Writer Wednesday – Don’t Trust Wikipedia

You are researching for an article or story, maybe for some portion of a novel. It is very tempting to use the internet as a research tool, and that is fine. Just remember to use it in conjunction with more reliable sources. A book written by a specialist is great. An actual expert to consult with is ideal.

Of the internet research sites, the most frequently used is Wikipedia. Be aware that if you are using this, there are issues to be cautious of. The more obscure and specialized the topic is, the more likely it is to contain inaccuracies. Some glaring falsehoods were left in place for long periods of time simply because there was no one helping Wikipedia with the right knowledge to remove them.

There have been numerous instances of changes regarding the effects of drugs by companies to make their products seem safer. The peer review process tends to mean that some added information that is accurate gets removed if the person adding it didn’t defend it on the forums or have sources to offer. Several scientists have suffered from this coming from an academic background. They are used to simply stating new theories and providing their evidence in a single stand-alone paper or article without having to go into lengthy debates.

Inaccuracies are sometimes made into ‘reliable sourced information’ thanks to an information loop. News outlets and sometimes authors create a supposedly authoritative reference when they use Wikipedia for a reference. Their statements are later used as proof of the articles and suddenly it seems to be confirmed. A very notable example of this is a term called Citogenesis.

So does that mean I want you to go get a copy of your favorite physical encyclopedia? No. They are often filled with just as many inaccuracies and can be terribly outdated after just a few years. I want you to get a library card and use it regularly. I want you to read books by experts on whatever the topic you are researching is. Not just one expert, but several. No single person is going to get everything right. If you can talk to the experts directly, all the better. Use of the internet is safest on topics that are commonly accepted information. The more obscure, the less you should trust the online sources.

What are your thoughts?

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