Web Development

University professor says Wikipedia fosters a climate of blind trust

The associate professor of information systems from Deakin University believes that the popular online encyclopedia promotes an environment of blind trust among users searching for information.

The associate professor of information systems from Deakin University believes that the popular online encyclopedia promotes an environment of blind trust among users searching for information.

Professor Lichtenstein, who is is co-leading a team of researchers to determine how Wikipedia operates, is not impressed with Wikipedia's model of relying on "lay citizens" rather than traditional experts. While experts have never been 100% correct, she maintains that "a group of untrained people can be more misleading."

Excerpt from ComputerWorld:

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.

Lichtenstein's students are not allowed to cite Wikipedia in their work. She elaborates: "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?"

Though I would not dismiss Wikipedia in its entirety, some of Professor Lichtenstein's arguments do make sense. Would you rely on the information in a Wikipedia article or use it simply as a means to get an initial understanding? Even if you use it as a starting point, do you get tempted not to look further?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

106 comments
lamp
lamp

If anything in this world "foster blind trust" it is Universities. You bring in a bunch of 18 year olds who know next to nothing about the world then they start believing anything that their instructors tell them because they have some big buildings to hold classes in. Yeah, yeah, they claim they teach "critical thinking" and "research" but at the core of it all is a blind trust in the sources and instructors. At least with wikipedia the kids won't have to pay tens of thousands a year to get dubious information.

deepsand
deepsand

In fact, it is the college experience that, for many, serves to disabuse them of many of the fallacious notions previously implanted in their young brains by parents, clergy, earlier teachers, and other authority figures.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

For high school, and college level work, it's a fine place to start; but it should never be used as an end source. I have to side with the university professor on this one.

Kjell_Andorsen
Kjell_Andorsen

I was always under the impression that Encyclopedias should never be used as a primary source period when it comes to serious accademic work. I just don't see why Wikipedia is being singled out as a more inappropriate source than say Encarta or the Brittanica.

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

"I just don't see why Wikipedia is being singled out as a more inappropriate source than say Encarta or the Brittanica." Those were never useful enough to be tempting. Even basically bored, lazy primary school students found traditional encyclopedias barely enough to provide a hint of what to research next, not nearly enough to satisfy curiosity.

deepsand
deepsand

A well written and edited encyclopedia serves as an excellent starting point, provides information as reliable, though not necessarily as timely, as any other immediately available source, and provides a guideline for additional studies. And, being much more well vetted than, for example, Wikipedia, they are a more trsutworthy source.

santeewelding
santeewelding

As primary source, how do you pronounce your first? Transpositioning the a and e of your last produces mine. Son of Andor?

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

It is 500% easier to transpose. [i]Transpositioning the a and e of your last produces mine.[/i] The "a and the e"? Endorsan? Endor-san == honorable forest moon ?

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

we didn't use the Encyclopedia Britannica as a reference either. As stated by others any encyclopedia is just a starting point for research. Once you start delving into the nitty gritty details you find lots of point where any encyclopedia has errors. just my 2 cents :)

deepsand
deepsand

the average drivel found online. Unless one already knows enough to be able to determine which sources to trust, if one wants reliable information beyond and above that found in an encyclopedia, a good place to start is the nearest college's library.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I have to drive, ride or walk several miles to get to a good library. Whereas the web is at our fingertips. That is part of the problem. Even when I was young not very many students actually spent a lot of time in the library. It was a place most students spent minimal time in except for the "nerds". You're right about the authoritative but have you ever found a mistake in a hard copy of something and contacted the author? The corrections have to wait for the next version (if any), in the meantime there is no good way to warn the unwary. The previous version stays there even after the new version is in. Try proving to some professors when you're young that the reference is wrong! :) How often do we confirm what we read regardless of the source? How do you confirm something you read? To me just reading it in another source isn't confirmation. As a repository for knowledge the internet has a long way to go. But it opens up some interesting possibilities.

deepsand
deepsand

Firstly, it must be noted that a "mistake" is unintentional, and results in mis-information; on the other hand, dis-information results from a deliberate and intentional disregard for the facts. Traditional publishers of reference works and other authoritative texts proactively seek to avoid both of the aforesaid; they have a vested interest in publishing information that is correct because that is their end product. On-line publishers, on the other hand, by and large have an agenda that is quite different. Their goal is not to simply provide reliable information, but to use information as a [b]means of affecting the user[/b] in a manner that will ultimately be of benefit to said publishers. Given that the 'net allows for the quick and easy publishing, on a global scale, of both mis-information and dis-information, at a fraction of the cost of traditional print, it is perforce the case that the former is not, and probably never will be, nearly so reliable a source of information as is the latter.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

