Wikipedia's Real Problem: Nerd Bias

from the tongue-in-cheek dept

There’s been plenty of debate over the past couple of years about the merits of Wikipedia, generally focusing on how “trustworthy” the site is because of its anonymous contributors and lack of professional editorial review. But SomethingAwful has cut to the heart of Wikipedia’s problems: its apparent nerd bias (via TechCrunch). The site, rather amusingly, compared the length of articles on related topics, such as modern warfare and lightsaber combat, or Buzz Aldrin and Jean-Luc Picard, concluding that the “nerdy” topics were more thoroughly written. Of course, many of the topics the article highlights reflect more of a pop culture bias (such as Aristotle vs. Oprah), while the sheer length of the article isn’t a real comprehensive test of quality. The underlying point, though, is that people contribute in areas which they’re passionate about, and in which they have some knowledge. While on the face of it, this piece would appear to give more ammo to Wikipedia’s critics, perhaps the point to take away from it is that the site can serve as a useful reference on areas that tap the knowledge of its contributors, and illustrate that the community is capable of creating comprehensive reference works. While the SomethingAwful piece oversimplifies and overstates the gap in quality among the supposedly nerd and non-nerd topics, the challenge for Wikipedia is to keep growing the community, so level of knowledge that’s being shared across the board continues to rise.


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Comments on “Wikipedia's Real Problem: Nerd Bias”

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21 Comments
Joshua says:

This is silly.

While there is a bias toward writing articles that you know something about (go figure) it is not nearly as bad as this makes it sound.

The length comparisons you mentioned don’t make much sense as a way of criticism.

The Modern Warfare article has many references to articles that go into greater detail. If you were to include all the articles about it to the Lightsaber Combat page instead of just the TOC then it would be a valid comparison.

The fact that the Jean-Luc Picard article is longer then the Buzz Aldrin article is not surprising. Picard was on a TV show that spanned seasons. Each of which season had many episodes, almost all about something interesting happening involving Picard in some way. Aldrin, in comparison, has not had nearly as an event-filled life.

Andy (profile) says:

Non-community driven Encyclopedias have the same problem, some articles are better researched and more detailed (longer) than others. This is driven by various constraints from article size limits, to predictions on article popularity, to limits on time. The benefit of Wikipedia is that there exists an intrinsic capability to fix this immediately, as experts become available, rather than waiting for the next edition. In the mean time, why should some experts be turned away just because there is already a saturation of information on certain topics?

Is it not the job of the experts in a field to properly document the field? If there are no experts (or experts are not available), then obviously the topics of which those experts are experts will be lacking, no matter what the medium.

I’m an inclusionist, but I wonder why experts of some things, like The Simpson television show, would rather spend time putting their data on Wikipedia than on their own site. The authority of Wikipedia for some topics, like pop culture one, is diluted when in aggregate on a single site. Wikipedia becomes its own authoritative reference, undermining the distributed nature of information on the Internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The authority of Wikipedia for some topics, like pop culture one, is diluted when in aggregate on a single site. Wikipedia becomes its own authoritative reference, undermining the distributed nature of information on the Internet.”

I could be mistaken, but I thought that being a reference was what Wikipedia was for..?

Kass says:

It’s biased. If the lefty cellar dwellers (or Mom’s basement, if you prefer) can find a way to bend an article to their worldview they will do it. If that damages Wikepedia, so what? A tool is used as long as it’s useful and when it is no longer useful it will be abandoned.

Orwell knew these people but, in his day saw the whole machinery of a state being required to rewrite history on the fly. Ain’t technology wonderful?

Jim Davis says:

Re: Left-wing bias at Wiki

You wrote: “It’s biased. If the lefty cellar dwellers (or Mom’s basement, if you prefer) can find a way to bend an article to their worldview they will do it. If that damages Wikepedia, so what? A tool is used as long as it’s useful and when it is no longer useful it will be abandoned. Orwell knew these people but, in his day saw the whole machinery of a state being required to rewrite history on the fly. Ain’t technology wonderful?”

You are correct. I wrote an article about this in Newsmax:

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2007/5/13/212015.shtml

As a result of Wikipedia’s open-door policy, hordes of political partisans have flocked to the site from such liberal Web sites as MoveOn.org and Daily Kos, and made it their “turf.”

Newcomers who try to put Wikipedia’s “neutral point of view” into practice on sensitive political subjects are often shouted down, or baited into committing rules infractions that lead to a lifetime ban.

Wikipedia members from Democratic Underground and MoveOn.org have the power, the numbers and the seniority. They can win any argument about content, either through mob tactics or a well-placed block by a friendly administrator. The rules and policies form an online minefield, and they derive immense satisfaction from baiting newbies into that minefield.

Editors are recruited from Democratic Underground. The author of the recruiting drive, Ben Burch, is the Webmaster of a site whose motto is “Fighting the Rise of the New Fascism.”

