How accurate is scientific information on Wikipedia?

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In summary: Wikipedia.Overall, I think that Wikipedia can be a valuable resource for people who want to learn more about a specific subject, but it should not be considered as a final authority on that topic.
  • #1
sahilmm15
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Hi! I wanted to know how accurate the Wikipedia is for scientific or mathematical purposes? Is there anyone who would prefer some other sources for gaining some general information about science or math as a new learner won't be able to differentiate between what is correct or false.
Thanks!
 
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  • #2
sahilmm15 said:
Hi! I wanted to know how reliable/accurate the Wikipedia is for scientific or mathematical purposes? Is there anyone who would prefer some other sources for gaining some general information about science or math as a new learner won't be able to differentiate between what is correct or false.
Thanks!
It's not a peer-reviewed journal, and 'reiable' is very different from 'accurate' ##-## anyone can (at least temporarily) edit an article there, and anyone can edit the edit ##-## I think that it's rather consensus-ruled ##\dots##
 
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  • #3
sahilmm15 said:
Hi! I wanted to know how accurate the Wikipedia is for scientific or mathematical purposes?
In my experience it is very accurate. People do not have any interests in writing something wrong as they have on other subjects like biographies, politics or even history. There is no motivation to e.g. define continuity falsely. And you can always change the language and compare it to other versions. If I want a very technical but correct answer, I use https://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/HomePage.

You shouldn't treat Wikipedia as a reliable source for references in papers, thesis or whatsoever, but it provides some quick answers and references at the end of an article. It also provides keywords which you can use to find better sources via Google. In the end you cannot trust anything which is written on the internet, and even books have errata, and papers have typos.

The mathematical pages on Wikipedia are o.k. I only found one minor error so far among the hundreds of articles I looked up so far. It is sometimes not very deep, so I take the phrases and words there to search for lecture notes or books if I want to have a better description or deeper understanding.
 
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  • #5
Wikipedia claims to give a "reliable source" for everything, but some math articles just give proofs.
:biggrin:
 
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  • #6
For non-math topics, Wikipedia is referenced, so while the site itself is not a reference, you can find primary references in the footnotes
 
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  • #7
fresh_42 said:
If I want a very technical but correct answer, I use https://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/HomePage.
Thanks for this link. Honestly, I'll probably still go to Wikipedia usually. But this is an intriguing introduction to "category theory", which I had never heard of before.
 
  • #8
DaveE said:
Thanks for this link. Honestly, I'll probably still go to Wikipedia usually. But this is an intriguing introduction to "category theory", which I had never heard of before.
De nada. Me, too. Wikipedia is easy to read and I often use it to translate technical terms, to look up how a name is correctly written in the original language, or simply swap between languages to find a "better" formula. I made the experience that the English pages are more often quite general, whereas e.g. the German have more calculations and formulas. And since it is primarily mathematics I'm looking for, I don't hesitate to switch to languages I do not speak very well: Spanish, or French. The formulas do not care.

nLab is a nice to have at hand for certain subjects, or just to get another point of view.
 
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  • #9
Wikipedia has an article about this topic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia

The excerpt below reflects how I feel:
Researchers and academics contend that while Wikipedia may not be used as a 100 percent accurate source for final papers, it is a valuable jumping off point for research that can lead to many possibilities if approached critically. What may be missing in academia is the emphasis on critical analysis in regards to the use of Wikipedia in secondary and higher education. We should not dismiss Wikipedia entirely (there are less inaccuracies than there are errors of omission) but rather begin to support it, and teach the use of Wikipedia as an education tool in tandem with critical thinking skills that will allow students to filter the information found on the online encyclopedia and help them critically analyze their findings.[84]
 
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  • #10
fresh_42 said:
In my experience it is very accurate. People do not have any interests in writing something wrong as they have on other subjects like biographies, politics or even history.
My experience is similar, but be aware that there are crackpots who will edit articles on scientific topics to espouse their nutty personal theories. The very first article I ever looked up on Wikipedia was the one on special relativity, and I ran across a few sentences where someone had written the theory was wrong because Einstein made a mistake. When I checked the entry again a few days later, however, those sentences had been removed, and the person who had corrected the article admonished a user to stop trying to post his personal theory there.
 
  • #11
We should not dismiss Wikipedia entirely (there are less inaccuracies than there are errors of omission)

"Less" should be "fewer".

A deliberate example? Or secretly ironic?
 
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  • #12
vela said:
My experience is similar, but be aware that there are crackpots who will edit articles on scientific topics to espouse their nutty personal theories. The very first article I ever looked up on Wikipedia was the one on special relativity, and I ran across a few sentences where someone had written the theory was wrong because Einstein made a mistake. When I checked the entry again a few days later, however, those sentences had been removed, and the person who had corrected the article admonished a user to stop trying to post his personal theory there.
That's why I like the possibility to switch languages very much. A crackpot won't barely infect all other versions, too. And if you use e.g. Chrome to translate the page backwards again, then you don't even need to speak the other language. Such a translation isn't perfect, but you can understand what is meant. And mathematics is of course less attractive for "personal theories" than some physical models are.

