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Humanist Archives: Jan. 25, 2019, 6:21 a.m. Humanist 32.377 - the question on Wikipedia

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 377.
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    [1]    From: Malgosia Askanas 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia (32)

    [2]    From: Jim Rovira 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia (70)

    [3]    From: Ken Friedman 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia (38)

        Date: 2019-01-25 00:29:02+00:00
        From: Malgosia Askanas 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia

Is striving for accuracy even an explicitly stated goal for Wikipedia editors?
I couldn't find a guideline or rule that suggested it was considered important
(but I also didn't look very thoroughly).  The Wikipedia entry "Ten Simple Rules
for Editing Wikipedia" only worries about accuracy in a single area - biomedical
information - perhaps because of a fear of lawsuits: "For better or worse,
people are guided to Wikipedia when searching the Web for biomedical
information. So there is an increasing need for the scientific community to
engage with Wikipedia to ensure that the information it contains is accurate and
current."  I believe that in all areas other than biomedical, Wikipedia is based
on the belief that good-enough accuracy will magically emerge out of a process
whereby a sufficiently large crowd of editors, however individually incompetent,
pull an entry into diverse directions for a sufficiently long time.

My favorite section of the above-mentioned entry is titled "Share your
expertise, but don't argue from authority" .  It starts by the hugely reassuring
claim that "Writing about a subject about which you have academic expertise is
not a conflict of interest; indeed, this is where we can contribute to Wikipedia
most effectively.".  Just how much faith can one put in an encyclopedia whose
editors have to settle doubts as to whether writing from expertise may
constitute a conflict of interest?  Another passage in that same section says
"Occasionally you may interact with another editor who clearly does not share
your expertise on the subject of an article. This can often prove frustrating
for experts and is the basis of much academic angst on Wikipedia. On such
occasions, remember that you are assessed only on your contributions to
Wikipedia, not who you are, your qualifications, or what you have achieved in
your career."  Enough said, no?  Obviously, having an article on electricity
written by Maxwell, were he alive, would (as a matter of dogma) be regarded by
Wikipedia as no more desirable than having it written by a tenth-grade student
who has just learned how transistors work.


        Date: 2019-01-24 18:14:56+00:00
        From: Jim Rovira 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia

Encyclopedia Brittanica has been criticized for not vetting their
contributors all that well.

"With a temerity almost appalling, [the *Britannica* contributor, Mr.
Philips] ranges over nearly the whole field of European history, political,
social, ecclesiastical... The grievance is that [this work] lacks
authority. This, too -- this reliance on editorial energy instead of on ripe
special learning -- may, alas, be also counted an 'Americanizing': for
certainly nothing has so cheapened the scholarship of our American

Burr, George L. (1911). "The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, 
Sciences, Literature and General Information". American Historical Review. 17
(1): 103-109. doi: 10.2307/1832843.

Oh, got this from Wikipedia:

Not sure how up-to-date that is, of course, but my own experience with
encyclopedias is that many entries could have been written by someone
better: MAs, grad students, etc. are often contributors. This kind of
publication doesn't do much for people in tenure-track positions, so they
don't seek out that kind of work.

There's a reason I tell college students not to use encyclopedias of any
kind as a source for their college papers.

Jim R

Dr. James Rovira 
Bright Futures Educational Consulting

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        Date: 2019-01-24 09:49:05+00:00
        From: Ken Friedman 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.374: the question on Wikipedia

Dear Tim, Willard, & All,

Everything that Tim Smithers writes is reasonable, and I agree with much of it.
If one adopts the position of a common site versus a posh reference work, then
Wikipedia does its job.

In raising the question of reliability, however, I don’t position Wikipedia as
apples against oranges. It’s true that this is the situation, but it’s what
Wikipedia aspires to be. The goal of Wikipedia is to represent — in the words of
Jimmy Wales — “the sum of all human knowledge.” Since human beings believe that
they know a great deal that simply isn’t so, we’d still get back to apples vs.
oranges, except that this isn’t what Wales or the Wikipedians intend. They
assert that the Wikipedia system can build a free reference work that is as good
as other reference works of all kinds.

When tests compare Wikipedia favourably against such reference works as
Encyclopaedia Britannica, no one the Wikipedia community says “We don’t care.”
When people point out that the studies are wrong or too selective to be
meaningful, people in the Wikipedia community have been known to protest. So
I’ve been taking the Wikipedia people at their word, based on their stated
goals. While comparing the wild apples of Wikipedia against cultivated oranges
is problematic, there is no problem comparing Wikipedia’s orange grove (limited
as it is) against any other orange grove. I think that Tim is quite right — but
that’s not what Wikipedians say of Wikipedia. Their belief is that the Wikipedia
system will one day yield an excellent reference book. In much the same sense
that I believe in the value of great public works such as highways, sewer
systems, electricity grids, and water works, I see real potential for Wikipedia.
At the same time, one can see Wikipedia as an ungoverned public utility that has
nearly become a not-for-profit monopoly. A reliable Wikipedia would be terrific.
As it is, I see it as comparable to a water system that delivers polluted or
infected water to a certain percentage of users, or an electricity system
plagued by rolling blackouts and brownouts.

I use Wikipedia all the time myself. And I check with multiple sources when I
require trustworthy information.


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