Wikipedia gets it wrong even as a source of sources

I am currently teaching a term-long data journalism course at Birkbeck, University of London for MA students. Aside from seeing their overall projects develop, it is fun to see how students respond to challenges, such as to find data visualisations. (They came up with fine examples on gender pay gaps, China’s Uighur prison camps and trade discrepancies.)

One particularly interesting set of responses came when I asked students to find something wrong on Wikipedia (without editing in their own errors). Several found basic factual mistakes in pages on their home towns and other things they know well. Having said that, in data journalism courses I always advise using Wikipedia as a source of sources, to follow links and footnotes to good primary material.

But one error undermined that too: a reference to ‘emotional and behavioural difficulties’ – an official although superseded UK term for troubled children – that linked to a US page using a similar phrase, rather than a source for the British definition.

The student who spotted this works at a pupil referral unit, and therefore knows what he is talking about. As I also say in the course, if in doubt speak to experts… and don’t rely on Wikipedia.

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