Understanding Wikipedia


You have to trust that the information you get is correct and accurate, not wrong or misleading. In this way, some people trust Wikipedia, others, don’t. Both sides have their arguments, but what it all comes down to is, when using Wikipedia, you have to determine your own level of trust by examining the sources.

Sources are everything on Wikipedia, the rule is that every single piece of information in Wikipedia has to be cited to a reliable source. In other words, you are able to see exactly where whatever is written came from, and to read those sources if you like. Take a moment to think about that.

Wikipedia has been around for nearly 20 years now, and it’s pretty safe to say that all of the articles that you’re most likely to look up have been edited over and over, by people with all levels of education, personal bias, you name it, looking to correct things in the way they see fit.

For some contentious issues, epic battles are waged over wording and sources. Some folks hate GMOs, no matter what current science says, some are fine with them based on the existing scientific evidence, some are trying to build support for them, others oppose activists who want claim things, for or against, that have no widely accepted evidence. All of that disagreement eventually comes to a balance that everyone can live with, and that’s indicated by the citations and the reference sections.

That’s the proper attitude to bring to Wikipedia: make up your own mind, case by case for each article, based on the information presented, which includes the article, and the sources it summarizes. If that sounds less than convenient and easy, if you want to give your trust without reservation, well, good luck. Is there one news media you always trust? One reporter? One college professor? A government agency?

If you don’t apply your own critical thinking, you’re not really learning. You can probably trust a government environmental agency weather forecast for today, more than you can a random blog where someone decides they can tell the weather by looking out the window. Can you equally trust various reports on climate change, from government agencies, from large energy corporations, from individual scientific experts, from environmental activists? Wikipedia in the first example would allow the government source (reasonably reliable) and not the blog (totally unreliable); for climate change, all of those sources, and any differences in their views, would likely be included and individually identified, down the document.