Articles about politically delicate subjects such as the war in Iraq, the dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys, and Republican politicians and conservative organizations have been turned into hatchet jobs. …

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

Re: The Nerd Parade

Think that TechCrunch which compared the length of articles to determine value, must have employed a bunch of out of work COBOL programmers that remember the day when their supervisor would count the number of lines of COBOL code they wrote to determine if they were to get a raise that year or not 🙂

Did
they
write
COBOL
programs
like
this?

Dave says:

It's fine, to a point

I enjoy having Wikipedia as a resource, it’s very handy for quick information about something. You just have to understand that it’s not definitive, but just a starting point. With no editorial controls at all, there’s going to be sludge mixed in with the gems. This should be obvious, but I guess it isn’t.

The problem I see is when people quote it as gospel without even thinking of asking someone who might know, cracking a book once in awhile, or even looking at other websites to follow up for more accurate and definitive info. That’s why I can’t rely on “facts” that they rattle off.

Nerd-biased? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that mostly nerds are writing it, and if that’s true, well…

Billy says:

Wiki can't be trusted anyway.

Considering how many closed-minded and arrogant admins they have, wiki can NEVER be trusted. If one of the high-ups doesn’t like someone’s language, they’ll ban them from editing.

http://wikitruth.info

Take a look at some of the censorship that has happened at Wiki. Because Wiki admins are selective in the information they allow on the site, regardless of whether they know it to be fact or not, Wiki will NEVER be a good site to get accurate information from.

Dave says:

Today's featured article

I’ve noticed that a high percentage of ‘Today’s featured artciles’ tend to be on nerdy subjects – cult films, fanatasy characters anything to do with outer space etc…

I don’t know who decides these articles but it would be nice to see a more even spread.

Having said that i think that wikipedia is an excellent resource – i use it all the time.

DFAL (user link) says:

Supposed To Have Verifiable Sources

The thing about Wikipedia is that no original research is allowed and all claims are supposed to be backed up by verifiable sources.

Wikipedia is great as a topical source of information. If you want to dig deeper, the articles that correctly follow Wikipedia’s guidelines about citing sources will provide you sources for the information.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

what you use it for

Wikipedia is a good source for quick reference, or for finding alinks. For example, I was writing a simple Java program to experiment with network coms on, and in he process, needed to find an unused port. Since searching for something like this is almost certain to return a very large number of useless results, going straight to wikipeida saves a lot of time and effort, since they have a link tot he com[let list of officially allovcated ports.
Likewise, I know serious programmers who use wikipeida to look for RFCs, because if they don’t know the number or the title, using wikipeida to find the RFC is faster.

Wikipedia is good for a quick refernce, or for something outside the mainstream, which youare not likely to find elsewhere as esasily.

now? says:

Aren't we all sick of this

There may be issues regarding the accuracy of the information, but to say that no valid information can be obtained from the site is to be incredibly arrogant and pig-headed, not to mention ignorant. I always take info on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, and have even corrected some details in articles from time to time to improve the accuracy. But you can’t say that none of the info is useful.

The fact of the matter is, there is TONS of information on wikipedia that you cannot find anywhere else on the internet. Not easily anyway. Also, posters are highly encouraged to hotlink to their information sources for easy verification of the information. I find articles like that to be extremely useful. And who cares if a lot of the content is “nerdy?” Where else are you going to find a mile-long page of information about a Star Trek crew member? Not in the Encyclopedia Britannica, that’s for sure.

User-generated information databases are a valuable, and sometimes necessary, source of information. You must make sure to take responsibility both for posting accurate information and not using said information without confirming the accuracy of it. But, there is no valid reason to shut down or reformat a site like Wikipedia. It has done nothing wrong, and nobody is forced to use it, or to believe anything that is posted.

If you want to shut down sites because of inaccurate data, you’d have to shut down not only every wiki site, but also every blog site and even every major news provider’s website. How many here believe that the official news channels actually present the truth to us on a daily basis without distorting it in some fashion? Inaccuracy is a human trait, and will exist no matter what the forum may be. Stop picking on these guys for no good reason, and move on to other, more constructive topics of debate.

Longtom says:

Bias compared to what?

There were heaps of bias (and inaccurate information) in all of the major encyclopedia hardcover books and it continued into their software. HEAPS. You can’t single out Wikipedia for doing what all the others have already done before.

The place Wikipedia surpasses the other software is the references and cites.

It moreover surpasses everybody else by it’s wealth of contributors from all across the globe instead of a narrow band in an office on Wall Street. Again we see this in the speed of information change. This is further witnessed in the fact that other software companies would never have had information that happened in the last week or less but Wikipedia consistently does.

Furthermore, I’ve always thought encyclopedic knowledge for those willing to seek it should be free and freely contributed and I applaud Wikipedia for making a vast and powerful resource that surpasses other encyclopedia resources in every way imaginable – including sheer volume.

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