Thursday, November 09, 2006

How to fix Wikipedia

This guy has some pretty hilarious views; my favorite of which is that he believes that Jim (or as he calls him "Jimbo") Wales (a co-creator of Wikipedia) is fictional. He demonstrates this with an image of Jim Wales which has been photoshopped to include the word "fictional" above it in rainbow letters.

All jokes aside, there are clearly some issues with Wikipedia. According to Zeitgeist the 9/11-entry on Wikipedia is on a watchlist, in part due to the fact that "contributors to Wikipedia... have tried repeatedly to insert anti-Jewish 9/11 theories into Wikipedia's pages and represent them as fact or at least plausible versions of reality." One less serious instance of vandalism is that of the entry on Sacha Baron Cohen. A commenter on reports that according to one edit of the site Cohen is"Orthodox, bisexual, and marrying the hot redhead from 'Wedding Crashers."

Despite Nature's study that Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica (4 errors for every 3 in EB), it is commonly viewed to be inaccurate, or flawed. In one conversation on Wizbang, a contributor retorts "where did you get that statistic? Wikipedia?"

This is not to say that Wikipedia is useless, or totally inaccurate. I have learned many a useless and interesting fact (subject to confirmation from an outside source), mostly about aircraft carriers. It can also be used for a higher purpose than time-wasting. Mobius of Jewschool created a "Jooglebomb"--a "googlebomb" (notice that I used Wikipedia for the explanation. Ironic, eh?) whose goal was to make sure that the first hit on Google for the word "Jew" would be the Wikipedia entry (as flawed and controversial as that may be) instead of straight up anti-Semitic websites.

Long story short? Use Wikipedia with discretion, the way you would an encylopedia, as a starting, and not an ending point for your research.


Benjamin J. Cooper said...

I think a guy who writes comics about video games said it best:

"What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant [EXPLETIVE DELETED] mob for my information."

The theory of Wikipedia is that, as you reach infinity, accuracy goes to 100%. But, at any given time, they cannot guarantee 30% accuracy.

I don't like Wikipedia because I don't trust that the best and the brightest will contribute their combined knowledge for free. Just the pompous and the pedantic.

Steve said...

"Wikipedia's claims that it is almost as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica,"

That isn't Wikipedia's claim. It's the result of a study done by an unbiased third party - Science magazine, I believe. It involved having academics read science articles from Wikipedia and EB, not knowing which were from which, and rate them for accuracy.

I do think Wikipedia is prone to vandalism, especially in the news or celebrity entries. I was recently reading the entry on Stephen King, and was surprised to see that his daughter's middle name was "Balls."

On the other hand, by the time I clicked on the link to correct it, it had already been fixed.

BabyTyrone said...

I think thisis probably the best article out there on just how reliable wikipedia is and is not, and how it gets to be that way. I tell my students exactly what you did, annie, to use it as a launching pad for research, not as research in itself; it is surprisingly effective in this capacity.

AnnieGetYour said...

Steve- thanks for the correction, I made the change.

Babytyrone- thanks for the article, and I admire that instead of denying that your students use wikipedia, you accept it and address the issues involved.

BZ said...

I don't think he's saying that Jimbo Wales is fictional. "Fictional Jimbo Wales" is a recurring character in Dinosaur Comics, first appearing here and continuing with this comic last week which started the chicken craze.