“Wikipedia is not ‘truth’”

Many people, in schools and in society at large, depend on Wikipedia to provide information on a variety of issues.  These people believe that because Wikipedia says it is so, it must be so.

In an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Timothy Messer-Kruse, a professor in the School of Cultural and Critical Studies at Bowling Green State University, has shown that one must be very skeptical about information published by Wikipedia,

Messer-Kruse is the author of The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).  The book deals with the Haymarket riot and trial of 1886. Describing what happened during the riot, Messer-Kruse wrote: “The bomb thrown during an anarchist rally in Chicago sparked America’s first Red Scare, a high-profile show trial, and a worldwide clemency movement for the seven condemned men.”

As an expert on the Haymarket riot, Messer-Kruse tried to correct a false statement in the Wikipedia article dealing with the Haymarket riot, however, his effort to correct the false statement was rebuked by the editor of the Wikipedia article.

Messer-Kruse describes what happened when he attempted to correct the false information in the Wikipedia article:

I tried to edit the page again. Within 10 seconds I was informed that my citations to the primary documents were insufficient, as Wikipedia requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic informed me, “published books.” Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.”

People who use the Wikipedia as a source of information should read Messer-Kruse’s article. If after reading Messer-Kruse’s article, people still want to use the Wikipedia as a source of reliable information, that famous legal warning is still relevant: caveat emptor.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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