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What can you believe in Wikipedia?

Let's say I'm interested I'm writing about my grandfather's experiences on Omaha beach, and want to write about him driving an Amtrac amphibious vehicle. (I'm actually not interested in this subject, my grandfather wasn't on Omaha - this is a purely fictional example to illustrate my point). I make a web page telling the world about my thoughts on them, based on my general knowledge of the subject and my past reading.

Of course, I can't remember some details, so I look it up some facts in Wikipedia. I discover that the Amtrac's primary weapon was two .50 cals, and two .30 cals.  I mention that fact in my web page about grandfather.

Then I forget about it. 

Six months later, I notice a spike in my traffic.

I look at the counter, and notice the traffic is coming from the Wikipedia page about Amtracs.  Somebody has put a cite on the Amtracs saying the primary and secondary weapons were... the source of the cite, my site!

Of course this is a purely fictional example, but this happened twice now to me in real examples!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Well that's easy, cite your sources in your paper.
MLA
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
"Well that's easy, cite your sources in your paper. "

I think the question is not, how can I avoid this problem but rather what can you believe in Wikipedia?
blah
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Same way as you believe anything else - multiple independant sources.
A lot of textbooks simply copy facts from earlier textbooks, which copied them ..... and they are wrong.
Lookup how an aircraft's wing works in most introductory physics books.

Generally for technical and nerdy topics (including WWII weapons) wiki is pretty accurate.
Martin Send private email
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
"this happened twice now to me in real examples"

Yep, I've seen this exact thing happen to me a couple times, and I've tracked it down in other people's articles when I was trying to do some fact checking. I think it is very common that a wiki article will cite some unreferenced claim, which then gets parroted on some other site, which then becomes the reference of the original wiki article.

This is wiki's fault. They demand citations, but there is no requirement any citations have credibility.
Tony Chang
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
I don't rely on Wikipedia for anything. I use it here and there, but I wouldn't regard it as authoritative source for anything except punchlines for jokes about how questionable some of the material you find on the web can be.
Rob Moir Send private email
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Don't cite Wikipedia, and don't believe anything it says without first checking its sources. Use its citations for your own research, and determine for yourself which of them are trustworthy. In this case, the OP's web page wouldn't be a credible source if it doesn't cite any sources, such as an interview with the OP's grandfather.
dev1
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Did you cite wikipedia?  If you plagiarized the info then how was unsuspecting wikipeida editor supposed to know you quoted them.

 Have you tried changing the reference to your site in the wikipedia with a note that you referenced them for the info first, and therefore aren't a cite able source.
Brian
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Brian, taking _facts_ is not "plagiarising".  Plagiarism is where you steal someone else's ideas and try to pass it off as your own.  The selection and arrangement of facts can be plagiarised, but that doesn't mean you always need to cite every single fact that you didn't think up yourself.

An article on Amtracs that contained exactly the same information as the Wikipedia article, only in a different order, would count as plagiarism.  An article about your grandfather that only takes from Wikipedia the details of the Amtrac's armaments cannot be plagiarising Wikipedia.  It might be good to cite Wikipedia in that case anyway (if nothing else, it would stop them doing the circular-cite thing!), but there's no moral obligation to, the way there would be if you were copying a chunk of text.
Iago
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Wikipedia is great for information that is completely non-controversial, and which won't cost you anything if it's wrong. For anything outside those bounds, no.
mjfgates Send private email
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
Many people confuse Wikipedia with an encyclopaedia (encyclopedia) and that is the root of the problem -- they forget the "wiki" part. Wikipedia truly is a wonderful thing but an authoritative source it is not.
less is more
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
 
 
"Many people confuse Wikipedia with an encyclopaedia (encyclopedia) and that is the root of the problem -- they forget the "wiki" part. Wikipedia truly is a wonderful thing but an authoritative source it is not."

The journal Nature published a study back in 2005 that had subject matter experts compare science articles on Wikipedia to those in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The conclusion was that Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica were at about the same level. On average a Wikipedia article had 4 significant errors, while EB had 3. I wouldn't use Wikipedia as an authoritative source, but you probably shouldn't use the Encyclopedia Britannica either.

The funniest dubious Wikipedia entry I ever read was an entry for Werner Von Braun, fully half of which was devoted to the UFO theories of one of his former secretaries. I was both relieved and disappointed when they cleaned that one up.
Charles E. Grant Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
I follow some "best practices".

