It’s okay to use Wikipedia to find a test to detect pancreatic cancer, but don’t cite it in the footnotes

150px-Wikipedia-logoOn 60 Minutes tonight, in a story about high school freshman Jack Andraka, who at age 15 developed a test that might save countless lives by detecting early pancreatic cancer, Jack said he did much of the research leading up to his discovery using Wikipedia and Google.

That amused me, as I know there’s a lot of specific language on Wikipedia that I’ve mentioned before on this blog that emphatically warns users not to depend on Wikipedia for research.

Quoting directly from Wikipedia, itself:

“Wikipedia is not considered a credible source. Wikipedia is increasingly used by people in the academic community, from freshman students to professors, as an easily accessible tertiary source for information about anything and everything. However, citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source.This is especially true considering anyone can edit the information given at any time.

Heck, even Jimmy Wales warns students not to cite Wikipedia in a term paper. In 2007, I wrote about the history department faculty at Middlebury banning Wikipedia citations outright.

Nearly eight years ago, during the controversy that first inspired many in the Wikipedia community to come up with approaches that have greatly improved the accuracy of the encyclopedia, I wrote this blog post on which I used the subject line, “Use Wikipedia as a gateway to facts, not a source of them.”

That was eight years ago. A guy who did his research on Wikipedia to help him develop a test that may provide early detection for pancreatic cancer was seven years old when I wrote that.

Turns out, Wikipedia is a gateway to truth.

But still, while it may be okay if you use Wikipedia to find a test for, or even a cure for, cancer, if you cite Wikipedia in the research paper that presents your findings, the Teacher’s Assistant will probably knock your grade down a letter or two.