Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Accuracy of non-Wikipedia articles vs Wikipedia

As if we need another good reason to make sure Wikipedia's pages are up to speed, another one showed up in my email a few minutes ago. 

I have Google alerts set for many people and subjects, but one of the oldest alerts I have set is for Barry Beyerstein.  If I could show you my desktop at this moment you would see a Barry Beyerstein edit page tab wide open awaiting a grammar check before I hit save.  (you can't see it yet as I'm working on this in my user space, but very soon I hope to be done)

And noticed that a new email in my inbox is a Google alert for Beyerstein.  Wonderful and timely!  I follow the alert to  this article for Business Insider. I use the "find" feature to find the mention of Barry and sure enough the author is quoting an article done years ago about myths concerning using only 10% of your brain.  I notice that the author has footnotes scattered around the article, but they don't seem to be hyperlinked to anything. 

I explore a little further and realize that he is citing Wikipeidia, a page called Ten percent of brain myth.  I'm always amazed at the Wikipedia pages I didn't know exist, so I go over to that page to see if Beyerstein has a mention on it.  Again I use the find feature on my computer to see if he is cited. 

To my amazement almost the entire Business Insider article is copied word for word (along with the footnote numbers, but not the citations) from the Wikipedia page.   He has done no research to check the Wikipedia article, just assumed that it was correct. 

I'm not going to comment on plagiarism or the accuracy of Wikipedia.  I'm just pointing out that this is a common practice for reporters and bloggers.  The information we are leaving on Wikipedia influences many more people than just the readers of Wikipedia.  I believe Lei pointed this out to me a few months ago but I hadn't come across such an extreme example as this before. 

Sometimes I hear from anti-Wikipedia users that they refuse to use Wikipedia because they have had run-ins with editors when they tried to edit or because they think Wikipedia contains incorrect information.  Well I now have news for them, what they think they are reading in their non-Wikipedia source may still be Wikipedia. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm currently editing my first wiki page and have already come across this exact situation! I've looked at many different pages all over the net and have been noticing that the usual "intro blurb" many of the articles begin with is copied straight from the person's Wikipedia page. Which is bothersome on many levels, the least of which is what Susan pointed out with the writers not bothering to check for accuracy.

    While the internet has been around for many years now...I feel like this is the first time I'm really looking at it in depth, seeing what's happening (or not happening) behind the curtain. I've just begun this project, but I'm already starting to browse the internet with a more critical eye!