How Accurate is Wikipedia?

By Cody Sung

Volume 1 Issue 3

December 16, 2020

How Accurate is Wikipedia?

Image provided by Giulia Forsythe

Wikipedia...the website that is turned to for information about everything from train stations to musicians.  According to the website, Wikipedia has over 6 million (and counting) pages describing an object, event, or place (content pages), and has over 52 million pages in total.  But not everything on the Internet is accurate. So, how accurate is Wikipedia?

According to The New Yorker, Wikipedia is neoliberalism, or “economic liberalism and free-market capitalism” (Wikipedia), applied to knowledge.  People with only partial knowledge exchange knowledge and get the missing part of their knowledge, meaning that through many exchanges with many people, Wikipedia would become more and more accurate with time. In fact, according to a study published in Nature in 2005, Wikipedia averaged 4 errors in 42 science articles.  The Encyclopedia Britannica averaged 3 errors.  It can be concluded that Wikipedia is almost as accurate as Britannica in scientific entries.  Wikipedia doesn’t need to self-correct.  The invisible hand does its thing.

This was intended by the creators of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.  In fact, Wales doesn’t care about editors being revealed as impostors, because the outliers are cancelled out by other outliers and information close to the truth.  But teachers don’t favor the website because anybody can edit it.  Britannica doesn’t allow that.  It only allows experts to edit the encyclopedia, although the public can give feedback on articles.  Personally, my elementary school librarian would prevent us from using Wikipedia.  Instead, we would have to use “PebbleGo” or Britannica.  And yet Wikipedia is starting to become less taboo among teachers as they start using it as well.

However, Wikipedia is still distrusted by many, mostly since Wikipedia can be edited by the general public. According to a survey I conducted, 58% of people use Wikipedia, 84% don’t use Wikipedia often, and 60% think Wikipedia is not accurate.  This means that a plurality of people use Wikipedia but don’t rely on it often due to the skepticism. Comments stated that the most uses of the website consist of facts, creating a growing concern over its reliability. In fact, a Business Insider article states that Wikipedia is a great place to start for information but should not be used for research or other academic use.

This attitude is also shared by our very own, Mr. Toffolo.  In my interview with him, he revealed that he is using Wikipedia, and has been since 2005 or earlier, stating that most information is accurate on Wikipedia because people monitor the pages, so it was good to use to start finding information on a topic (such as an article from Business Insider, as mentioned earlier). However, he also wouldn’t recommend Wikipedia as a research tool for students unless it’s for quick use, matching the opinions of so many.

In conclusion, Wikipedia can shine with accuracy due to its neoliberalist approach to knowledge, but is inaccurate in some case as well, due to public editing.  Lots of people don’t rely on Wikipedia heavily due to the “anyone can edit” policy. Wikipedia is used by lots of people for trivial facts or quick definitions, though, and is considered a great place to start for information.