Who Do You Trust, The Wiki Or The Reporter?

from the questions,-questions... dept

On Wednesday I posted a story linking to an article suggesting Wikipedia was somehow untrustworthy. While I can understand why, at first, the concept of Wikipedia seemed a little scary to those who hadn't seen it in action, I figured the reporter in question might want to know a few more details about it, and perhaps correct some of his misperceptions. My main problem was that he seemed to write off Wikipedia based solely on how it was created and maintained, and not at all on the actual content. Along with my post, I sent an email to the writer, Al Fasoldt, giving him some additional information about Wikipedia, and wondering why, after telling us how you can't trust any random info online, he trusted the email from a random librarian claiming Wikipedia was somehow untrustworthy. The ongoing discussion with Mr. Fasoldt has been quite a lesson in watching how a journalist (a) continues to make unsubstantiated allegations (b) seems to prefer insulting me and putting words in my mouth to actually responding to my points or questions and (c) sticks steadfastly to his belief that only "experts" can be trusted with information -- and, in his case, only experts that he chooses. Yet, somehow, we're supposed to find him more trustworthy than a self-correcting community. Figuring he might appreciate the views of others in his profession (you know, "experts"), I sent him links to Dan Gillmor's article on Wikipedia and Steve Yelvington's recent realization of the power of Wikipedia. However, rather than actually look at that information, Mr. Fasoldt accused me of wanting "students to trust a source that's not trustworthy." After some back and forth of this nature, where Mr. Fasoldt responded to my request that he do a little more research by saying: "I'm glad you're not the publisher of a newspaper" (apparently, his publisher lets him do no research at all) and then telling me that anyone who wrote for Wikipedia obviously knew nothing (his phrase was: "100 times zero is still zero"), I suggested an experiment. I pointed to the Wikipedia page on Syracuse, NY where he apparently lives, and suggested he change something on the page, to make it provably, factually incorrect -- and see how long it lasted. Rather than take me up on the experiment, or suggest an alternative, he complained simply that the whole idea of Wikipedia was "outrageous," "repugnant" and finally (in another email) "dangerous," and therefore he refused to take part in my experiment. He told me that asking him to take part of an experiment that would show how Wikipedia corrected errors "wouldn't change the danger" of Wikipedia -- and mentioned how important it was that teachers everywhere knew what a dangerous tool this was. After this email exchange, he came to Techdirt himself, and commented that, based on what he read here, he was disappointed in our educational system -- and proceeded to misquote a poem. Apparently, he was unwilling to trust information displayed in Wikipedia, but finds random comments on a blog as a representative sample of our education system. Thankfully, someone else corrected his misquote, pointing out that a group editing system might have helped out in such a situation. It's true that you shouldn't trust anything you read online, by itself. However, most of us know how to look at information, find other, supporting information to back it up or disprove it before writing it off, and not to judge a wiki by its disclaimer. However, by refusing to back up his claims, by mis-stating or ignoring nearly everything I said to him and by resorting to misdirection in his arguments, personally, I find Mr. Fasoldt to be untrustworthy -- but I suggest you make your own judgment call on that one.

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  1. identicon
    eric, 28 Aug 2004 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Rabblepedia

    pd: We shouldn't have to.

    Why not? Are you saying that people should uncritically accept information as it's presented to them? It seems to me that people ought to regard it as their responsibility to change what's mistaken.

    Wikipedia is designed to allow correction by anyone, and subsequent review by a large subset of everyone.

    Think of it this way: You can choose to rely on a Wikipedia article that's the aggregation of contribution and review from, say, seven or eight people (three grad students in the discipline, a couple of dilettante specialists, a professor or two, and a few people who notice ambiguous usages or contested views). Or you can choose to rely on a Brittanica article that was written by a grad student, scanned, cursorily revised and then signed by his advisor, and copy-edited, all ten years ago -- and not touched since.

    And that's not even beginning to address the issues that should be arising in your mind with regard to the corporate control of information, where, for example, religious organizations can petition the state of Texas as a means of forcing their agenda into school textbooks and library purchasing lists.


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