Why So Much Hate on Wikipedia?

Taleen Postian, Staff Writer

If your professor told you that for your final paper, you were forbidden from using the largest and most-read source within your chosen field, you would probably be quite upset. More than upset, you would likely be confused. What if this source was Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia? You would be more understanding. But why? The encyclopedia is available in 329 languages and is a noncommercial, collaborative source that is maintained by an army of volunteers. According to the Economist, Wikipedia is the “largest and most-read reference work in history,” as of 2021. I know this not because I had remembered a single line from an Economist article published a year ago, but because when I was researching this article, I read the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia to learn that, “Wikipedia is the largest and most-read reference work in history.”

In an age of ever-increasing paywalls and impeded access to information, research of any kind is becoming more difficult by the day. That is why, at least to a college student without a lot of disposable income, a website that is free to use is almost always more valuable than one that charges you 50 bucks to read a single academic article. 

Additionally, Wikipedia is especially useful for undergraduate college students who have not yet found nor dived deep into one topic to study for their academic careers. This is due to its status as a very famous host for freely accessible, summative articles on almost every topic. For example, if I know nothing about the various branches of Indo-European languages but have a hunch that I would be interested in learning more about this subject, I am not going to buy a textbook as my first step in research. I might close out of the search tab entirely if I reach an article that can only be accessed by purchasing a monthly subscription. Academic articles that are free are often not peer-reviewed and can be out of date or sparsely researched. Wikipedia is a well-known, trusted source not for the fact that everything on it should be taken as fact but because it is a familiar website with little usage of ads and has up-to-date moderation by actual people in a not-for-profit format. 

The fact that it is famous is important because no matter how reputable or scholarly other free articles are, if someone doesn’t know of the website beforehand, they are much less likely to access it in their early stages of research. I would choose Wikipedia over a random internet blog as a resource any day. And the lack of ads is almost a novelty at this point on the internet. 

This is all without even mentioning the best part of a Wikipedia article: the references section. The fact that Wikipedia doesn’t allow original research and only conveys knowledge that is already established and recognized means that any knowledge it provides in an article is sourced from another place and thus is the perfect reference library. Wikipedia not only lists all the sources of its information in its articles, but it also links them so people can access them directly. And often, because Wikipedia is written by real people who are passionate about the articles they are contributing, they will provide sources that students who are in an intro class would not know, ones more specific and rare than materials added to a general syllabus.

The biggest argument you see against Wikipedia is that since anyone can edit it, it can’t be trusted as much as an academic journal article or a news article. However, its 287,097 active editors are more on top of necessary article corrections and updates than the team behind a single academic journal’s archive editing simply by the fact that they have the manpower. Wikipedia has recorded 1.9 edits per second as of November 2020. 

People don’t only use Wikipedia for education or work-driven scrolling. People can often fall into a Wikipedia rabbit hole, following terms across dozens of articles, starting at the Cuban Missile Crisis and ending at a summary of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This pastime is an excellent way to accrue knowledge across many different fields, almost like spending a day in a library without having to leave the house. There are simply ridiculous amounts of knowledge across drastically different disciplines that all can be accessed in one internet search.