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Why Wikipedia Is Not a Source of Scholalry Research

In: Business and Management

Submitted By JMoran
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Wikipedia is the largest and most heavily used online encyclopedia in the 21st century. In this essay I will discuss the impact of Wikipedia as a primary source of information, and the effects this has on a fragmented audience. When used as a research tool, user generated content within Wikipedia can have a negative impact on the academic community. The nature of Wikipedia represents a fundamental shift in the relationship between the reader and the publisher. Through illustrating the ease to which Wikipedia offers this information transfer and how this constantly changing state impacts on culture and creative identity and place, I will expose the fraudulent nature of this over exhausted resource.
The Hawaiian word for quick, Wiki Wiki is the basis for the name Wikipedia. Every article has an edit capacity, which allows any user, to add or delete content on any page. This Shortens the time frame needed to create, edit and publish content, making it the preferred tool for many people worldwide seeking answers and a path for basic research. Unfortunately it is also interpreted by some, as an authoritive source of information. However there is no gate keeping function in the program to ensure the authenticity of the information which is contributed. In defence, the functionality of the program which allows it to be constantly updated allows quicker access to many audiences and could be argued that it is a good way to stay informed and in touch with current issues. Although Wikipedia is recognised by some as an international success, it is not a well regarded source of research in the academic world. For these reasons, students and academics should assume that Wikipedia would be the beginning of their search for information, not the whole picture of their knowledge on a subject.
Since it’s beginnings in 2000, Wikipedia has transformed into a worldwide phenomenon. By announcing itself as “Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia”, this title carries a powerful connotation of dependable truth and genuine fact. Lanier (2006) believes that the problem is not with the unfolding experiment of Wikipedia itself, but with "the way that Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly”. The impact of this widespread distribution throughout many varied and diverse cultures has not yet been revealed. In acknowledging that Wikipedia is merely the content provider’s representation of fact, this could cause a rapid decline in verifiable knowledge throughout the world. Bruns notes that “it is important in this context to keep in mind the fact that Wikipedia departs from traditional encyclopedias by not presenting knowledge as such, but the divergent representations of knowledge currently in wider circulation” (Bruns 2008). As more developing countries get connected to the Internet, it will be important to measure the effects this singular source of information will have on reinforcing culture and history. With 260 different language translations of Wikipedia currently available (Smith), integrity and moral issues can become prevalent when there is no reliable filter for this information before it has a profound influence on international education and the opinions of culture. Education is designed to support the idea that evidence and the historical teachings of individual scholars matter, not just the collective process. Such chaos can be avoided when credibility is granted by the established way, through peer reviewed literature and an education system based on verified sources. This type of academic knowledge can then be regarded as reliable. Finding true meaning in a virtual world that is constantly changing is vulnerable when judgement is left in the hands of anonymous identities, whose personal point of view could bias their interpretation.
Digital Convergence has created a world where individuals can create their own online identity, either realistic or fabricated. Wikipedia presents an ideal isolated space for people to recreate their own abstract representation of fact, without any tangible context or authorship. Digital representation provides an opportunity for individuals to reveal only a part of themself, or fabricate the whole of themselves. These online identities can quite often be attracted by the allure of anonymous collectivism online. However what this evades is the creative individual and the value that is inherent with connecting with real human identities in real places. Florida explores the idea that “creativity comes from individuals working in small groups. These communities emphasize exploration and discovery. Each develops distinctive habits, customs, priorities and insights that are the secrets of its creativity and inventiveness” (Florida 2002). This type of interaction breeds a social environment that encourages intellectual ideas and creative progress. Using technology to modify or manipulate your human identity is counter productive to creativity. Instead of working together to build upon ideas and improvement strategies, the individuals who contribute to Wikipedia can be influenced by their own personal beliefs, ethics and background when they announce their truth online. This perception of fact is then insinuated as another person’s notion of reality, and the cycle continues. People should be held responsible for their ideas and opinions, and the influences they can potentially have on a fragmented audience. When ideas are built upon by a group of intelligent and capable people, true interpretations can be accounted for and verified in an academic manner. Drake believes that “locality based intensive social and cultural networks are one of the prerequisites for creative stimulus” (Drake 2005). This combined energy and creative potential is jeopardized when a diverse range of individuals work in isolated environments within a forum such as Wikipedia. The potential this creates to negatively influence the education of a third world nation, who may use “Wikipedia the online encyclopedia” as their only available source of historical and cultural education and information, is what poses Wikipedia as a threat to scholarship.
Wikipedia has also been the subject of parody and other humorous criticism. Shane Fitzgerald, a twenty two year old sociology major at Dublin University used Wikipedia as an experiment to prove his theory that globalization and instant news was a barrier to credibility and accuracy in the media. (See Appendix A for a news report of just how successful his prank proved to be). Fitzerald posted a fabricated quote onto the Wkipedia page of a famous French composer Maurice Jarre, just hours after his death on March 28, 2009. The quote was published in dozens of British, American, Australian and Indian newspapers and blogs directly from Fitzgerald’s Wikipedia entry. It was not until Fitzerald himself informed the media involved of their editorial fraud that the statement was retracted. "I am 100 percent convinced that if I hadn't come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up" (Fitzgerald). The implications of Fitzgerald’s experiment expose the risks that Wikipedia poses as a source of academic knowledge. When his fabricated quote was published internationally, by authentic media outlets without any actual references to the quote in question, it poses a particularly troubling issue. Journalist Siobhain Butterworth admitted that an error in reporting was not disputable and stated “that journalists shouldn't use information they find there if it can't be traced back to a reliable primary source”. She also added that "It's worrying that the misinformation only came to light because the perpetrator of the deception emailed publishers to let them know what he'd done” (Butterworth). In consideration of how rapidly information is internationally transmitted in our modern age, concerns that the capacity of a genuine hoaxer to distribute unreliable or untrue facts is a valid concern.
Wikipedia can undeniably have a negative impact on the academic community if it is used as an academic research tool. Although I initially outlined the positive contributions Wikipedia presents, it is conclusive that Wikipedia is not a verifiable source of scholarly information. Through exploring the impact Wikipedia has on culture throughout the world, due to the fact it is such an easily accessible resource, and also that it is regarded by many as an authoritive reference, I have clarified the inherent dangers Wikipedia poses to the international community. Within the Creative Industries, social interaction is an integral element of innovation and constructing ideas. By identifying the effects content generated by individuals in isolation has on creative identity and space, this negative outcome has been exposed. Shane Fitzgerald’s case study on how quickly a fabricated piece of information can spread via Wikipedia throughout the international media supports this. Many audiences easily access information that may prove useful to them using Wikipedia, however the lack of clarity within the compilation and accumulation of this knowledge is what makes this resource an unauthentic source of academic research.…...

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