The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #86832   Message #1617528
Posted By: Stilly River Sage
30-Nov-05 - 05:36 PM
Thread Name: Wow! Read This About Wikipedia
Subject: RE: Wow! Read This About Wikipedia
There is a pecking order in the credibility department on the Internet. I use Google and Metacrawler as search engines, and when results appear I have them set so that at least 50 will appear on the page, and I give a quick scan to see the nature of the results. I may scan the contents of one of the "free" commercial places like Geocities, but I don't quote it. I first go to .gov and .edu sites and evaluate the results there. Am I looking a course materials or a student using their assigned web space? I look for sites that are most clearly affiliated with the subject I'm interested in.

When it started Wikipedia was an interesting novelty and I even posted a couple of things there a couple of years ago. But the proliferation of material and the lack of expert oversight EXCEPT by other general readers makes it a highly unreliable source. The information on a page may be perfectly factual, but if someone is opposed to the subject, it is in their interest to edit the page to nonsense or to dilute things that really should be left alone (instead an opposite viewpoint should be posted separately).

I believe that Wikipedia got a huge boost when Hurricane Katrina happened and people were able to post and share a lot of information. As a social document I'm sure it has merit, but is still an unreliable narration. That said, I would look back at those .gov sites I mentioned above. They are no longer as reliable as one could wish. The Bush administration is systematically going through the governmental web sites and removing information they disapprove of and presenting biased political information as if it is "fact." So be careful in what you're looking for there. .edu sites also have political issues, funding issues, and many hands contributing to pages.

Finding a reliable primary source and verifying with trusted secondary sources is pretty standard in scholarship and is something that needs to be taught when approaching the Internet. If you read something on one sight that is copied verbatim on another site, that isn't a reliable secondary source. You need evidence of research, sources, and unique verbiage.

The university where I work has had technology competency requirements in place for a number of years. Students are required to show more than a passing familiarity with computing skills, use of productivity programs, demonstrated Internet competency, and demonstrated research skills. Librarians are at the front of this process, and seminars are taught on evaluating Web sources every semester.

With its mix of general topics and a smell of yellow journalism, Wikipedia is kind of the New York Post of online "encyclopedia" sites--it isn't quite as bad as the National Enquirer, but it isn't the New York Times, either.