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Improving Wikipedia's credibility: References and citations in a sample of history articles

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Abstract

This study evaluates how well the authors of Wikipedia history articles adhere to the site's policy of assuring verifiability through citations. It does so by examining the references and citations of a subset of country histories. The findings paint a dismal picture. Not only are many claims not verified through citations, those that are suffer from the choice of references used. Many of these are from only a few US government Websites or news media and few are to academic journal material. Given these results, one response would be to declare Wikipedia unsuitable for serious reference work. But another option emerges when we jettison technological determinism and look at Wikipedia as a product of a wider social context. Key to this context is a world in which information is bottled up as commodities requiring payment for access. Equally important is the problematic assumption that texts are undifferentiated bearers of knowledge. Those involved in instructional programs can draw attention to the social nature of texts to counter these assumptions and by so doing create an awareness for a new generation of Wikipedians and Wikipedia users of the need to evaluate texts (and hence citations) in light of the social context of their production and use.

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