Using Wikipedia: Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #5

Hello and welcome to Crash Course: Navigating
Digital Information, I’m John Green. According to my Wikipedia page, I’m an American
author, vlogger, writer, producer, actor, editor, and educator. I’ve released some books, won some awards,
got married, had kids, and I have a brother named Hank. There’s also a photo of me from VidCon in
2014 in which I’m wearing a football scarf which is very on-brand. Now, you could’ve learned a lot of that
stuff from my personal website–but then again, I have a certain bias in how I present myself. For instance, I would never write about Hank
on my website. He can start his own web site if he wants
that free promo. Also, as we’ve discussed through this series, you shouldn’t use one single site as a definitive source. When evaluating new information, we have to
read laterally. That means looking to other sources to provide
context. Now it’s not always easy to find sources to
consult, but when used correctly, Wikipedia can be a great place to start. Right, I know that wikipedia can be unreliable. My own wikipedia page once briefly said that
I was a professional Lacrosse player. And I am an actor only in the sense that I
was cut from the one movie I appeared in, but I do think we can use wikipedia for good. INTRO So, many of us have been told by teachers, librarians, parents, peers, coworkers, friends,
pen pals, babysitters, nieces and nephews, celebrity spokespeople, Instagram famous dogs,
our favorite baristas, particularly cogent toddlers, religious leaders, Jeff Goldblum,
long lost cousins, and anonymous twitter trolls never to use Wikipedia. You’ve probably heard that Wikipedia is
full of totally unusable, unreliable information written by random internet users. I’m here to dispel that myth. Well, me and my friends at MediaWise. Now, it’s true that Wikipedia is editable
by almost anyone, and its content is created by a community of mostly volunteer Wikipedians. The whole network is owned and supported by
a non-profit, called the Wikimedia Foundation. And Wikipedia has become the Internet’s
largest general reference work, with over 40 million articles in 301 languages, including
over 5.7 million articles in English. While you’re there, you can learn about
anything from the Gothic Bible to Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit “How Will I Know”
to the absolutely terrifying star-nosed mole. I don’t know what it is about the star nosed
mole, but it freaks me out so bad. I’ve had dreams about it. Anyway. It’s got a great Wikipedia page. Now, you’re not going to learn every single
thing about a topic by reading its Wikipedia page. The universe is much more complicated than
even an endless online encyclopedia could account for. But what makes Wikipedia useful to citizens
of the internet is its breadth. It provides information on more topics than
any print encyclopedia could, and a top-notch Wikipedia page can provide a solid overview
of a topic and also provide citations to sources for it’s claims. It’s kind of like a tour guide — it gives
you a general lay of the land and shows you where to discover more. Even fact checkers use Wikipedia to familiarize
themselves with unknown topics. Now, when Wikipedia first launched in 2001,
it got a bad reputation because of how easy it was to create and edit articles. Essentially anyone with an internet connection
could log on and update their high school’s “notable alumni” to include their own
name. You could also delete your brother’s Wikipedia
page on the grounds that he wasn’t a notable person. Not that I ever did that! I mean that, that would be terrible. That flexibility, to put it diplomatically,
is likely why teachers and others have warned you against it. But Wikipedia has grown up a lot since 2001. It’s nearly 18. Wikipedia is almost an adult–and it’s starting
to act like it. Today anyone with an internet connection
can still edit most pages on Wikipedia, but there are much more rigorous content policies
in place and more Wikipedians and even bots around to prevent and correct bad edits. Like, if you repeatedly add yourself to your
high school’s notable alumni section, you can bet an editor will be close behind to
keep you humble. You also now have to be a registered user
to create an article and article topics have to meet a standard of notability before they
can even be created. Wikipedians also adhere to a set of rules
when editing and writing content. Their core content policies are summed up
by three key phrases. 1. A neutral point of view, meaning content must
be represented fairly, proportionately and without bias. 2. No original research, meaning all material
