A few years ago, as the promised Information Superhighway was growing into the Internet that we know today, no one (to my knowledge) predicted that a collaboratively written, free-content, mass-linked website aspiring to cover all areas of human knowledge would become one of the most prominent information sources in the world. Still less did I anticipate that I would eventually play a role helping to administer such a site.
Eugene inspired me to volunteer this series of posts, now drawing to a close, by discussing a series of cases in which courts have either cited to Wikipedia for information, or asked themselves whether they can take judicial notice of the content of a Wikipedia article.
My own take on the reliability of Wikipedia articles is consistent with that suggested by some of the commenters: articles on non-contentious topics are usually accurate; articles on highly contentious articles are usually accurate on basic facts, but can be subject to bias and dispute with respect to the matters in controversy. It’s an overgeneralization, but in essence, if debating a subject could lead to a fist-fight in a bar, or to a heated dispute in academe, then sooner or later the subject will be involved in a content dispute on Wikipedia. This is really not a surprise.
(The surprise comes from how many additional petty matters we also argue about. The people who sometimes refer to Wikipedia administrators and experienced editors collectively as a “Hivemind” may have overlooked the amount of bickering that goes on every day on the Administrators’ Noticeboards.)
However, a strong article with more than the most basic content should contain citations of sources where information in the article was drawn from. Checking the sources, and where appropriate citing to them rather than the Wikipedia article itself, may often resolve the [...]