In “Improving Wikipedia’s Credibility: References and Citations in a Sample of History Articles”, Associate Professors Brendan Luyt and Dan Tan argue that the lack of citations and references in Wikipedia history articles, despite a strict guideline to the contrary, is systematic of a greater issue regarding how information is commoditized on the web and how knowledge is thought of and presented in our halls of education.
In 2008, Luyt and Tan examined the occurrences of citations and references in 50 Wikipedia country history articles to discover how well Wikipedia’s core principal that “all quotes and challengeable material be attributed to a verifiable source” was being adhered to. For comparison, they looked at the same number of articles from the Journal of World History (JWH), published from 2004-2008. What they found was that while 25% of the articles assessed from JWH were cited, only 5% from Wikipedia contained citations. Likewise, Luyt and Tan looked at what kind of sources were being cited (i.e. print vs. online), and found that the majority (62%)of the citations in the Wikipedia articles examined came from online sources, like free government sites and news feeds, while only 1.2% in JWH were internet-based.
Clearly these numbers show how wholly lacking Wikipedia history articles are in verifiable information, as well as reliable sourcing; but instead of abandoning Wikipedia as an unreliable source, Luyt and Tan argue that this is a perfect opportunity to take a long, hard, honest look at how information is commoditized and knowledge is taught. Luyt and Tan point to the fact that most peer-reviewed, scholarly information is locked behind the firewalls of paid journals, but if this information were more accessible then not only would citations go up but the quality of references as well. The flip side of this coin has to do with how knowledge gathering has been taught, as something to be gleaned as a series of facts from textbooks and regurgitated as the same, instead of carefully assessed and contextualized as a part of a larger picture of the society in which we live. This is where educators and historians and even librarians come in, to give the proper instruction to those who are ultimately contributing to spaces such as Wikipedia, which they will then turn around and implement, increasing not only citations and references but quality and respectability.
Ultimately, collaboration is as much about educating and learning as it is about doing and creating.
At the time of their research, in 2008, the World was just heading into a major recession, which meant a financial scaling back and a shift in print to online. Open source was also taking off at this time, as was social networking. So, collaborative online tools were in full swing. Shift to 2010, when this article was published, and there was a noticeable mobility in information gathering with the introduction of the Ipad and the rise of e-reader sales. Bottom line: accessing and sharing information had become easier, faster, and more mobile. Knowledge was becoming the domain of anyone with access to the internet.
This is why I believe Luyt and Tan are specifically addressing Information specialists, especially librarians, as their core audience. Today it is easier than ever to create and disseminate information across the web and in order to insure and maintain the reliability and quality of this information, Luyt and Tan are calling on those with the skills to educate current and future online contributors in critical thinking and literary assessment. This is an insightful piece that has garnered relatively little online or peer-reviewed buzz, but for those in the library profession it should serve as a call to step up and share our informational skills with those who need it.
A Little Bit About Our Authors…
Brendan Luyt is Head of the Division of Information Studies and Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. While his current area of concentration is centered on Southeast Asian literacy and reading habits, Luyt is also interested in heritage and cultural informatics as well information literacy. He has authored and co-authored several articles on the subject of Wikipedia and its evolving role in the field of research and reference.
Daniel Tan is the Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His research interests include educational technology, human factors and usability, and he is credited with creating and implementing a campus-wide e-learning system. Besides authoring and co-authoring publications, Professor Tan speaks worldwide on the subject of e-learning.