Students are often told by their professors and by librarians that Wikipedia is not a good source for a paper, and they understand that anybody can edit Wikipedia pages but doesn't it still seem like whenever you go there you find information that is just fine? Sometimes you do, there is no doubting that. I just recently went to Wikipedia to find out exactly what a crinoline is after reading about them in a book - and the information I found suited me just fine. However, a new tool called Wikiscanner has been tracking who makes changes and what changes they make and there are enough examples to make you think twice before using Wikipedia for anything having to do with politics, corporations, maybe even your favorite band.
In an August 16th piece from NPR about this same subject the author says, "If you follow the IP address trail, you'll see that often the editors of an entry are "interested parties," not just encyclopedia nerds who want to make sure the facts are straight." And what these interested parties think are straight facts are often different from objective facts. Here is an example from the same NPR article:
"Someone with an IP address from Wal-Mart made this change:
Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores. Founder Sam Walton once argued that his company should be exempt from the minimum wage.
The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage (Wal-Mart). However, founder Sam Walton once argued that his company should be exempt from the minimum wage."
This is where you really have to start thinking critically. You don't know which statistic is right until you do some further investigating. Perhaps the Wal Mart employee was fixing an error, or perhaps he or she was just trying to inflate their statistics. Either way, if you had used Wikipedia as a resource either before or after this change you wouldn't have any idea if your information was correct.
In this situation, how could you find out how Wal Mart wages measure up against the federal minimum wage and against other retails stores?
One thing I did was look through our newspaper database Newspaper Source and do a search for Walmart Wages. I found a number of articles and one* that touched on the wiki scanner article. Another article** in the same search reports that "The average wage for associates working in Kansas stores is $9.86". A Third article*** says, "the company's 1.3 million workers...average wage is $8.23 per hour".
A colleague directed me to the UCFW Union page (The United Food and Commercial Workers) where they have a page entirely devoted to Wal Mart wages and they list the following:
- A sales associate--the most common job classification--earns on average $8.23 per hour ($13,861 annually)
- A cashier—the second most common job—earns about $7.92 per hour ($11,948 annually)"
As you can see, this sort of research isn't easy to do and sometimes that old adage about something being too good to be true applies to research as well. Research like this can be exciting; it's like detective work, or investigative reporting and can fascinating to find out what different sources are saying about the same thing.
Click here for an article from Wired, "Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs -- UPDATED"
or here for another article, "See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign"
Do you have a question for Ms. Information? Ms. Information welcomes your questions about research, libraries, and how to find all kinds of information. Submit your question to mhaller [at] roosevelt [dot] edu.
For article citations click 'continue reading'
* Schlueb, Mark. 2007. "Dyer bio takes center stage in cyberduel." Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) . Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed September 21, 2007).
**Fagan, Mark. 2006. "Wal-Mart manager says wages competitive." Journal-World (Lawrence, KS) . Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed September 21, 2007).
***Oberbeck, Steven. 2005. "Wal-Mart's wages protested." Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT) . Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed September 21, 2007).