Anyone born well after the ’80s and claims to have not copied his or her homework from Wikipedia has to be lying. The web-based encyclopedia has turned out to be a messiah to many a student burning the midnight oil for exams, or corporate managers, who had nothing else to turn to. However, a recent study by the scholarly Public Relations Journal pointed out that up to six out of 10 articles on Wikipedia contain factual errors.
Death of the expert A major issue with Wikipedia, pointed out time and again, is that it can be edited by absolutely anyone using the website. This leaves a lot of room for inaccurate information to seep in, especially by vandals who simply want to sabotage entries “On other occasions, the pages that belong to particular individuals, especially celebrities, are often tampered with by fans or their own promotions teams and are a glorified version of the original,” says Wayne Thatchet, who works at a law firm, and often needs to scour the net for information on various cases.
TJ Ravishankar, a faculty member at Xavier Institute of Communications, always urges his students to look beyond Wikipedia for their research. “What’s disturbing is that every field, theory or school of thought that exists, there are numerous discussions, arguments that are posed and one simply cannot get a complete experience of education from a page on a website.” He adds, “I always prod my students to visit archives provided by institutions like Stanford and Havard, which are guaranteed to be written by someone who knows what they are talking about.”
Start, don’t end with Wikipedia A simple solution for students and budding professionals can be using Wikipedia mostly to get assistance in finding better sources of information.
“Wikpedia is a great collection of sources itself. Their bibliographies are extensive and compile all the sources they have used in the page. These links are extremely handy and more trustful,” says Mihir Dhyani, an MA student currently completing his dissertation for Mumbai University.
Extra effort Like it or not, the biggest reason behind Wikipedia’s success is its ability to put up information with brevity and all in the same place. But Ravishankar addresses a problem that comes with this ease, “If you truly want to learn, explore and go beyond the barrier, it won’t come easy. Learning is not about scrolling down a 1,000-word article, it is about reading through a number of viewpoints, analysing and absorbing the importance of each one of them. Wikipedia simply does not offer all that even if it tries.”
Google to the rescue A closer look at your Google search results can provide you with numerous other sources that provide great depth into individual topics. Google Scholar allows you to browse through research papers written by experts in the field. If nothing, Google Books can enlist related material that could help. Some of these can be partially or fully viewed on your browser.
A few reliable sources that Wikipedia authors use themselves:
Humanities: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Stanford Encyclopedia of Sociology
Mathematics: Download books or papers from archives of reputed universities, like MIT, Standford and Havard. These can be searched on Google Scholar
Music: For biographies and discographies trust the artists’ own webpage