I first addressed an article on from the Syracuse Post-Standard on Wikipedia in a post titled “The Dangers of Wikipedia.” Since then many people have addressed the article with their own thoughts and arguments. I think the best point on the topic comes from a Syracuse University professor’s blog called Collin vs. Blog. In a post titled “Better to be ignored?,” Collin Brooke argues that the reporter and librarian are misunderstanding the whole point of helping students understand issues of credibility and authority.
Believe me when I say that I’ve looked, and I have yet to see the writing handbook that doesn’t assume that the only valuable information on the Internet is that which mirrors the “real world.” Credibility (in this model) is to be validated, through reference to a “real world” identity, rather than tested or explored via multiple sources. There are a gazillion sites for verifying the credibility of web sites, very few of which offer the simple insight that dates back to Aristotle at least: credibility is something you earn and develop, not something you simply have. When we ask our students to do research and to prepare the results in written form, we are teaching them to earn credibility through breadth and depth of research. You don’t earn credibility by citing an “authoritative source,” whatever that means. You earn it by testing your sources against one another, understanding what the reasons are for differences of opinion, and figuring out how to resolve them or to choose among positions, etc. In other words, authority should be something that each of us assigns to our sources, not the other way around. It is the result of research, not a prerequisite.
There is no better place to find multiple sources than the internet. It is easy to go out and get more information on a topic you’re researching online . . . just click on the next link in Google. What comes out of this searching and browsing is new thoughts and opinions which are born out of other information. It is a process, not a simple black and white issue of credible vs. not credible. The internet is can not be identified as being a trustworthy source of information or an untrustworthy source of information, in the same way other media can not. There are many factors that weigh on credibility and, thankfully, on the internet it is easier than to weigh those different factors than it is using other media. Fasoldt and the librarian missed this point and they have been called out on it by the blogosphere.
Finally, the other entry on the subject worth reading comes from Many to Many in a post titled Wikipedia Reputation and the Wemedia Project. The entry does a great job at summing up all the arguments that are swirling around out there. Both pages are worth reading.