Monday, March 19, 2007

A wacked Wiki Pardon our dust bunnies wonderland

A wacked Wiki Pardon our dust bunnies wonderland
Babak Shahrivar
Issue date: 3/19/07

Even though defines Wikipedia as "a multilingual, Web-based, free content encyclopedia project," the nationwide accusation of Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information may lead one to question this statement's validity.

While Wikipedia has become to encyclopedias what Google is to search-engines - a convenient mainstream tool used to gather information on a variety of subjects - there has been an increase in concern among instructors regarding its use.

Many De Anza College instructors scorn the ability for anyone with Internet access to edit most of its millions of articles.

"Wikipedia is a wonderful resource for everyday sorts of things," responded De Anza history instructor Patrick Bresnan via e-mail. "My only problem with Wikipedia is that anyone is free to edit the articles. This raises the possibility of error to an unacceptably high level."

While Wikipedia is ridiculed by college instructors and professors around the nation, it remains popular among college students due to its convenient Web-based access, among other things.

De Anza history instructor Ben Kline says that Wikipedia's popularity may be in part to its blunt approach to subjects.

"Wikipedia is very concise; it deals with issues in a very narrow way," said Kline. "It immediately tells you everything about a subject in the first paragraph."

However, Kline, too, believes Wikipedia to be imperfect: "You always have to confirm [Wikipedia's] sources. Find a second source, just so you can trust it."

Foothill College English and literature instructor Scott Lankford agrees that Wikipedia should not be a student's only source for research papers.

Still, he says that no encyclopedia should be. "Lots of professors seem to believe [Wikipedia] is unreliable," Lankford said. "But really, any encyclopedia is unreliable. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica is guilty of bias to an extent."

Bresnan responded to this, while highlighting another difference between Wikipedia and most other encyclopedias.

"The point is a good one, but other encyclopedias have a degree of accountability that Wikipedia lacks. For one thing, other encyclopedias require that authors sign their articles."

Many instructors seem to agree that Wikipedia is good for the basics, but that it lacks the credible depth of other encyclopedias.

"It's good for the 'who, what, where, when, why and how,'" Kline said. "But I wouldn't base my paper on it or use it to get a deep understanding of something.

It's just bare bones research material."

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