Wikipedia’s Verifiability isn’t Always Verifiable, Dartmouth Study Finds


HANOVER, N.H. – April 15, 2016 – Wikipedia’s verifiability is hit-or-miss, a Dartmouth College study shows.

A preprint of the study is available on arXiv.

With the rise of widely-available networked communication, our lives increasingly rely on online sources of information, but the verifiability of that information is difficult to assess systematically. The Dartmouth team examined verifiability in Wikipedia, one of the world’s largest and most consulted online information sources, which marked its 15th anniversary in January. Previous studies have looked at the quality of Wikipedia articles, knowledge production and sources, but the new Dartmouth research considers the quality of Wikipedia references.

Verifiability is the extent to which information can be checked for reliability, truth content or accuracy. According to Wikipedia policy documents, “all material in Wikipedia mainspace, including everything in articles, lists and captions, must be verifiable,” and verifiability “means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia can check that the information comes from a reliable source.”

The Dartmouth team took into account technical accuracy and practical accessibility of sources in 5,000 articles and 295,800 citations in English-language Wikipedia. They found that, while the quality of references in the overall sample was reasonably high, verifiability varied significantly by article, particularly in the use of standard digital identifiers and taking into account the practical availability of referenced sources. The study examined whether the citation enables the reader to carry out this verification, not whether the cited documents match the information in the articles.

“Though Wikipedia is much larger and extensive than many online information sources, it illustrates the challenges to quality that many online information sources face,” says co-author Dan Rockmore, a professor of mathematics and computer science. “As with many online information sources, the most obvious challenge to verifiability in Wikipedia is a lack of citations and references. Without any reference material, it’s difficult to verify whether information is true, accurate and reliable. Simply providing citations and references does not automatically guarantee verifiability.”

Adds co-author Michael Evans, a Neukom Fellow at Dartmouth: “Whether or not provided references and citations are accessible is less often considered as a challenge to verifiability, but it is just as important as providing the reference or citation in the first place.”

Dartmouth Professor Dan Rockmore is available to comment at