Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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Oct. 20, 2006

Turned off by other resources, Blazers turn to Wikipedia

by Priyanka Gokhale, Online Editor-in-Chief
When freshman Richard Higgins had to do a group project on Native American chiefs, he nixed Newsbank, overlooked World Book and passed by ProQuest. Instead, Higgins went straight to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, where he found enough information to complete his part of the poster project: research on the Native American chief "Black Kettle."

Higgins is one of a growing number of web-users turning away from conventional research sources in favor of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that allows anyone to make edits to the more than 3,300,000 articles in the database. An informal survey of 100 Blair students on Oct. 5 showed that over 82 percent of students familiar with Wikipedia have used it for school-related purposes. For these Blazers, Wikipedia offers an easier alternative to the usual online encyclopedia due to its editable nature, free content and user-friendly design.


Wikipedia, created by the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.; is the first of its kind, a dynamic open-content encyclopedia featuring a plethora of articles on diverse topics. From its birth in 2001, Wikipedia, located at, has become the 37th most frequented website on the Internet.

Since 2001, Wikipedia has evolved and branched into several different sites, including Wikitionary, an online dictionary; Wikinews, a free-content news site and Wikisource, a free-content library.

For some, Wikipedia's ever-growing collection of factoids and intriuging information serves as a fun database to explore; an interesting stop to make while browsing online. For freshman Jennifer Collins, who doesn't have access to popular online sites like the video sharing network YouTube and the social networking site MySpace, Wikipedia and its sister sites are her way of spending time online. "It's a neat little time waster for me," she says.
Some Blazers turn to the collaborative encyclopedia when they run into dead ends  in their research.
Some Blazers turn to the collaborative encyclopedia when they run into dead ends in their research.

Pages are constantly created and edited based on current events, and anyone who has a computer with Internet access can create a page or edit an existing one. Wikipedia is also different from other encyclopedias, both in print and online, because it is free and easy to use; no subscriptions or passwords are necessary. "It's very easy to navigate around it," says Higgins. "It's not as complicated as Britannica Online and others."

But not all self-dubbed Wikipedians use their editing power for good. Vandalism of pages is a problem for both users and Wikimedia, but vandals can be blocked from the site and certain pages cannot be edited by anonymous Wikipedians.

The good, the bad, the edited

Even with the precautions put in place for editing, Wikipedia's open editing is seen as both a curse and blessing. Virtually anyone can edit data, so the information is not necessarily accurate.

Media specialist Lisa Hack says that she loves the concept of Wikipedia. "I like the idea that people with knowledge can contribute to a database that is open to everybody," she says. But, Hack notes that Wikipedia is openness makes it inherently flawed. The authors of Wikipedia sites are essentially anonymous which may create a lapse in credibility. Hack cites vandalism, exaggeration and bias she sees on Wikipedia as its primary flaws and says that an article "could be great today and biased tomorrow."

While Wikipedia has an editing board in place, they do not review all the changes that are made daily. Blair US history teacher Anne Manuel had an amusing encounter with Wikipedia's lack of editing over the previous summer. Friends of Manuel's daughter Nora Mascioli were "betting on how quickly Wikipedia would catch errors they put in," Manuel said. According to Manuel, the friends put a picture of Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter's foe in the "Harry Potter" series) in place of President George W. Bush on the latter's Wikipedia site. They also slipped a derogatory comment into an entry for the city of Camden, New Jersey, stating that "Camden is nothing but a big ole crack house." While the George Bush prank was noticed and quickly changed, Manuel says that the "crack house" comment "stayed on the site for more than 3 weeks."

Check it over

Recently, the debate on Wikipedia's precision has transcended the classroom into the media, where studies have been compiled to determine Wikipedia's accuracy. In Dec. 2005, Nature Journal conducted a validity study on 42 scientific articles from Wikipedia and the corresponding 42 articles from the gold-standard of encyclopedias: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Nature's article on the study concluded that the articles on Wikipedia and Britannica had an average of four and three errors, respectively. The article also stated that, "Britannica's advantage [over Wikipedia] may not be that great, at least when it comes to science entries."

Although the Nature study suggests that Britannica may not be as accurate as one might hope, the fact still stands that open-editing comes with a price – factual errors. Hack suggests that students double check Wikipedia information on print sources and the encyclopedias that the school has subscribed to. "If you're using [Wikipedia] for school, you should double-check it with another source," she says.

Media specialist Andrea Lamphier agrees, saying that if students are limited to only one source, it shouldn't be Wikipedia. Since last year, when Wikipedia first cropped up at Blair, both Hack and Lamphier have changed their minds about it.

"[Last year], we were anti-Wikipedia, no question. We've both evolved in our opinion quite a bit," Lamphier says. "We're not anti Wikipedia, it's just the reliance on one source that bothers me."

For many students, though, it is a pain to double and triple check information in other, more reputable sources. Junior Stefan Reckson puts his complete trust in Wikipedia when it comes to school research. "I just trust Wikipedia and hope that they're not lying to me," he says. Most of the time, Reckson doesn't bother from turning to other sources, like online and print encyclopedias, because he thinks it's too much work. "Wikipedia is easier," he says. "You don't have to look in the planbook or anything. You can just use it."

The only time that Reckson has found an error in a Wikipedia page was when he did research for his health class. Reckson saw that on Wikipedia, information about ecstacy contradicted from the information in his textbook. Reckson took the liberty of making the change for other Wikipedia users. "I figured out how to edit it, and I changed it," he says.

For others, Wikipedia contains information that is hard to find elsewhere. For his history project on Native American chiefs, Higgins turned to Wikipedia first and, when he searched for more information on different web sites and the media center's Patron's catalog, he was unable to find any.

