Misinformation: why WIKIPEDIA is not always a credible source

Vasbinder.Leonard.Lenny.2014-02-14 12.22.28

By: Leonard “Lenny” Vasbinder

You may have used Wikipedia for help with studying or writing a paper.  You may know classmates who have.  While Wikipedia can be a starting point, you don’t want to rely on a Wikipedia article as your only source.  Here’s why.

Wikipedia allows almost anyone to edit articles, and while they have a staff and volunteers who constantly edit and check the editing done by others, things sometimes fall through the cracks.  Bad information may stay in an article for an extended period of time.

According to Wikipedia.com itself, “Wikipedia is not considered a credible source. Wikipedia is increasingly used by people in the academic community, from freshman students to professors, as an easily accessible tertiary source for information about anything and everything. However, citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source.”

The Wikipedia citation continues, “This is especially true considering anyone can edit the information given at any time, and although most errors are immediately fixed, some errors maintain unnoticed. However, it can be noted that Wikipedia’s Good Articles and Featured Articles are some degree more advanced, professional, and generally more credible than an article not labeled Good or Featured. It is because these articles are reviewed heavily and edited many, many times, passing various “tests” before being confirmed Good or Featured, that they can be used for some deeper research than usual. It is Wikipedia’s Featured Articles that are especially trustworthy in contrast to normal or even good articles, as they have to pass even more rigorous “tests” to become featured, as they are to be “the best of Wikipedia”, “a model for other articles”, and thus, a much more reliable source than average articles.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Academic_use)

Here’s an example. Look at the Wikipedia page for Delgado Community College (DCC) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delgado_Community_College.  When I looked at the page about a month ago, as part of preparing for this article, I saw that the Graduation Statistics section had not been updated in many years and only had information for December 2010.  Since I have been editing Wikipedia articles for more than a decade, I decided to update that section with some of the recent graduation statistics.  For the December 2016 graduation statistics, I added more information than usual in that section, and while everything I added is true and correct, it simply does not belong in the article.

In the original page before my edits, the section had: Graduation statistics, In December 2010, a total of 798 students graduated from DCC. After I updated the graduation statistics, the section looked like this: Graduation statistics In December 2010, a total of 798 students graduated from DCC. Research is being done for graduation numbers for 2011-2014. In May 2015, a total of 764 students graduated. In December 2015, a total of 961 students graduated. In May 2016, a total of 762 students graduated. In December 2016, a total of 891 students graduated from DCC, including Leonard “Lenny” Vasbinder, who graduated with an Associate’s Degree with a concentration in Television & Video Production, with Chancellor’s Honors, a member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, Sigma Chi Eta Media and Performing Arts Honor Society, and a 3.944 GPA.

2017-0223-After Edits

Another example of bad editing, just on the DCC Wikipedia page, is the section about Colonel Long and Delgado https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delgado_Community_College#Colonel_Long_and_Delgado.

wikipedia editorial copy

While Colonel Long may be Notable faculty and staff, he should not have his own section in the DCC Wikipedia page.  Even the DCC founder, Isaac Delgado, does not have his own section on the DCC page.  The editor who added that information in 2013 should have created a new Wikipedia page for Colonel Long and added Colonel Long’s name to the Notable faculty and staff section.

Speaking of the Notable alumni and Notable faculty and staff sections, they should be updated to include all the notable alumni, faculty, and staff who have graduated from or worked for DCC.  There are only two names listed in each section but there should probably be dozens, if not hundreds, easily pulled from the yearly rosters of Circles of Excellence, which recognizes 12 alumni yearly, and has been in existence since the inaugural awards in 2005.  http://www.dcc.edu/alumni-giving/alumni/circlesofexcellence.aspx

To check and see when edits were made to a page and who made the edits, you can click on the View History tab near the top right of the page.  For the DCC page, you will see the history of the edit I made to the Graduation Statistics on Feb. 23 2017 and the edit made by Klemen Kocjancic in 2013 adding the section on Colonel Long.

wikipedia editorial

While I could provide dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other Wikipedia pages with incomplete, partially incorrect, or just outright bad information in them, the examples above should give you enough information to pause and proceed with caution.

Verify, verify, and verify again.  If Wikipedia did this, my annotation to the graduation statistics would no longer be on Delgado’s page.

Now, go to the library and get on the web, do proper research, and get an A+  on that next paper—but don’t tell Wikipedia about my added information in the graduation statistics section.  😉


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