Is Wikipedia To Blame For Students' Laziness?

from the so-who's-at-fault-here? dept

Let’s get a few things right out in the open: anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, it’s never going to be 100% accurate, during breaking news there may be many factual errors posted before the entry is accurate, and considering all this it shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole source when doing research. We had to clear that up because apparently some people didn’t realize this. Writing for, intern Soumya Srinagesh tells a cautionary tale of writing a “massive second-semester AP English research final project” in 45 minutes using Wikipedia as her only source. One can assume that any serious essay written in such a short time would be pretty poor, particularly if it only used one source. But that’s not the point she tries to make. Instead she turns it around, blaming Wikipedia’s decentralized editing system and the lack of filters it has in place. Ominously (for the future of America), she says her fellow students generally accept Wikipedia’s word as gospel. But again, instead of calling out these students for being lazy (and arguably for being cheaters), it’s Wikipedia’s fault.

Srinagesh and other critics of Wikipedia entirely miss the point about the site. They set up straw men by questioning whether it’s 100% accurate, or whether it’s always trustworthy. But even if we accept the premise that, say, the Encyclopedia Brittanica is more accurate (albeit less extensive), it would still be wholly unworthy as the sole source for serious research or a term paper. Most papers that students write require some sort of bibliography, and professors always emphasize using multiple sources. That’s because the point is to get practice doing real research, not just rewording what was read elsewhere. If a student wants to take a shortcut and skip the point of the assignment, that doesn’t seem like Wikipedia’s fault.

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Comments on “Is Wikipedia To Blame For Students' Laziness?”

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Veronica (user link) says:

How did this girl end up in an “advanced placement” English class? She should not be there if she does not know that the main objective of a research paper is to do actual RESEARCH. This to me implies more than just surfing wikipedia…

Whatever happened to looking up actual, physical books and magazines? People are getting so lazy nowadays that if they can’t find it on the net, they just move on. There are still plenty of scholarly journals and magazines as well as books in the nonfiction section of a library. (oh yeah! The library…I forgot about that.) I can’t believe this girl is blaming wikipedia for her lack of effort.

Jim Zandi says:

Did you really read that article?

I think you missed her focus here. Srinagesh is not blaming Wikipedia, she is blaming her fellow students. She says, “[so] please take my advice, students: . . . before including Wikipedia information in a term paper or using Wikipedia entries to study for exams, make sure you support your findings with more legitimate sources.”

She also loaded her column with all sorts of jokes, including a false survey of doctors and a false definition of “Wiki.” The column was obviously (to me, at least) meant to be taken lightly, and to admonish herself and her peers for being lazy oafs.

I think Joe either: 1) skimmed the article and missed her point, or 2) read the title of the article and then hunted-down the snippets inside that supported that statement. Either way, I don’t believe he read the article from top-to-bottom.

Aaron says:

Okay first off, Amen Joe. Second, why on earth is a high school student blaming Wikipedia for her own laziness? I mean, honestly if this is such a “major” research paper, why is she waiting until the *last* minute to do any work. If anything this article speaks volumes about her work ethic and reliability. In light of this, I find it surprising she is even an intern in such a “respected” news organization.

Wiki Defender says:


Ya know…

Wikipedia IS RESEARCH. It’s just one source.

Some studies have actually shown that on scientific entries Wikipedia actually has an average of less errors per topic than the encyclopedia Britanica.

So let’s not say that Wikipedia is a bad source for information- it’s not. Wikipedia is a great source of information.

The problem isn’t that Wikipedia is used as research material- the problem is that it is the ONLY research material used.

Just like you can’t get an accurate picture of politics by watching “Fox News” alone- or by reading “The Nation” alone-

if you want to get a full rounded view of a topic you need multiple sources.

So please- let’s not emphasize that Wikipedia is less accurate than other sources- (if articles I’ve read on the topic are true) for most articles it isn’t less accurate.

Let’s instead emphasize the need for multiple sources of information.

Alan MadLeese (user link) says:

Re: Remember Dr. Johnson:

I quote from “The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, by Henry Hitchings, in a review by ANdrew O’Hagan:

“Working together, it took the forty members of the French Academy fifty-five years to do for the French what Johnson did for the British in twelve years, and Johnson did the central work alone. He called in some transcribing help form a handful of hacks, most of them Scottish, denizens of Grub Street who were gin-soaked and half-dead before they even got started….”

So all this horsehockey about how poorly the Wikidpedia effort will turn out is just that, the dedicated people working away on it will get it right, and it willtake time, just like it took — is still taking — the French, but they will eventually get it right, despite the interfering and kibitzing sidelineders, and we will all be better oiff for it, though most of us just sat on the sidelines carping. Mr. Johnson would have something to say about that, and it would cut to the quick, unlike much of the idle commentary about busy people. almacleese, hallowellmaine, under brooding granite hills.

Anonymous Coward says:

So instead of “blame the inaccurate source,” we’re playing “blame the reader?” Yeah, I see why Wikipedia and its supporters garner so much respect in the academic community. No one has to double-, triple-, and quadruple-check a real encyclopedia article, because there is no expectation that it was written and/or vandalized by some random jackass (or 20) on the Internet, but rather that it was written and edited in collaboration with many experts in the field.

Ben says:

I simply don't believe her.

Others have raised very good points about the straw men being set up here; I’d rather point out that she never said what error was in Wikipedia that she then put into her paper. She mentions one, and then immediately rescinds it. I think she was told to write an article about Colbert and Wikipedia, and decided she’d lie about a paper she never actually wrote in order to create a crux for her attack column. What was the error, and on what page? It’s in the history even if it’s not in the article now — what mistakes did she copy? Of course she doesn’t say. She’s lying about the entire thing.

Ben says:

Re: Re: I simply don't believe her.

