The Trouble with Wikipedia

If you feel that your question or comment doesn't fit into the categories above, feel free to post it here.
Post Reply

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Dec 15, 2005 2:56 pm

For those who have noted some of my negative comments on Wikipedia over the years, here is an article that deals in part with some of its problems of reliability – my main gripe. I do use the website myself, and it often does pull together otherwise difficult-to-find information, etc., and it is frequently an easy way out. But one thing I never do is believe anything it says without finding confirmation somewhere else. I say this because Wikipedia has a basic problem – the model upon which articles on this site are developed is inherently flawed.

( ... =nefd.lede)

Note: I can’t vouch for every detail in this article either. But I can say from personal experience that having witnessed many examples of Wikipedia’s inaccuracies, I have to agree that a problem does exist. Of course, Wikipedia operates on much higher plane, but I’d say that, fundamentally, it suffers from the same basic flaw as say – anyone can say anything, and although there is reader-lead editing and occasionally – so I gather – some site-lead editing, this cannot always insure that what you are reading is not garbage. So, an Encyclopedia Britannica, it is not! But, knowing its limitations, and exercising some skepticism, I think that Wikipedia can still be a useful resource.

Ken G – December 15, 2005

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Dec 15, 2005 4:11 pm

National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation featured a discussion on 2005-12-06 involving two of the principals in the episode that gave rise to the article mentioned by Ken, namely John Seigenthaler, the journalist who was libelled in a Wikipedia biography, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikipedia Foundation. (At the time of the broadcast, the identity of the perpetrator of the libel was still unknown.)

To hear it, go to ... Id=5041077 and click on the audio button.

A couple of ZDNet blog contributions also discuss related issues:

Wikipedia flap won't slow down enterprise Wikis
Podcast: Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, says the best thing about wikis is that you can make changes at a moment's notice.

The academy vs. open source
Dana Blankenhorn: For Wikipedia, a demand of consensus is not mob rule. It's the scientific method in action.

Nature says Wikipedia is not that bad
Dana Blankenhorn: A study by the science magazine Nature shows that Wikipedia's science entries aren't too bad when compared to those of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by dalehileman » Thu Dec 15, 2005 6:27 pm

Wikipedia accurate as Britannica--AP circa Dec 15 about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote...[using] peer review....Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts

Of eight "serious errors" the reviewers found--including misinterpretations of important concepts, four came from each source....

...the free service...having the speed and breadth to keep up on topics....not covered in Britannica

However, in perfect fairness to Ken and Company,

The Wicki wacky world of the Web--Ben Grabow, Scripps-Howard, or has the potential to be, the great humming collective knowledge....that is why you would have to be a complete drooling moron to trust any of it

...It makes no difference to the Internet...if bad information gets you sued for libel or mauled by a bear. And that is why you should cast a cautions eye or Bear

With a nod and friendly wink to all,
Complete Drooling Moron

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by Phil White » Thu Dec 15, 2005 7:40 pm

My misgivings about the Wikipedia have also been aired often enough here, but I have to say that most of the material I've looked at on the many branches of linguistics appear to me to be generally sound and, above all, are an accessible way to find out where to look further, as they generally feature extensive further reading lists.

That said, I can't help feeling that many of the mainstream entries on linguistics are written by Chomsky-worshippers, or perhaps emanate from the bowels of MIT itself, but there are far worse ways of being wrong.

Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by Shelley » Fri Dec 16, 2005 10:01 pm

Y'know, I was just having a conversation about Wikipedia with my teenaged son. I was trying to explain that he ought to be very suspicious of the site for absolutely correct factual content, and he became a vehement defender of the site. In a less volatile mood, I will encourage him to look at this thread.
I think the ipod generation is very attached to its internet source of all wisdom (not just Wikipedia, but any information researched through the internet). I find it very hard to make this shift: indeed, I don't think it's in me.

