Why Wikipedia is great for doing research, but not that great (and not enough!)


Official logo of Wikipedia. Source: Wikipedia Commons. This logo is copyrighted to Wikipedia Foundation.

In the course ‘Methodology for Urbanism’ we discuss why Wikipedia cannot be considered a reliable academic source. This is because Wikipedia is not “peer reviewed”. Peer reviewing means that to be accepted as authoritative, a text must be reviewed by a team of recognized specialists in that specific field of studies.

Wikipedia is indeed “peer reviewed” but the problem here is that the people contributing to Wikipedia are not backed by any scientific institution that guaranties their credentials (even though some of them are true authorities in their fields).

This generates all kinds of uncertainties.  But does this mean that we should avoid Wikipedia at all costs? Not at all.

Wikipedia is great to find FACTUAL INFORMATION that can be quickly TRIANGULATED. The kinds of verification and review mechanisms put in place by the Wikipedia Foundation are generally effective (but not always) and also generally result in reliable information (but again, not always).  The primary questions answered with factual information are WHAT?, WHERE?, HOW MANY? and WHO? (but again, this is disputable, as even these questions may result in different answers according to different sources and world views).

WIKIPEDIA cannot be used to gather ANALYTICAL INFORMATION, in which someone “analyses and interprets facts to form an opinion or come to a conclusion. The primary questions answered with analytical information are WHY? or HOW?”, according to the ODU Library Services Website.

WIKIPEDIA is a tremendous SOCIAL EXPERIENCE, where thousands of people contribute to a collective description and understanding of different issues. Besides, the comprehensiveness of the information contained in Wikipedia is impressive. The reality is, students make use of Wikipedia all the time.

However, we want to encourage you to go beyond Wikipedia and use other more authoritative sources.  If you want to be scientific, you must then go further and TRIANGULATE  your information. You also need to look for data in authoritative sources, which have been checked by people working in recognized education or research institutions. A good place to start is GOOGLE SCHOLAR. It will lead you to scientific papers published by responsible editors. You should also look into TU DELFT INSTITUTIONAL REPOSITORY of thesis and reports. And of course, you should look into the collection of SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS at the TU DELFT LIBRARY. These are BY FAR the best sources of reliable, relevant analytical information!

Now read an article published by the Technology section of the BBC yo understand some of the problems Wikipedia faces.


21 October 2013 Last updated at 18:39 GMT

Wikipedia probe into paid-for ‘sockpuppet’* entries

sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. (Source: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia editors have expressed “shock and dismay” at the discovery of hundreds of user accounts set up to make paid-for entries. Paid-for advocacy and the adoption of fake “sockpuppet” identities for promotional purposes are against the free web encyclopaedia’s policies. Sue Gardner, executive editor of the Wikimedia Foundation, said “as many as several hundred” accounts were suspect. Editors have blocked or banned more than 250 accounts, she added.

“Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem,” said Ms Gardner. “We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.” Wikipedia considers paid-for advocacy a “black hat” practice, she said, that “violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.” The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organisation that operates Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia. According to investigations by the service’s editors, most of the disputed entries appear to originate from a US company called Wiki-PR, which claims to “build, manage, and translate Wikipedia pages for over 12,000 people and companies.”

‘Promotional tone’The editors say promotional entries – which were posted by an account called “Morning227” as well as by others – have been commissioned by Silicon Valley dot-coms, small financial institutions, authors, medical doctors, a musician and an oil company, amongst others.

Citations are taken from a number of blog-like websites that accept “citizen journalist” material, including CrunchBase, DigitalJournal.com and Technorati.com. Entries “often have a promotional tone and always contain material that is either neutral or that is flattering of their subjects, never material that is critical or negative,” Wikipedia said.

However, Wiki-PR disputed the idea it had broken Wikipedia’s rules by promoting or advertising its clients’ agendas, saying it merely wanted to ensure they were “presented accurately” on the site. “The PR in Wiki-PR is a misnomer – we’re a research and writing firm,” Jordan French, the firm’s chief executive, told the BBC. “We research the subject and write in an accurate and properly referenced way about it, filling a hole at Wikipedia for many subjects – concepts, companies, people, even astronomy – in which other editors lack an interest.

“We’re part of the fabric of Wikipedia – an integral part – and useful where volunteers don’t want to or cannot put in the time to understand a subject, find sources, code, upload, and professionally monitor a page. ”


More insights on how WIKIPEDIA works HERE.

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