Wikipedia:Potentially unreliable sources

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Wikipedia's requirement for writing articles is "verifiability, not truth." We rely on what is written in external sources to write this encyclopedia, yet not all sources are equal. The guideline Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources gives general advice on what is and isn't a reliable source; this essay aims to analyse specific examples of sources that might initially appear to be reliable, yet may not be.

News media[edit]

All mainstream news media can make mistakes. Particularly with breaking news, corrections will need to be made and should be watched out for, and much tabloid journalism will be sensationalist and gossip-driven. Fact checking has reduced generally in the news media over recent years. For more on the trend of churnalism, see Flat Earth News, a book by Nick Davies. Specific examples to treat carefully include:

Sites that may appear to be reliable sources for Wikipedia, but aren't[edit]

  • Content farms - these include sites such as (not to be confused with the San Francisco Examiner). While they may resemble the format used by legitimate websites (especially in the case of the latter), the content is by amateur writers and is effectively user-generated content, lacks editorial oversight, and pays contributors based on page views and other factors (see 1, 2, 3)
  • The Onion - in a few high profile incidents this satirical news site was mistaken for news media by non-English countries
  • The Daily Currant - satirical news originating from this site mistakingly ended up on a few US news sites

Scholarly journals[edit]

Scholarly journals are normally reliable sources, but some journals have a reputation for bias or unreliability. QuackWatch has a list of non-recommended periodicals, however, a short list of journals which should be used with extreme caution include:

Wikipedia mirrors[edit]

Wikipedia should not cite itself, but circular referencing and fact-laundering are possibilities if we are unaware that sources we use copy from Wikipedia. A list is at WP:MIRRORS. Some examples that appear in Google Books and are frequently inadvertently used by editors are:

You can use this note to let editors who added these sources know why they should not be used, and you can use Wikiblame to find when the source was first added.

Online mirrors[edit]

  • ^ About, Professors World Peace Academy
  • ^

Online sources[edit]

Most of the content on this site is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC.

— h2g2
  • h2g2. Wikipedians often make the mistake of thinking that because this is hosted by the BBC, it is reliable. It is user generated, and not reliable as a source, though in certain contexts it might meet the criteria for an external link (search for uses).
  • BBC Music. The artist biographies are usually taken directly from Wikipedia, which is clearly indicated on the page.
  • Used on 1000s of articles about books, but it is a commercial site with no clear editorial oversight.[3]
  • WP:RSN discussion has described it as a "content farm" that pays its writers to produce "breezy, popular interest pieces with no footnotes" based on popular search terms, and concern was expressed that it may be drawing uncredited information from Wikipedia and creating an information loop.

Self-published books[edit]

These may appear to be reliable as they are in Google Books and Amazon, and have an 'imprint', but they have no editorial oversight. Some of the biggest self-publishing houses are:

Who's who scams[edit]

A Who's Who scam is a fraudulent Who's Who biographical directory. While there are many legitimate Who's Who directories, the scams involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services. Because the purpose of the fraud is only to get money from those included, the contents are unlikely to be reliable.


Fansites are generally not considered reliable. However, exceptions can apply - some fan sites contain scans of small extracts of old newspaper and magazine articles, and these may be the most convenient way to cite facts based off the original published content. Be careful, however, as these scans may actually be a copyright violation, which must not be used to cite facts in an article. If using a copyrighted source from a fan site, the citation should be to the original copyrighted source, not the fansite, and the fansite should not be linked to from Wikipedia, not even as a WP:Convenience_link. However, be aware of WP:Citing_sources#Say_where_you_read_it - unless the complete source is available, excerpts may be taken out of context, or changed to fit the site's POV, and are therefore unreliable. Transcripts of content are generally not reliable unless produced by a reliable source.

The opinions of a fan site owner or owners are generally not reliable - anyone can set up a web site and claim to be part of an "editorial team" without establishing a widely known reputation for fact checking and content control.

Personal communication[edit]

It is a convention in scholarly works to add notes of "personal communication" or "pers. comm." with an individual or organisation who are considered knowledgeable on a topic, e.g. see Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. Chapter 13: Letters and Other Personal Communication. On Wikipedia this is considered to be original research, which is not permitted.

Search for uses [4].

See also[edit]