must come from a published, reliable source. And 3. Verifiability, meaning people reading and
editing articles must be able to check that the information comes from a reliable source. Now, policies and rules are all well and good,
but they’re only as good as the people who enforce them. So volunteer Wikipedians act as writers and
editors and also they keep each other in check. There are also administrators, who have a
higher level of authority, and they can do things like delete pages, or respond to vandalism,
or even lock a page so only certain people can make changes. But they’re not all-knowing gods. They’re regular Wikipedians in good standing
with the community because they’ve proven themselves to be responsible editors who use
accurate, documented information. As of the day we filmed this video, there
are 1,206 administrators for the English Wikipedia site. In contrast, there are over 34.8 million registered
Wikipedians, about 134,000 of whom have edited in the past month. The good thing about this giant buddy system
is that it has to be pretty transparent in order to function. At the top of a Wikipedia article you’ll
see little tabs. One says Article, that’s pretty self-explanatory. And then there’s Talk. That’s where you can see the conversation
Wikipedians have had about editing that article. On the American Civil War page, there’s
even a Frequently Asked Questions section. And under a page’s View History tab you
can see how and when an article has been edited, and by whom. Some pages are especially prone to vandals
who alter their content by adding inaccuracies or violating Wikipedia policies. This most frequently happens to sensitive
or controversial topics. And so if an article is contentious or prone
to vandalism, it may be locked for protection. There are different levels of protection under
which certain users might be able to edit a partially locked page. The pages of the Quran and the Big Bang, for
example, are both semi-protected. That means no new or unregistered users can
edit it. But there are also other kinds of protection. To find out if a page is locked, look to its
upper right hand corner for a little padlock icon. Locks appear in many different colors, with
gold denoting the highest protection — only administrators can edit those pages. On Wikipedia you might also come across different
notes and warning labels at the top of a page. Some substandard pages have problems with
their structure, or their sourcing, or even their tone. So Wikipedians add attention-grabbing notes
to alert readers to any problems. For instance, the page for the National Aerospace
Laboratory of the Netherlands has been flagged. It warns: “This article contains content
that is written like an advertisement.” Wikipedia pages are supposed to have a neutral
point of view, so that note gives readers a heads up that this one might not. The freestyle monster trucks page also has
a warning: it doesn’t cite any sources. That certainly breaks the verifiability rules. Although now I really want to know what a
freestyle monster truck show is. Anyway thanks to these policies and warnings,
Wikipedia can be a really useful place for getting a bird’s eye view of a topic or
starting more thorough research. But — and you knew there was a but coming
— that’s not permission to use Wikipedia as a one-stop shop for conducting /in-depth/
research, nor is it permission to cite it in your work. Honestly, citing an encyclopedia of any kind
just isn’t a good look for research projects. And Wikipedia isn’t perfect, and it’s
not always accurate. As we’ve said before in this series, when
navigating digital information, there is no magic bullet. There is no one perfect or objective source,
partly because everything was made by fallible humans, and partly because the people using
sources are also fallible. That said, Wikipedia does have real power,
and its biggest power lies in using it for lateral reading and harvesting its citations. Let’s try it out in the Thought Bubble. So imagine your friend shares the following
post in your feed. Thanks to this site I know exactly what’s
good for my body and, more importantly, WHAT ISN’T. It links to a website called Natural News
that you’ve never heard of. When you visit and check the
about page, they call themselves a “science-based natural health advocacy organization.” And the site is jam-packed with words and
pictures. But since you’re an excellent lateral reader,
the next thing you do to evaluate this information is open a new tab to conduct a search. Pro tip: search the website’s URL and the
word “wikipedia” to surface its wikipedia entry. Wikipedians call Natural News a “website
for the sale of various dietary supplements, promotion of alternative medicine, controversial
