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Fudging Wikipedia’s irresponsible misdirection

In “Wikipedia is editorial warzone, says study” (MSNBC, June 21, 2012), Devin Coldewey whitewashes the reality:

It’s well-known that information on Wikipedia is essentially peer-reviewed opinion, and this study shows just how lively those peers — and that review process — can be. But while the details are constantly under heated debate, the result is often a compromise that cleaves very closely to fact, despite being the middle ground between several ideas of the truth.

The problem is that fact is only closely related to truth when it is relevant. Otherwise, it can be misdirection. Which facts are substantial, which are trivia?

Here, for example, is an account of what went wrong when a scholar who had studied the interesting US 19th century Haymarket Riot tried to correct the textbook pooh-bahs on fact. He lost.

In another such case, a scholar was edited by someone who was apparently 14 years old, and not any kind of genius, just someone with the time to spend on the problem – presumably avoiding his chores.

It seems that I am not the only one to attempt to contribute to Wikipedia, and to get receive harassment and insults in return. There is a series of posts in which one of the authors describes his attempts to do so. One of them is this one.

I therefore recommend that scholars like myself not bother to make edits on that platform where any non-specialist can take them down within seconds. Scholars don’t have the time to waste on such games.

It turns out that the “administrator” harassing him was 14 years old (!) at the time:

Any educator who recommends Wikipedia to students is irresponsible. It amounts to an advertisement that the instructor is just not keeping up with the problems.

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6 Responses to Fudging Wikipedia’s irresponsible misdirection

  1. News:

    Wikipedia has become so dominant as a first level reference [helping in killing off the encyclopedias out there], that I think it is necessary to take a bit of a more nuanced approach:

    1 –> On controversial topics where evolutionary materialists are committed, it should be viewed as outlining the evo mat conventional wisdom, sometimes speaking against ideological interests when on a materially related topic they cannot get away with distortions. (Wiki’s definition of a lie is a good example.)

    2 –> On some topics, doubtless, where the evo mat ideologues are split, there may be a muddy compromise “consensus” as the OP mentions.

    3 –> On topics where there is no real controversy, Wiki can be good.

    4 –> On topics where the contributors are knowledgeable, perhaps giving the equivalent of a term paper or the like, it can again be quite good.

    5 –> An excellent indicator of the cases 3 and 4 is the type or references and the quality of argumentation. After all, no authority or presenter [including, teachers] is better than his or her facts, reasoning and assumptions.

    6 –> Also, the references and external links are often a good go-to for a first level of onward info. Info, not knowledge yet, the degree of warrant has to be audited.

    7 –> In all cases, one’s position must be Wikipedia proof, i.e. it must be able to stand up to what one will find there. So, it must be at least as informed as what is there, and it must correct the key blunders. (I recall having to do that with Wiki on its ID article some months ago.)

    KF

  2. kairosfocus, not sure about all this. If a Wikipedia page is run by a brat, a troll, and a yay-hoo, there is no point in concern about whether one’s position is Wikipedia proof.

    Scholars are saying they don’t have the time or inclination to battle bilge. But that leaves the public without reliable expert sources.

    Very much agree that Wikipedia is a good place to begin in order to get search topics. But I do all my actual searches elsewhere.

  3. News:

    I hear you on spoiled brats needing a dose of the woodshed medicine, and on trolls who are spoiled brats grown up.

    But even so, there is a nuance, aptly — and many would say, ironically — captured by Lord Keynes at the end of his General Theory:

    the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil . . .

    These days, it is ideologues preaching from academic pulpits of one form or another, and they usually are still very much with us. The brats and trolls are echoes and transmitters, not original sources.

    Oh yes, it was hard to look up the quote in a handy clippable form, the family copy of General Theory is back with my dad, and so, the clip comes from Wiki’s article on the book. That was the first place I could find that carries it all the way. Next stop would have been Marxists online!

    Oh, yes, scholars need to police their ranks and the ideologues abusing the academic pulpit (not to mention peer review) need to be read the riot act. If incentive is needed, when the crowd with pitchforks, tar, feathers etc come a baying for rough justice, they won’t be making fine distinctions unless there has been a long, loud voice of protest against such abuses.

    I say when, because we have already mortally wounded our civilisation. Yes, we the educated who should have known and done better.

    KF

  4. Of course how can we be sure whether prior to the existence of Wiki and the internet altogether, much of the published reference material was not the work of spoiled brats grown up?

    Yeah, I get it. You don’t have to have credentials to write a Wiki article. But I’ve found that in certain instances when the topic is non-controversial and any mistakes would easily be noticed by those in the know, there’s some very good articles.

    I use Wiki for my interest in music history. It’s very handy if I want to know the date a certain composition was written and who wrote it. I suppose much of that information is easily transferred from a published reference source. I don’t get the impression that someone is just making up dates and names in their head.

    I guess the difference is that Wiki doesn’t automatically filter out spoiled bratism, while many publishers, if they have any desire to be considered trustworthy, do.

    But what I found laughable was the notion that Wikipedia articles are “peer reviewed” (past tense). Not really. They’re still going through the peer review process, and that process may never end by the nature of the Wiki system. So don’t think you’re ever getting the “end product.” It’s wise to look elsewhere if you’re desperate for facts.

  5. Thanks for sharing about peer review.From this blog every one understands what is the problem facing wiki

  6. Interesting post. Very much agree that Wikipedia is a good place to begin in order to get search topics. Please visit Anatomy.

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