When history on Wikipedia leaves you snookered

By Kevin O’Sullivan

For those of you wracking your brains for a quick answer to some vital issue this Tuesday morning, here’s a friendly reminder that Wikipedia, while a useful way of pooling knowledge, getting a potted history of the latest cretin to get their big break through reality tv, or of putting yourself in the frame on some obscure issue, is a coloured research tool. My cue for saying so? Read on….

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6 Responses to “When history on Wikipedia leaves you snookered”

  1. puesoccurrences Says:

    Thanks for the post, Diarmaid! While I’m not adverse to resorting to Wikipedia now and then, I always caution my students about its fundamental unreliability. A great method of reinforcing this is to do something similar to what you have done – show them in class just how easy it is to insert unmistakeably false information into what seems to be a straightforward bio or history. It doesn’t deter them all, but hopefully it gives them a better sense of the wariness needed when using Wikipedia.

    Tina

  2. Joleen K Says:

    I find it’s a great way to find other sources, but I would never cite wikipedia or take information found there as fact when writing academic essays unless I’d seen the information confirmed somewhere else!

    Though extremely fallible, however, I do genuinely believe in Wikipedia as a project. After all, any news media outlet is also fallible, due to potential biases on behalf of editors or owners. Even facts are rarely black and white when there is often a backstory to every event which remains unexplored or even unidentified.

    In a way, therefore, wikipedia is democracy in action, and its fallibility shows up the problematic aspects of any system where everyone gets a say. Ultimately, I think it’s worth it, as long as you don’t take it as absolute truth any more than you take the politicians word for it that they have our best interests at heart because we elected them.

  3. Patrick Says:

    Can we assume the subtitle of Professor Ferriter’s new book is “The Transformation of a Sport” or is it indeed an extension of his meditations on “occasions of sin”

  4. Frank Says:

    Wikipedia is an immensely useful resource if you are curious, as I am, about the films and lives of long dead film actors and about the cast and storylines of long defunct TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s. Then on to youtube to see if any clips of same have been put up for nostalgic consumers such as I to enjoy. However, I wouldn’t be terribly keen on promoting its use for more serious historical investigations.

  5. puesoccurrences Says:

    Tina, Joleen, Patrick, Frank,

    Thanks for the comments. I think what I meant as a bit of a frivolous post – hence all the pool/snooker puns, for which I don’t apologise – did carry another message that you all have pointed to – the fallibility of certain source materials, and their openness to manipulation. And, of course, the need for us to bring the skills involved in assessing the worth of other sources to this one. I suppose it’s all part of working in the crucible of historical research, knowing that sometimes that cushion that we often fall back on can lead to others calling foul.

    Kevin

    (PS – I’ve also been trying to work in a pun about Dennis Taylor-tinted glasses here, but to no avail.)

  6. Patrick Says:

    Thats another whirlwind of puns right there!

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