We’ve all heard it a million times by this point – from teachers, editors, managers, in guidebooks, and assignment rules everywhere in the world – “Wikipedia is not a credible source – it’s unreliable because anyone can edit it.”
First of all, I want to point out that I’m no fan of Wikipedians due to a little flame war I’ve had with them over the years. The editor community can be a little elitest, and there are, of course, paid shills on the site. Is there any “credible” source that doesn’t have any stake in the subject about which they’re writing?
While they’re actually quite high on my troll list, I’ll always respect them for their stance on net neutrality. As for the site, Wikipedia, in and of itself, is a much more reliable source than any encyclopedia in human existence. I’ll also propose that the longer it exists, the more true this becomes.
We’ll start by looking at Wikipedia’s own citation guidelines, which I’ve used many-a-time to stand my ground through their dispute resolution processes.
The first thing you’ll notice is they accept APA, MLA, Chicago, or whatever-the-fuck legitimate style you wish to use. This is infinitely better than any teacher or editor I’ve ever had, who’s only capable of seeing one style utilized every year in their repetitive cycle of plans and schedules.
There’s really no need to go any further than proving Wikipedia’s citation guidelines (and even the WikiHow to do it) being more thorough and expansive than the person giving you the assignment in the first place, but I will for the sake of my own entertainment…
Citing Wikipedia’s Citations
There’s a quick and easy loophole any lazy student knows about to get past their inability to cite Wikipedia as a source, which is to cite Wikipedia’s sources. This will meet the assignment criteria more often than not. It’s one extra step to prove you’re putting in effort, but really, you got the information from Wikipedia.
Even if you use Wikipedia as a starting point and verify the information somewhere else, citing that source, you’re still getting the information from Wikipedia, while following the exact research process the establishment is trying to teach.
In this regard, it makes sense to supplement the need for multiple sources by saying, “Your first source isn’t reliable without a second,” but why is this concept applied only to Wikipedia?
For any reader who still won’t admit they’ve used Wikipedia before, every single article on the site has flags to warn you about the information contained within it. There’s also a tab for revision histories and a talk page on each wiki. This gives you a behind-the-scenes look at every version of the articles, along with the viewpoints, debates, and perspectives that brought it about.
Even if someone defaces the wiki, a correct version can be found, along with information about the editors responsible. When did you ever get that much background information from a “credible” source?
Wikipedia is the Black American of the Interwebz
Not only is Wikipedia treated unfairly by the establishment, the main argument against it is that it’s because of the freedom of information. What makes Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, or any academic book or media article, for that matter, so much better than Wikipedia?
It appears the power establishment is telling the populace only their information can be trusted. There are thousands of professionals and academics working for thousands of organizations, and we’re to dismiss all of their work on Wikipedia in order to trust whom exactly?
The real questions we should ask is not whether or not to trust popular opinion, but why are academic institutions so secretive that MIT, a beacon of scientific exploration and discovery, drove Internet whiz Aaron Swartz to suicide for simply downloading and publically releasing academic documents from JSTOR databases.
SEO Is Important to Know
Marketing is the foundation of just about any business in the real world. In the real world, inside of which also operates the academic world, Search Engine Optimization, known as SEO, is the foundation of online marketing, which is a large portion of overall marketing budgets.
To bring all of this information full-circle, Wikipedia is the top non-paid search result on the world’s most heavily trafficked search engines for the word “Marketing.”
In fact, Wikipedia is one of the top five search results for literally every search term I cited within this piece you’re reading, even the word “encyclopedia.” If you don’t understand SEO, the reason Wikipedia is gaining all this organic search traffic for being one of the top search results is because we, as a populace, are all using it.
Not only that, but Google’s algorithms agree Wikipedia’s information is reliable, or it wouldn’t be there. This is how Wikipedia became one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the entire Internet.
Regardless of whether we’re supposed to or not, clearly everyone’s still using Wikipedia because numbers don’t lie.
Information Is Supposed to Be Free
The fallacy in the argument against Wikipedia is that, in the Venn diagram of humans, the people writing those media articles and other source material are among the everyone who can edit Wikipedia. In fact, so is the teacher or professor telling you not to cite it in their assignment.
If these people’s information is so valued to the human race, why aren’t they contributing the correct cited information to Wikipedia to correct all these inaccuracies they’re constantly complaining about?
If you see something, don’t just say something – do something to fix it. What academic lesson could you possibly be teaching a student that trumps that one?
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned Whistleblower, Troll, and Freelance Writer. His work has appeared on Huffington Post, The Street, Fast Company, Hardcore Droid, Cannabis Now, and Intuit’s Small Business Resource.