An empirical examination of Wikipedia's credibility

Thomas Chesney


Wikipedia is an free, online encyclopaedia which anyone can add content to or edit the existing content of. The idea behind Wikipedia is that members of the general public can add their own personal knowledge, anonymously if they wish. Wikipedia then evolves over time into a comprehensive knowledge base on all things. Its popularity has never been questioned, although its authority has. By its own admission, Wikipedia contains errors. A number of people have tested Wikipedia’s accuracy using destructive methods, i.e. deliberately inserting errors. This has been criticised by Wikipedia. This short study examines Wikipedia’s credibility by asking 258 research staff with a response rate of 21 percent, to read an article and assess its credibility, the credibility of its author and the credibility of Wikipedia as a whole. Staff were either given an article in their own expert domain or a random article. No difference was found between the two group in terms of their perceived credibility of Wikipedia or of the articles’ authors, but a difference was found in the credibility of the articles — the experts found Wikipedia’s articles to be more credible than the non–experts. This suggests that the accuracy of Wikipedia is high. However, the results should not be seen as support for Wikipedia as a totally reliable resource as, according to the experts, 13 percent of the articles contain mistakes.

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