I wrote recently about how many of my otherwise sharp students were “Google fundamentalists” who argued, to simplify a bit, that “if it’s in Google, it’s valid.” These are often the same students who insist they should be able to use Wikipedia as a source for research.
I’ve been skimming Wikipedia’s own policies for writing and research, and Lo! The Great Wikipedia itself tells its writers the very things I was trying to tell my young fundies. Maybe hearing from the Great Wiki God’s own mouth that Wikipedia and blogs should not be taken on faith, and are not considered reliable sources, will bring them out of Digital Barbarism and into the Enlightenment.
So below, brothers and sisters in Reason, are chapter and verse from the Wikipedia Scriptures themselves, warning the faithful not to rely on Wikipedia, blogs, other wikis, forums, self-published books, or textbooks for research. Nice caveats apply in some cases to spur further discussion.
I share for those who share my pain [emphases added]:
Are weblogs reliable sources? (more below the fold…)
In many cases, no. Most private weblogs (“blogs”), especially those hosted by blog-hosting services such as Blogger, are self-published sources; many of them published pseudonymously. There is no fact-checking process and no guarantee of quality of reliability. Information from a privately-owned blog may be usable in an article about that blog or blogger under the self-publication provision of the verifiability policy.
Weblog material written by well-known professional researchers writing within their field, or well-known professional journalists, may be acceptable, especially if hosted by a university, newspaper or employer (a typical example is Language Log, which is already cited in several articles, e.g. Snowclone, Drudge Report). Usually, subject experts will publish in sources with greater levels of editorial control such as research journals, which should be preferred over blog entries if such sources are available.
Are web forums and blog talkbacks reliable sources?
Web forums and the talkback section of weblogs are rarely regarded as reliable. While they are often controlled by a single party (as opposed to the distributed nature of Usenet), many still permit anonymous commentary and we have no way of verifying the identity of a poster. Some however, are edited by reliable organizations, and therefore may possibly be justified as exceptions.
Briefly: published scholarly sources from academic presses should be used.
- —full Wikipedia page here
Self-published and questionable sources
Questionable sources are those with a poor reputation for checking the facts, or with no editorial oversight. Such sources include websites and publications expressing views that are widely acknowledged as extremist, or promotional in nature, or which rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions….
Self-published sources (online and paper)
Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published, then claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason self-published media—whether books, newsletters, personal websites, open wikis, blogs, personal pages on social networking sites, Internet forum postings, or tweets—are largely not acceptable.
“Blogs” in this context refers to personal and group blogs. Some newspapers host interactive columns that they call blogs, and these may be acceptable as sources so long as the writers are professionals and the blog is subject to the newspaper’s full editorial control. Posts left by readers may never be used as sources.
Self-published material may, in some circumstances, be acceptable when produced by an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications….
Wikipedia articles should be based on reliable secondary sources. This means that while primary or tertiary sources can be used to support specific statements, the bulk of the article should rely on secondary sources.
Tertiary sources such as compendia, encyclopedias, textbooks, and other summarizing sources may be used to give overviews or summaries, but should not be used in place of secondary sources for detailed discussion. Wikipedia itself, although a tertiary source, should not be used as a source within articles, nor should any mirrors or forks of Wikipedia be accepted as reliable sources for any purpose.
Primary sources, on the other hand, are often difficult to use appropriately. While they can be reliable in many situations, they must be used with caution.