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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Wikipedia wikiwacky as reliable source, professors say

Wikipedia wikiwacky as reliable source, professors say
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By Mark Bauer/se news editor

PLG WIKIS 1 KRTWikipedia, once considered a major source of information for college students, is again in the news for bogus data.

Because of the challenges against the encyclopedia site, academicians continue to disallow the source—especially when the information will be used for a research paper.

For that very reason, Dr. Elizabeth Joseph, associate professor of English on SE, has advised students to steer clear of the Web site since its inception in 2001.

“ I do warn students to stay away from Wikipedia,” she said. “I specify in my research guidelines to use only databases, newspapers, .edu, .org, .gov sources and books [in academic papers].”

Despite her warnings, she said some students still try to include it as a reference in their research papers.
SE student Brent Coursey views Wikipedia as a useful source.

“ Wikipedia is great when you’re not writing academically,” he said. “It’s an easy way to access information.”
Coursey said one of the only things preventing him from using it as a source in his papers is that teachers, like Dr. Joseph, will not allow it.“

It’s one Web site with a wealth of information at your fingertips,” he said.

Wikipedia has made headlines several times for falling prey to fraudulent entries.

Just two weeks ago, a Dutch royal couple confirmed allegations that they altered a Wikipedia entry concerning a 2003 scandal the pair was involved in.

Earlier this year, the actor-comedian Sinbad was reported on Wikipedia as having died of a heart attack.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, the 50-year-old entertainer said about his false entry, “It’s gonna be more commonplace as the Internet opens up more and more. It’s not that strange.”

One of the more serious alterations to a Wikipedia entry occurred in 2005 when an anonymous author created an entry that suggested John Seigenthaler, former administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy, was involved in the assassinations of both his former boss and President John F. Kennedy.

Because the entry was submitted by an anonymous user, neither Wikipedia nor Seigenthaler was able to track down the would-be-biographer.

Since then, the online-encyclopedia giant, with more than 7 million articles, now requires users to register with the site before they can submit or alter content.

But that security measure alone does not deter some from tampering with articles. A bogus name and e-mail address would sufficiently satisfy the registration process.

Dr. Allan Saxe, adjunct professor of government on SE Campus, said that while the Web site may be fun, students must distinguish between what is bogus information and what is factual.

“ Wikipedia is a good marketplace of information but often not completely accurate,” he said.

Much of the unreliability issue lies within the service Wikipedia markets. Located underneath the welcoming text on the home page, the Web site boasts that it is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

SE Campus student John Joseph Sanchez said that while he understands Wikipedia is not a credible source of information, he still finds it useful for looking up the connotative meaning of words.

“ The dictionary only gives literal meanings, but I like the random history and street value of words that Wikipedia offers,” he said.

But the reasons Wikipedia looks appealing to a student writing a research paper might be multi-faceted.

Anne Drake, coordinator of the learning center on NE Campus, said the online encyclopedia is often among the top results when using a search engine, so students assume it is a reliable source because it calls itself an encyclopedia.

“ From very early childhood, we are taught that encyclopedias are good, reliable sources of information,” she said.

The quickness and ease of the online tool could also play a role in determining what sources a student looks to when conducting research.

“Students are usually in a rush to complete their research and don’t do the necessary follow-up of verifying the information before they use it,” she said.

As Wikipedia continues to grow, so will its problems.

“ Although Wikipedia tries to do a good job enforcing misinformation and vandalism,” Drake said, “its size is such now that it is next to impossible to make sure that all the information included in the site is accurate.”

As a testament to the rampant vandalism, within hours of the Virginia Tech shooting in April, Wikipedia devoted a page to the massacre. As quickly as the entry was posted, the page had already been vandalized. Still, one Virginia-based newspaper praised Wikipedia for its timely and detailed information.

While Wikipedia makes no claims to something it is not, as long as its primary sources of information continue to be contributed by the average layman, students can be certain faculty will continue to make their classrooms a no Wiki-zone.

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