[u]some[/u] encyclopedias. We grew up with three sets of encyclopedias in the house - MacMillan's Everyman's Encyclopedia, the World Book Encyclopedia and a third one, the name of which I've forgotten. It was a travesty. MacMillan's was fascinating - it was a British encyclopedia - and it gave us a dramatically different outlook on the world. There are a lot of schlock encyclopedias being published - I daresay there are now more bad ones than good ones. Cheap encyclopedias - the only ones the average American household can afford to purchase - aren't worth much more than the web.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

Especially when I consider the amount of effort involved in compiling an encyclopedia versus the effort involved in creating a web post. Your use of the word "deliberately" is spot on - I suspect the average student's use of the internet for research is probably casual and automatic. Seeking information in an encyclopedia, regardless of its quality, requires more effort and forethought. A student who is prepared to put in that effort may be, by nature, less likely to get caught out by a poorly compiled or inaccurate encyclopedia. Thanks for the insight.

deepsand
deepsand

in other authoritative sources than the average web post. The difference is that if one deliberately seeks out authoritative sources, such as encyclopedias, one is much more likely to find reliable information than if one simply employs a search engine. And, good encyclopedias will point one to additional and more reliable reference materials.

Interested Amateur
Interested Amateur

There are policies and guidelines for posting something on Wikipedia. I'd trust info from there a lot more than from a free-for-all like You Tube. Just my opinion. Interested Amateur

deepsand
deepsand

That being said, though, it is not nearly so reliable as a good library.

deepsand
deepsand

The mere fact that "information" is easily and quickly available, without the need to seek out authoritative sources, coupled with the tendency of far too many to do no more than [i]seems[/i] necessary, leads to a great deal of dis-information and mis-information being accepted as factually correct. No good can come of this.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...is that thanks to the internet, I can login right now to a few searchable databases, and instantly have access to numerous scholarly peer-reviewed journals/articles/books, etc in order to conduct fairly solid research. What took me days to research as an undergrad literally takes me hours now as a grad student. I think the professor is pointing the finger at the wrong culprit. Yeah, Wikipedia may or may not be a good source...but why are the students going their in droves in the first place? Address that question, and you don't need to worry about Wikipedia as an authoritative source for research anymore than you do urbandictionary.com as an authoritative source for proper English verbiage. That's my take on it, at least.

deepsand
deepsand

And, ones that were available and known to you and/or others like you prior to the advent of the Internet. So, for you, all that has changed is that you can locate and acquire trusted information more easily and quickly. As for your fellow students, far too many are [b]not[/b] seeking authoritative sources, but simply looking to get quick and easy results. Worst yet, many of them are employing selective winnowing, seeking sources which support their pre-conceptions while rejecting those which rebut such.

deepsand
deepsand

I would amend that to "Education is Global Defense." Absent sufficient knowledge and understanding by all, mankind will never succeed in escaping Earth's gravity well, and will be left to perish in the cradle that it itself has fouled.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

"For the most part, colleges have therefore ceased to be seats of learning, having become little more than expensive institutes of vocational training." I think that sums up quite well what may be one of the greatest tragedies in this country. I saw a bumper sticker today that I really liked. It said, "Education IS National Defense." It's heart-breaking to see how many excellent, dedicated teachers are fettered by the inexcusable, least-common-denominator type of schooling that has become the norm. Education has become an industry, attempting to use mass-production, assembly-line methods to "teach" - and mass production only works if all the parts are standardized. Rather than use a piece that doesn't fit, you throw it out. Thinking about it makes me ill. [Edit: incorrect tense. Tsk, tsk, tsk]

deepsand
deepsand

In order for one to be behind, another must be ahead.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

I particularly like the "No Child Gets Ahead" - I hadn't heard it before.

