Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, has garnered more criticism in the past few weeks, as statistics have emerged from a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association that nearly half of medical students use the website as a significant source of their information when preparing for exams. Only 10 percent of the 186 students surveyed reported that they used their textbooks.
The results are another example of people turning to online communities like Wikipedia for their information instead of traditional, old media sources of information.
Clay Shirky, new media expert and analyst, has written extensively about the power of Wikipedia, positing that modern society is rejecting elitism now more than ever. He’s also a significant proponent of the idea that active online communities like Wikipedia function as their own version of peer review.
That is, for the most part, if there are inaccuracies on the pages, the vibrant, diverse Wikipedia community is quick to pull out their virtual whiteout pens and correct the errors. Instead of one fact-checker or proofreader, like the peer-reviewed academic journals, studies, and other materials that medical school officials assert as the only viable educational resources, there’s an entire Internet of editors. And studies have shown that their efforts are just as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica, generally considered the benchmark factual accuracy.
If you’re still skeptical, it’s important to note that the research also shows that most students consulted more than one resource in addition to Wikipedia when preparing for exams, whether it was study guides or small group discussions. They’re not operating solely on the advice of an anonymous online community. Although, at least personally, I wouldn’t find much wrong with that.
(Photo Amin Tabrizi)