Official Site Policy on Wikipedia

Originally posted by Nonpartisan on 02/20/07

We’ve had a lot of fascinating debate about whether Wikipedia citations should be used at ProgressiveHistorians.  In case you missed any of it, check out Eugene’s excellent piece defending the use of Wikipedia, and Lisa’s excellent rebuttal.  I’ll also note that the poll on Wikipedia use here currently stands at 86% support for continued citations.  Now it’s time for me to lay out the official site policy.

Lisa has some compelling points about the unreliability of Wikipedia — it is vulnerable to hacking and nefarious outside influence; it is prone to sudden change; it is not authoritative — but ultimately, I’m going to come down on the side of those who are against banning Wikipedia citations.  ProgressiveHistorians has never been in the business of telling people what sources they can cite, and I see no reason to begin now.  I’ll add the caveat that there ARE some sources out there that are wholly unreliable: anyone citing folks like Wayne Madsen, David Irving, Jacques Pluss, or Bo Gritz will find themselves strictly chastised here.  But Wikipedia, for all its unreliability, is not overrun with such characters; its editors for the most part, are an honest, impartial bunch.  As such, I see no reason to ban its use or citation at ProgressiveHistorians.

There’s a more important force at work here, in my opinion: the chilling effect that banning popular sources will have on those among us who are not academics.  One of the major purposes of this site, as defined in our mission statement, is to open the historical field to the widest possible pool of content creators.  Wikipedia accomplishes that goal both internally and externally, by inviting amateurs to help create the Wiki itself and by providing a safe, comfortable starting point for amateurs looking to get involved in history.  I hear regularly from people who don’t post here because they don’t have any history training and are afraid that their work won’t match up with the excellent content we have on our front page.  Imagine what would happen if we started picking and nagging at first-time diarists for their use of such a popular source as Wikipedia.  I’d rather have a little bad history than a lot of people scared of writing history. 

So here’s the official policy: Cite Wikipedia at your own risk.  If you use Wikipedia and it’s wrong, be prepared to be corrected by other site users.  If you make a habit of citing Wikipedia as your main or only source — particularly if you are on the front page — be prepared to be gently encouraged by other posters to move beyond that safe haven and strike out into the brave new world of primary sources.  This is particularly true for the long, involved diaries on specific topics we get regularly around here — Wikipedia probably isn’t appropriate there.  But for open threads, for new diarists, and for anyone else who uses Wikipedia as a non-definitive source, Wikipedia is all right by me and by the site.

Furthermore, I won’t have people tromping around this site as “wiki-hunters” to match the “troll-hunters” on dKos, ordering first-time diarists to take down their links.  That’s against everything this site stands for.  If someone’s facts are wrong, by all means correct them.  If they make a habit of being wrong, be vociferous about it.  But don’t attack solely because a citation is from Wikipedia.

This information will be added to the FAQ when I give that document the major overhaul it needs — hopefully within the next couple of weeks.

[Update] A corollary: nothing which uses Wikipedia as its ONLY citation source of evidence will be promoted to the front page.

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