On the previous page you watched a video demonstrating the "Just add Wikipedia" technique. In that case we opened a new tab and fired up a search result page, typing a domain plus "Wikipedia" into the search box. In this next video, we show a variation of that technique that you can do in the omnibar of your browser (that part of the browser in which you can type a web location or a search phrase). We also show how this is particularly helpful for quick research on organizations.


Notice that while the most relevant Wikipedia article usually floats to the top of results, this is not always true. In the case of researching Nuclear Matters, the most informative Wikipedia page was the second result. When looking at Before It's News the first Wikipedia result that came up was the right one — but it was second in the Google results, after a result from Rational Wiki.

Use Surprise as an Indicator

What do you look for on the Wikipedia page? It varies. Sometimes — as with the Nuclear Matters material in the video above — what sticks out most is the agenda of the group, e.g. something you thought was a research group turns out to be a political advocacy group with ties to the industry. Sometimes it's the fact that a source has a history of unreliability, as was the case with Before It's News. And many times (most, actually!) it will turn out the source just fine, as we saw above with the SacBee example.

But rather than a checklist of things to look for on the Wikipedia page, I want you to focus on two organizing questions:

If you thought something was from a straight news site and it turns out to be from a conspiracy site, that should surprise you. And given your new knowledge, your initial impression of the trustworthiness should plummet. If you thought you were looking at a minor, unknown newspaper and it turns out to be a multi-award winning national newspaper of record, maybe your assessment of its trustworthiness increases. The effects on trust are of course contextual as well: a small local paper may be a great source for local news, but a lousy source for health advice or international politics.

What's Important Depends On Context

What you take note of when doing investigate the source searches will be highly dependent on how you initially interpreted the source.

As an example, I remember looking at a comment on Twitter from what I thought was an internet rando. He was talking about a historical point with a lot of confidence. I thought it was an interesting point, but not worthy of my attention. Out of habit I did a Wikipedia check on his name and found that he was a world renowned historian who had written the most popular textbook on the subject at hand. Surprise! I went back and read his comment more carefully and thought about it more deeply.

Conversely, I've occasionally seen newspapers on the web that seem to me (in the names and the way they look) like old established papers. Throwing their name into a just add Wikipedia search I find they don't have a Wikipedia page (odd if the paper is supposed to be a major paper) or that they were established less than two years ago. Neither of those outcomes means the paper is not to be trusted, but it might change the way I read it or prompt me to do more research.

Note that there can't be any hard and fast rule here — there's not a list of rules that says writing a textbook on the subject is good, not having a Wikipedia page is bad. But a lot of this is obvious in the specific case.

One caveat — some students, used to just reacting to claims, may not be forming conscious opinions of what a source is. If this is the case with you, take just the smallest fraction of a second to think about what you think you are looking at before you research it. Do you think this is a major news source? A local paper? A government database? A grassroots, people-powered movement? A professional organization? As we go through the course we'll talk more about some of these categories of sources.