Wikipedia Reliability Redux

from the things-are-looking-better dept

It seems we created quite the unexpected monster with our Wikipedia stories from a few weeks ago. The post that generated most of the interest, where Al Fasoldt suggested Wikipedia was outrageous, repugnant and dangerous has also caused quite a bit of activity in many different sectors. A few people took me up on the suggestion that errors be purposely (but temporarily) introduced to Wikipedia, with varying results. Some had the errors corrected, others didn’t. This “test” alone generated a storm of controversy. People, including Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) complained about this kind of “vandalism.” While I agree that it’s bad, and regret that it’s been used a bunch of times, if Wikipedia is to deal with the criticisms it receives, this whole controversy should only make it stronger. And, in fact, that appears to be what’s happening. Mark Glaser has a good article summarizing much of the original controversy and spending plenty of time on new plans (from a few different sources including both Jimmy Wales and Ross Mayfield of Socialtext) to work on better ways to demonstrate and prove Wikipedia’s reliability and trustworthiness as a source for journalists. This includes formal fact-check procedures and the possibility of a “verified” notation in Wikipedia. Both of these sound like great ideas that should only help to take Wikipedia to the next level. Still, it appears that news organizations like CNN are quite comfortable using Wikipedia as a source, as noted in a recent article where they use it to back up some of the information they provide. This, of course, is horrifying to Fasoldt, who is quoted in the Glaser piece as saying wikis should never be used as a source. As for my conversation with Fasoldt, it continued after that piece and took a turn towards the bizarre. I avoided it for a while, but Fasoldt kept focusing in on the importance of “certified” professionals, which he believed had no place in Wikipedia. He repeated (3 times!) that no one would ever trust a brain surgeon trained only on Wikipedia — ignoring the fact (which was sent in response) that no one would trust a brain surgeon trained only on the Encyclopedia Britannica either. However, after repeatedly claiming that only certified experts can have an opinion on things, I sent him two academic papers on Wikipedia’s reliability and one article by a Columbia journalism professor. It seemed that, here were credible, certified experts showing that Wikipedia appeared to be quite reliable in many cases. Suddenly, it turned out that Fasoldt had no more interest in certified experts — because those certified experts told him he was wrong. For all his focus on certified experts, I asked him if he thought these certified experts were lying. Fasoldt ignored the question a few times before reverting to direct and repeated insults. Based on this conversation, which included plenty of insults, but not a single instance of him backing up a claim, I’m afraid I still need to lean towards Wikipedia over Al Fasoldt on which is more trustworthy. However, for all the mess this caused, it looks as though the eventual good from these efforts to make Wikipedia more reliable should make it worthwhile.

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Comments on “Wikipedia Reliability Redux”

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Al Fasoldt (user link) says:

I love this! Free speech is great. Part 2.

Anyone who thinks that an “encyclopedia” in which false articles can be planted — whether for testing or not — is worth defending is cruising a very broad street without a motor. C’mon, folks. The issue is not whether Wikipedia is right or wrong; it’s whether it is accountable. A system that is not accountable from start to finish is simply not accountable.

Allowing anyone to plant false articles in an encylopedia is cute and oh-so-clever and all that, but the first person who writes to me (after the 400 or so letters I’ve received so far) to tell me that it’s OK to run an encyclopedia without accountability will be summarily banished … virtually, of course.

Get a life, people. The point of my article was that children should not be encouraged to use Wikipedia as a source of information because it is not accountable. The fact that so many of you are puffing blather over this suggests that our educational institutions are doing an even worse job than I thought. Or maybe, come to think of it, many of you haven’t yet had the opportunity to grace the halls of those institutions. So let me change my advice: Get a life. And grow up. Keep studying. If you think elementary school is hard, wait ’til you get to high school.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: I love this! Free speech is great. Part 2.

What Al refuses to understand (and simply ignores every time it’s brought up) is that Wikipedia *is* accountable. It’s accountable to the community.

For some reason, Al has a big blind spot to this point though.

And, once again, I don’t really see how going back to insults gives him any additional credibility. Ignoring facts, examples, research and explanations on a repeated basis, and then insulting anyone who asks you to actually look at those things doesn’t give us any reason to actually trust you. In fact, it does just the opposite. But, I already told you this in an email and (of course) you ignored it and continued insulting me.

Rick Shaw says:

Re: I love this! Free speech is great. Part 2.

Hmm…so since Techdirt doesn’t check people’s comments for accuracy or run them by a team of editors before they get posted means that what ol’ Al is saying here isn’t “accountable” and therefore worthless, right?

All of your noise on this sounds like an old-school journalist running scared that the pedestal upon which he seems himself and others in his field is being knocked down by the Net. Used to be that somebody had to go through a bunch of formal training before they could be anointed as a journalist, and convoluted editorial processes and “accountability” keep up the facade that journalism is inherently complex and difficult, and therefore journalists are somehow special people we should revere.

