The Perils of Using Wikipedia for Research

Student use of Wikipedia is a massive bugbear of mine.

Personally I love using it for general interest stuff and for idle moment reading. It is also good for presearch (the thing you do before settling down to do the work for an assignment).

The thing that really gets me is the fact that so many students seem to rely on it as the definitive and only source of information for homework and assignments.

Most public libraries offer Encyclopaedia Britannica or World Book Online as well as hundreds of other easy to use on-line reference sources (free with a library card).

Students mostly ignore other reference sources for the perceived ease of use that Wikipedia offers, regularly cutting and pasting entire blocks of text and passing the work off as their own.

Today on twitter I was a link to an article on how a vandalism edit can take on a life of its own.

How a Raccoon Became an Aardvark

The article tracks how the Wikipedia entry (edited in 2008) influenced articles written on the BBC news site as well as in the Telegraph the Telegraph article (written in 2010) was cited by Wikipedia as evidence that the term Brazilian aardvark is genuine.

It is interesting to note that as of today (20th May) the Wikipedia article has been amended to remove all reference to the “Brazilian aardvark”

wikiality(click on image for larger version)

I will be adding this to my talk on the perils of online information seeking and the importance of verifying information.

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