How reliable is Wikipedia?

  • Thread starter phyzguy
  • Start date
  • #1
phyzguy
Science Advisor
4,405
1,385

Main Question or Discussion Point

I often hear it said that the information on Wikipedia is unreliable - for example, a recent post stated that "90% of information on Wikipedia is incorrect". However, my experience has been just the opposite. I use it often for technical reference and rarely if ever find incorrect information. It appears that technical information may be more reliable than 'general interest' (for example, pages on movie stars, etc.). What do people think? Do people have specific examples of incorrect information?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
18,756
1,825
I often hear it said that the information on Wikipedia is unreliable - for example, a recent post stated that "90% of information on Wikipedia is incorrect". However, my experience has been just the opposite. I use it often for technical reference and rarely if ever find incorrect information. It appears that technical information may be more reliable than 'general interest' (for example, pages on movie stars, etc.). What do people think? Do people have specific examples of incorrect information?
It's not sufficiently controlled. It used to be that 'anyone could contribute'.

Example of incorrect statement: "whereupon the hot Zirconium alloy metal used for casing the nuclear fuel rods spontaneously explodes in contact with the cooling water or steam, which leads to the separation of water into its constituent elements (hydrogen and oxygen)."
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressurized_water_reactor#Disadvantages

There are a few other misrepresentations in that article.

There was another nuclear article, but I don't remember the specific article, that contained an incorrect description of control rods.
 
  • #3
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,847
1,644
It varies a lot. Which is why you always look up the primary references and try to corroborate them if you are writing a paper.

Interestingly - wikipedia tries to track external peer review:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:External_peer_review

...and it is easy enough to find comparison studies for different fields.

90% is probably a bit harsh.
 
  • #4
918
16
Some articles are pure fabrication. For example:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Snyder_(racing_driver)" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Snyder" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Snyder_(shortstop)" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Snyder_(second_baseman)" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_L._Snyder" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Snyder" [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Snyder,_Jr." [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_S._Snyder" [Broken]
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #5
rhody
Gold Member
630
3
phyzguy,

Do you use google scholar when you want peer reviewed and quoted research to your questions ?

Rhody...
 
  • #6
DaveC426913
Gold Member
18,651
2,117
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #7
jtbell
Mentor
15,523
3,370
IMO, Wikipedia is OK for topics that (a) are relatively non-controversial and (b) have enough people who are experts in it so that there is a sufficient pool of people who will take the trouble to correct false information.

If there is controversy, either legitimate or crackpot-created, partisans can insert biased or even outright incorrect information. It will probably get corrected eventually, but there can be back-and-forth "editing wars" in which the article is in a constant state of flux.

If it's a specialized topic that not many people are expert in, incorrect information can go uncorrected for a long time.
 
  • #8
Evo
Mentor
23,129
2,582
The other day I went to a page about a well known crackpot and all of the criticism of his work was gone and it was a glowing review of the guy. I went to the talk page and apparently the crackpot and his following keep deleting the criticism and re-writing the page.
 
  • #9
Borek
Mentor
28,360
2,753
The other day I went to a page about a well known crackpot and all of the criticism of his work was gone and it was a glowing review of the guy. I went to the talk page and apparently the crackpot and his following keep deleting the criticism and re-writing the page.
That's why it is always a good idea to check the page edit history.

As far as I understand such edits qualify as vandalism, and they lead to page locking by editors.
 
  • #10
Evo
Mentor
23,129
2,582
That's why it is always a good idea to check the page edit history.

As far as I understand such edits qualify as vandalism, and they lead to page locking by editors.
I was shocked that the wiki people hadn't cracked down, from the discussion, not all of them seemed to understand the lack of science.The wiki mods were arguing amongst themselves over what to allow.
 
  • #11
Borek
Mentor
28,360
2,753
I was shocked that the wiki people hadn't cracked down, from the discussion, not all of them seemed to understand the lack of science.The wiki mods were arguing amongst themselves over what to allow.
They are encyclopédistes, not scientists :rofl:
 
  • #12
vela
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
14,584
1,206
I often hear it said that the information on Wikipedia is unreliable - for example, a recent post stated that "90% of information on Wikipedia is incorrect". However, my experience has been just the opposite. I use it often for technical reference and rarely if ever find incorrect information. It appears that technical information may be more reliable than 'general interest' (for example, pages on movie stars, etc.). What do people think? Do people have specific examples of incorrect information?
Like you, I've rarely found errors, but I only use it to refresh my memory about details I've forgotten or didn't bother to memorize, like the spherical representation of the Laplacian. For technical information, I find it to be a good reference.

