More On Wikipedia

Don’t go to Wikipedia looking for reliable information on Cuba, as the Cuba page has become a battleground for ideologues, as apparently the pages addressing a number of other controversial subjects.

Traditional encyclopedias have articles reviewed and edited by folks determined to be knowledgeable on the subject by the encyclopedia purveyor. I find it amusing that Wikipedia is now having to assign an “’mediation cabal’ — an informal mediator –“ to referee the Cuba discussion. The “cabal” resigned after “editors” were mean to them.

So the Cuba page, at least, and apparently those dealing with abortion and other controversial subjects have turned into a discussion forums.

It really is too bad, I think. And I know that a recent study (all “studies” should also be looked at with a jaundiced eye, for everyone has a point of view) concluded that there are about the same number of errors in Wikipedia and the encyclopedia that was examined, but I suspect that as more and more people learn that they can post supposed facts to Wikipedia the more unreliable it will become.

Having said all of that, I know what “open source” software is, the concept behind it, and I think it is a great concept. But software can be editing and augmented by enthusiasts and other enthusiasts can take the changes or leave them. An encyclopedia is quite different. Just ask John Seigenthaler or the congressional staffers caught sexing up their bosses bios.



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6 responses to “More On Wikipedia

  1. Working Gringo

    Oye, Chris, como te va?

    Here you go again… To what authority would you assign the responsibility of defining Cuba? What expert source should we trust, in your opinion?

    Maybe Wikipedia is a mess on this and other controversial topics because that is an accurate reflection of the current state of human knowledge and opinion on these subjects. It seems to me that any accurate view will involve paradox and contention. These subjects aren’t chemisty or physics. You can’t rely solely on objective measurements or standards to judge them.

    Given time, it will get sorted out, and hopefully not as a received text by a select group of self-interested authorities writing a popular version of history, but as an open and democratic process we can all learn from.

    Put ten geeks on a software project and it’s the same messy business. Been there, done that.

  2. El Macho Grande

    In scientific and technical areas, the Wikipedia is more likely to be accurate than in political ones. That’s probably because the results can be more easily measured. I’m stunned by the fact that it’s all volunteer effort. That difference in accuracy between political and scientific subjects definitely reflects the technical biases of the inventors. They were technical people who wanted a way to share information with a minimum of ego.

  3. You Know Me

    Working Gringo,

    Yes, and there you go again comparing a software development to development of a purported source of information, the differences between which seems so completely obvious to me.

    The “geeks” working at developing open source software remove, add, or change code to their heart’s content and satisfaction; add a few bells and whistles and maybe a bit of support; put up a website selling their product; and maybe even hit the jackpot. Linux and Open Office are two prominent examples. To which I heartily salute.

    An encyclopedia, on the other hand, is supposed to be a fairly reliable source of information for, generally, students to do some quick and dirty research for the 500 word essay the teacher assigned. At Wikipedia the student would go to the Cuba, abortion, and other pages to find warnings that the information provided is “disputed” Since the web site itself indicates the information is unreliable, what’s the point in using it?

    “To what authority would you assign the responsibility of defining Cuba?”, you ask.

    If I were responsible for preparing an encyclopedia entry on Cuba I would seek someone recognized as an authority on Cuba, who at least purports to unbiased academic integrity, and someone with an identity who can be held to account for the information they present. For example, Robert Gott to provide well documented information on Cuban history, as I his book “Cuba: A New History” or Fabian Escalante for information on the CIA’s (not so) secret war against Cuba documented with historical documents, as in his book. But I certainly would not assign a bunch of anonymous posters, many with political agendas, to compile, on what amounts to a discussion forum, information on a politically charged subject, and expect any degree of accuracy. Its democratic character in no way ensures its accuracy.

    As for it all “getting sorted out”, I doubt that the wingnuts who continue to insist that Supreme Court authorized abortions constitute the murder of babies will accept the fact that “murder” is a legal term and that the Supreme Court has ruled on the subject. I also doubt they will end their efforts to inject their point of view into the Wikipedia entry on abortion. Likewise for other politically charged subjects.

    I expect that I will “go again” in the future to criticize Wikipedia and link to stories of its unreliability relative to specific subjects.

  4. Working Gringo

    Thanks for the book recommendation on Cuba.

    I don’t suppose you have ever had a chance to read “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester? Everything from the OED to the Internet itself has been a collaboration of devoted volunteers, “wingnuts” or not.

    A hypothetical student can walk into any library and find inaccurate information to put into his 500 word essay, or he can misinterpret accurate informaton. It happens every day. Wikipedia doesn’t change that.

    Software systems are not so trivial. They, too, are codifications of human ideas. They guide missles, operate jetliners, run power grids. Their development can involve as much controversy, infighting and politics as the development of any history book because when software fails, it can cause serious harm.

    The Wikipedia project is no different than any other major collaborative effort of any kind, all of which are now done using the Internet, (which was it’s original purpose). The only real difference is that Wikipedia exposes the “sausage factory” to everyone. No doubt uncomfortable, but nonetheless a valuable learning tool, even if it only leaves a record of how we achieved or failed a consensus.

  5. mb

    here is my 2 cents……..there is NO information that is absolutely true……i am a trained mathematician and physicist and I have come to the conclusion after 25 years of working in this field that all of 20th century physics is a delusion……so wikipedia is interesting and useful because it is a manifestation of the human perception of what is true…….as well as what might be fun to make up lies about and publish……and a whole other plethera of interesting human motivations for speaking with authority about things they really know nothing about… I use it all the time…..for my work……but i don’t believe a word of it…


  6. You Know Me

    Thanks for you two cents and well said.


    I have made my point twice. It’s pretty simple. The Wiki concept is no doubt very useful in development of certain software (I doubt seriously the usefulness of the Wiki process in developing missile guidance systems or even the websites you provide for your clients), but not useful in developing a purported encyclopedia, particularly the items therein addressing politically charged issues.

    I wish also to say that I think it takes a very expansive reading of what I posted to suggest that I intended to trivialize software development. Though I certainly bow to your superior knowledge of software development, I know enough about it to know it is indeed tedious work.

    I would also note that the fact that software guides missiles, jetliners and such (not to mention $5. watches) doesn’t remotely fall into the category of esoterica.

    With that I leave the last word to you.

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