nutrition and health claims, scientific fake news, and various conspiracy theories.” That’s, you know, a significantly different
characterization than their own about page. The Wikipedia entry also has a section for
criticisms and controversies, which talks about scientists, writers, and
journalists who have called out factual inaccuracies on Natural News. Throughout this section you’ll see superscript
numbers in brackets in between words and at the end of sentences. Those link to citations — hover over them
to find either direct links or references to where the corresponding information came
from. Citation 22, for example, leads to a peer-reviewed
journal article calling Natural News a website that spreads “irresponsible health information.” Citation 35 links to a post from climate change
site the Grist titled, literally, “Don’t believe anything you read at Natural News.” Thanks Thought Bubble So, Now you have a clear
understanding that this website and its content are very controversial and considered unreliable
by other outlets. And whenever you are interested in a fact
on a Wikipedia page, look for the embedded citation. You can then check in on those sources and
follow up to confirm the information you find. I’ve been using this in my own life. For instance, I recently reviewed the Taco
Bell breakfast menu for my podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed, and I started at the Wikipedia page
for Taco Bell, which through the citations led me to the AMAZING biography of Taco Bell
founder Glen Bell, “Taco Titan: The Glen Bell Story.” So if you click any of those superscript numbers
on a Wikipedia page, you’ll find the full list of references for that page at the bottom. And those also link back to their locations
in the text, like an index. Now not all pages have citations, and not
all citations are reliable citations. But this is a place where you can quickly
look for more information from authoritative sources. The main criticism of Wikipedia concerns the
reliability of its information. As we discussed earlier in the episode, the
community does have policies in place to regulate its articles. They have ways of letting readers know about
inaccuracies or incomplete articles, too. Which are certainly helpful. But plenty of bad information does slip through. It sometimes even leads to editing wars between
Wikipedians who edit back and forth to try to set the record straight. Over the years a variety of studies have evaluated
how Wikipedia measures up to similar reference works or examined the accuracy of selected
articles. And the results of these have been mixed,
with some finding Wikipedia comparable to commercial encyclopedias and others finding
pretty serious errors of omission. And accuracy isn’t Wikipedia’s only weakness. Its community has also been criticized for
gender and racial biases, both for the kind of community it fosters, and for the topics
it covers. The content on Wikipedia is a product of those
who get to participate, so it will inherently reflect any inequalities in its community. One example of this is that the article about
Toilet Paper Orientation is incredibly carefully written and cited, whereas the English-language
article on the Indus Valley Civilization city of Harappa is much less detailed. Wikipedia is also dependent on published sources,
which have their own gender and racial biases and contribute to what is and is not verifiable
on Wikipedia. But as we know from our last episode, it’s
possible to use sources that are systemically skewed towards one group’s perspective,
as long as we take that perspective into account when evaluating its information. In this case, that means treating Wikipedia
as a launchpad, not a finish line. It’s not where you should do all of your
research and lateral reading. But it’s a good place to start. One last note: Some researchers skip the body
of a Wikipedia article entirely and head straight for the citations to look for trustworthy
sources. After all, some pages have hundreds of references
to primary sources, scholarly journals, and other strong publications. We should think of Wikipedia as another tool
in your information evaluation tool kit. You go there for a general overview of a topic,
or a stepping stone to more references, or to use as one lateral reading source among
several. And as long as you know how and when to use
it appropriately, Wikipedia can be a great friend. But it shouldn’t be your only friend. And actually, now that we’re talking about
it, I feel like like all your friends, really, they should probably be people. Or dogs. Or a cat, if you’re that kind of person. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next week.

