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When Wikipedia Fails 513

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-as-many-edits-on-the-right-side-of-the-table dept.
PetManimal writes "Frank Ahrens of The Washington Post looks at how Wikipedia stumbles when entries for controversial people are altered by partisan observers. Case in point: Enron's Kenneth Lay, who died of natural causes last week, shortly after being sentenced to prison. His Wikipedia entry was altered repeatedly to include unfounded rumors that he had killed himself, or the stress from his trial had caused the heart attack. From the article: '... Here's the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.'"
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When Wikipedia Fails

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  • There are a number of sites that are based on user-submitted data. One that immediately comes to mind is the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com [imdb.com]). Now, I'm not intimately familiar with the workings of Wikipedia, but based on TFA, the main difference I see between them and IMDb is that IMDb has a more restrictive additions policy. With IMDb, any registered user can submit information, but every iota of information (aside from some user reviews/comments, which are presented as such) must pass through an editorial review.

    Some will say that IMDb has the luxury of doing this, being owned by Amazon. But IMDb has been online since before there really was World Wide Web. It was started in the Usenet newsgroups back in 1990 and didn't get a web interface until a Welsh grad student built one in 1993. They have always exercised editorial oversight and did so even back when they were a loose group of volunteers with no funding to speak of.

    It used to be that IMDb's structure made it less than nimble in responding to breaking news because of an involved and complicated build process. But over the years, more modularization and granularity have been built into their systems. But even if they're right on the forefront of a news event, their editors and data managers are scrutinizing what becomes part of their "official" record.

    Now, people try to trick IMDb, flood them with wrong facts and bad info. Sometimes a bit gets by their editors. But the bits still have to go by an editor before they become publicly visible. AFAICT, this isn't the case with WikiPedia and that is its fatal flaw. And it's not just the wackos and those with an agenda that need to be guarded against. More damage can be done by a cadre of well-meaning fools than a handful of agitators. And it seems that even if they need to defend their systems against the axe grinders, they need to put double the effort into defending against fools.

    Maybe I'm comparing apples to oranges since IMDb is a lot more narrow in scope than WikiPedia. But they're both large repositories of user-submitted information, they both started as volunteer projects, and they're both widely regarded as great resources. The difference is that IMDb has always exercised more editorial oversight before letting user submissions go live, and IMO, that makes it more trustworthy. Perhaps Wikipedia should take a page from IMDb's book.

    - Greg
    • I have a better idea, one that is easy for everyone to implement. Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Treat it as such.
      • Okay fine. But then don't complain when it isn't held as authoritative as Encyclopedia Britannica. I, for one, do not think a mass 'editorial review' is necessary. I'd simply put a cap: only registered users can change an existing article. As soon as registration is required, you'd see a dramatic drop in vandalism. Most of it is spur of the moment. It would not remove all vandalism, but I bet it would drop a lot.
        • by chandip (751271) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:45PM (#15695304)
          But then don't complain when it isn't held as authoritative as Encyclopedia Britannica

          Authoritativeness of Britannica is more a perception than reality. Read the entries from the 80's on communism or from 70's on homosexuality. It was not as unbiased or authoritative as one might have expected. For all its failings, and there are many, with Wikipedia you get to know the other point of view and controversial topics are clearly highlighted (eg. LTTE, Taliban etc).
        • They are already doing something [slashdot.org] to stop the "spur of the moment" edits. Having an already established user account is required to edit the articles deemed "semi-controversial" articles. So yes, you can still register an account and make some crazy changes to the article four days later but I'd imagine most lose interest.

          For those articles where established users are "disagreeing heavily" on what the article should say it is flagged as controversial and only editors can change it.

          Not a perfect system
          • They are already doing something to stop the "spur of the moment" edits. Having an already established user account is required to edit the articles deemed "semi-controversial" articles. So yes, you can still register an account and make some crazy changes to the article four days later but I'd imagine most lose interest.

            This would stop "casual vandals". But it's ineffective against organised politics and lobby groups. If anything a "cooling off period" can be counter productive, since it does little to p
        • by RyanJBlack (765865) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:41PM (#15698984)
          Ken Lay died at 10. By "Wednesday afternoon", according to TFA, the Wikipedia page had settled down and presented a reasonably accurate view. So what exactly is the point of TFA? It sounds to me like Wikipedia works just fine. Within hours, an informative, freely-accessible article was available to the whole world.

