Thursday, 12 February 2009


As part of my job I read and mark students’ assignments up to diploma and degree level. One thing guaranteed to make my heart sink is to look at the references and bibliography for an essay and see that the source cited is Wikipedia. An incident this week highlights the reason for my concern. Gordon Brown and David Cameron had one of their weekly spats at Prime Minister’s Questions and Cameron ridiculed Brown over the age at which the artist Titian had died (I can’t be bothered to explain the background to this matter so crucial to the wellbeing of the country that it merited mention at PMQs).

Academics disagree over the exact age of Titian when he died but, in an attempt to give support to his leader’s claim, a Conservative party worker changed the details of Titian’s Wikipedia entry. I won’t comment on what this says about the maturity of those who work for political parties, however, the incident exposes the problem with using Wikipedia as a source; it simply cannot be trusted.

A couple of years ago I read an article by Mike Scott of The Waterboys in The Guardian. In the article Scott complained about inaccuracies in his Wikipedia entry and the problems with trying to correct the errors. Scott is actually quite complementary about Wikipedia but his experience underlines the problem. I like Wikipedia and the concept behind it. I enjoy using Wikipedia for general information, for example, about my favourite musicians. It is a useful resource for sources and links on a topic; the sources cited can be followed through to check their veracity. Yet, the fact remains that, because of what Wikipedia is, it cannot be trusted as a primary source. As Titiangate shows, there is always the possibility that some little grunt has got their dabs on an article and edited it for their own, or their master’s, self serving purposes.

1 comment:

Tim Goodbody said...

As Paxo would say, "yeeeeeees".
I heard on the radio a few weeks ago that Wikipedia are introducing a system of modration, so that alterations, especially malicious and clearly inaccurate ones, do not all get through.
Bishop Nick Baines has suffered a similar fate to Mike Scott, and recently blogged about it.