Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 362. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 2019-01-19 09:24:34+00:00 From: Ken Friedman
Subject: My Wikipedia Question Dear Friends, While I've seen a lot of good ideas and interesting information in the responses to my question, I observe that no one has addressed the question of reliability and the massive load of problematic articles. Everyone points to the massive engagement of Wikipedia with educational programs, wide usage, editing festivals, etc. All this is true. It's as though the world suddenly developed motor traffic over a period of twenty years with urban streets designed for cars and the highway system. There would be lots of attention to it and every university in the world would have an area that studies or works with the phenomenon. (In fact, most do -- urban planning, civil engineering, architecture, transportation design, and others have departments that attend to, plan for, work with, and analyse the effects of motor traffic, along with special areas of medicine, law, political science, chemistry, and many more.) To say that universities and everyone else work with or use Wikipedia in some way is true, but insufficient. Wikipedia is without question the world's largest reference work, is most widely used, and one of the largest and most widely used web site. My problem is that it doesn't yet do what it was designed to do: deliver reliable and accurate information across the wide range of its nearly 6,000,000 articles (in English). The question is what might be done to bring that situation into being. CocaCola and PepsiCola are a massively successful and a widely used products. The necessary design of the CocaCola product leads to adverse health effects. When people point this out, no one says, "They serve CocaCola in the cafeterias at Harvard!" Unlike Coke and Pepsi, Wikipedia was established for benevolent purposes. Even so, something has gone wrong when a majority of articles revert to mediocrity in a system where human editors and bots interpret any change as damage. Something has gone wrong where editors delete or reject biographical articles because they don't properly apply notability criteria. Something has gone wrong when editors trim biographical entries or revert improved entries to earlier states due to length while the Wikipedia system uses 150 times as much space to archive 873,775,490 prior states of articles. Something has certainly gone wrong when bots compete with one another to change Wikipedia articles back and forth and back and forth again without human oversight. Everyone here -- myself amongst you -- seems to use Wikipedia. We all agree that it is a good place to begin. We all agree that we should teach our students to read Wikipedia with a critical eye -- I'd say that we should read all sources with care and critical reflection, and I'd guess most of you agree. There seems to be slightly less agreement on reliability, since many people say, correctly, that one finds mistakes in every book. This is true, but relatively meaningless. There has never been a serious comparison of Wikipedia against any other reference work using properly considered methods that allow for a responsible comparative sampling across the range of articles in each book. (The studies that show Wikipedia to be nearly as good as any other source usually involve cherry-picking. This is done by comparing a small, selective group of the best articles in Wikipedia against comparable articles in the other source.) A friend of mine at the University of California was formerly an advisor to Britannica. He once recounted an experience that took place at one of the advisory board meetings. Another advisor with a Nobel Prize in physics pointed out that many articles will inevitably be wrong as scientific knowledge moves forward. He gave the example of an article by James Clerk Maxwell in an early edition of Britannica that turned out to be wrong on some point as physics moved forward. But he said that this wasn't a problem. The article was up-to-date and correct when Maxwell wrote it, it was based on the best science then available, and it reflected judicious and appropriate expertise. There will always be mistakes in every book. Nearly every reference book has mechanisms for removing errors and improving quality. Current editions of Britannica no longer contains Maxwell's mistaken point. Wikipedia as it stands now does not seem to be able to do this. Articles revert to a consensus of opinion by generally amateur editors, with the consensus enforced by administrators who focus internally on Wikipedia customs and culture rather than focusing on how to represent what Jimmy Wales describes as "the sum of all human knowledge." While I find the ideas and thoughts on the value of Wikipedia valuable, I am hoping for an answer to a specific question that no one has yet addressed: Is there a way to improve the reliability of Wikipedia across the entire contents? Or, perhaps to put it another way: Is there a way to ensure that *every* Wikipedia article is as reliable as *every* article in Encyclopedia Britannica? Yours, Ken Ken Friedman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | è®¾è®¡ She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the- journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/ Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| Email email@example.com | Academia http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: firstname.lastname@example.org List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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