          What everybody in the media seems to be missing about this story is this: where is the beloved Britannica's article on Kenneth Lay? You know, the authoritative source used to compare these things. The one used by Wiki's detractors to say, "Oh, look how inaccurate their initial drafts of the Ken Lay article are! That would never happen in traditional encyclopedias". I searched Britannica's site, can't seem to find it. Tried Kenneth Lay, Ken Lay, Lay, Kenneth, nothing. Maybe it's behind their paywall? Oh, wait, there is another point for Wikipedia: no paywall.

          So when the author of the TFA writes "[u]nlike, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia has no formal peer review for its articles", I would counter with this: "Unlike, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia actually contains articles on the topic we're discussing. Oh, and it's free too."
      • by Xymor (943922) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:09PM (#15695157)
        Agreed.
        Wikipedia is just as much susceptible to errors as humans are.
        Once people encounter articles bering wrong information, instead of correcting them, they report it to papers and try to demote wikipedia merits. That doesn't proof Wikipedia failures, but humanity ones.
        They have good mechanisms to prevent vandalism like: Posting a link in the discution tab to confirm your statements, or locking the edition by non wikipedians, if only people use them.
    • by sbaker (47485) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:27PM (#15694643) Homepage
      So look up pairs of movies in IMDB and Wikipedia and see which has the best coverage. I think Wikipedia wins every time...especially for new releases.

      Movies are easy to get right - it's politics and religion and controversial stuff that's hard to do well. You can't get the sheer volume of stuff that Wikipedia has by reviewing everything. Wikipedia is growing at a rate significantly faster than a human can read - no one person could read it all - much less review it.

      Wikipedia grows by 50,000 articles a month. If your hypothetical reviewer reviewed a couple of articles a day - Wikipedia would need over 1,000 reviewers - some of whom would have to be experts in extremely narrow fields. It's all very well to have a few movie buffs keep track of a few dozen movie facts per day - but the only way to handle a problem the size of Wikipedia is to have the general public do the reviewing as well as the writing - which is precisely what happens.
      • It's all very well to have a few movie buffs keep track of a few dozen movie facts per day...

        Try a few thousand movie facts a day.

        But there are ways to make this simpler. Enable trust scoring on contributors, add a value component to the trust score. Every contribution gets checked and scored on its validity/verifiability, then it also gets scored on how much value it added (i.e. a grammatical correction gets a 1, while a large passage of new information gets a 10). When editors are reviewing a contribution, they get a clue from the contributor's scores as to how deeply they need to check it. If the guy has a 98% validity record with an average value add of 7 over 150 contributions, the editor may be able to let some of the smaller things through with a quick read-over just to be sure it makes sense. An editor could clear 30 such items an hour rather than 2 a day.

        Additionally, an invite-only peer-review area could be created. Someone who has contributed a minimum of 20 items on science with a 100% validity rate and average value add of 4 or higher might be invited to review items in the science category. When 2-3 volunteer peers give a new article or significant edit a thumbs up, it's incorporated.

        Now, the methods I describe may not be how IMDb does it. I don't know their data management practices for sure. But assigning trust scores to longtime contributors... that's not hard. Look at Slashdot's moderation system. Adding a Contributor Karma system to the back-end management interface for the Wikipedia editors shouldn't be too tough.

        - Greg
        • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:37PM (#15695530) Homepage
          Ah yes... slashdot's moderation and karma system. It is excellent at producing . . . groupthink? Let's face it. There is a prevailing set of opinions on slashdot, and if you follow those opinions, then you get karma and mod points, thus reinforcing the groupthink, because only those who follow it can make their way into the (large) group of people who enforce it.

          Now, you could say that with a larger group of people, this is exactly what you want in an encyclopedia: the collective thought of humanity. However, slashdot's groupthink is by no means equal to the collective thought of slashdot. I would wager (now, I freely admit that I don't have good empirical evidence for this, so take it with several large grains of salt) that the karma+moderation system has a significant narrowing effect on the thought expressed by high scoring comments here. That's ok here, but not in an encyclopedia. The downside of widening the thought for wikipedia is that there is a lot of crap to trudge through.
          • by freeweed (309734) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:30AM (#15695906)
            Again and again, we see these comments: "Groupthink". "Bias". "Narrowing of thought".

