent generally accepted fact. An encyclopedia that you are reluctant to trust is a liability.

True enough, as far as it goes. But recall that encyclopedias might be good places to START research no research should stop there. Certainly during my time in college encyclopedias were frowned upon as a course of citations unless backed up by one hell of a lot of supplemental material.

The simple fact is that encyclopedias as a whole aren’t great research or reference tools for anything beyond beer-level debates and high school term papers. So saying that wiki is just as good is damning with faint praise.

Toss in the nature of it and I’d avoid quoting it in your dissertation, if you get me.

I was in a hearing last week when co-counsel actually cited Wikipedia to the bench and the judge accepted it. Bleh, he was on my side so I couldn’t throw a shitfit. I admit that I really enjoy reading it, I’ve learned alot, and for the sake of internet social convention I’ll “accept” a Wikipedia citation and even use them myself for convenience. Privately though, I don’t consider it more than one step beyond pure entertainment.

My latest Wikipedia outrage is a list of Roman patrician families with no date ranges, all the names in the feminine singular ( wtf?), and without the Claudii. As in the entire gens Claudius, descended from the Sabines, considered patrician for a half millenia before the birth of Christ, allied in marriage to the Julii and comprising the other half of the first Imperial dynasty. It’s like not seeing a Buick in your soup.

If you ask me, the sense of skepticism you have to carry in when dealing with a Wikipedia article is a good thing, not a bad thing. The Encyclopedia Britannicas of this world would love for you to think that they’re a completely authoritative source, and that skepticism can be confidently laid aside as you read them – but it ain’t so.

As time goes on, I’m increasingly of the opinion that Wikipedia is one of the few indispensible resources on the web. And let me just say it drives me crazy when people go on about how there’s incorrect stuff in there – and then don’t bother to correct it.

If I’ve taken anything out of the wiki debate, it’s a newfound skepticism regarding classic encyclopedias.

The basic rule about wiki still holds: Like a public toilet, you never know who used it last. I still love it as a source of leads.

As others have mentioned, I too like using Wikipedia as a “spring board” first source on most subjects I’m researching or just looking into for curiosity’s sake.

But I know, and I think most users understand it’s far from impecable or even reliable as a primary source.

Take for example historical hoplology and martial arts. The subject has got some pretty devoted and knowledgeable people updating info on all sorts of subjects relating to this topic, and yet, despite this I can still find major errors in some places, such as this plain falsehood on an article on the rapier:

So it’s all about doing a little more research outside in order to verify what is being said is accurate. It does a good job on listing sources and other possibles places to acquire more information. In other words, a good starting place.

But the question is, if you know the information on rapiers was false, did you change it? That’s the whole point here – to get the knowledge out of your head, and into the collective head (if such a thing can be said to exist).

No I didn’t change it. That is the ultimate failure of Wikipedia, it can’t overcome the inate lazyness of some. :slight_smile:

Yes, I’m going to change it… later. This weekend. Certainly by the ned of the month.

You know what, it would help a lot also if editing an article was a little more intuative. Damn it’s like learning to code java script.

Of course, one could argue that the** greatness** of Wikipedia is the eccentricity of its entries. Or is that Uncyclopedia?

Seriously, though, I think Wikipedia’s commitment to accuracy is underrated. Of course it’s not perfectly reliable. But then, no reference book is perfectly reliable & perfectly complete. Wikipedia is readily & quickly correctable. How many reference books can claim that?

I just deleted that edit.

I just put it back in again. :smiley:

I am going to agree with what several others have already stated: Wiki can be an extremely useful starting point, much moreso than a regular search engine like Google.

Plus, it’s trustworthy to a certian degree with liturature and whatnot. If I want a list of the works of Rousseau, I would trust Wiki to be accurate.

And with pop-culture, it’s second to none. It’s probably the only unspecialized encyclopedia that can give me a complete history of the Romulan Star Empire.

I once heard a phrase used to describe Wikipedia which I will repeat here for posterity’s sake: it is a document with very high mean precision but with quantum accuracy (you may also say Heisenberg or Schroedinger Reliability if that makes your socks buzz). That is to say, you can trust it 99% of the time, but you can’t really know whether it is failing you at any given moment.

I could be on the phone with you and say “I don’t remember how to jump start a car, but I remember last time I had to do it, Wikipedia had the right answer” And you could check, read a description of how to skin a cat, and end up with a skinned cat and a still-dead battery.

As a source of information, it is wonderfully useful. As a reference (a document which may be referred to) it stinks.

It should be noted that large portions of it come from the 1911 Edition of the encyclopedia Britannica (the most complete edition ever). While not always absolutely reliable, it is not particularly contested. Wikipedia may be easy to change, but every change is more heavily scrutinized by the community than other publications, and I would think you would be hard pressed to find any individual reference tool that is even close to as reliable AND as exhaustive as Wikipedia.

All true. Not to mention… it’s fun to fill in the gaps you find, correct errors you detect, and just browse through pages you’d never think someone would take the time to research, write and cross-reference. An amazing resource and never-failing opportunity to goof off.