I’m sure you love it when your byline gets in the paper — it gives you a sense of authority, because, after all, if it’s in the newspaper, it must be true. But the Net can undermine your authority, Al, because it allows people to seek out as many sources as they want (deciding for themselves which are credible and worthy of their trust). And don’t come back at me saying that people can keep looking until they find a source that says what they want to hear — journalists NEVER do that in finding sources for stories, I’m sure.

So quit talking about the children and how you’re trying to save them — this is about you, not them.

Joe Viera says:

Wikipedia False...article from the web

Wikipedia false encyclopedia..don?t used this articles as references for your post
I notice that you used Wikipedia as a source, that?s like using melting ice as paperholder.
Another example of antidemocracy is this site( , where the owner(like thouthands other sites) feeds his site from wikipedia and then blocks anybody?s critics against wikipedia? behind the scheme of the Wikithing there is money and fraud. They already began asking for 50 thouthands, soon will be millions. If I go to an Encyclopedia is not to edit what you are looking for, is to find it, because the basic fact that makes you look for it is ?that I don?t know?. This is the whole point of the existence of an encyclopedia. If not?please don?t commit intellectual abuse to all the millions of children and students that just write Encyclopedia on their browser and find millions of sites posting the autopromoting web site Wilkepedia, they will believe is a true encyclopedia, and just copy, they don?t have time to waste as it happens with the small and repetitive group of people of the Wikithing fraudulently calling itself Encyclopedia?they are harming others?my child got and ?F? on his project, because of this?.It will be better if they call themselves just a ?Project? or Wikichat, or Wikiforumpedia?but is fraud?big fraud, calling youself , encyclopedia?it doesn?t matter haw many small letters warnings you put at the bottom. The other thousands of money thirsty sites on the web that post Wikipedia ?never finished and always changeable articles? on the web, do not care about who reads them. An the readers, mostly students, like my child, are looking for steady and verifiable information. Rules do not change every minute in a democracy, they are there for a long time period before they are changed. That is a democracy, free changeable things are describe as, variable, aperiodic, unstable, unpredictable, and are the characteristic of CAOS, nor Democracy. Of course fanatics have a way to block information against them. In the Theory of Systems, Wikipedia is a close system by all means, far from being open as they claim. But again is healthy for the net, not to classify them as an Encyclopedia, because they are not by all definitions.
Have a nice day..

Kevin says:

Re: Wikipedia False...article from the web

WOW… so you blame WikiPedia for your child’s F? Did your child use more then one resource? Did he use more then one TYPE of resource? Did he follow any of the rules to researching? My bet is THAT is why he got an F… and not because WikiPedia (and yes, I can comment on this, I am a High School Teacher).

So did you take the time during the research phase to help him understand how to do “good” research? Did you spend nights following up with what he learned in school? Did you verify that what he says they taught, he actually understood and learned? Did you help him fill in any gaps that he did not understand? Guess not, since he got the F.

Did you take this opportunity to explain HOW to find GOOD info? Sounds like a great learning opportunity to me. OR (again I am just guessing here) did you just use Wikipedia as an excuse and put the blame elsewhere?

Erik says:

Re: Re: Wikipedia False...article from the web

I think what Kevin points out is crucial. Wikipedia is a source, and like ALL sources (even the certified ones) it carries with it the potential of errors, omissions, bias, ignorance. etc. In fact, errors in such “official” sources as encyclopedias are much more insidious, due to their relative slowness in updating, the persistence of outdated texts, and their perceived “certifiable” accountability (which has never really existed), all conspiring to make reversing misperceptions created by such errors a difficult and lengthy process.

So, rather than trying to discourage such tools as wikiwhatever, which allow people to gather massive amounts of information into an easily accessible tool, with it’s ability to quickly modify update and verify, instead we should be trying to encourage an improvement over people’s ability to analyze and discern information as they receive it.

Craig says:

It's just another tool

Just using one source on something is just wrong. The credibility of the article is only as credible as the author. In these cases, we don’t know who this is.
Wikipedia is a great source of information. The ease of use makes digging into subjects very easy. However it is always best to use other sources to support what you found (And to update Wikipedia with the new info).

Ron Poirier says:

Never Use Wikipedia as a Source

One should never use Wikipedia as a source for the same reason one should never use Fox News as a source — not because it is necessarily inaccurate, but because people will pooh-pooh what you are saying out of hand simply because you are using Wikipedia to back up your claims. Whether or not it is accurate is irrelevant — though I suspect Wikipedia stands more firmly reliable than Fox News. What matters is people’s *perception* of Wikipedia’s reliability, not the actual reliability of Wikipedia. Using Wikipedia as a source puts a weapon in the hands of your opponents, and therefore it is something that should be avoided.

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