Wikipedia Ate My Homework

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

Wikipedia, the much-ballyhooed online information source, was recently blamed, along with other online research sites, “for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates,” according to Martyn McLaughlin in the To the dismay of students, this cut-and-paste info source has also caught the attention of eagle-eyed American professors. Some have decided to eliminate it from their classes altogether.

Wikipedia itself reported that “Neil Walters, a history professor at Middlebury College in Vermont,” claimed that “vandalism of Wikipedia was used as a source in reports submitted to him.” Walters’ department adopted a policy banning the use of Wikipedia as a primary source, while allowing it to be used for background information. Profs at other schools, “including UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania, have taken up this policy.”

Human Events recently noted that although Wikipedia is “all too convenient,” what use is the material if it’s “unreliable and incorrect?”

The Wikipedia concept was launched in 2001. Last year, in its attempt to “summarize all human knowledge,” it reached the “10 million article mark over a spectrum of 20 different languages.”

Responding to ongoing charges that it is “dumbing down the culture” with inaccurate information, Wikipedia Foundation communications chief, Jay Walsh says that users are warned in no uncertain terms that they should be wary of a “source with unknown authorship,” . . . and advises people to “independently verify the accuracy of Wikipedia information, if possible.”

All of which points to an obvious suggestion that perhaps users should do the independent research first—before jumping into the Wikipedia site.

This is especially true since the “fact checkers” are a “troop of faceless, online volunteers—no credentials necessary,” according to Human Events. These days, nearly 75,000 “editors” patrol the site to edit information and “create a consistent style.”

Defending themselves against claims that the site has a liberal slant, Wikipedia’s online policy says that all “articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”

Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia.