Should MBA Students Develop a Healthy Distrust of Wikipedia?

MBA Students | WikipediaA recent MyeEMBA article addressed the issue of Wikipedia being an appropriate resource for MBA students. The article generated a lot of discussion. The consensus appears to be that MBA students can use Wikipedia as a starting point; however, MBA students should not use Wikipedia as the authoritative source. Two recent online articles provide new information regarding Wikipedia practices, which reinforces the conclusion that MBA students should not use Wikipedia as an authoritative source. The articles call into question the quality and objectivity of Wikipedia’s content and provide insight into Wikipedia’s editorial process and the way in which Wikipedia editors manage content changes.

Article #1: Timothy Messer-Kruse’s article, The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia describes his attempts as a subject matter expert to edit what he describes as, “one particularly misleading assertion chiseled into” a Wikipedia entry relating to his area of expertise. The article describes his multiple attempts over several years to make changes to the entry, all of which were rebuffed by Wikipedia editors. The article calls into question the extent to which Wikipedia’s content is based on subject matter experts. The reader comments to his article provide insight into how professors, academics, and others view Wikipedia and their editorial processes. Reading both the article and the comments helped me better understand why many MBA faculty members may not want MBA students to use Wikipedia as an authoritative source or even as a starting point.

Article #2: David Martosko’s article, Obama ‘Forward’ campaign slogan inspires Wikipedia editing war describes a situation where Wikipedia content became embroiled in politics and thus an editing war. The article provides some support to the belief that high profile political campaigns may have “an official or unofficial Wikipedia team [social media team] ready to cleanse postings that might not play well with voters still on the edge.” While Wikipedia has the editorial tools in place to deal with such unintended uses of content and the editorial process, the article does point out the challenges editors at Wikipedia have to address in the new media environment. However, addressing the concerns raised about political biases influencing the editing process may be more challenging.

These two articles may help explain why some MBA faculty discourage or even prohibit the use of Wikipedia as a reference source for their MBA classes. However and perhaps more importantly the articles provide an opportunity to emphasize the need for critically evaluating any information source no matter how authoritative it may appear to be. A friend of mine says he has, “Developed a healthy distrust of Wikipedia.” Perhaps we should all develop a healthy distrust of all popular press articles and academic sources as well, Wikipedia included.

Should MBA students develop a healthy distrust of Wikipedia, popular press articles, and academic sources? Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

Rodney
Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Professor of Accounting
Founder of MyeEMBA.com

[Image from Wikipedia web site]

4 comments for “Should MBA Students Develop a Healthy Distrust of Wikipedia?

  1. June 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I read both of the referenced articles. The Haymarket article is intriguing because the author’s charge is that Wikipedia would not accept his contradiction of “established” knowledge as a proven fact even if he documented it carefully.
    I understand Wikipedia’s logic. The fact that Wikipedia insisted that he list his claims as a challenge to conventional facts rather than as the new true facts adds credibility to Wikipedia rather than detracting from it.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:23 am

      George,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my article and the Haymarket article. Your take on the Haymarket article is a bit different than mine. I can see your point and think it is valid.

      One of my objectives for this article was for MBA students to learn more about how Wikipedia does business. I think you helped me achieve that objective.
      Thank you,
      Rodney

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

        Rodney,
        We agree that understanding the Wikipedia editorial logic is very important. I have done some small experiments with changes in a minor Wikipedia article and have been impressed with how quickly these anonymous editors improve my submissions. On the other hand I have found some surprising things that seem to go unnoticed.
        The bottom line is that you have to understand how material gets on Wikipedia in order to use it well. I enoucrage my grad students to use Wikipedia for uncontested facts and for explanations of innovations in the world of technology.

        • June 2, 2012 at 8:30 am

          George,
          Thank you for sharing your insights. I could not agree more that the more we understand how the tools work the better we can use those tools. Your graduate students will certainly benefit from this learning.
          Regards,
          Rodney

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