Wikipedia articles can be tricky because anyone can contribute – including armchair experts, novices, propagandists and vandalizers – to the vast collection of information. While the Wikipedia community has been putting its efforts in labeling articles as reliable (through the featured articles list) and the less reliable ones through various indications(cleanup required, citations needed, bad grammar etc), a majority of articles fall outside both of these. In this article, we analyze some Wikipedia articles and help the readers understand the red and green flags in Wikipedia. In this article we’ll be dissecting 3 Wikipedia articles from different categories to see whether these articles can be considered reliable or not.
First let’s have a look at the article on Money. In the first paragraph of the article, they have used five references as sources of information.
All these sources are either secondary or tertiary. Doing a quick search on Google we found that the authors are credible authorities in economics and finance. But we found some issues with references used in the second paragraph below.
The reference provided above has been mentioned as an unreliable source. It’s a short article on money in a blog about finance and psychology. The author is a psychologist who has experience of working with financial professionals.
As a source to the section above, the article uses another blog as a reference. After doing some research on the author, we concluded that the author is a credible source. He has a B.Com. in Marketing from the University of British Columbia and has authored the book Visualizing Change, which dives into markets and global economy. We also found some good testimonials about the author in his LinkedIn page.
The above paragraph has a note mentioning the need of citation to verify a statement about evolution of commodity money into a system of representative money. Such strong claims, without being backed by a reliable source, need to be viewed with skepticism. The person who wrote this article might be knowledgeable on the topic and the information might be correct, but as a general rule of thumb for safe use of Wikipedia, it’s best to go for verified information only.
Another case of a less reliable source in the above paragraph is a citation from the memoir of Marco Polo. Writings such as memoirs are considered as primary source of information as they are the first-hand accounts of the writer’s perspective and opinions. Without any independent source to evaluate or back the claims the information cannot be considered reliable.
Citing credible sources is one of the best signs about the reliability of the specific section of an article. Some good examples of credible sources are organizations with expertise in their sector. In the section shown above, the reference provided is that of the Bank of England.
Sometimes it can happen that the person editing the article is quite knowledgeable with the topic and might be prompted to write something “correct” from their own knowledge. One such example is provided in the excerpt above. Although the example provided is technically correct, it’s against Wikipedia’s guidelines for editors to contribute as “authors.” Instead, they are suggested to find reliable secondary or tertiary sources by reliable experts in the field.
The section above cites a website as its reference which has a lot of infographics as content but we found that the website doesn’t clearly reveal the identity of the author or their source of information. We found that all the links in the page led the visitors to another website, which makes the source’s reliability questionable.
Now, let’s have a look at the article on Chaudhary Group. The first paragraph is without any citations so the reader can’t make out whether the information provided is reliable or not.
The section on history has two citations, both of which are from the autobiography of Binod Chaudhary, the founder of Chaudhary Group. These would be considered the primary source of information as they are citing the founder’s biographies. Because there is no secondary source as well as an independent source to back these claims, primary source alone cannot be considered reliable.
The above section on Waiwai noodles cites two articles from well known newspapers (references are shown below this paragraph). Because the creation and publication of these articles involves investigation and analysis by the journalists, they are reliable secondary sources.
In the section above, the underlined segment is grammatically incorrect, which raises questions on the credibility of the person who edited this section. Incorrect grammar can also be a clue to vandalism but we think it isn’t the case here.
The references in this paragraph are of well known media sources and thus can be considered reliable.
The section on electronics, under the heading of other corporate activities, cites an archived page from its own site, making it another example of a primary source. Since it is the only reference cited, without any secondary or tertiary source to back it up, it cannot be trusted or used as a reliable source in research.
Let’s have a look at the final article in our study – B.P. Koirala.
The paragraph above makes some strong claims which sound susceptible to bias towards BP Koirala and against King Mahendra. There is only one source cited.
When we examine the source, we see that it’s the autobiography of Koirala – a primary source. In the absence of any third party sources to verify, we cannot be sure of its reliability.
This blog is our attempt to help reader’s analyze Wikipedia articles better. By keeping an eye out for these red flags, and finding trustworthy evidence, the readers can make a much better use of the wonderful tool that is Wikipedia.
Karkhana is collaborating with US Embassy Nepal to produce a digital toolkit on Digital Literacy for Educators. As part of the toolkit, we will be posting weekly blogs on “Finding and Consuming Digital Content” for the month of May.