Comments 100


  • I’m a teacher and I approve this message.

    I have to defend Wikipedia almost every day from colleges who dogmatically condemn it as unreliable. Students are amazed when I recommend them to start their research by reading up on Wikipedia.

    This topic shouldn’t be hard to grasp. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even brain surgery. If you don’t believe me, look it up on Wikipedia.

  • Brings back memories from the scavenger hunts that often lead us to Wikipedia 🙂

  • But John, Wikipedia told me you died in 2014 from an unlubed chicken tender!

  • Wikipedia is honestly a big help for searching information but not all written their are true some of info there was came from other cite of internet that is why my professor told me not to copy paste everything we seen there.

  • Wikipedia is honestly a big help for searching information but not all written their are true some of info there was came from other cite of internet that is why my professor told me not to copy paste everything we seen there.

  • I've been contributing $10/month to Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation) for several years now. "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." —Jimmy Wales.

    I also contribute to Kahn Academy and the 3blue1brown YouTube channel.

  • laughs in turkish

  • Watches this while doing a presentation with wikipedia

  • Teachers warn you not to use wikipedia as a source because encyclopedias aren't sources. They're source aggregators.
    So start with the wikipedia page you're writing about, read it, then scroll down to look at the sources for the article.

  • Thank you John! Great show!

  • Such a course should be mandatory in school, maybe it would help us get rid of anti-vaxers, climate change deniers, flat eartherners, and generally everyone else voting for Trump

  • please make a series on geology..really looking forward to it.

  • "Or a cat, if you're one of those people"?? LOL Another excellent series. So, I'll be waiting for your Crash Course on Lacrosse. Thank you, John Green, for sharing your amazing talents and life (thru Vlogbrothers). DFTkeepBeingA!

  • Wikipedia gets a bad rap, but as you state – it's not more flawed than any other source of information. For me it's one of the greatest things to come out of the internet, and the fact that it's authored and edited by users constantly make it "more" trustworthy in my opinion than a printed book which can be heavily biased by the author with no real checks and balances…

  • Having "serious errors of omission" and being "comparable to commercial encyclopedias" are not mutually exclusive conditions.

    Wiki can be fixed, while a paper encyclopedia is going to be wrong for the decades the books stick around.

  • Is he the author of FAULT IN OUR STARS???

  • He looks so bored by the topic I can't even lmao

  • I tried to search natural news on Wikipedia

  • One of my professors always says: "You have the power of the internet nowadays. Wikipedia is the best stepping stone into any topic and I wish we had it, when I was still a student"

  • Just watched an episode about a guy who lives with his parents and has edited 1/4 of Wikis for a total of $0.

  • As a 7+ year user and editor of Wikipedia, thank you! Informative content about how to use the site properly like this are very appreciated.

  • For a brief 2 minutes in 2017 (or was it '18) Wikipedia listed Paul Ryan under 'Invertebrates'

  • Me in College:

    Teacher: you can’t use Wikipedia as a source

    Looks in online classroom*

    Teacher links Wikipedia as her source

  • Also, most wikipedia mathematics entries require a phd to understand.

  • Wait, did John actually delete Hank’s Wikipedia at one point?

  • I was doing a research paper on Nerdfighteria and found it very difficult to find curable sources for general information on how Nerdfighteria began because it’s about/history page links to its Wikipedia article- is this then a citable source if approved by the topic?

  • (((Jewkipedia)))

  • Critical thinking, skeptic critical thinking. It's beautiful and powerful.

  • Nice work John, and thanks for saying 'Magic Bullet' rather than the oft misused 'Silver Bullet'.

  • Ok, I'm gonna try it >>> Wikipedia, who the /F/ is Hank?

  • Encyclopedias are usually tertiary sources–secondary AT BEST. Always check for the original sources when doing research. Dig, dig, dig!

  • U should have talked about the toxic admins

  • CrashCourse is my favorite YouTube channel. I love how he uses the correct term of Football for ⚽️

  • I'm an amateur media reviewer, and I need to use Fan-made wikis for certain shows to see things like which episodes a recurring but non-main character appears in or what supplementary material I lack access to say and whether they're worthwhile enough to track down. Those such wikis are generally reliable to trust single source from, or at least used as a guide to narrow down your search in the extensive canon.

  • As CrashCourse state it, Wikipedia is big. Starting there, CrashCourse could emphasis on the way to evaluate the quality of an article more than the quality of Wikipedia in general. Did you know that Wikipedia have a label to identified «featured articles» which is reserved only to very well written article based on rigorous standard? In English, on the 5,800,713 articles, there are presently 5,451 featured articles.
    But nice video, indeed!

