After writing that last post about the openness of Wikipedia in terms of it’s edit history, I came across David Warlick’s post about his hesitancy to link to an article in the online encyclopedia in support of an entry he was writing.
Yet, of the sources I found, the Wikipedia is the one I want to use. Even though the Wikipedia article is not documented, neither are any of the other sources. But, for all of the other sources, there is no evidence at all of any attention to quality. The Wikipedia article has been scrutinized and edited 23 times in the last year, four times in the last month. 61% of the edits were by registered Wikipedia editors. The wikipedia reference is consistent with all of the other sources.
It seems to me that David has included a lot of good reasons to trust the article. If it’s been edited that many times, it’s likely the information is more accurate than it was last year.
However, the key to his rant (his words) that turned into a discussion (lots of good comments) is the question “What does it matter?”
In the case of the potential post, David concludes that it doesn’t. Nothing about the argument he is writing will change.
When it comes to research done by students, however, does it matter if an article they read in Wikipedia is inaccurate?
Not if the teacher has done his or her job and taught their kids how to validate information. Not if they’ve learned that a general purpose reference source like Wikipedia can only be a starting point for research and not the final authority on anything.
If we are teaching our students how to evaluate information with a critical and knowledgeable eye, a few mistakes in Wikipedia or other sources will not matter one bit.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll learn enough in the process to edit out the errors and improve the resource for everyone.