Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wikipedia as authority in law reviews

Between 2002 and 2008, American law review articles contained more than 4800 citations to Wikipedia, Books croppedaccording to Houston law librarian Daniel J. Baker. I tell my students that they may not cite to the on-line encyclopedia in my class, so I was interested to read Baker’s views about it. He notes that Wikipedia has limited probity and permanence and then presents data on citations to it. He then concludes that “the legal community as a whole should discourage most citations to Wikipedia.” Baker counsels authors and editors to find better resources and urges faculty advisors to empower student editors to question Wikipedia citations. Baker’s article, A Jester’s Promenade: Citations to Wikipedia in Law Reviews, 2002-2008, was published in the winter 2012 issue of the Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. An earlier version is available on SSRN.


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The idea that people (especially anyone under 30) is suddenly going to stop referencing Wikipedia because law professors think it's bad is ridiculous. For better or worse, in the real world, wikipedia has become the de facto first stop for checking on the veracity of facts, dates, general information, etc.

I looked into it last year ( ) and wikipedia is regularly being cited by courts across the globe.

From S.D.N.Y. Alfa Co. v. OAO Alfa Bank:

"To begin with, it is not clear that internet sources ingeneral, or the ones cited by Mr. Muravnik in particular, are inherently unreliable. Countless contemporary judicial opinions cite internet sources, and many specifically cite Wikipedia…(long list of cases citing Wikipedia)

While citing a website in a judicial opinion is not analytically identical to basing an expert opinion on such a source (which, as explained below, is not what Mr. Muravnik in fact does), the frequent citation of Wikipedia at least suggests that many courts do not consider it to be inherently unreliable. In fact, a recent and highly-publicized analysis in the magazine Nature found that the error rate of Wikipedia entries was not significantly greater than in those of the Encyclopaedia Britannica…

Thus, despite reasonable concerns about the ability of anonymous users to alter Wikipedia entries, the information provided there is not so inherently unreliable as to render inadmissible any opinion that references it…"

Courts are going to allow it. Planting a head in the sand and saying "lalala" isn't going to change it. Better to teach the best practices (in what matters is it reliable, etc.) for using wikipedia so they are at least prepared.

Posted by: Keith Lee | Apr 26, 2012 1:48:51 PM

I like SSRN and it's not my purpose to steer people away from it, but as the main post indicates, the version of Mr. Baker's paper on SSRN is an earlier version. If you want to find the newer version, go here:

Posted by: Brom | Apr 27, 2012 11:27:55 AM

Great post! Very informative. I have shared/referenced this on my blog at:

Thank you

Posted by: Dave Dambreville | Apr 29, 2012 9:36:58 AM

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