  • I like Wikipedia.
    I mostly look up movie plots.
    When something I'm watching is annoying me.
    That way I don't care if I watch the rest. I know roughly how it ends.
    That's usually enough.


  • Another helpful hint from someone who uses Wikipedia a lot; you can learn a lot by how much articles a page has in different languages.

    For instance, despite toilet paper orientation being much more wordier than Harappa (6K words vs 2K words), Harappa has 60 different articles in different languages and toilet paper orientation only has 15

  • Classic Mac.

  • "Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could
    doubt it?"
    ~The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

  • I've been saying this for years: Wikipedia is superb. I always recommend its use to my students. It is a much more expansive and more frequently updated encyclopedia than its limited and slow-moving printed equivalents. As long as you don't use Wikipedia itself as a source in your work, using the site as a tool to find out more about any given topic, is arguably the first stop for most researchers.

  • Most of my University professors have actually told me that the best way to get started on a project or paper is to either read the wikipedia article on it and then go through its sources, or to just go through the sources. One of my Linguistics professors told us in our first lecture to prepare for the next one by reading the assigned chapter as well as the Wikipedia article on whatever feature we would be discussing. She always begins her lectures with a question round, where you can mention things you read on Wikipedia that were not included in the book. If it’s a false piece of information she corrects it, if not she integrates it into her lecture, which in my opinion is a fantastic method.

  • Not so fun fact: Wiki is forbidden in Turkey. %100 true. And sad.

  • Wikipedia is a great source if what you're citing doesn't matter, and if your claim will not be examined by any serious person. If it does matter, you'd better cite primary sources, not the equivalent of the scribbling on a public bathroom door.

  • As someone who teaches undergraduates how to evaluate information, I also highly recommend CQ Researcher. I call it the “academic wikipedia” because it has brief introductory articles on lots of topics, citations for further reading, etc. but is a little more consistent than wikipedia. Also, it can be great for choosing a topic, and it has overviews on controversial issues that can introduce you to common arguments on both sides of the issue.

  • This series is definitely important to a great many people, but I really found myself thinking "well, duh" a lot of times. A lot of the conclusions have been the axioms that I have lived by for many, many years and I guess I always assumed everyone else did as well.

  • OMG ! I've just realised you're John Green !
    My favorite author !
    I've watched many of your helpful videos especially those about history and I did not recognize you !
    ugh , how foolish of me
    Thank you for all your efforts in this youtube channel and mostly your fascinating books !

  • Wikipedia was an absolute Godsend in my English degree when I was still under the necessary number of sources I needed…

  • This series makes me so happy.

  • Thank you crash course for making this series, I personally have issues with trusting information I find and never know what to trust which make it difficult if I want to learn more about something.
    I hope this series can help me learn to research more efficiently, thank you again.

  • It would be cool if a football team had the wikipedia logo on their shirts

  • Weren't you an extra in the big bang theory in an episode?

  • I feel like I learned nothing new from this video. C'mon bruh.

  • Mine says comedian, pianist and actor

  • I kind of want to see some of the Wikipedia articles that had been sabotaged or had been created as a troll, because some of the more clever ones can be absolutely hilarious.

  • Wikipedia has been on a downward spiral as of late it seems, with editors from different political sides manipulating information. Now i finally understad why back in highschool my teachers told me not to use it.

  • I see you are interested in vintage cameras also…

  • One of the other things about Wikipedia that’s different than other encyclopedias is this: you don’t have to pay for it. It gives anyone with an internet connection access to its content and not just those who pay for it.

  • 2:34 Citizens of the internet? I thought we were Internauts?

  • I'm only here to read the toilet paper orientation comments

  • Please make a Crash Course Accounting Series.

  • Why is citing an encyclopaedia not a good look?

