Wikipedia: Reliable Source for Political Information?

The open nature of the way that Wikipedia’s treasure trove of information (and, some would contend, misinformation) is gathered and edited has long been held suspect by many in search of serious sources, but a study by political scientist Adam Brown at Brigham Young University finds that Wikipedia is more accurate than inaccurate, especially — surprisingly enough — in matters of politics.

In the past, Wikipedia has been abused in the crossfire between opposing candidates when staffers on Capitol Hill would make edits to entries that disparaged the opposition while building up their own side with wildly false claims. It was just assumed that Wikipedia pages featuring anyone in or hoping to attain political office were as valid as an April Fool’s Day press release from Google. But it seems that, as an issue (and a politician involved with that issue) is more publicized, the more likely that the Wikipedia data pertaining to it will be correct. “The more an issue is talked about, the more people are battling over it on Wikipedia,” says Brown. Inaccuracies are usually fixed pretty quickly as a result.

CC licensed (BY SD) flickr photo shared by Foofy

During the study, Brown found that Wikipedia was a completely reliable resource when digging up biographical information for 230 political candidates that ran in gubernatorial races across the country between 1998 and 2008.

This isn’t to say that everything found on Wikipedia — or online, in newspapers, or books, for that matter — is guaranteed to be 100% correct. If you’re doing serious research, you should always check multiple sources. Wikipedia makes a great springboard for launching into pretty much any topic imaginable, but you should always be cautious with your fact checking. “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 says.

Brown’s findings have been published in PS: Political Science and Politics.