While reading over reports written by my daughter’s classmates, I became aware of how many people take it for granted that Wikipedia is a dependable reference source. After all, the typical researcher is directed to Wikipedia by using a search engine, and immediately discovers it is an encyclopedia. So it must be filled with factual and reliable information that can be trusted, right?

Wrong. Wikipedia, an open content encyclopedia, contains articles that have been written anonymously by countless individuals from all over the world. The material can be written or edited by anyone with access to the Internet. Yes, I said anyone. Degrees or other credentials are not necessary when writing for Wikipedia, and no formal peer review process for checking facts is required. Articles are often submitted by self-proclaimed experts, so there is a good chance the contributors may not be truly knowledgeable or competent enough to discuss their chosen subject. In other words, any article could have been posted by a person who is actually uninformed and clueless.

There is no consistency in the quality of material found on Wikipedia. Some articles are outstanding, filled with helpful and pertinent information, written by professionals, knowledgeable in their fields. Other articles, however, lack experience or professional skill and are created by amateurs. The information is not only incomplete and inaccurate, but written with a lack of authority, making it almost impossible for a reader unacquainted with a certain subject to know what information to rely on.

In conclusion, when reading articles on Wikipedia, an individual should always consider the possibility that they might not be factual or completely truthful. Wikipedia may be a good beginning to see what information is out there, but it should never be used as a primary source for serious research.