That said, you have to keep in mind that for the most part, anyone can edit and contribute to a page, so you have to critically review any information you find there. For example, the first time I checked out Wikipedia, I decided to read what it had to say about special relativity. I ran across what appeared to be a curious claim, so I checked out the discussion page and discovered that some crackpot had his pet theory about why Einstein was wrong and kept editing the page, and others kept reverting his changes and telling him to quit adding bogus information. I just happened to stumble onto the page before his latest changes had been removed.

Obviously, Wikipedia will have errors in it, but the frequency of errors really depends on the topic, as others have noted. Usually when I hear someone dismiss Wikipedia as unreliable, it's more of a rhetorical tactic of trying to discredit the source rather than addressing a valid point.
 
  • #13
Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
18,756
1,825
I think certain topics are prone to errors or misinformation/disinformation, particularly in the area of politics.
 
  • #14
Hepth
Gold Member
448
39
There's actually a physics error I noticed today but didn't feel like fixing. (feel free whomever..)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroweak_theory

if you look at the the definition of [itex]J_{\mu}^3[/itex] after the neutral current:

I believe
[tex]\bar{f} \gamma_{\mu} f \rightarrow \bar{f}_{L} \gamma_{\mu} f_L[/tex]

they forgot the left handed projection. It IS important, and a very big deal if you don't use it properly.
 
  • #15
863
4
It's not 100% reliable, but in my experience it's more reliable than other encyclopedias, and more available too.
 
  • #16
Even when a sentence does link to a source, it is always best to actually check whether the source is reliable or not. I have found some scientific articles which link to popular science blogs as sources.
 
  • #17
33
0
When it comes to mathematics, it's generally quite accurate I think.
 
  • #18
2,017
85
Wiki for basic information is probably the best place to go, and I would argue that it's probably better than books in most cases. Not specifically in terms of 100% accurate content, but the ease of source following and related articles via hyperlinks.

Although not officially reviewed there are an army of anal people which means vandalism and mistakes are corrected pretty quickly.

Beyond the basics it's a bit dodgy, but it's now my first port of call for anything I don't know.
 
  • #19
Evo
Mentor
23,129
2,582
Even when a sentence does link to a source, it is always best to actually check whether the source is reliable or not. I have found some scientific articles which link to popular science blogs as sources.
I found one article that linked to a thread at PF as a source. Might have been a PF member? :tongue2:
 
  • #20
phyzguy
Science Advisor
4,405
1,385
Thanks for all of the responses. I'll continue to rely on it, but I agree that I wouldn't use it for something I was publishing without checking against a peer-reviewed source.
 
  • #21
Evo
Mentor
23,129
2,582
Thanks for all of the responses. I'll continue to rely on it, but I agree that I wouldn't use it for something I was publishing without checking against a peer-reviewed source.
Wikipedia is just a quick reference, you should never use it as a source.
 
  • #22
Wikipedia is just a quick reference, you should never use it as a source.
Just like you shouldn't (past elementary school) use Encyclopedia Britannica or Funk and Wagnall's as a source.

Personally, as our little E is getting older, I think I'm going to find myself missing the home-set multi-volume encyclopedia. There's something about having a printout version available for looking up small facts or just "browsing." I remember (as a child) picking up our family set volume by volume at the grocery-store. I see old sets come up pretty cheap on Amazon... so I guess we'll be able to get something set up for her.
 
  • #23
2,017
85
Just like you shouldn't (past elementary school) use Encyclopedia Britannica or Funk and Wagnall's as a source.

Personally, as our little E is getting older, I think I'm going to find myself missing the home-set multi-volume encyclopedia. There's something about having a printout version available for looking up small facts or just "browsing." I remember (as a child) picking up our family set volume by volume at the grocery-store. I see old sets come up pretty cheap on Amazon... so I guess we'll be able to get something set up for her.
Apart from being nice to have, wiki is probably still easier. The wiki trap of hyperlinks and new tabs is just insane.

Two hours later with 15 tabs open. You've gone from reading about force and impulses to hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.
 
  • #24
Borek
Mentor
28,360
2,753
Two hours later with 15 tabs open. You've gone from reading about force and impulses to hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.
That's a known phenomenon:

the_problem_with_wikipedia.png


Question is - does it make you any wiser?

extended_mind.png
 
  • #25
FlexGunship
Gold Member
369
8
I found one article that linked to a thread at PF as a source. Might have been a PF member? :tongue2:
Yes, it linked to my post, and in that post I used the Wiki article as a citation to prove my point. Circular logic is the best kind of logic because it's circular.
 

Related Threads on How reliable is Wikipedia?

  • Poll
  • Last Post
2
Replies
49
Views
7K
Replies
15
Views
2K
Replies
3
Views
511
  • Last Post
3
Replies
56
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
9
Views
6K
Replies
8
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
17
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
6
Views
1K
Replies
68
Views
6K
Top