Wikipedia’s position as the top provider of encyclopaedic content is undisputed. No matter what you search for online, a Wikipedia article is bound to be among the first search results. In the world of academia Wikipedia is met with some degree of scepticism. The accuracy of the articles varies quite a lot between subjects and some articles are more up-to-date than others.
The general opinion among researchers is that Wikipedia is not a suitable academic source. Not all academics agree, however.
“The English Wikipedia has been deemed a reliable source in statistics and mathematics. The pages on basic technical concepts of the field and profiles on notable researchers are meticulously updated, and it is highly unlikely that they would degrade in quality," says Kimmo Vehkalahti, University Lecturer in Statistics.
Vehkalahti points out that the reliability of any source should always be viewed critically, but sees no reason why students shouldn't use Wikipedia as a source.
“I would not want to tell students not to use Wikipedia,” he says, “since I use it constantly myself.”
Information without references is worthless
Wikipedia is completely reliant on other sources. The closer to the facts the source is, the better, but sometimes an article intended for the general public may be better than a peer-reviewed paper.
“Wikipedia is not for original research, which means that it can be used to pinpoint original sources,” says PhD Candidate Salla Laaksonen, who organised a Wikipedia workshop in the University's Think Corner.
University researchers are required to provide society with scientific information according to the third mission of Finnish universities. Wikipedia allows researchers to popularize their own research and make it available for the general public.
“Don't forget Wikipedia’s branding potential. Through Wikipedia you can get more visibility for your research group, a specific research topic or even for yourself,” Laaksonen advised the researchers who attended the workshop.
“Of course I don’t want researchers to only worry about their own research profiles, I hope that they would contribute on a wider scale,” she adds.
Anyone can contribute
Wikipedia is an equal platform in the sense that anyone can update articles. However, some user groups have more rights than the average editor. For example, Wikipedia administrators can delete pages.
“Wikipedia doesn’t have a closed clique who monitors the content,” Iivari Koutonen from the board of Wikimedia Finland points out. “Instead, you become a member of the editor community when you start to edit content and discuss topics. The whole community of editors decides whether to delete a page, it’s not up to a single administrator.”