Before I get on my soapbox to preach about the unreliability of Wikipedia, much has been going on. I am finishing up a Digital Copyright course and taking 2 courses online- also I have been offered an internship in Seattle at a major law firm library for 6 weeks. Syracuse is providing a great education, but gaining real-world experience for the first time is exciting; especially in Seattle where the library culture is mature and supportive. In other library-related news, keep an eye out for my upcoming libraries photo-journal.
On to the soapbox- most people are aware that Wikipedia is dangerous, see newsworthy stories based on Wikipide-error and then some. So what does one do when they want free and fast information (meaning that they want it right now and with little effort)?
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) reliable information normally comes at th’expense of time. For me, the need for reliable information depends on the topic’s importance. Research papers and other scholarly works will never reference Wikipedia. The best thing that Wikipedia could offer are sources that are referred to in the Wikipedia article. Looking up the cited works could lead to reliable information.
Another scary thought is, that I have been told (by trusted health librarians), that Doctors (not having enough time to explain all symptoms and health facts) tell their patients to look up medical information- using the internet and/or by visiting their medical library. Without a doubt unexperienced internet users would see Wikipedia as a clean and seemingly trustworthy source for all facts, including medical. ::insert horrible scenario here::
How can the situation be remedied?
Wikipedia and other internet sources would need to put a disclaimer on their site that is simple and clear: “Information provided is biased and unverified. If you are looking for sound information please look elsewhere”. That’s not going to happen, so what else is there? Like anything else it all begins with education. All too often Wikipedia is excepted in Universities and schools. My high school and undergraduate classes didn’t mind that wikipedia was used so long as other published works (mainly books) were used more heavily. To be blunt, that’s half-assed teaching and learning. If you want your students to learn then make them do the research and go out there and check their sources (and teach them how to do that). The Internet and Wikipedia can easily fool you.Stephen Colbert put it best when he said, “Wikipedia is the first place I go when I am looking for knowledge, or when I want to create some.”