Since 2001, Wikipedia has spread, and now, web searches often show a link to the site, a simple search on Google, for example generally yields Wikipedia as one of the top ten websites. Searches for the strings "United States of America," "2006" and "FIFA World Cup" on Google can have links to Wikipedia as the first or third hit.

Lamphier cites this as one of the reasons that students turn to Wikipedia so often. She says that in an Internet search, "all roads seemed to lead to Wikipedia."

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  • Blazer: Chipmunk on October 20, 2006 at 10:22 AM
    I agree. Wikipedia is neither good nor bad. It's just more popular because it's free. Another source I like to use is which compiles information from various encyclopedias on the page. Immediately one can see that Wikipedia's articles tend to be longer and more informative. For Encyclopedia Britannica, it usually only has partial information since it is a suscription site.

    Also, whereever you go on the Internet, using Google or any other search engine (don't use Yahoo!, they track you!) you'll come across a page that can be even more inaccurate. It's just easier to track.

    The good thing about Wikipedia is that usually there are links to sources at the bottom of each article, usually leading you to, more static sources.
  • Wikipedia is awesome on October 20, 2006 at 10:31 AM
    I <3 Wikipedia! I'm glad the Media Specialists are not anti-Wikipedia anymore too. Yes, Wikipedia will have errors, but I have yet to find any source in our planbooks that does not have any errors.
  • USER on October 20, 2006 at 12:11 PM
    Wikipedia has good information.
    I like it and use it all the time
  • Durova (View Email) on October 20, 2006 at 12:36 PM
    As a Wikipedia administrator I'd like to correct a few mistakes in your report. According to, Wikipedia is the fifteenth most visited site on the Internet, not the thirty-seventh. Also, although anyone can edit an article, article creation has been restricted to registered accounts. Wikipedia doesn't have an editing board in the traditional sense, but there are plenty of volunteers who participate in internal peer reviews.

    The breaching experiment performed by the friends of history teacher Anne Manuel was actually in violation of a site policy called Do Not Disrupt Wikipedia to Make a Point. A better way to test the site is to search for existing inaccuracies, check how long they've existed, and correct them. Wikipedia is run almost entirely by volunteers whose time is better spent improving articles than dealing with test disruptions.

    Regarding Wikipedia as a source for research, no encyclopedia is really appropriate as a citation past the elementary school level except in special situations. Wikipedia's reliable articles contain line citations and bibliographies. Use Wikipedia as a first stop, read those original sources, and cite the originals.
  • counter on October 20, 2006 at 1:18 PM
    Yeah, Wikipedia is great. If you don't trust it, you always have the related sources links at the bottom (they are required when somebody makes a page)

    I happen to trust it very much, but only on certain articles. The general rule is this:

    Articles dealing with math, science, and technology are 99% correct. The other 1% comes from the gray area dealing with controversial aspects and sidenotes. However, Wolfram is a better alternative for math.

    Reason: there are professionals that actually check the articles at least once each day for updates in their subject areas.

    Articles dealing with literature are practically all wrong. In this case, you have to use conventional methods.

    Reason: literature is inherantly biased by the reader. While wikipedia tries to remain objective, bias in literature is hard to catch.

    Articles dealing with ancient history should never be trusted.

    Reason: there are almost no experts of ancient history on Wikipedia. As a result, the information is either flawed or incomplete.

    Vandalism is an issue, but they usually come from kids who just want to have fun. As a result, the vandalisms are very easy to catch.
  • Apathetic on October 20, 2006 at 3:58 PM
    I told those librarians that they'd change their tune. I cited Google as an example; all those teachers who hated Google when it first came out now encourage its use. So, I told the librarians last year (during the a research project) that next year (this year), they would change their minds. They scoffed at me. And now they changed their minds.

  • Henry Scher (View Email) on October 20, 2006 at 6:05 PM
    A note that the editors may want to put in, students on the Blair computers are blocked by IP address from editing Wikipedia due to vandalising too many pages.

    Re: counter
    The literature articles are not usually wrong - they usually spell out what happens, and then list the different interpretations that people have of the book. There are a few exceptions; however, most of the literature/history/social sciences articles do have views from almost every angle.
  • k on October 20, 2006 at 6:30 PM
    and it's amazing how many subjects wikipedia covers...the most obscure stuff, you can always find it on wikipedia!!
  • Tawker on October 20, 2006 at 9:15 PM
    Glad you are enjoying things. Thanks for pointing out the crack house vandalism that stuck, I'll fix the vandalism detection scripts.
  • wiki-lover on October 20, 2006 at 10:49 PM
    i love wikipedia.
  • Nils on October 21, 2006 at 2:17 PM
    In the Nature study, Wikipedia had actually significantly less errors per word than Britannica. (Wikipedia articles are longer than ones on Britannica.)
  • senior on October 21, 2006 at 8:29 PM
    wikipedia is my life and lover. <3
  • David on October 21, 2006 at 10:41 PM
    wikipedia is good for finding out random facts about things you might be interested in, but there's no backup to prove your points if you're doing a project.
  • blazer grad on October 22, 2006 at 1:24 PM
    i think that everyone can pretty much agree that it's a good place to just look around for basic research. like many have said, you can probably get better research done elsewhere, usually in books, if you're looking for basic ideas, wikipedia is great.
  • Louis Wasserman (View Email) on October 22, 2006 at 7:53 PM
    Wikipedia is unparalleled for highly academic research; on numerous math topics, Wikipedia's articles are considerably easier to understand than anything else I can find online.
  • the basic on November 7, 2006 at 2:14 PM
    I use Wikipedia all the time, especially if I don't have a clue about the subject Im researching... it gives you a good foundation when you're starting from ground zero.
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