It’s not the online version of an established, well-researched traditional encyclopedia. Instead, Wikipedia is a do-it-yourself encyclopedia, without any credentials.
“As a high school librarian, part of my job is to help my students develop critical thinking skills,” Stagnitta wrote. “One of these skills is to evaluate the authority of any information source. The Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. It even states this in their disclaimer on their Web site.”
I’m teaching a brief unit on Wikis in “Writing for the Internet” this fall.
I disagree with Stagnitta’s comment, “there is no editorial review of the content”. I have myself edited many documents, and I have seen pages that I created modified greatly over a short amount of time.
Wikipedia is not the place to consult for original research, but then again, neither is a traditional printed encyclopedia. Wikipedia is very useful when looking for quick background on breaking news, since the chances are that someone who already knows more about the subject than you do will have been there before you and at least posted a few links.
A Wiki is a consensus builder. People who disagree on a point will keep changing each other’s language until everyone is either satisfied or the dominant view takes over. A small number of dedicated geeks can have an overwhelming effect on Wikipedia. Somehow I doubt that the entry on the Amish doesn’t include a lot of input from people who are living on Amish farms. It’s important to be aware of that kind of bias.
Obviously, Wikipedia doesn’t have the authority of a peer-reviewed academic article. I do find it useful as a research guide, though; for instance, the Wikipedia article on a particular subject may include references to names and lines of thinking that I can later use when doing library research.