Wikipedia – First Among Fact Checkers

The Daily Mail’s creaming itself over being able to publish this attack on Wikipedia.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is a complete waste of money. Wikipedia is an intellectual crutch, often full of mistakes, and encouraging pupils to rely on it does not help them.

It’s rare to see a target so comprehensively missed. Not a glowing reference for his “Real Education”.

I challenge anyone to point me to a MORE trustworthy and up to date general information source than Wikipedia. You can start by pointing to one which has fewer mistakes (proportionally) and elaborate how you reach that conclusion.

You can then move on to the question of how this potential superior source identifies its errors; how it publicises that identification and how it fixes them.

And finally, you might point out how and whether we can review the history of its entries and check on the identities (pseudonymous or otherwise) of those who created them.

Wikipedia took a while to deal with its most obvious weakness – the unhindered free access to its editing tools by the ignorant or agenda-motivated. But since it sorted that out, about 10 years ago, it has become, by a distance of several light years, the first port of call for anyone wanting a reasonably objective summary of what is known about the widest range of topics arranged in one place anywhere on the internet.

It’s exceptionally useful as the “First Fact Checker”. Here’s a tip. Whenever you read some extraordinary claim about something you know little about, before you go spreading the story, why not check out what Wiki has to say about it? It will save you a lot of embarrassment.

Yes, it still has occasional errors and some rather amateurish entries. And yes, it can still be “spoofed” in small ways on topics that attract so little attention that nobody bothers to check them. But there is nowhere else on the web which has anything like the rich and vibrant support community and readership which ensures that it has at least as high an overall credibility rating as the “professional encyclopedias” (a fact acknowledged by the BBC – who used to love wiki-bashing as well – back in 2005, after research conducted by the journal Nature, which compared a range of scientific entries in Wiki and Encyclopedia Brittanica and found them broadly comparable)

Most significantly of all, Wiki keeps and publishes an ongoing assessment of its own reliability. Point me to ANY other online information source doing that.

So it’s a nod of appreciation to Leicester city council. Your pupils will gain considerably by learning how to evaluate and use Wikipedia as the best starting point for almost anything they need to research. Most important of all, they’ll learn how it never permits assertions to be made without references and it will let them go and check those references for themselves, to see whether or not the assertion is justified. THAT’S “Real Education”.

Perhaps one of the reasons tabloids like the Daily Mail love attacking Wiki is because it can so easily destroy the credibility of so much of their own bullshit.