deepsand
deepsand

While there is truth in the recent adage that it takes a village to raise a child, too many take that to mean that the acts of any one individual are insufficient for the task; and, by extension, that their own acts are of no consequence and therefore unnecessary. The error here is to not recognize that there are acts of commission and acts of [b]omission[/b], and that doing nothing can have an effect equal to that of doing something. When I was a child, it was most commonplace for adults to discipline children not their own; not only was this accepted, it was in fact expected. Then, the village acted so as to guide the child toward the right path. Today is so very different. Parents take offense at the efforts of others in this regard, with the result that everyone other than the parents is too fearful of reprisals to make the effort. The village stands by, while the parents do nothing. "T[i]he only thing required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.[/i]"

deepsand
deepsand

if I persisted long enough at trying, I'd eventually get it right. Now, after decades of doubt as to the wisdom of such advice, I find that perhaps it's actually true!

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

The p!ss poor parenting in this society is a silent crisis. Everyone talks about global warming, and how it endangers life on this planet; such as polar bears. Well, here's a news flash: poor parenting also endangers life, and the effects are immediately seen. As I've alluded to in other posts, there is an epidemic of sorts in Chicago: school-age children dying violent deaths (many school/gang related...its gotten so bad that when a 15 year old is shot, the school system is quick and happy to report that he wasn't currently enrolled in the public schools...as if that somehow makes it more palatable). How many of the kids would still be alive had the parents of the perpetrators done a better job??? Another of the three main factors as to why I didn't go into teaching (I mentioned practices, and the third was pay--not going to lie) happened while I was doing observation work in an underprivileged school during the holiday season. Each of the students were creating paper menorahs (I suppose in choosing between not celebrating any holiday and celebrating them all, I'd go with all, too), and on the candles, they were writing down what they wished for during the season. One boy wrote: "One day, I'd like to come home and mommy and daddy wouldn't be hitting each other". Michael Vick is in prison for fighting dogs. What should be done to people that pretty much ruin the lives of children???

deepsand
deepsand

As for the causes, I would add one very important one - parents. Far too many of them are only too eager to take the easy path, allowing their kids to learn no more than their schools demand of them. The wife of my best friend, after teaching since she graduated from college over 3 decades ago, is taking early retirement; she is burned out, overwhelmed by the feeling of having accomplished very little. She is weary of trying, and almost always failing, to motivate parents to help their children realize their potential, of parents telling her that "passing" is good enough. And, of those parents who do envision their children attending college, it's not for the purpose of furthering their education, but of getting a "good job." For the most part, colleges have therefore ceased to be seats of learning, having become little more than expensive institutes of vocational training.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I'm in the martial arts. My instructor has a favorite saying: You don't know what you don't know. As a black belt and instructor myself, on whom should I place the blame when a white or yellow belt fails to properly execute the move that we've never covered in any amount of depth in class?? I didn't know the moves until I was properly taught. Conversely, I didn't know how to really conduct an adequate search for information until I was instructed on proper research methodologies. One of the major factors of me not going into education was that when I was doing the field work and student teaching, I was greatly opposed to most of the teaching practices that were becoming the norm (remember creative spelling...egads). Fast forward a dozen years, and with more emphasis on standardized tests due to No Kid Gets Ahead and other policies, and less on comprehensive curricula....well, here you have one of the results. Students value regurgitation of facts (since that is what they've been primarily measured on through the last 12 years or so of schooling) and have no clue as to what true learning is or the discernment skills necessary to form defensible stances on issues. If you're a sports fan, you see a very similar phenomenon occur with basketball players. Due to the way AAU, school leagues and the like now work, kids are taught next-to-no fundamentals...and that filtered its way up to the NBA. The NBA went into the tank when they totally lifted age restrictions. Now that they've required at least one year of college, the quality of play has already improved. If they are successful in passing the two year requirement, I have no doubt the NBA will be as entertaining again as it was in the late 80's/early 90's. People blamed ESPN for poor basketball play (emphasis on dunking highlights, one-on-one play, etc, etc) much in the same way this professor is blaming Wikipedia. And like I said in my other post, while it may have some truth to it, I think there is a bigger culprit...and until that gets addressed, this professor is spitting in the wind and only serving to increase his own blood pressure. Wikipedia used as a cited source is a symptom, not the disease.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

