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by Bob Gilmore - Thursday, 12 February 2015, 1:51 PM
Anyone in the world


Wikipedia is a useful tool, however it gets too much use as a research tool.  One of the biggest issues is its prominence in Google search results.  One site conducted a test by searching for 600 Wikipedia topics in Google.  The result;  98.5% of these subjects were in the first 10 results displayed on Google.  (, 2007).

For whatever reason, Google ranks Wikipedia results very highly, frequently causing them to appear within the top 10 results on many topics.  This is a disservice to many other useful on-line resources.  
Why does Google do this? There is some speculation, ranging from financial gain (Google donated $2 million to Wikipedia in 2010 (Walsh, 2010)) to the inability of Googles search to handle the huge influx of blog and microblog noise content on the web (Orlowski, 2009).  The actual reason could be either of these of something else entirely.

Another question to ask is why do we care?  Wikipedia is a good source of information isn't it?  Unfortunately, the means by which Wikipedia articles are created, amended and updated is both its greatest benefit and its greatest curse.  Wikipedia can, in theory, be edited by anyone.  It is subject to review on each article by other Wikipedia members and readers, but opinion can often get in the way of fact.

Some users have been black listed from editing Wikipedia articles. A good example is the banned editor list on the Bogdanov Affair article. From that page:

"All user accounts used by participants in the external controversy are indefinitely banned from editing Bogdanov Affair [...] , it being presumed that if the vast majority of their edits are to the Bogdanov Affair they are not Wikipedia editors but persons involved in the external dispute." (Wikipedia, 2010)

The article goes on to list specific editor user name names and states that edits to the article coming from anyone with no significant edit history on other articles will be presumed to be part of the controversy and banned also.

Many other Wikipedia pages get involved in controversial edits, leading to heated debate in the articles talk pages. This can result in the page being locked for editing. A full list of currently locked pages is available here:

Because Wikipedia is so easy to find and use, many on-line and even off-line references cite or copy directly from the site. If Wikipedia is wrong, then these other sources are wrong also. A good example is Sacha Cohen (Ali G) being cited as working for Goldman Sachs prior to his fame as an actor despite no evidence to support him working there. He himself has never made or refuted the claim. The only apparent source of this is an unknown editor changing Sacha's Wikipedia page and yet it was cited in numerous news articles. (Techdebug, 2009)

When this happens, the result can sometimes be circular referencing. An undocumented Wikipedia edit is cited as the source for information in another publication. This publication is then cited as the source for the information on Wikipedia, despite Wikipedia being the source in the first place. The talk page for the Wikipedia entry on Sacha Cohen is a great example of this process.

Talk and version history

One of the best features of Wikipedia is that it keeps a full list of all the edits on a page as well as any discussion by editors about the page itself. At the top of every Wikipedia page are links to this content:

Wikipedia editing links.

  • Talk provides article discussion.
  • View history shows all the edits on a page.

This information allows us to see exactly how and why a page was edited and to judge the accuracy of the information. If you are actively engaged in research on a topic, these pages can be sources of highly valuable information and I recommend you check them out.

Wikipedia Talk Page.

Wikipedia History Page.

Wikipedia vandalism

Wikipedia articles are occasionally subject to deliberate vandalism, where an editor will deliberately insert offensive, humorous or otherwise incorrect information into an article to defame a person, put their own unsupported beliefs into the spotlight or just because they believe it is fun.

You can actually see see the history of a previously vandalised page by looking at its revision history. Be warned, there is some profanity in the second image.

One of my favourite entries is the Batman page below:

Vandalism example 0ne - the Batman Page.

Some vandalism is slightly more subtle:

Vandalism example two - Bernie Madoff.

There is a Tumblr archive of some more popular examples of Wikipedia vandalism:

Arguments about page accuracy

The talk pages often get into debates about the accuracy of the articles content. A good example is the page about Mike the headless chicken.

From the Wikipedia page:

Mike the Headless Chicken

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia




Mike the Headless Chicken struts.


Other appellation(s)

Mike the Headless Chicken, Miracle Mike


Gallus gallus domesticus






April 1945

Fruita, Colorado, United States


March 1947

Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Nation from

United States of America


Lloyd Olsen

Mike the Headless Chicken (April 1945 - March 1947), also known as Miracle Mike,[1] was a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. Although the story was thought by many to be a hoax, the bird's owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts of the story.[1]


Pasted from <>

Problem is, there is no actual evidence that Mike lived for 18 months after loosing his head in any of the references and some quite heated discussion over if Mike ever actually existed. This is not helped by the image supplied appearing to be of a hen, not a rooster.

Here is a link to Mike the Headless Chickens talk page so you can see the discussion for yourself:


Fortunately, Wikipedia maintains fairly rigorous standards about citing and referencing sources. Statements made in articles are expected to be cited with a link to a footnote in the article.  For example, from the Category 5 Cable page:

Category 5 cable

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cat5e Cable.


Category 5 patch cable in T568B wiring


Category 5 cable (Cat 5) is a twisted pair cable for carrying signals. This type of cable is used in structured cabling for computer networks such as Ethernet. The cable standard provides performance of up to 100 MHz and is suitable for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX (Fast Ethernet), and 1000BASE-T (Gigabit Ethernet). Cat 5 is also used to carry other signals such as telephony and video.

The cable is commonly connected using punch-down blocks and modular connectors. Most Category 5 cables are unshielded, relying on the balanced line twisted pair design and differential signaling for noise rejection.

Category 5 has been superseded by the Category 5e (enhanced) specification.[1]


Pasted from <>

You can see the [1] reference at the end of the text. This takes us to the following footnote:


  1. "Voice and Data Cabling & Wiring Installations". Retrieved 2013-05-12.


A lot of the really useful information on Wikipedia can be found by going off the Wikipedia site and following these external links


Easily found on-line articles, blog posts and social media entries can contain misleading, incorrectly understood and poorly sourced facts. Try your best to track the original sources for an article and to make sure the original sources are properly understood by the author. If there are no original sources, be wary of trusting the information. Try to make use of information that is sourced from several different locations with different authors so that you have plenty of evidence to back up any claims you make. If you can't do this, make sure you indicate that your facts are claims made or opinions by individuals, not necessarily true and accurate statements.

Wikipedia is a great resource and a great place to start, but it it not the only place and using it as a sole referencing tool does a huge disservice to the vast amounts of original information available in the Internet. Follow the links to sources and cite those as well.


Orlowski, A. (2009, 12 09). Google abandons Search. Retrieved 06 21, 2011, from (2007, 06 26). 96.6% of Wikipedia Pages Rank in Google's Top 10. Retrieved 06 21, 2011, from

Walsh, J. (2010, 02 17). Press Release. Retrieved 06 21, 2011, from$2_million_grant_from_Google

Techdebug (2009,04 19) Wikipedia Articles Create Circular References. Retreived 06 21, 2011,

[ Modified: Monday, 23 February 2015, 12:46 PM ]