Profs warn students against Wikipedia

Some ban citations of the site, some allow it but place strict burdens on students to defend accuracy.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone with a bit of expertise and an Internet connection can contribute to, is a popular resource for college students. But some professors are saying that its facts can be unreliable and shouldn't be cited when doing research, reports Technews World.

According to Alexa, Wikipedia is #16 most popular site, with 1.3 million topics, and it's cache is growing. But Wikipedia reliability was questioned last year when the science journal, Nature, peer-reviewed 50 science entries and found that on average, Wikipedia articles contained 3.9 errors per article while Encylopaedia Britannica articles contained 2.9. This study gave fuel to the controversy that Wikipedia is fraught with unreliable information.

"I would consider Wikipedia to be fundamentally an entertainment Web site -- similar to, say, CNN and its wildly unhelpful representation of 'news,'" Indiana University assistant professor of history Konstantin Dierks wrote in an e-mail.

Most faculty allow students to use the site for some research, even if they have issues with quality of information. They don't allow students to use Wikipedia as their only source, however.

"I allow it, with a caveat -- the information cited must be correct, and the burden of proof for the accuracy of the information is with the student," she said in an e-mail. "Wikipedia is uneven, but does contain some interesting articles. Besides, in our digital/Web-oriented age, the ability to assess the validity and usefulness of Web resources is an important life skill," says Indiana University Assistant professor of fine arts Julie Van Voorhis.