10/22/2008

How wikipedia defines truth

The Technology Review discusses Wikipedia:

This means that the content of these articles really matters. Wikipedia's standards of inclusion--what's in and what's not--affect the work of journalists, who routinely read Wikipedia articles and then repeat the wikiclaims as "background" without bothering to cite them. These standards affect students, whose research on many topics starts (and often ends) with Wikipedia. And since I used Wikipedia to research large parts of this article, these standards are affecting you, dear reader, at this very moment. . . .

Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth isn't based on principles such as consistency or observa bility. It's not even based on common sense or firsthand experience. Wikipedia has evolved a radically different set of epistemological standards--standards that aren't especially surprising given that the site is rooted in a Web-based community, but that should concern those of us who are interested in traditional notions of truth and accuracy. On Wikipedia, objective truth isn't all that important, actually. What makes a fact or statement fit for inclusion is that it appeared in some other publication--ideally, one that is in English and is available free online. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth," states Wikipedia's official policy on the subject. . . .


Just so long as someone someplace makes a claim about something it counts as being valid.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is a very valuable resource if used correctly. It should be considered a link dump of sorts, as often there are dozens of links to sources in the footnotes. Essentially it is a souped-up Google search with quite accurate results and a very large "preview" (aka the article itself).

10/22/2008 9:17 AM  
Blogger Proof said...

"The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth,"

So, if you repeat a lie often enough...

Where have we heard that before?

10/22/2008 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

I have had a couple of experiences with Wikipedia that confirm my impression that it is perilous to rely on Wikipedia for anything. In one case, a Wikipedia editor contacted me to ask that I edit a year-old comment that some anonymous commenter had left in response to a post on my blog. Apparently, the comment asserted an inaccurate birth year for the leftist historian Howard Zinn, and because the comment showed up in Google searches it was being cited repeatedly by Wikipedia writers. The editor who emailed me explained that she was unable to correct the faulty date in the Wiki article about Zinn other than by convincing me to edit the comment on my blog. That's nuts.

In the other case, a Wikipedia article about a late family friend contained grossly inaccurate biographical details. The article linked an online obituary as a primary source. When I read the obit it was immediately obvious that the Wikipedia writer had made grossly inaccurate assumptions based on the small amount of info in the obit (e.g., the late friend was educated in Chicago and the Wiki article says inaccurately that he grew up in Chicago).

Wikipedia is useful, but only as a starting point in a search for information.

10/22/2008 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Wikipedia Talk on Alan Berg shows that the entry on Berg about the police chief denying (refusing or turning down) Berg's pistol permit application after a death threat was edited to remove the discusssion of the issue because (a) the editor misunderstood the meaning of "denying" and (b) the cited source (Stephen Singular, "Talked To Death") had also written a book espousing a conspiracy theory about the Jon Benet murder. (The editor requested proof that the police chief denied seeing the application. Judging from the language in the Talk Sections of the articles, the English language version of Wikipedia is often edited by Europeans for whom English is a second language. Ich habe kleine Deutsch but I would never presume to edit the German language edition of Wikipedia.

That said, Wikipedia is a good starting point, especially if your interest is what people think about a subject, but it is not a final authority.

10/26/2008 12:25 PM  

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