A Reliable Source?
Today I read an article from The San Francisco Chronicle on researchers' attempt to create an online library of human genetics on Wikipedia. There have already been 7,500 Wikipedia entries on different genes. The researchers are hoping the popular online encyclopedia will help form a collaboration among scientists.
When I read this, I had a flashback to college, around the time when Wikipedia became popular. I could hear Professor O'Brien's voice in my head: "Do not use Wikipedia as a source on any assignments."
For those of you unfamiliar with the Web site, anyone who signs up for an account can edit and add anything to an entry. This can cause inaccuracies, and can soil the reputability of the entry... hence the reason why my classmates and I weren't allowed to use it as a source in most of my college courses.
An example Professor O'Brien pointed out to my public relations class proves this point. In 2005, someone edited the Wikipedia entry on John Seigenthaler Sr., former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. This person added that Seigenthaler was at one point thought to be involved in the assassinations of Kennedy and his brother, JFK. A good friend of the Kennedys and a pallbearer at Robert Kennedy's funeral, Seigenthaler was outraged when this untrue tidbit was printed on the Web site and spoke out about the dangers of Wikipedia inaccuracy, calling his case "Internet character assassination."
According to The San Francisco Chronicle article, the researches acknowledge the "completely open and anonymous nature of Wikipedia." They even considered using another forum for their project, Citizendium, where users must provide their real names and field experts are asked to check articles for mistakes. However, Wikipedia was chosen for its popularity.
In my opinion, Wikipedia is a great source to find out quick, trivial information, such as who sang Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" on the second season of American Idol (the answer's Ruben Studdard, by the way), but when it comes to using Wikipedia as a source for something scholarly, scientific and important such as a forum on human genetics, I might have to stick with Professor O'Brien.
What do you think about using Wikipedia as a forum for human genetics?