19.486 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world (but an interesting one, vide infra)

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 2005 07:49:47 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 486.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Michael Fraser <mike.fraser_at_computing- (28)
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

   [2] From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler_at_hq.doe.gov> (14)
         Subject: RE: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

   [3] From: luismfernandez_at_cable.net.co (3)
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

   [4] From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net> (28)
         Subject: Errors not limited to Wikipedia (or the absence of
                 peer review)

   [5] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (14)
         Subject: shouting theatre in a crowded fire

   [6] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_dal.ca> (62)
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

   [7] From: mattj_at_newsblip.com (45)
         Subject: Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

   [8] From: Joseph Jones <jjones_at_interchange.ubc.ca> (14)
         Subject: Wikipedia

         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:21:29 +0000
         From: Michael Fraser <mike.fraser_at_computing-services.oxford.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world

> Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2005 06:28:31 +0000
> From: Ken Friedman <ken.friedman_at_bi.no>
>There is now enough serious incidents of false and defamatory
>information in Wikipedia biographies to warrant prohibiting
>this as a reference source in universities and university-level
>professional schools. The same is true of inaccurate or false
>assertions in many articles.

Huh? On this basis you might as well ban the use of the entire Web,
much of the popular media, and, I daresay, a significant proportion
of so-called scholarly works. We are surrounded by 'lies' (or perhaps
'stories'?), many of which are much more subtle than those discovered
in wikipedia. Surely, the key is (as it has perhaps always been) to
provide students with the tools to undertake a critical analysis of
all sources, narratives, discourses (and not least the hermeneutical
baggage which lies within)?


