“Blind Trust is Not Enough”

Considering Practical Verifiability and Open Referencing in Wikipedia


This article draws attention to the often-unseen information inequalities that occur in the way that Wikipedia content is referenced. Drawing on digital information control and virtual gatekeeping scholarship, we contend that by not considering the degree to which references are practically accessible and verifiable, Wikipedia editors are implicitly promoting a control mechanism that is limiting the potential of Wikipedia to serve, as Willinsky puts it, “as a gateway to a larger world of knowledge.” We question the widespread practice of referencing peer-reviewed literature that is obscured by prohibitive paywalls. As we see it, two groups are disadvantaged by this practice. First, Wikipedia editors who lack access to the most current scholarly literature are unable to verify a reference or confirm the veracity of a fact or figure. Second, and perhaps most important, general readers are left with two unsatisfactory options in this scenario: they can either trust the authority of the citation or pay to access the article. Building on Don Fallis’ work on epistemic consequences of Wikipedia, this paper contends that promoting practically verifiable references would work to mitigate these inequalities and considers how relatively new initiatives could be used to improve the quality and utility of Wikipedia more generally.

Pre-print first published online 03/03/2019

Author Biographies

Cal Murgu, New College of Florida, Sarasota, USA

Research, Instruction, and Digital Humanities Librarian

Krisandra Ivings, Supreme Court of Canada

Reference Librarian