Wikipedia: Do you use it? Do you cite it? And, is it a good thing?


So, I also went to the same Science Journalism conference that Dave S. spoke of in the previous post. One of the sessions, in particular, that resulted in a heated argument, was whether the internet and the whole Web2.0 was a good thing.

Particularly from the angle of whether it was good at providing science news, or increasing science literacy generally. The arguments (pro and con) more or less went as follows:

With the web, you have an incredible increase in accessibility, as well as the ability of following up the paper trail of what it is that is being reported (i.e. you can track down the original source relatively easily these days). You also have an increase in citizen journalism, which means that smaller voices can have a say. This ultimately results in the ability for things otherwise not deemed “news worthy” to have a place in media. Science culture (how science is done, as oppose to what is the final result) in particular can benefit from this.

However, on the flip side, you have a scary lack of filtering going on. In that anybody (even wingnuts and crackpots) can make a decent looking website, and therefore potentially provide biased and even incorrect information in such a way that it becomes viewed as a “trusted source.” As well, websites that command the most clout in filtering or aggregating these things tend to focus on the goofy, silly, wow-type things – not always relevant items. Looking at the top hits for an web aggregator like (for science) is a great example of this. Finally, how exactly does pulling info from the web relate to the average Joe – somebody who might use the website, but necessarily follow the trends and caveats behind its use.

Anyway, during the debate, Wikipedia came up, and it was brought to light that a lot of University students not only use it, but actually rely on it. For instance, they might cite it in a paper they are writing for class, and there were many in the audience who thought this was a dangerous slope to go down.

So, I’m curious – how many of you out there use Wikipedia? And how many of you (be frank please) trust it? For instance, how many of you are actually aware that in many respects, it is a popularity contest, because the content is community produced, and essentially the louder more frequent voices control the content you see for each entry? What do you think generally about Wikipedia?

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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at