“If I ever see Wikipedia as one of your sources, I will take off 30 points from your paper,” said my history teacher to one of my classmates who cited Wikipedia as one of their sources for a research paper. 

Why does it matter if the information is from Wikipedia or from another website if both websites provide the same information?

Wikipedia is oftentimes less considered a reliable scholarly source. But when I’m searching for Einstein’s birth date or when World War II ended, I’m tempted to click on the first source that comes up, which is Wikipedia. But is everything in Wikipedia unreliable? 

Wikipedia’s publication process is much less rigorous compared to academic or scholarly journals like Nature and PubMed. Most of these journals go through a peer-review process, where respected scholars in the field will read each submitted article and suggest edits and corrections. And there are often several rounds of this process. Wikipedia’s process is, by comparison, simple. Volunteers, not scholars, read submitted drafts before they are uploaded to the site, leading people to believe the site is full of false information and exaggeration. 

There is so much that we do not know about Wikipedia, but not many of us are willing to explore what we do not know. We let others — including educators — decide on our behalf what information is reliable and what information should be disregarded. They do the persuading for us.

We all know that anyone can edit Wikipedia, but an anonymous user cannot create a new page or work on a restricted page without identification. All the volunteer editors or anonymous contributors are known by their IP address. Creating an account on the site comes with advantages including a rewards system for editing frequently and truthfully. Wikipedia contributors can also use the Talk feature to talk with other contributors to fix errors and improve the article collaboratively. However, even with all these features in place, many still question Wikipedia’s reliability. 

In 2005, Nature, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, asked scientists to compare Wikipedia’s science articles to those in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Scientists have reported 4 major errors across the 42 articles that were used for the study. Later in 2010, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology looked for quality differences between Wikipedia and the Physician Data Query, a database maintained by the National Cancer Institute.

The study found that Wikipedia’s information about 10 types of cancer is as accurate as those in Physician Data Query. Then, Life’s Little Mysteries, a science podcast from Live Science, conducted their own study to measure the accuracy of Wikipedia. Adam Reiss, a professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins University, was asked to provide critiques on Wikipedia’s dark energy page due to his expertise — he is one of the scientists who first proposed the existence of dark energy. Professor Reiss found the piece 95 percent accurate. 

Even though many are still opposed to Wikipedia’s reliability, it’s safe to say that not every study that was done to check its reliability is a mistake. Due to volunteer editorship, mistakes will always exist, that doesn’t mean the massive amount of information on Wikipedia is all inaccurate. The fact that Wikipedia allows contributors to build bonds with other contributors and provide public access to free information is remarkable.

In the digital age, it is hard to distinguish what is true and what is not since information spreads faster than ever. We can use this for our benefit, but it can also be overwhelmingly difficult to identify what is true and what is not. Identifying inaccurate information in Wikipedia can make us feel overwhelmed. The fear of getting points taken off from a research paper is also intimidating and can unnecessarily change our perspectives on perfectly reliable sources. The misconceptions that are already in place for sources like Wikipedia will be hard to change in educational settings — especially in schools since it is a volunteer-run publication. However, we can all individually work to redefine what is unreliable before settling on what others believe. Indeed, Wikipedia should be considered reliable because not every study that was done to prove its reliability is wrong.