Dr Michael Fraser
Co-ordinator, Research Technologies Service
Oxford University Computing Services
13 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 6NN
Tel: 01865 283 343
Fax: 01865 273 275
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:25:24 +0000
         From: "Amsler, Robert" <Robert.Amsler_at_hq.doe.gov>
         Subject: RE: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
There may be a way for Wikipedia to authenticate it's articles. That
would be to require any posted information to be have a second or even
third independent contributor agree to its content before the articles
were made public, the way newspapers supposedly do to validate a
reporter's scoops. The current model is flawed, but considering how much
useful information is on Wikipedia, I'd hate to see it disappear. It is
an excellent idea to suggest that students obtain independent
confirmation of anything from Wikipedia through another source at this
point; it might even be a good exercise to have them deliberately
attempt to refute something on Wikipedia to drive the point home. It
would also not seem unreasonable for Wikipedia to require its
contributors to register via a confirmed email address, although given
the deviousness of spammers, it is hard to believe that would prevent
malicious individuals from concealing their identity some other way.
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:27:04 +0000
         From: luismfernandez_at_cable.net.co
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
Which means that anyone can defame people through=20
internet companies like that, and they=B4ll get=20
away with murder. That=B4s hideous. Luis
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:27:47 +0000
         From: Patrick Durusau <patrick_at_durusau.net>
         Subject: Errors not limited to Wikipedia (or the absence of 
peer review)
The New York Times on 12/6/2005 had an interesting article that
demonstrates rather pointedly that errors are not limited to
Wikipedia or the absence of peer review.
In 1940 Dr. Freedberg discovered the bacteria that has been confirmed
as the cause of stomach ulcers. Unfortunately for the millions of
people who could have easily been cured of their ulcers and avoided
surgery to remove part of their stomachs, he was discouraged from
pursuing that line of research.
The entire idea was quashed by a peer reviewed paper in 1954 that
reported finding no bacteria in a large number of stomach speciments.
At least until 1984 when two Australians, Dr. Barry J. Marshall and
Dr. J. Robin proved the bacterial cause of ulcers. They are due to
receive Nobel prices for their work next Sunday.
Rather than taking Ken Friedman's approach of prohibiting Wikipedia
in his courses, why not offer credit/recognition to students who
submit corrections to errors in Wikipedia articles on the subjects of
their research? That might tend to encourage critical evaluation of
both Wikipedia as well as more conventional resources.
Hope you are having a great day!
Patrick Durusau
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model
Member, Text Encoding Initiative Board of Directors, 2003-2005
Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:28:27 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: shouting theatre in a crowded fire
It's curiously satisfying to reach the point at which the virtual
world now requires the services of great legal minds. I quote Louis
Michael Seidman's beautiful sentence summarizing the Holmesian idea:
"The task of the law is to devise a set of incentives that will
determine conduct in a fashion that produces the most good" ("Points
of Intersection", 1996, p. 105). With Wikipedia's not unforeseeable
troubles I think we can rest assured that we have arrived. But who is
our Holmes?
Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:29:56 +0000
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_dal.ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.480 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
 >         Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2005 06:28:31 +0000
 >         From: Ken Friedman <ken.friedman_at_bi.no>
 >         >
 >There is now enough serious incidents of false and defamatory
 >information in Wikipedia biographies to warrant prohibiting
 >this as a reference source in universities and university-level
 >professional schools. The same is true of inaccurate or false
 >assertions in many articles.
 >The article posted to Humanist by Norman Hinton and recent
 >cases -- one concerning the prime minister of Norway -- leads
 >me to conclude that Wikipedia has no way to prevent
 >this from happening. This is made all the worse by the fact
 >that Wikipedia is an automatic flow-through resource for
 >other on-line sources.
 >Wikipedia is unacceptable as a research tool.
 >I have informed my students that they may no longer use
 >Wikipedia as a reference or source on papers in my courses.
 >Students and student research are an important validation
 >mechanism for Wikipedia.
 >If enough of us prohibit Wikipedia as a reference source in
 >our courses, programs, and schools, the message will
 >eventually get through.
 >When it does, Wikipedia will find an appropriate way to monitor
 >contributions. If they do not, the reputation of Wikipedia will
 >sink to that of another crank web site.
None of my profs were very accepting of any encyclopedia as a citation in a
written work.  Even with the more scholarly of encyclopedias (eg. Routledge), I
have been countered quite proficiently (and justifiably so) for not pursuing my
definitions with background work.
"FFP," as my Reference Prof in library school always advised me:  fit for
purpose.   Wikipedia is a tool to get "access" to the norms and language of a
particular topic -- it is the prism through which a person can see the spectrum
of an area of study.   It is not a spectrometer (a tool chemist's use to
understand a substance through the light it emits).  Wikipedia can help the
neophyte get an idea of Derrida's depth before jumping into _Disseminations_,
but it won't help you swim through it.
The better recourse is to encourage critical thinking of resources and to
provide a certain degree of what the librarians call "information literacy" --
that is, a basic understanding of how to pursue (previously uncovered)
knowledge.  When I worked the reference desk, I saw too many knowledgable
students wade through databases (that appeared to bias some brands of knowledge
more than others by the way) searching for something on their topic, when they
just simply did not understand the language of inquiry.
Understanding the language is no small detail in a info search.  If you are
looking for how well a test produces "consistent results" and you do not
understand the statistical concept of "reliability" you will not find what you
are looking for in a scholarly database.
I think someone ought to take a crack at a holistic model for information
searches that looks at the role of a resource like wikipedia or (any world wide
website for that matter) and puts it in the context of the research paper.
Ryan. . .
Ryan Deschamps
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:31:15 +0000
         From: mattj_at_newsblip.com
         Subject: Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world
Patrick wrote:
 >I can understand that for high school or even freshman compositions
 >but shouldn't humanists be holding themselves to a higher standard?
 >And if they do, shouldn't they suggest corrections to entries in
 >Wikipedia, much as they would for a mistake found in the OED?
I am an avid user of wikis, and I think Wikipedia is the start of
something great.  Well, it already is great, in certain
contexts.  For a range of technical topics, and as in index of pop
culture, it is unmatched by any other sources.  Even in many
political contexts, many excellent, well-balanced articles have been
collectively developed (see "Abortion").
At the same time, Wikipedia cannot be considered authoritative at
this time.  You can make corrections, but someone else can reverse
them tomorrow.  The proper attitude to take, I think, is that
Wikipedia is a smart friend.  This friend knows a great many things,
and on most topics he's got his facts right.  On a small number of
topics, though, he's got some rather strange theories.
If you needed to write a paper, you might talk to your smart friend
to get some background on a topic, but you would hardly cite him in
your bibliography. Rather, you'd use his comments as a primer, a
jumping-off point for real research.  In general, then, I agree with
Ken that Wikipedia is unacceptable as a reference for university
work.  However, I would allow it for topics (such as pop culture)
that are not addressable with other reference materials, provided the
student acknowledged the provisional nature of the material on Wikipedia.
(As a practical matter, a student should also include the specific
version of an article used, which can be found on the History tab of
the article. Instead of:
, one should cite it like this:
   http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abortion&oldid=30351566  )
I believe advances in social software techniques (in which I have
some background) will tend to lead toward articles of higher and
higher quality, with less chance of backsliding.  Jimmy Wales' recent
decision to forbid anonymous authoring is a simple example.
Seals of approval by outside authorities, attached to specific
article versions, have been in discussion for some time. This would
let students view Wikipedia through a filter, combining authoritative
review with the collaborative power of the Wikipedia community.  This
can be done on top of Wikipedia now, without any approvals needed
from Wales or others.  If a community of scholars wanted to do this,
it could be started immediately and provide a great benefit to the world.
-Matt Jensen
         Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 07:31:56 +0000
         From: Joseph Jones <jjones_at_interchange.ubc.ca>
         Subject: Wikipedia
Proper academics are getting in a tizzy about the evils of Wikipedia.
Good information is where you find it, and so is bad.  I've just been
reading a new refereed article by a "major scholar" who is wrong on a
verifiable point of fact (as on others elsewhere in his work.)  Maybe
the theoretical contributions that his field respects can stand
independent of those details.  Even bad information can provoke useful
thoughts.  Having the sense to know the difference between good and bad
is the key.  Is it the teacher's job to help the student develop sense,
or to attempt to keep the student safe by prescribing what can be
considered?  Wikipedia is an experiment in open-source knowledge
development.  Not the first experiment that has raised the hackles of
the guardians of tradition.
Joseph Jones
Received on Wed Dec 07 2005 - 03:05:29 EST

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