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.