I can remember hearing countless time during my education, “make sure to cite your sources, but do not use Wikipedia as one of your sources.” I’m sure many of you have heard the same thing.
What makes Wikipedia a non-credible source to many? This might help explain why. But is it really that unreliable? Perhaps Wikipedia is more than we give it credit for.
Compared to other sources, Wikipedia offers multiperspectivalism. Many people, voluntarily, contribute and edit Wikipedia pages. While information added can be incorrect, it is constantly being edited; each page being fine tuned and expanded. Every contributor comes to Wikipedia with their own background, knowledge and perspective. That is what makes Wikipedia so diverse, expansive and collaborative.
In “Networked Expertise in the Era of Many-to-many Communication: On Wikipedia and Invention,” Pfister discusses the role multiperspectivalism plays for Wikipedia:
If the first way that many-to-many communication reshapes the relationship between invention and expertise is to reshuffle traditional attention routines, the second significant effect of these new communication environments is a facilitation of multiperspectivalism. This multiperspectivalism emerges, not necessarily in the main article entry itself, but in the edit history and talk pages that constitute the substrata of Wikipedia. Herbert Gans (1979/2004, 2011) famously argued that traditional top-down news formats privilege particular views with the consequence that what gets covered is a very narrow slice of the actual news. How that news is framed shapes how citizens attend to it—if at all. Multiperspectival news, his proposed alternative, is journalism that draws in the opinions of the many in an attempt to better encompass available opinions…If multiperspectival news is desirable, then surely so is a multiperspectival encyclopedia. The many-to-many communication on the edit and talk pages reveals behindthe-scenes conflicts from multiple perspectives that need(ed) negotiation before some contingent consensus was reached.
Many-to-many communication – isn’t that better than one source with one perspective? I’d think so.
Are educators concerns with Wikipedia justified? Somewhat.
While Wikipedia may not always be accurate, it is a culmination of many people coming together to add their own knowledge. So next time you write an academic paper, use Wikipedia, but be aware of its accurateness. Instead of relying on it’s validity, use it to explore multiple perspectives you might not have considered or known.