I remember that it was Wikipedia which I missed most when I moved and had no internet for a few days. Not so much the theories, but the possibility to simply look up things quickly. How big was Saturn again? You had to go to a library, have had an expensive dictionary as the Britannica, or the right book on the shelf in former times. And what about the next question: who is ...? Nowadays all these, let's say on-the-run questions can be answered in seconds thanks Wikipedia.
 
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  • #14
I don't know about accuracy, I've never done an audit or anything but (so long as I keep in mind it's possibly apocryphal) it's handy for getting an overall view of a thing and the links at the bottom make for interesting wikiwalks. Also, a lot of the pictures are covered by creative commons so you can re-use without legal issues if attributed.
The down-side is when you just get a stub article since a topic will remain un-explained until someone feels like changing the situation. They don't pay people to produce articles like Britannica.
 
  • #15
cybernetichero said:
The down-side is when you just get a stub article since a topic will remain un-explained until someone feels like changing the situation. They don't pay people to produce articles like Britannica.
At least it is not as biased Britannica is. And you can always swap languages to find a better version.
 
  • #16
fresh_42 said:
And mathematics is of course less attractive for "personal theories" than some physical models are.
You haven't met the "0.9999 != 1", "Cantor was wrong" etc. people.
Maybe they are less common than physics crackpots, I don't know, but they do exist and some of them edit Wikipedia. The article 0.999... comes with a big edit notice warning users, and it's still subject to somewhat frequent vandalism.

You can always check the edit history of an article to see if there were recent edits that might be vandalism (and feel free to revert them if they are!).
 
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  • #17
I think Wikipedia is a fairly good starting point to understand some new concept, at least when you are dealing with science. I use it often when I try to incorporate something new to my research field, so that I get a fair idea of the topic. Of course, if you are going to use it in a research, you need to go a lot further than that. Read reliable & professional scientific journals and textbooks, and test the idea yourself to understand the validity.

But I only take other wikipedia articles with a grain of salt if it contain even a tiny thing political. People are very prone to political bias, and many of the references tend to be secondary and tertiary references, which themselves are also prone to political bias. Media is not fully neutral in terms of politics, and many news articles are politically biased right or left (more often to the left). Citing these references more often than not lead to biased wikipedia articles. I think this is partially why this forum doesn't usually allow political discussions because it's rarely about discussing what is right or wrong or gray, and instead about personal feelings and the justification of that. Imagine one of these people editing the wikipedia; certainly it's going to be biased and emotionally driven.
 
  • #18
HAYAO said:
I think this is partially why this forum doesn't usually allow political discussions because it's rarely about discussing what is right or wrong or gray, and instead about personal feelings and the justification of that.

I was going to say, "if you want to know about politics see the David Attenborough's Dynasties episode about chimps" but in looking for a trailer to put here I found this.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-...dead-beaten-beaten-monkey-david-a8632546.html
 

Related to How accurate is scientific information on Wikipedia?

1. How does Wikipedia ensure the accuracy of its content?

Wikipedia relies on a variety of methods to ensure the accuracy of its content. First, all articles must adhere to the site's Neutral Point of View (NPOV) policy, meaning that they should be written objectively and without bias. Additionally, Wikipedia has a large community of volunteer editors who continuously review and update articles for accuracy. The site also has a system in place for flagging and correcting potentially inaccurate information.

2. Can anyone edit Wikipedia articles?

Yes, anyone can edit Wikipedia articles. This is both a strength and a weakness of the site. While it allows for a wide range of perspectives and knowledge to be shared, it also means that there is a potential for misinformation to be added. However, as mentioned before, Wikipedia has measures in place to ensure accurate information is maintained.

3. Are Wikipedia articles peer-reviewed?

No, Wikipedia articles are not peer-reviewed in the traditional sense. However, they are constantly reviewed and edited by the community of volunteer editors, which can be considered a form of peer-review. Additionally, many articles include citations and references to reliable sources, which can also lend credibility to the information presented.

4. Is Wikipedia a reliable source for academic research?

While Wikipedia can be a useful starting point for research, it is generally not considered a reliable source for academic research. This is because the information is not always written by experts and may not be thoroughly fact-checked. It is always best to consult and cite primary sources when conducting academic research.

5. How often is Wikipedia updated?

Wikipedia is constantly updated as new information becomes available. The site has a large community of volunteer editors who are continuously reviewing and updating articles. However, the frequency of updates may vary depending on the popularity and subject matter of the article.

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