Wikipedia breeds 'unwitting trust' says IT professor

Students banned from citing Wikipedia in coursework.

If you are faced with the prospect of having brain surgery who would you rather it be performed by - a surgeon trained at medical school or someone who has read Wikipedia?

That's the view of Deakin University associate professor of information systems Sharman Lichtenstein, who believes the popular free encyclopedia that anyone can edit is fostering a climate of blind trust among people seeking information.

Professor Lichtenstein says the reliance by students on Wikipedia for finding information, and acceptance of the practice by teachers and academics, was "crowding out" valuable knowledge and creating a generation unable to source "credible expert" views even if desired.

"People are unwittingly trusting the information they find on Wikipedia, yet experience has shown it can be wrong, incomplete, biased, or misleading," she said. "Parents and teachers think it is [okay], but it is a light-weight model of knowledge and people don't know about the underlying model of how it operates."

Lichtenstein and her associate, Dr Craig Parker, are leading a team of researchers to determine how Wikipedia operates, and is not shy in expressing her lack of confidence in the population's appreciation of intellectuals.

"Australians are notorious in their disrespect of academics, scholars and professionals - so called elites," she said. "Yet as I say to my students, 'if you had to have brain surgery would you prefer someone who has been through medical school, trained and researched in the field or the student next to you who has read Wikipedia'?"

As a result, Lichtenstein's students are not allowed to cite Wikipedia in their coursework.

"My students say Wikipedia is a good place to get a general understanding of a topic," she said. "They get a good understanding of a topic and get more specific information elsewhere. There is a need for easy-to-use information that is correct and has been produced by a rigorous process."

When asked if people should be more comfortable believing in a "web of trust" network like Wikipedia over an individual, Lichtenstein said experts have never been 100 percent correct, but are making a comeback in terms of public perception as a group of untrained people can be more misleading.

And if experts are part of Wikipedia's editing pool? Lichtenstein said the problem with that is experts expect to be paid for their work.

"If someone asked me if I would dedicate a day a week to Wikipedia I would expect to be paid," she said. "People have invested a lot in becoming an expert and they are trying to earn a living and you can't expect experts to contribute without pay."

Information in a traditional encyclopedia was built up by experts with "recognized credentials and expertise in the field", according to Lichtenstein, but Wikipedia, in contrast, "prides itself on being built by groups of lay citizens rather than traditional experts".

"While research shows there is an advantage to this it also shows they are not experts in their field and lack the experience to make judgments about what knowledge should be included and what should not."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Rodney Gedda

Techworld Australia
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?