I find UrbanDictionary a very useful tool. It's sometimes the ONLY way I can understand what the kids who work for us as temps are talking about.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

re: teaching. I haven't the qualification yet for traditional classroom teaching, or 'Professor' status. I teach web-based classes, work primarily from home with the exception of required computer lab and office hours. Web students are primarily self-starting, not particularly in need of more than an occasional bit of advice. I just get them through learning to use MS Office Suite programs. It's not quite the same as classroom work. The hours are great (I can work until the wee hours which suits me and most of my students), do minimal driving back and forth to work, and a lot of the homework that they do is nearly 'self-grading'. Many of the other web-based instructors use test banks in order to further lessen their own load, but in that regard I write my own. Multiple choice doesn't cut it when applying practical knowledge. Doesn't do much for comprehension, either. Don't talk yourself out of an option just yet! :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Smart and unabashed, rendered without disguise, palm open to show no weapon... Rendered upon your remark about going into health care... As to an officer and a gentleman... About which I remain hopeful... Thunderstruck or not.

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

Although I like it as much as any other current program, I wasn't thinking of House, just of my own un-self-conscious online persona. Me, as a doctor: "The good news is that your survivors won't be burdened by the expense of an extended hospital stay."

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

[i]I spend the evening working in my wood shop and the sane corner of TR goes off the deep end?[/i] I suppose because I'm so much fun, nobody has asked me to stand in that, nor any other corner. :D boxy: commiseration on your part was perfectly clear; I covered at least one base, unnecessarily. santeewelding: "Salute"? I never know wtf you're talking about. Is it safe to assume, you never wish that I understand what you mean? Y/N

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

I spend the evening working in my wood shop and the sane corner of TR goes off the deep end? Ahem. Chronology: I resigned. I posted an enigmatic/melodramatic continuation of the "spineless Lizzie" thread - because, as deepsand stated, a lot can happen in a little time. Switchgrass posted an appropriately sarcastic/sardonic (as I read it) response. I posted an equally sarcastic/sardonic response. It was taken seriously. People got nutty. Obviously, I should have included the tags - I'm all too aware that sarcasm doesn't translate well to text; you think I would remember that by now. I've only been online since 1988, after all. My bad, and I apologize. Next time, I'll send along a cluebrick, postpaid. Somehow, I thought the tone was clear - "bid you all adieu"? Get real! :-) (There, does that help?) Switchgrass, I apologize if I offended, insulted, upset or worried you. I certainly didn't mean to. Your response was appropriate, though I think that attempting to phrase one's resume as a scene from Shakespeare is worth more than $0.02. Ya gotta gimme at least a nickel - inflation, ya know? BTW, +10 for switchgrass, but let's switch to bison, too. Forget beef. Boxfiddler: thanks for the sympathy, I do appreciate it. I hadn't considered teaching as a possibility, mostly because I don't consider myself well enough educated for the job. I helped a couple of my instructors set up their courses, one in high school and one in tech school, and was stunned by the amount of work involved. I'm also intimidated by the massive responsibility a good teacher has. The opportunities are probably here, there are two major universities within 12 miles of my house. But likewise, the competition is also here. santeewelding: Symptoms? Hmmm. You might consider calling the bank, I think your reality check may have bounced... Again, to all: I apologize sincerely for my execrable communication. Resigning was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make since I had my mother's life support withdrawn. I looked for an IT job for 5 years; for 3 of those years I ended up working as a telephone interviewer for a flipping market research company. Having to give up my IT job, which was for a time the most challenging and enjoyable position I've ever had, because of an SOB business manager has made me quite bitter. Perhaps, under the circumstances, I should refrain from further posting until my emotions are more settled. Thank you for your suggestions, your commiseration and your patience - peace be with you all. -Liz [edit: mismatched tenses]

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

I'm doing a bit of tutoring, and enjoy it enough that I'm thinking about teaching.

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

I meant to encourage the next profession, not to discourage the professional, da_Lizzie.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Thought that commiseration on my part was fairly obvious. http://tinyurl.com/6z7ef8 referencing 'expected crack', I thought it funny that you expected some wisecrack about your 'bedside manner'. Hmm... perhaps a reference to 'House'? :D No intent to further wound da_Lizzie.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Now, as to the well-being of one Liz, and empathy left hanging, I rummage in my bag, she showing marked symptoms.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

So, I'll bid you all adieu.

