Monday, April 24, 2006

Article Note: Brief Item on Wikipedia

Citation for the article:

Wallace, Danny P. and Connie Van Fleet. "The Democratization of Information? Wikipedia as a Reference Source." Reference and User Services Quarterly 45.2 (Winter 2005): 100-103.

This brief article looks at Wikipedia in terms of the evaluation criteria for reference sources proposed by Bill Katz in his book Introduction to Reference Work. The criteria, in brief, are purpose, authority, scope, audience, cost, and format. In terms of Wikipedia, I tend to raise questions when it comes to authority. That authors can be totally anoymous, and thus not open to be verified in terms of credentials and qualifications is a problem. When asked, I usually say Wikipedia is a nice source for an overview on a topic, but anything found on it should be verified. At times, I will link to a Wikipedia entry when I want to provide a quick reference to something in my posts, but I also try to for other sources if possible. Wikipedia does have convenience on its side.

Overall, Wallace and Van Fleet found that Wikipedia does not really fit Katz's criteria, or at least, that there are a lot of questions. Troublesome can be Wikipedia's policy "that views should be given weight equal to their popularity" (101). As Wallace and Van Fleet point out, this is troublesome because it is not really democratic; it leads to a tyranny of the majority. And who says the majority is right all the time? I sure as heck don't. Maybe there is something to the idea of protecting minorities and their views within a democracy. Wallace and Van Fleet also observed that though Wikipedia users often cite certain policies for disputes the policies themselves may not be easy to find.

Wallace and Van Fleet do admit that their review is superficial, but they get a sense that Wikipedia "by its very nature, does not stand up well to the kind of scrutiny typically applied in evaluation of reference sources" (102). Anyhow, just some food for thought.

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