How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Jerry Levine

In a number of research projects I've done lately for professors, I've started to cite to Wikipedia (although often with additional background cites just to make sure Wikipedia is correct).

So far I haven't had to edit any entries to ensure their factualness, however, my recommendation is that anyone citing Wikipedia do a little more research and also make sure they save the version of the article on there when cited and make as large a footnote as possible.


I'm still refusing to cite Wikipedia in any legal documents or responses I draft. I would rather cite more official-looking online dictionaries and actual reputable sources rather than risk having a citation thrown back at me for its unfounded nature. Regardless of the implied accuracy of Wikipedia's content, there's still the issue of a lack of editorial review or control. Why would I trust Brittanica as a citation over Wikipedia? It has a well-founded, well-respected reputation, in no small part based on its perceived editorial control and oversight. Until Wikipedia remedies this particular shortcoming, don't look for me to cite it.


This is the most relevant quote:
In order to test its reliability, Nature conducted a peer review of scientific entries on Wikipedia and the well-established Encyclopedia Britannica. (Emphasis mine; Source: BBC link in main post.)

They are testing the scientific entries only. This is a great deal less than the entiretly of Wikipedia, and I would be extremely cautious citing Wikipedia versus another source.


Who cares about writing style any more?

I do! Even more dinosaur-like, I still believe in the notion of different styles for different types of writing, and that which one is chosen has specific implications for credibility and so forth.

As for Wikipedia--"potentially very reliable" puts it in a nutshell for me. A car without brakes is "potentially very reliable," but I sure as heck wouldn't depend on it for daily transportation.

My biggest problem with Wikipedia is how often I've noted young students (high school and below) citing it in papers etc. that I've been asked to look over by friends. The kids seem to assume that because it's on the 'net, it must be accurate. They don't have the background--or the judgment or experience--to evaluate the information on which they're relying. But because Wiki is (relatively) new and cool and popular, apparently it's often the destination of choice for research.

There's just no way that can be a good thing--not if the bar is only "potentially very reliable."

Can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine? Thanks for your indulgence.

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