  • TL;DR use Wikipedia as a kickoff use its footnotes and check other resources
    don't just use one resource

  • Yes. In my area of expertise there is an egomaniac rewriting the history to suit his story, not the facts, and he buys a reputation by spending hours on social acting normal, other than slandering only me. Such fun.

  • A 14 minute video on Wikipedia, and not so much as 5 seconds to encourage anyone to help the project.
    This could have been a statement as simple as…

    "If you find something broken on Wikipedia, you can fix it yourself."

  • I find this Crash Course series especially empowering. Thank you for it! I consider it a great service to humankind.

  • Never has advice had a more immediate positive impact on my life. I was just reading a wikipedia page and thought, huh, this looks like everything from an about page on a website. Then I checked the sources and most of them were the primary source. I looked at the top of the page, and realized it was already flagged for looking like an advertisement, and citing excessive or inappropriate references to self published sources. Time for a new tab! Maybe next time I'll look at the flag header first, instead of ignoring it…

  • A new way to do science … loving it

  • I'm not joking in the slightest, This is basically the first time I've heard that Wikipedia isn't reliable, and I don't believe it in the slightest.. but do go on lol.

  • I use Wikipedia very rarely, but have found it helpful.  it is supported by contributions, so I occasionally send them five bucks.

  • 18? That is an adult.

  • I think you kinda count as an actor anyway, given you're constantly reading scripts for video. That's what actors do, huh?

  • Hi, John.

  • I didn't know there was a Wikipedia page on "toilet paper orientation". This is insane. There is clearly no alternative to "over" installation, so this entire page is moot. 😋

  • What constitutes verifiable published sources? I publish videos on Youtube, it is verified by the fact I did publish them.

  • YouTube "arutzshevatv wikipedia editing" — as you can see pro-israel organizations are working 24×7 to manipulate Wikipedia articles

  • THANK YOU!! As a long time Wikipedia user and occasional supporter, I have been trying to get this point out literally for years.

  • ;___; why am I just now learning that Hank and John are brothers I thought they looked alike but omg I'm so late 🤦🏾‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️

  • I have an extended family member tell me to trust Wikipedia (while trying to convince me to join an MLM no less) because it is peer-reviewed and I just wanted to keel over. I don't deny that Wiki has good stuff on it and it and leads to great sources, its most definitely has gotten better since its inception, but I'm not sure I'd go quite as far to say it's a great, peer reviewed system.

  • Black guy: u DTF
    White Girl: AHhhhhhhhhh sure

  • Every research paper I wrote in college started with wikipedia. It's a great source of basic information for most topics and I still use it when I want a quick overview of a subject.

  • Hey, John is basically an actor in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Ant-Man was reading The Fault in our Stars, so John Green is actually canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • Dude, sunlight, exercise.

  • One of my college friends, who also was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, is an internationally recognized expert on star-nosed moles. I once saw him on a NOVA documentary.

  • FYI, John's wikipedia no longer mentions that he is an author — as of September 2018. So this video is old 😉

  • Wait … wait… wait

    The person who founded Taco Bell was actually named Bell?

    That's amazing!

  • EXCELLENT VIDEO, very good advice

  • Did anyone else look up natural news to see if it was a real thing?

  • 3:35 yeah, Wikipedia become adult.
    When was her birthday.

    Okay, I check on Wikipedia.

  • Teens at school: smokes in the bathroom
    Teachers: Ehh

    Teen: breaks a window
    Teacher: Ehh

    Teen: uses Wikipedia for a source on their report
    Teachers: HELL NAW

  • It’s not a Green video without mentioning gender and race

  • Wikipedia is a Fake Information Platform run by Progressive fascists.

  • In this episode I learned that John and I share the same birthday.

  • Nice introduction, thanks. Peer review is what makes Wikipedia work. Community contributed content is a powerful concept.
    However standards of neutrality are not well established like when "vaccine controversies" page was renamed as "vaccine hesitancy"…

  • Wikipedia is a the most complete source of my studies. Without it,I would fail my biochemistry exam

  • I love source-surfing on wikipedia.

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