Jimmy Wales, the founder of the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, says college students should not use the free encyclopedia for class projects or serious research.
Wales' comments were published in the June 12 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
"It is pretty good, but you have to be careful with it," Wales told The Chronicle.
The free, online, open source encyclopedia has often come under attack by academics as being shoddy and full of inaccuracies, according to The Chronicle.
"It is totally unreliable," said Missouri State University history professor Stephen McIntyre. "It's essentially reducing knowledge to opinion."
Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers, allowing most articles to be changed by almost anyone with access to the Web site.
Encyclopedias like Britannica and World Book are written and reviewed by scholars in the field that they are writing about.
McIntyre says he feels that Wikipedia gives its users too much authority.
"Everyone can be an expert, without ever actually being an expert," McIntyre said.
Andrew Cline, associate professor of journalism and avid blogger, disagrees.
"Wikipedia operates on the idea that there are a lot of smart people that know a lot of interesting things. And if they all contribute, you have a useable knowledge base," Cline said.
McIntyre said people who write for traditional encyclopedias spend their lives study-
ing and researching specific topics.
"Essentially, Wikipedia is saying that all knowledge is equal," McIntyre said. "There are too many misconceptions out there already."
Cline feels the difference is not drastic.
"Encyclopedias like Britannica are better, in the sense, that it at least starts with expertise. But I think wikipedia has shown us that you can get to expertise by employing that collective mind," Cline said.
McIntyre feels that Wikipedia is similar to the notion that saying something enough times makes it true.
McIntyre mentioned an episode of the comedy show, The Colbert Report, in which Steven Colbert used the term "wikiality."
In July, Colbert said on his show that Wikipedia creates a "wikiality," a reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you - it becomes reality.
Colbert then urged his audience to find the Wikipedia entry on African elephants and create a false entry that stated their population had tripled in the last six months.
The suggestion led to Wikipedia administrators restricting edits to articles about elephants and Africa from anonymous and newly created users, according to Wikipedia.
"What we are doing is bringing democracy to knowledge," Colbert said.
Senior Physics and Mathematics major, Justin Riley agrees with Colbert's argument to a point.
"If you go on the Internet and believe everything you read, you are an absolute moron, but I think Wikipedia provides a wealth of credible information despite the possibility of inaccuracy," Riley said.
Although Riley thinks that Wikipedia is fairly reliable, he said that it shouldn't be used as the only source.
"No encyclopedia should be the last place you go for information," Cline said.
"Encyclopedias are places to start, I think wikipedia is great for that."
Cline said that most pages include references citing where the information is coming from, "that you can click on and check out for yourself."
Both Cline and McIntyre agree that Wikipedia can be dangerous.
"If everybody can create knowledge, and put it out there in this forum that looks to be legitimate, it has dangerous consequences," McIntyre said.
McIntyre says students have a difficult time sorting out the legitimacy of Internet sources and Wikipedia is misleading them.
"Wikipedia has this slick look to it," McIntyre said.
Cline said the speed and ease of the internet has taught people to stop research too quickly.
" All sources of information need to be approached with a certain amount of academic skepticism," Cline said.
Cline and McIntyre also agree that all encyclopedias have limitations.
Cline says even though traditional encyclopedias are peer reviewed, the articles are written by academics that have particular points of view.
"I do have a problem with over reliance on expertise," McIntyre said.
Cline said that Wikipedia is a good source for finding information on pop culture.
"I can't find Morgan Spurlock in encyclopedia brittanica," Cline said. "You can type any recent thing and somebody has started a page on it."
Cline feels that wikipedia is better than encyclopedia brittanica in some ways.
"Encyclopedia Britannica is bound by covers. It's finite. Wikipedia continues to grow."
Brad Sanders, a senior double major in Biology and Psychology, said this about Wikipedia.
"I just love it. There is so much knowledge in one place."
Sanders said he understands professors not wanting to use it because its not peer reviewed.
"But there is a very small margin of error, that I see," Sanders said.
Sanders thinks having many people contribute to Wikipedia adds to its usefulness. "It is a very good place to start because it gives you other lines of thought," he said.
Sanders thinks that Wikipedia should be an acceptable source for entry level research.
Cline was asked if Wikipedia could be used as a credible source.
"I think the answer to that question is, at the moment, unclear," Cline said.
McIntyre was asked what use students might have for Wikipedia.
"Entertainment," he said.
Wikipedia is categorized as a wiki, a type of website that allows visitors to easily add, remove, or change content, without the need for registration.
Cline commented on his experience with "wikis."
"There are a whole lot of people out there who don't have my level of education, who are very smart, very insightful, have important things to say, and have taught me things. I think it's a very elite's attitude (check) to assume that just because a wiki is produced by the great unwashed, that it is necessarily and by definition, not good information."
How do you feel about Wikipedia or wikis in general?