Wikipedia: Why is it an Unreliable Source?

Jacob Cummis It’s the first place you go to when you need information. It’s the first place that comes up when you search for anything on the internet. If those previous statements are indeed factual, why then has every single one or your teachers referred to Wikipedia as an illegitimate source? Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia with pages dedicated to literally everything you could ever want to know about. Seriously, everything. Sometimes, Wikipedia even has more information than some what we would consider some of the most reliable sources. In third grade, I was tasked with a project centered around the Plan of Chicago in 1909. The Plan of Chicago, devised by famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, was the mapping out of and proposal to transition the city to a grid system, arranging streets in a way that would resemble a coordinate plane with with an origin point at one of the city’s intersections. In fact, Daniel Burnham’s grid is still the way the city and its addresses operate today. Of course, I hadn’t known all of this when I was assigned the project, so I set out to do some research. So, like many kids of this generation, my first inclination was to look my topic up on the computer. As you could guess, the first option that came up after a pressed ENTER was the Plan of Chicago Wikipedia page. To my dismay, there weren’t many more links after that one, believe it or not. The internet didn’t have much information on the topic I had to do an entire project on. Being weary of Wikipedia, I had to find another way to gather information on the Plan of Chicago. A block from my house was the best, most accurate source I could think of: The Chicago History Museum (then called The Chicago Historical Society). I went with my babysitter and my partner for the project, and we scoured the museum for anything on the Plan. We couldn’t find anything, and when we asked a man working on the floor, even he was caught a little off guard. He could’ve easily directed us to the section on the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was the other topic my teacher could have assigned my partner and me (the topic I would’ve much preferred), but he resorted to his walky-talky and radioed for the location any information on the Plan the museum may have had. The man working at the museum walked us to a wall, an empty wall. I looked down as he pointed to a miniscule plaque. the plaque read, “Plan of Chicago 1909” in bold, and underneath was a paragraph. Just a paragraph. My excursion was underwhelming, to say the least. I couldn’t do a project with only a paragraph of information. So when I got home, I caved in, and resorted to Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page had the exact same information as the museum dedicated to everything Chicago, and even a bit more. Still not a lot, but more. All of Wikipedia’s information seemed to be right in line with the museum’s, so my partner and I went with it.   We completed our project, and got a solid grade. I can’t remember exactly what we got, but I’m assuming it was a ✓++.   That was one time that Wikipedia really was the best source I had, and a reliable one, at that.   However, that was just on time. There are far too many other times when you really cannot rely on Wikipedia to be a main source, or just a source, rather, for a paper or project. While much of the information on Wikipedia is accurate and noteworthy, there is one glaring issue with believing everything you read on this internet-born website: anyone, yes, anyone, can contribute to and edit any and every Wikipedia page.   This is an advantage at some points. If there happens to be an error on a page, someone who notices it can fix it, if they feel so inclined. However, as what normally happens when you give the masses too much power, this leads to an abundance of erroneous information. For example, after LeBron James hit a buzzer-beater to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Chicago Bulls in the 2015 playoffs, he became the “owner” of the team he beat according to Wikipedia. Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.42.38 AM Of course, this is just one example of falsities that occur on Wikipedia. This one, obviously, was intentional; someone looking for a little laugh. Generally, though, if there are errors on a Wikipedia page, they are not placed there on purpose. And if there are errors, they will typically be corrected by a number of people who spend their time editing the pages on their own time; the company doesn’t edit any pages themselves. Go and check, there are often multiple edits made to pages every minute, sometimes even seconds. And there typically thousands of edits made to pages, especially now, as the website is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year. So while most of the information on Wikipedia, the seventh most-visited website in the world according to Alexa, is in fact just that, fact, your teachers are right when they “advise” you not use this source. When looking up specific information for a project or an essay, you must be careful when searching on Wikipedia. If you are looking up a common institution, like a political figure, chances are most of the information you find will be reliable. But, especially at Latin, if you need information on something highly specific, say The Plan of Chicago, make sure you do some more research before basing your thesis entirely off of information gathered on Wikipedia—or just pray you don’t have to turn in a bibliography with your assignment.]]>