When you've been around the block a few times as I have, you're more able to notice when something's not quite right. You notice bias, for example. And there's plenty of it on Wikipedia. The more controversial the topic, the more bias you'll find there. That shouldn't be surprising.
Students, however, don't have the spectrum of knowledge, gained by decades of paying attention, that I have. They see Wikipedia as the Encyclopedia Britannica of the internet, the source of all information. It's not.
It's only a place to start. If a topic is well footnoted and referenced on Wikipedia, the footnotes and references might be useful. Start with Wikipedia, and launch your search for knowledge from there. One of my high school English teachers spent quite a bit of time drilling into us the difference between a "scholarly reference" and a "reference", and when each should be used. Wikipedia is certainly in the latter category, for a number of reasons.
Here's a story about a hacker who is helping uncover who is doing what edits to Wikipedia topics. It's very illuminating, and I highly recommend that you read it. I found two points to be very instructive. The first comes from a comment, the second from the end of the article:
1. Skeptics of anthropogenic global warming have their edits removed and if they complain, they'll get their accounts suspended. I created an entry about one of the suppressing administrators and not only was the entry deleted, but my account was ended with the comment "User hates Wiki".
Other politically left of center positions and personalities get favored treatment.
2. Instead, he argues that removing anonymity makes the site's information more accurate. "I would say that if people are anonymous, the quality of their contribution is probably much lower," he says. "Wouldn't you want Wikipedia users to be held accountable for what they change?"
Accountability. Such a versatile proposition.
Update, 7/28/08: I'm not the only one who thinks so. So does Roger L. Simon.
Too often we reference Wikipedia as if it were authoritative. It isn’t. Not even faintly.