Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wikipedia revisions to watch out for

Librarians do not hate Wikipedia. We just regard it with skepticism and caution. Some articles on Wikipedia may prove useful, but we advise against relying on it. When the subject proves a bit controversial, a "revision war" can erupt, making the content of a Wikipedia article change from one minute to the next. Keep this in mind if you cite Wikipedia in your papers that you may have to specify the time as well as the date you read the cited article. But usually you can trust that the authors and editors will provide a useful overview of a non-controversial subject.

Notice my use of the word "usually" in that last sentence. You wouldn't think of something like the Ride of Paul Revere as controversial, would you? All people who grew up in the U.S. learned about this in elementary school. But alas, now the story of Paul Revere has descended into controversy. How did this happen?

Sarah Palin garbled the story of Paul Revere's ride last week. But rather than admit to the error, she insists that her account really was accurate. Then her followers tried to edit the Wikipedia article about Paul Revere (See the Wikipedia revision history here also the discussion of the revisions here).

(18th century face-palm originally posted on Boing Boing)

Some may argue that this proves Wikipedia has a built in defense against less than completely honest revisions. But how can you tell? Standard reference publications employ professional editors and fact checkers. That's why they cost money. The University Library has spent some of Golden Gate University's students' money on solid, reliable sources of information. Please take a look at this list of databases and also contact the librarians by phone (415-442-7244), e-mail or Chat if you have any questions or need any help with your research.

Let's see Wikipedia offer that service.

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