            Continually modded up. Think carefully about what that means for a second.

            For those of you that haven't been around long enough, the previous gripe was simply "anti-Microsoft bias". Those comments also very often get modded up. Every OS-related story of the past several years has dozens of posts modded highly that basically amount to "Red Hat 7 was hard to install, so Linux will never get anywhere on the desktop".

            Personally, I find Slashdot's moderation system works far better than most people realize. If you step back I think you'll find the "prevailing set of opinions" is just that - the more commonly held belief. But implying that somehow lesser-held beliefs and opinions don't get their fair shake? Maybe the Slashdot hordes aren't the ones with the biases, because you must be very good at ignoring a LOT of highly-moderated posts each day.

            • by syntaxglitch (889367) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:26AM (#15697078)
              Continually modded up. Think carefully about what that means for a second.

              So... you're saying that the community has an ideological bias towards complaining about Slashdot's moderation system?

              Wait, no, because your comment got modded up, too. Argh! Now I'm confused, which way is the bias?!

            • Personally, I find Slashdot's moderation system works far better than most people realize. If you step back I think you'll find the "prevailing set of opinions" is just that - the more commonly held belief. But implying that somehow lesser-held beliefs and opinions don't get their fair shake? Maybe the Slashdot hordes aren't the ones with the biases, because you must be very good at ignoring a LOT of highly-moderated posts each day.

              I think it's more that flamebait gets modded as insightful if it matches the

    • by SRA8 (859587) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:28PM (#15694954)
      Editorial Oversight does not necessarily lead to fair and balanced articles, or even truthful articles. For a great living example of this statement, pick up a copy of The New York Post or tune into FOX News.
    • IMDB excels at what it is, which is a database of movie credits. If you want to see everything an actor did in his career, if you like a director and want to get a list of his other works, that's where you go. I'm sure there are abuses (or just mistakes) but it's pretty hard to dick around with the credits list of Star Wars.

      The abuses you mentioned are pretty much sandboxed-- movies in production (which are tumultous by nature, and no media source will have anything but speculation until they are released
    • by S.P.B.Wylie (983357) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:41PM (#15695028)
      Wikipedia has already taken care of false information problems, in a variety of creative ways.

      First, you have to remember that important article are hit thousands of times by various people, and since everyone has ability to edit, problems can often be quickly cleaned up. I feel that slashdot proves that if you though enough geeks at something, truth comes to the surface quickly.

      Second, Wikipedia strongly supports citing sources. Try moving around Wikipedia, and you will soon find a header stating that "this article needs sources" and basically a warning that it may contain gibberish. When you are doing things of importance, you should always check sources. Especially when dealing with something like Wikipedia. This is also an advantage Wikipedia: unlike most encyclopedias, where you have to go find the sources, Wikipedia is point and click.

      Wikipedia is the the greatest proof that the Market Place of Ideas works. It shows that when you throw enough ideas together, the truth will survive. Though we may have unfortunate events like the one in the article, almost all information is accurate, and problems are quickly solved.
      • Hah. God you're naive. As someone working on cleaning up articles cited on garbage, no wikipedia doesn't support it. People are all to happy to have an unsourced, original research article be kept because "I find it really useful even though none of it can be sourced reliably, lalalala".

        The admins are all to happy to close AfDs with noconcensus even though the delete side says "It violates policies x,y,z" and the keep side says "I like it, the article is pretty and I'm wearing blue shorts today".
  • by sbaker (47485) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:15PM (#15694568) Homepage
    I would agree that Wikipedia is poor at reporting stories that are both recent AND controversial - but to be fair, I don't think those are the kinds of things you should be looking up in an encyclopedia anyway. Look back at this same article in six months and I guarantee it'll be correct and unbiassed. It just takes time for the community to settle on the right wording.

    Things that are NOT recent but ARE controversial ('Religion' or 'Area 51'for example) are generally well written, correct and take a carefully neutral stance. Things that are recent but NOT controversial (say "2006 World Cup Soccer") are well reported immediately and bang up to date with all the right facts.