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

I'll give maximum $0.02 more for an IT gal, or a poet. I believe I'm going to switch to health care. I'd rather repair something worth repairing, than mend Bill Gates' $5 Billion eff-ups. In response to the expected crack about my bedside manner: radiology, smart-arses.

santeewelding
santeewelding

So I repeat, What speaks now? Having laid aside what was, have you re-engineered another to speak so soon? Or,...

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

You have a lot to offer. Have you thought about teaching? Is there a market for that where you live? keyboard gremlins

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

[pre] Thrice the Businessman's betrayed, Thrice and once the Owner's whined, 'Lizbeth cries, "T'is time! T'is time!" So off to pound the pavement, go! The resum? must shine, must glow Computer tech with skills elite, Kept the network clear and fleet. Administrator, system-wise Data's safe from prying eyes. Win2K, XP I know, Some *nix too, but Vista? No. Queen of inkjets; toner witch Tamed the router, hub and switch. Kept the DNS in thrall Migr?ted the servers all. Well adept at troubleshooting, Reinstalling and rebooting System's hung? BSOD? Such mischance is well-known to me. [/pre] Yes, it's weak - I'm out of practice. I've not done an extended parody in over 12 years. Having been slighted once too often by the business manager - who has, over the course of the last five months, blocked, overridden, subverted or ignored every suggestion, procedure, implementation or standard I've proposed, I submitted my resignation over the weekend. The stress of having to fight constantly to be allowed to do my job properly has destroyed my health. X-( Come June 6th, I will be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Given the sad state of the job market in the region (there's no demand for 52-year-old, non-degreed, disabled women in IT locally), it's likely my next job will be on par with being a Wal-Mart greeter. :-( Moving out of the area is not an option - it would mean abandoning relationships that are far too important and meaningful. In addition, due to a serious spinal injury, I'm not physically able to manage moving and I don't have the resources to pay to have it done for me. So, there's a fair chance that this will be my last position in IT. :_| Large change, small amount of time. So it goes...

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

Yes, things change. For a mere 5 weeks after having declared my spine to be of insufficient starchiness, the point is rendered moot by my submission.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

Well, of course. Didn't somebody let slip the dogs of war?

santeewelding
santeewelding

There's something else to our allotted time besides engagement with the untoward? I guess you could crap your pants, but only as a delaying tactic; self-delaying, at that.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

There, are you satisfied? :-)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

santee -- are you feeling hounded yet? They're loose.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Supraintelligence, like yours, first locates. Has to do with navigation, as in place and time and mind, unsatisfied with where.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

Nay, laddie, ye canna carner t' markit aun crypticism. Ah'l hahve me Auntie Truss ahn ye. Pidgin-ish latin: Illegitimati non carborundum: don't let the b*stards grind you down. Well, they did. For the first time in my life, I'm only in it for the money - as paltry as it is.

santeewelding
santeewelding

The cryptic is my corner. So, what happened?

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

And it did. Illegitimati carborundum...

santeewelding
santeewelding

I thought at length about what you said, but refrained. Deepsand has stepped in and, I think, said precisely what needed be said.

deepsand
deepsand

There is a correlation between the adversities that one has weathered and ones ability to not merely accept risk, but to embrace it. Absent a crystal ball or time machine, what life will throw at us in the future, and when, cannot be foretold. You may find yourself to be a most changed person within a very short span of time.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

at the age of 52, I doubt it's going to get there.

deepsand
deepsand

Setting issues of calcification, ossification, dementia, etal. aside (those are best left for a Friday Yuk), age brings with it both the understanding that the ability of others to affect ones life is generally much lower than once believed, that the long term impact of any such effects are likewise diminshed, and the courage to to take what, at least appear to be be, greater risks. In short, one eventually reaches the point where one can say "this is my opinion," or "these are the facts," without hesitiation for fear of reprisal. Life is game from which no one gets out alive.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

But, you are absolutely right.

deepsand
deepsand

Quite frankly, I'd tell the Pope to speak English were he to address me in German, Italian or Latin. That one claims a special position or relationship to one in a special position bestows no privilege to demand that others conform to their wishes. Sooner or later the owner's daughter will need to learn that the world does not and will not speak her jargon.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

it's the owner's daughter...

deepsand
deepsand

Using hip slang is fine for private conversations. For work purposes, though, everyone needs to employ a commonly understood language. If the kids don't like that, TS.