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by spiritus » Sat Dec 17, 2005 9:36 am

"That's not a lie, it's a terminological inexactitude. Also, a tactical misrepresentation."
---Alexander Haig

"Between truth and the search for it, I choose the second." ---Bernard Berenson

The Wikipedia's straight-forward and transparent "disclaimer", is to my mind, an excellent model of what distinguishes (and connects)
an "encyclopedia site" that is a "service provider" from/to one that is a "publisher":

Wikipedia:General disclaimer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

General disclaimer – Use Wikipedia at your own risk – Wikipedia does not give medical advice – Wikipedia does not give legal opinions – Wikipedia contains spoilers and content you may find objectionable

Wikipedia is an online open-content collaborative encyclopedia, that is, a voluntary association of individuals and groups who are developing a common resource of human knowledge. The structure of the project allows anyone with an Internet connection and World Wide Web browser to alter its content. Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by professionals with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information.

That is not to say that you will not find valuable and accurate information in Wikipedia; much of the time you will. However, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields. ... disclaimer

Examples of other encyclopedia disclaimers
While other encyclopedias, unlike Wikipedia, are professionally peer reviewed, they still do not guarantee their content.

The disclaimer (from the site hosting the Encyclopedia Britannica Online):

The disclaimer (from the site hosting Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia)

The disclaimer (from the site hosting the Columbia Encyclopedia)

"I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy."
---Samuel Butler

Now, if only the publishers/producers/prophets,
of The Bible, BBC, and The New York Times, provided similiar "disclaimers"; the world would be a little closer to perfect.
Signature: Che Baraka

The Trouble with Wikipedia

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Dec 18, 2005 2:40 pm

The question is, can Wikipedia weather the attack? It seems that intentionally posting false material on Wikipedia has become a new favorite passtime of website vandals following the recent furor over the false Seigenthaler article.

Times Online

Wikipedia hit by surge in spoof articles

By Simon Freeman - December 15. 2005

Wikipedia was yesterday described as being as reliable as the Encyclopaedia Britannica despite a sustained attack from vandals intent on further wrecking its reputation for accuracy.

In an online article published by the respected scientific journal Nature, articles in Wikipedia - the web-based encyclopaedia created by volunteers - compared favourably to those in the foremost repository of knowledge in the English language.

This is despite a surge in the number of spoof articles [[see:Wikipedia founder 'shot by friend of Siegenthaler']] and vandal attacks which have followed the furore over a biographical Wikipedia article linking John Seigenthaler, a respected retired journalist, with the assassinations of both John F and Robert Kennedy.

In one such fake article, it was suggested today that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's creator, was shot dead at his home by Siegenthaler's wife.

Wikipedia's founder accepts that the site's open and egalitarian nature renders it vulnerable to such attacks, but after the Seigenthaler scandal he promised to tighten up procedures to prevent misleading articles from being published.

A cursory search today suggested that these procedures - which require contributors to register basic details before posting articles - were being defeated by a relentless wave of vandals, apparently co-ordinating their assaults from a series of chatrooms dedicated to its demise.

The loss of credibility has caused commentators to question whether Wikipedia is destined to follow the LA Times's doomed experiment in unrestricted internet comment, Wikitorial, which had to be closed down after just two days under a bombardment of pornographic postings.

Today's false report of its founder's murder read: "At 18:54 EST on December 12, John Seigenthaler's wife, who was infuriated at Wikipedia regarding the recent scandal regarding his role in the Kennedy Assassination, came into the house, where Jim was having dinner. Wearing a mask, he [sic] shot him three times in the head and ran."

A search for the term 'Wikipedia' revealed the one-line entry: "An encyclopedia full of crap."

Subsequent searches revealed: "Although it may seem factual, Wikipedia is largely a web of lies and falsehoods, and it is not to be trusted by any means. Do not use wikipedia as a source for anything; it is worthless."

And later: "Editors are encouraged to uphold a policy of sticking it's head up it's ass; under which notable perspectives are summarised without an attempt to determine an objective truth."

The army of 600 volunteer editors were rapidly updating and amending the falsified entries, but the continued assault highlighted flaws in one of the best-loved and most successful websites.

The embarrassing attacks came despite the survey published in Nature which suggested that errors on Wikipedia appeared to be the exception rather than the rule after the journal used peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica.

Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.

Jimmy Wales, who is still very much alive, said: "We’re very pleased with the results and we’re hoping it will focus people’s attention on the overall level of our work, which is pretty good." He said that Wikipedia plans to begin testing a new mechanism for reviewing the accuracy of its articles from next month.

Ken G - December 18, 2005

Post Reply