19.492 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 07:23:03 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 492.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Stuart Dunn" <s.e.dunn_at_reading.ac.uk> (23)
         Subject: RE: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world (but
                 an interesting one, vide infra)

   [2] From: Dimitar Iliev <d_iliev_at_abv.bg> (58)
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world (but
                 an interesting one, vide infra)

   [3] From: Daniel Paul O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell_at_uleth.ca> (45)
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world (but
                 an interesting one, vide infra)

   [4] From: "Christine Goldbeck" <cgoldie_at_verizon.net> (11)
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world (but
                 an interesting one, vide infra)

   [5] From: Gabriel BODARD <gabriel.bodard_at_KCL.AC.UK> (30)
         Subject: Citation of non-definitive sources [was: Wikipedia]

         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:05:46 +0000
         From: "Stuart Dunn" <s.e.dunn_at_reading.ac.uk>
         Subject: RE: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
(but an interesting one, vide infra)

It seems that Wikipedia is now requiring users to register before they
can create articles or edit the site: see

Given how easy it is to create instant and free email addresses, it's
difficult to see what practical impact this will have. But it looks like
a tacit admission, in the light of the Seigenthaler case, of the
principle that *some* controls are needed -- this seems to undermine the
whole Wikipedia model.

Stuart D.

Dr. Stuart Dunn
Programme Administrator
AHRC ICT in Arts and Humanities Research Programme
School of Languages and European Studies
University of Reading
Reading RG6 6AA

URL: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/ict
AHRC ICT mailing list: http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ahrcict

Tel: 0118 378 5064
Fax: 0118 378 8333

         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:06:46 +0000
         From: Dimitar Iliev <d_iliev_at_abv.bg>
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
(but an interesting one, vide infra)

Dear all,

as it is now, Wikipedia neither should be taken too seriously as an
authoritative reference, nor dares to have such claims.

its aim has always been to offer a common space for the exchage of
information among end users of Internet, and information and
knowledge are very subjective and relative notions.
everyone's picture of the world differs slightly from that of
everybody else, and the least common denominator of very many
pictures of the world is Wikipedia. it is far more valuable as a
momentary snapshot of the Zeitgeist than as a reference tool. only an
additional benefit of its is that one can find, among the many
different statements, some that are really valuable - and that just
because not all the people that contribute to Wikipedia are
ill-informed and 'ill-intentioned'.
I dare say that many of the Wiki articles I've come across concerning
my field (Classical Studies) are a relatively good and trustworthy
beginner's introduction to notions and events. if one needs to delve
deeper, no article is good enough to replace years of source analysis
and reasearch, but if one needs only to be introduced to the general
notion that the common public today has on 'Pericles' or 'Latin
poetry', Wikipedia is as good a tool as many others whose
trustworthiness we take for granted.
even serious scholarly research is only part of the
<emph>reception</emph> of people and events past, and this holds true
all the more for popular culture.

in any case, I have to admit that I look with suspicion at any trends
and wishes to somehow bar the free flow of information, right or
wrong, flawless or not. we have always succumbed to authorities, and
the right of making any kind of claim or statement has always been
given to someone in a hierarchical and authoritative way. despite
that, history has long proven that giving the knowldedge of how to
make a weapon only to selected few hasn't prevented wars, and giving
access to facts only to a chosen elite hasn't prevented slander.

the point is not to impose an authority of some kind over every tool
of access to information such as the Internet. the key point is the
personal ethics of both end users or contributors and those who are
in control. by transferring all the responsibility to authoritative
figures (legal or scholarly) we'll either change nothing, or change
it for the worse.


Dimitar Iliev
Ph.D. student in Classics
University of Sofia

         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:07:35 +0000
         From: Daniel Paul O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell_at_uleth.ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
(but an interesting one, vide infra)

The other thing about this defamatory statement was that it was in an
article on the *Kennedy Assassination*. Like anything, the Wikipedia has
its strengths and weaknesses. On the weekend I looked up Thermostats
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermostat>, and the Reformation
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reformation> for non-scholarly
reasons. Guess which one had the most active talk page and disputes
about neutrality?

Articles on subjects attractive to nuts are always going to be less
reliable on the Wikipedia... despite the efforts of the volunteers who
attempt to keep those entries from spinning out of control. If a
students wants to know what period the Vikings attacked England in
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_Age>, or something about Caedmon
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A6dmon> (a particularly good entry,
that one! ;), or what the major periods of English literature are
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Literature>, then they are
probably safe enough there for starters (though not for stoppers: the
English Lit. is pretty old fashioned, for example, and I bet more than
one lunatic has gone through the vikings). In the case of the English
lit. one, for example, I once noticed looking in the history that it had
been vandalised... and corrected within 20 minutes.

The point is that I use (and teach students to use) the Wikipedia as a
really quick orientation to a subject, but to recognise that the
analysis is of very uneven quality and that the authors range from
professional scholars to cranks.

Encarta is a loss leader for a business that doesn't want (or didn't
want) to alienate prospective customers by challenging any of their
national myths and so had different articles in different versions. Same
thing really: useful for starting, but not for stopping. Information
literacy is teaching people to recognise strengths and weaknesses.


Please avoid sending me Word or PowerPoint attachments. These are
proprietary formats and often contain viruses. See
Daniel Paul O'Donnell, PhD
Acting Chair and Associate Professor of English
Director, Digital Medievalist Project
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge AB T1K 3M4
Vox: +1 (403) 329-2378/-2377
Fax: +1 (403) 382-7191
@caedmon/ubuntu linux 5.10
         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:08:05 +0000
         From: "Christine Goldbeck" <cgoldie_at_verizon.net>
         Subject: Re: 19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world 
(but an interesting one, vide infra)
Hi Friends:
Michael, I am in total accord with your view. We need to give
students the skills to critically analyze materials not eliminate
Wikipedia or any other source of information.
As for lies, I've seen plenty of them in primary textual resources.
The happenings at Wikipedia vindicate my take on new media culture.
In many ways, it is a mirror of our real-world culture. On the
streets or online, a bully can be a bully, a liar can be a liar, etc ...
In any event, abandoning ship is not the way to go. Education first!
         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:10:16 +0000
         From: Gabriel BODARD <gabriel.bodard_at_KCL.AC.UK>
         Subject: Citation of non-definitive sources [was: Wikipedia]
Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea of telling students they can use a
resource but not cite it, or equally for scholars to use a resource
but not cite
I am thinking of scholars who use http://www.tlg.uci.edu/ to find patterns and
word groups in Greek texts, and then use the citations provided as though they
had alsoo read the books (which presumably they have) but without mentioning
that they used the TLG in the first place. Or who use http://www.pase.ac.uk/ to
find information about Medieval individuals and relationships between them and
other individuals and places, and then cite the primary sources but not PASE,
giving the impression that they know all the primary sources intimately and
don't need to use this newfangled online thing.
Is it not more intellectually honest to cite both the tool you use to find your
information--where the resource has actually done much of the work for you,
rather than just a raw text search engine--and the primary sources of that
Gabriel BODARD
Inscriptions of Aphrodisias
Centre for Computing in the Humanities
King's College London
Kay House
7, Arundel Street
London WC2R 3DX
Email: gabriel.bodard_at_kcl.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 78 48 13 88
Fax: +44 (0)20 78 48 29 80
Received on Thu Dec 08 2005 - 02:46:29 EST

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