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
    Another Anonymous Coward, 29 Aug 2004 @ 12:42am

    Re: Rabblepedia

    This is in comment to the general thread, not to or about anything written secondarily by others commenting to the thread:
    Wikipedia is fraught with adjectives where they don't belong, adjectives and adverbs that flower and qualify and otherwise opinionate what ought to be information only.
    Such that, reading many issues on Wikipedia, without any foreknowledge of that or those issues -- such is the point of searching for information, particularly for those with limited life and/or educational experience, although we all remain unfamiliar with many things over age, regardless of our educational and living experiences -- Wikipedia through this method of prosaic language applied to information, opinionates the information.
    You can write a definition of something, a concept, an event, a person, a being, a process, whatever, and include descriptions by way of adjectives and adverbs that convey the writer's individual opinions about that about which he/she writes, and thereby actually CHANGE and modify a definition.
    Which is what, in my experience accessing Wikipedia, exists there: ongoing opinions masquereding as "facts" and information that is subjectivized through the application of descriptive language.
    So, I understand the fellow's complaint and entire area of question. A reliable source or person would not be so emotive about the inquiry -- as the thread here is, in effect, as an emotional reaction to this person's valid point of inquiry -- and would attempt to coordinate a process of exchange by which this person's inquiry could be intergrated into the site information itself, WITHOUT applying negative opinions about the person making the inquiry and the inquiry itself.
    Which is, to the man, an excellent example of why Wikipedia is flawed, just as the inquirer points out.
    A flaw does not mean doom. It does if you respond by attacking and denigrating someone who points out a flaw. It doesn't if you coordinate and accommodate the flaw, use it for a point to improve (which is what I mean by "integrate the flaw and accommodate it" into the site).
    The very thread here, however, the posing point "Mike" makes, exemplifies just why Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, other than a study in sociology, perhaps, or one about the personality of "Mike."

    P.S.: I'll be voting for Bush, also, but anyone's voting determination isn't the point of the issue here, but that's another point about Wikipedia that is noticably flawed: the abundance of opinionated SOCIO-POLITICAL insertions into "information" -- more of what I've already described here, earlier.

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