Why I Don’t Link To Wikipedia

Do you trust Wikipedia enough to link to it as a reliable, authoritative source of information?  Jimmie Bise at Sundries Shack got me thinking about this yesterday when he linked to a criticism of the leftist bias found throughout Wikipedia.

When I launched this blog in 2008, I mentioned Wikipedia on my About page:

If you use a link to Wikipedia to “prove” something, there’s a strong possibility you will not be taken seriously.  By anyone.

That was wishful thinking on my part. Plenty of people will still take you seriously because they take Wikipedia seriously. But should they?

There are two main reasons I don’t link to Wikipedia:

Verifiability, not truth

According to Wikipedia policy (my first and last link to Wikipedia!), “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” Objectivity be damned! If a piece of information has appeared somewhere at some time, that’s good enough for Wikipedia.

Granted, Wikipedia policy suggests citing reputable sources, but a quick search tonight turned up numerous entries that referenced conspiracy Web sites like Infowars and Prison Planet.  Apparently “reputable” is in the eye of the beholder.

Truthiness

Wikipedia is a punchline. Literally:

I’ve said it before: Who is [Encyclopaedia] Britannica to tell me George Washington had slaves? If I want to say George Washington didn’t have slaves, that’s my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it’s also a fact.”

That was Stephen Colbert speaking truthiness to power.  Here’s a screen capture of some truthiness I found on the Wikipedia entry for “Islamic Sexual Jurisprudence.”

Islamic sexual jurisprudence entry on Wikipedia

“There are no slaves nowadays in any islamic country.” No bias there, huh? Since when is it even controversial to suggest there’s a problem with slavery in Darfur?  It seems that the requirement for “verifiability” can be fulfilled with a quick “citation needed” note when inconvenient facts diverge from opinion or propaganda.

That’s not to say that Wikipedia isn’t useful. If you’re a careful reader with a firm grasp of how to evaluate information, Wikipedia is a great point of departure for Internet research.

But ultimately, it comes down to an epistemological question: how do we know what we know?  With Wikipedia, in some cases we know what we know simply because some other guy said he knows what he knows.

Is that good enough for you?

Comments

7 Responses to “Why I Don’t Link To Wikipedia”

  1. Paratha on February 2nd, 2010 2:08 am

    Citing Wikipedia is lazy because you could just cite the original source and verify the information to the best fo your abilty. I also would not do it because you don’t know if the information will be the same the next day. People vandalise the wiki for fun. It isn’t reliable.

  2. demigoth on February 2nd, 2010 2:56 am

    Just two reasons?

  3. Rob Taylor on February 2nd, 2010 3:46 am

    Wikipedia is a symptom of a larger problem. Western schooling from elementary through higher education is nothing more than indoctrinating people into finding consensus rather than truth. More kids these days can spurt out anti-Colonialist talking points than they can facts about the tribes and people they romanticize. More kids have learned to tell you what’s good for the environment then have learned why anything is either good or bad for any environment.

    We’ve moved the education system from a place for questioning and debate into a place to hear the opinions that are popular. Wikipedia reflects our cultural indifference to the idea of real knowledge and the effort it takes to attain it.

  4. DodiaFae on February 3rd, 2010 11:02 am

    I became painfully aware of how false much of the information on Wikipedia was when I learned that pro-pedophile activists are rampant, editing entries such as “child sexuality” in an effort to further their own perverse agenda.

    These issues *appear* to have been cleaned up to an extent, but I haven’t had the chance to follow-up more thoroughly more recently.

    I still wouldn’t trust it as a resource.

  5. Jenn Q. Public on February 3rd, 2010 3:49 pm

    DodiaFae, that’s disturbing, but I’m not surprised. Many groups use Wikipedia as part of their public relations strategy, so why not pro-pedophile activists?

  6. Will Sarah Palin Denounce Joseph Farah and the Birthers? : Jenn Q. Public on February 6th, 2010 2:54 am

    [...] this week, I wrote about my refusal to link to Wikipedia because it uses “verifiability, not truth” as a standard for assessing the value of [...]

  7. Jason on April 18th, 2010 1:03 am

    Don’t get me started on crapopedia
    “Verifiability, not truth”

    That resumes it all.

    Rob Taylor: you nailed it. Couldn’t agree more.

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