Why Wikipedia Should Be Avoided By All Students and Scholars

Simply put, because you can’t change a culture of ignorance.  Take the amazing case of one Timothy Messer-Kruse, an expert on an aspect of American History:

For the past 10 years I’ve immersed myself in the details of one of the most famous events in American labor history, the Haymarket riot and trial of 1886. Along the way I’ve written two books and a couple of articles about the episode. In some circles that affords me a presumption of expertise on the subject. Not, however, on Wikipedia.

And then a little further

A couple of years ago, on a slow day at the office, I decided to experiment with editing one particularly misleading assertion chiseled into the Wikipedia article. The description of the trial stated, “The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing. … “


So I removed the line about there being “no evidence” and provided a full explanation in Wikipedia’s behind-the-scenes editing log. Within minutes my changes were reversed. The explanation: “You must provide reliable sources for your assertions to make changes along these lines to the article.”

Expertise is despised on Wikipedia (in spite of claims to the contrary by frequent distorting dilettantes).  And still further

I tried to edit the page again. Within 10 seconds I was informed that my citations to the primary documents were insufficient, as Wikipedia requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic informed me, “published books.” Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.”

You see- Wikipedia is a waste of time.  Ignorance and dilettantism reign there.  The foolish live there.

So I waited two years, until my book on the trial was published. “Now, at last, I have a proper Wikipedia leg to stand on,” I thought as I opened the page and found at least a dozen statements that were factual errors, including some that contradicted their own cited sources. I found myself hesitant to write, eerily aware that the self-deputized protectors of the page were reading over my shoulder, itching to revert my edits and tutor me in Wiki-decorum. I made a small edit, testing the waters.  My improvement lasted five minutes before a Wiki-cop scolded me, “I hope you will familiarize yourself with some of Wikipedia’s policies, such as verifiability and undue weight. If all historians save one say that the sky was green in 1888, our policies require that we write ‘Most historians write that the sky was green, but one says the sky was blue.’ … As individual editors, we’re not in the business of weighing claims, just reporting what reliable sources write.”

Idiocy lives on the pages of Wikipedia.  If you’re comfortable citing stupidity or sending your students to do it, have at.  Misinform.  It’s your ‘right’ (just as it’s your right to promulgate ignorance).  Wikipedia is stupidity enshrined.   Wikiality has nothing to do with reality or factuality, and academics and responsible scholars, above all, should know that.

3 thoughts on “Why Wikipedia Should Be Avoided By All Students and Scholars

  1. Gerard 15/02/2012 at 5:14 pm

    Can we trust your Wikipedia page? Are you really a Doctor and a Professor?


    • Jim 15/02/2012 at 5:18 pm

      i have nothing to do with that thing. if you want to know, click on my name at the top of the blog and find out straight from the horses mouth. if you use wikipedia, well then whatever misinformation it offers is not my prob.


  2. Chuck Grantham 15/02/2012 at 5:59 pm

    Ask Roger Pearse about Wiki and Mithras. That might make him swear. A lot.


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