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A new study from Penn State University claims that 60% of Wikipedia entries might include errors. Marcia DiStaso, an assistant professor of public relations and communications, based the poll on discussions with 1300 public relations professionals who answered in reference to their clients. Basically, what the study determined is that public relations professionals say that 60% of their clients' Wikipedia pages "contain errors." How does this relate to a Wikipedia as a whole? Does a single error on a page de-legitimize the page as a whole?
The PR professionals claim they don't alter their clients' pages, to which Jay Walsh of the Wikimedia foundation replied, "There’s technically nothing to prevent a public relations person — or anyone else — from changing an article. Our concern is about the person with a vested interest in something who tries to remove controversial material."
How reliable is the PR universe's claim? Well, citing the Wikipedia entry, "Reliability of Wikipedia," not very. "A notable early study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of 'serious errors.'" According to my third grade teacher, Encyclopædia Britannica is the ultimate in reliability.
But, according to Wikipedia, Wikipedia does have problems with articles on highly contested issues. It's not the greatest place to get information on something controversial, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or what the best starting Pokemon is. When you have a publicly edited forum, bias is going to permeate.
I did a bit of my own research into Wikipedian reliability. First, I searched for myself, and nothing came up, which is totally acceptable because my existence is, frankly, expendable. Then I searched for high-fives, today being National High Five Day, and found them described as a "celebratory hand gesture." The description of the classic "Up high, down low, too slow!" ritual was so beautiful in its exacting detail that it drove me to tears of joy, tears at the wonder of it all, tears celebrating my enhanced understanding of the world I inhabit.
Wikipedia is a great resource for quickly finding information about something, and it's really changed the way people process information and learn. There are kids starting high school now who never knew a world without Wikipedia. It's inconceivable now to imagine not being able to learn more about something instantly. But to get in-depth, reliable information about something, there's always the good old public library. Quoth the PBS television program Arthur, "Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card."