Yes, Jim, but she didn’t state _the errors in the article;_ she simply made the unsubstantiated accusation that there were errors so egregious in the article that her intellectual laziness (or dishonesty, if she plagiarized) could not keep her afloat. She didn’t even say exactly which article she used, just the “entries on Renaissance literature.” I want to know specifically what errors were in the article; without that, I simply don’t believe her. Other criticism of Wikipedia has at least cited actual evidence. She just bashes Wikipedia with a story too general and too conveniently timed to be credible.

Wikipediite says:

The thing that makes Wikipedia great as a research tool is that the good articles are all sourced… so then you can use it as a guide for what sources you need to obtain to write such a paper… You do, of course, have to actually check the original sources, but it still helps in gathering the information you need to write the paper.

BillDivX says:


how long do you think it’s going to be before professors wise up and start checking out wikipedia to make sure you aren’t using it to cheat. The only way you could get past that is if the info is mangled into an unrecognizably different form, which means that they used it as research, and wrote their own report. If they do that in 45 minutes, it will be piss poor and recieve a failing grade. If they cut and paste, the prof will notice it looks just like the wiki, and nail them for cheating. If they got facts, and wrote their own paper using them…well, isn’t that the point of a paper??? that’s not cheating, that’s resourceful research, and effective writing.

Crysknife007 (user link) says:

Nice Article.

Nicely written thought-provoking article.

As a constant user of Wikipedia it was nice to be reminded how very untrustable the vast quantity of information on the internet is.

While open-edit projects certainly have their place, it certainly isn’t to fill in for actual effort on the part of lazy college “writers”.

I wanted to let you know that you made a really good point.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, back in the good old days, people used to be held accountable for their own actions. Now everybody wants to point the finger at somebody else. No, that’s not how it works. You and you alone are responsible for the actions that you take. If you act irresponsibly, you must face the consequences. Using Wikipedia and nothing else to write a major English paper is just plain stupid, and anyone who does that deserves to get a big fat red F. You can try to block and filter and censor stuff all you want, but that’s not really where the fault lies. The fault lies with the individual, and whaddya know, that’s something that can actually be corrected relatively easy, compared to spitting and hissing at an innocent third party.

Ta bu shi da yu (user link) says:


Techdirt has hit the nail on the head in it’s diagnosis of who is at fault here. Lazy students have existed since well before the days of Wikipedia, and have also been failing consistently since before the days of Wikipedia!

Wikipedia makes a great scapegoat for these students, but unfortunately I doubt that many teachers are going to pay much attention to the argument being used. My suggestion to lazy students is to start being less lazy, and take responsibility for your school work!

Wikiman says:

It is a source none the less

Wikipedia has lots to offer, it has an abudance of articles, and they are checked daily, for accuracy from the Mod’s or “Modifiers” also in order to post an artilce or add to it, one must have citations, or that article or writtrn peice is not vaild and will not be posted on Wikipedia.

so use Wikipedia for what its worth, the worlds coolest online resource!

Wikiman says:

It is a source none the less

Wikipedia has lots to offer, it has an abudance of articles, and they are checked daily, for accuracy from the Mod’s or “Modifiers” also in order to post an artilce or add to it, one must have citations, or that article or writtrn peice is not vaild and will not be posted on Wikipedia.

so use Wikipedia for what its worth, the worlds coolest online resource!

Rogers Cadenhead (user link) says:

The Article Was Facetious

I love TechDirt, but it has sent people in the wrong direction on this Wikipedia essay. Her comments regarding the massive AP English paper she completed by cribbing Wikipedia were a gag — one of several jokey references in the commentary.

She wrote it as a light-hearted nudge to get teens to be more skeptical of what they plagiarize.

rs says:


Joe apparently does not have any idea how students who (were born post-internet) behave, nor does he have a sense of humor. This cautionary annecdote from Soumya is a warning to all students not to trust Wikipedia and such sites for information as it can be edited by any one with enough spinal cord and motor neuron ability to type.

Just because something shows up on google or wikipedia is not enough for people to trust its content or believe in its veracity. I think the point was made very wittily by cnet

Jack Stevenson says:

The real problem with Wikipedia

Although many Wikipedia entries may have minor inaccuracies contained within them, it is the entries that have any sort of political connections that always cause problems. Fanatics from all over the gamut are always logging in, trying to cement their ideals as truth.

Therefore, as a source that cannot be trusted, any respected researcher will never use Wikipedia.

Flameviper says:

Good god, shut up!

Stop bad-mouthing Wikipedia. It’s not an “inaccurate site filled with lies and misinformation”. I’ll admit that occasionally, an article is wrong. But 99% of the time, it’s dead on.

And, I must ask, why in the almighty splunge would somebody write a research paper in 45 minutes and only use one source?

And everything isn’t immediately accepted as fact; at any given time there are at least 25 users monitoring Recent Changes and scrutinising every single edit. So shut up.

matchvspjs says:

good point

You make an excellent point about wikipedia despite the fact that the sites accuracy is definitely a matter to question. nonetheless, using Srinagesh as an example was a poor choice since her article was a caveat geared towards using wikipedia as a sole source

it seems you’re the one setting up the straw men and it has considerably weakened your argument.

Flameviper (user link) says:

In response

You also make good points, and it seems that I had inadvertantly misinterpreted the argument against my position. It wasn’t the starting post that really pounded Wikipedia as much as the following posts.

And as Ta bu shi da yu said before, many people use it as a scapegoat.

Criticising Wikipedia’s reliability and using traditional encyclopedias instead is like criticising a car’s reliability and walking rather than take the “risk” of driving a car. We don’t chastise automobile accident victims because they used an “unsafe car” and didn’t just walk. We should do the same for Wikipedia.

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