While most college professors have long since dismissed Wikipedia as an inaccurate source of information, one is standing up for it.
A new peer-reviewed study from Brigham Young University says Wikipedia's historical data is not only quite accurate; it's a good source for current information. BYU associate political science professor Adam Young looked extensively at Wikipedia articles on politics to see if various articles were partisan or inaccurate.
As far as things that were said, I didn't find anything that was really bad or really inaccurate, Brown said. I wanted to look at as many articles as possible in order to track accuracy. I compared Wikipedia to things a politician said about himself. I compared data against voting shares.
Brown modeled his study after a Nature investigation which confirmed Wikipedia had a similar number of inaccuracies as Encyclopedia Britannica on scientific articles. Brown said his study focused on politics, because the heated and contradictory opinions on both sides of the political spectrum could theoretically lead to tampering on Wikipedia. You could get some staffer making their boss look good by changing around the facts, Brown said. However, that wasn't the case.
After finding Wikipedia to be an accurate source, Brown shifted his study to determining what kind of information permeates the online encyclopedia. He looked at patterns and found the most informative data on politics was about the most recent events.
If you look at any recent elections for governor, there is a separate article -- like the 2010 California gubernatorial -- for each race. There are 37 for each of the ones last year. It's the same for 2010, there are 36 articles for each separate governor's race that year. Then when you get to 2002, there are only half. For 1998, there are only 13. By the time you get to 1990, there are only nine elections, Brown said.
There is a huge recent bias on Wikipedia, he said. He looked at members of Congress in 1887 and today. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Congressmen from today have more information written about them.
In this sense, Brown says Wikipedia is a good source of current information on politics. However, he says, like all encyclopedias it should be used as a reference point to more direct sources.
We don't need to worry about Wikipedia just because it's not Britannica, but that does not mean it is your stopping point, Brown said. People need to not worry about it so much.