When I talk about something using Wikipedia information, I always link to that something's Wikipedia page in the same sentence. In that way, people can go there and investigate more.

Also, if I'm surprised by something I see the history to find out if it's a possibly wrong recent edit. In that case, maybe I'll edit it to correctness.

You used Wikipedia as a source but didn't check its sources. That is a problem. Later, someone used you as a source. But Wikipedia articles have a history available to everyone. So (imaginary example with inverted timeline):

(Edit 8) ... "Amtrac's primary weapon was two .50 cals, and two .30 cals. See the source, here at OP's page"

(OP's page) "Amtrac's primary weapon was two .50 cals, and two .30 cals." 

(Edit 3) "Amtrac's primary weapon was two .50 cals, and two .30 cals." (What are the sources here?)

The problem is: what are the sources in Edit 3? If none, maybe you shouldn't have used it.

Wikipedia is a great tool and an experiment which combines culture, sociology and psychology. If you forget about how it is man made and it may have mistakes, you're going the wrong way. Once you get involved and start editing everything starts making more sense. For information vital to you, go to other sources. I wouldn't like to be cured by a doctor who learnt everything she knows from Wikipedia.
Daniel_DL Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
Check the talk page of Wikipedia articles.

You often find discussions about controversial parts, and the motivation for important edits.
Signs of edit wars or vandalism.

And there is often some additional information.
Oskar
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
MT Heart
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
Wikipedia is the "they" in, "They say that...."
Michael Zuschlag Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
On the reliability of Wikipedia, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia
Daniel_DL Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
I'm not sure just how bad at reading you people must be that can't trust wikipedia at all.

It has millions of articles that are completely correct.

It probably has a very small percentage of articles written by someone with an ax to grind.  Can you not distinguish the two?

Sure, some articles are wrong or possibly incorrect but they're huge on citations.  It is nearly no effort to tell if a claim on wikipedia is backed up by something real like a link to NASA or some crackpot saying we never landed on the moon.

The ironic thing here is that you expect your forum post about not taking wikipedia seriously to be taken seriously.
Lance Hampton Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia

Interestingly enough, I just corrected a typo there. (I occassionally contribute and edit in areas where I'm well versed and knowledgeable.)

Anyways, Wikipedia needs to be taken for what it is - a collection of collaboratively written articles. If you need information in a serious capacity, it's a good idea to check the history and the author of the content. That's just being responsible though. However, I don't think that most people really understand what Wikipedia is and how to use it properly for more serious endeavors.

Perhaps the most important thing is to check the author.

At the end of the day, when you use Wikipedia, you need to play the part of the editor and publisher because that's the part that's not already done for you, as it is with other encyclopedias.
Ryan Smyth Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
Wikipedia is great for getting high level, introductory information. It's like asking a neighbor or friend about a general topic.

Its a great tool, but if money or your reputation are on the line, do some original research.
Duff Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
In a similar vein ... some years ago I worked for {major international credit card company}. One of the senior managers on the {east|west} coast put together a slide for a presentation that discussed discretionary spending. The slide had a pie chart, showing segments such as credit card; debit cards; cash; check; other instruments.

This was a useful slide, and it was picked up by many others in {major international credit card company}. Who used it in external conferences and so on. To the extent that it was picked up by most of the payments industry.

A couple of years later, the original guy was updating his material, and thought it might be useful to check with a more authoritative source. So he rang the {major international credit card company} liaison guy at the Fed and told him he was looking for figures on discretionary spending.

The source said to him "oh, we don't really have a good analysis of those figures. We use figures prepared by {name of senior manger} at {major international credit card company}. Try him ...
Craig Welch Send private email
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
 
 
In the first place, Wikipedia isn't really as democratic as you might suppose. http://www.slate.com/id/2160222/

In the second, *all* knowledge sources have their flaws. In fact, a study found that The Encyclopedia Britannica was no more accurate than Wikipedia. http://tinyurl.com/4honf5

The answer is: read multiple sources, evaluate your sources, don't take anything for granted, and don't offer as fact what doesn't pass the bullshit test.
Paranoid Android Send private email
Thursday, June 12, 2008
 
 
>This is wiki's fault. They demand citations, but there is no requirement any citations have credibility.

There is a requirement.[1] Just not well enforced.

[1] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources
Gary van der Merwe Send private email
Thursday, June 12, 2008
 
 

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