    It's the intersection of recent and controversial that messes up the system because too many people are editing at once and a lot of them are nut jobs. Once the topic gets old or becomes uncontroversial, the lunatic fringe loses interest and good writing can take place.

    On the other hand, if you want to know the engine capacity of a 1963 Austin Min
    i or the number of casualties in the RAF Faulds explosion or the exact nature o
    f the student prank involving the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge or the size of a
      litter of European Red Squirrels - things that I consult an encyclopedia for rather than a newspaper - then there is no other place (on the web or otherwise) to touch what Wikipedia has done.

    • by B'Trey (111263) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:26PM (#15694633)
      Well said. Additionally, the article doesn't support the headline. There were only a couple of bogus entries and those were corrected within one or two minutes. The article also takes issue with statements like: "Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial." Where's the problem with that statement? It's clearly labeled as speculation, and many people, rightly or wrongly, still believe the stress of the trial led to his heart attack. Perhaps such speculations are best left out of Wikipedia articles, but one can't reasonably argue that it's incorrect or misleading when it's clearly listed as speculation. In short, this is a desparate attempt to nit-pick Wikipedia and it even fails at that.

      • by monoqlith (610041) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:47PM (#15694744)
        The sentence violates several of the Wiki community's guidelines for article authorship. Using the word "speculation" is not enough. There has to be a credible source cited to be behind the speculation so that the "fact" of the speculation can be established as either belonging to a majority or significant minority. Otherwise the sentence is reporting nothing more than an individual opinion(whether it is the author's or not, or whether it belongs to many people) and can slant the overall impartiality of the article - simply mentioning such speculation can skew a future reader's opinion of the subject of the article. In any case, it's way too soon to tell what the concensus is regarding Lay's death, so remarking on such speculation as fact is ridiculous.
        • by fm6 (162816) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:11PM (#15694856) Homepage Journal
          The sentence violates several of the Wiki community's guidelines for article authorship. Using the word "speculation" is not enough. There has to be a credible source cited to be behind the speculation so that the "fact" of the speculation can be established as either belonging to a majority or significant minority.

          And how many Wikipedia authors follow these guidelines? From what I see, most have not even read them. Wikipedia encourages folks to jump in and start editing. Stopping to learn the rules is an optional step usually skipped.

          And even if an author is motivated to read the rules, they're so complicated and disorganized, it's impossible to get a grasp on most of them.

          Even when authors know the rules, they often don't have the background to apply them. When I used to play copy editor on WP, I would try to get authors to rewrite stuff that was clearly speculative — except to the author! One guy had written that a certain comic book character was obviously based on another character in a famous short story. The connection wasn't at all obvious to me, and he had no source for this information — he was just stating his own opinion. But I had a hell of a time convincing him to reword his statement: it was obvious to him what the facts were, and that was that.

          One other note: you talk about "the Wiki [sic] community's guidelines" as if these rules somehow express a consensus of a large group of people. They do not. There is, in fact, little in the way of consensus building at Wikipedia. Most processes, including rule-making, are dominated by a few people. Sometimes those few people are just whoever's managed to bully everybody else into going away.

          • by letxa2000 (215841) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:50PM (#15695070)
            From what I see, most have not even read them. Wikipedia encourages folks to jump in and start editing


            It's too friggin' easy. I've almost done it by mistake several times. I go to Wiki searching for something, find the article, and search for a specific keyword. For some reason (which isn't clear to me yet), sometimes hitting ALT-E will cause Wiki to let me start editing the article rather than opening up the drop-down Edit window (so I can subsequently hit 'F' for Find). So instead of searching for something on the page, all the sudden Wiki is offering to let me edit it. If I hit the wrong keystroke and caused that to be submitted, wow, talk about uncontrolled editing!

            I think Wiki is great, there's a lot of good information. But there are some very significant biases. Kind of like Slashdot. There are a lot of smart people here, but there are some significant biases. Not all of them are reasonable. For what Wiki is, it's surprisingly good. You just have to be intelligent enough to recognize the bias and "correct" for it when necessary. But that's true whether you read Wiki, read Slashdot, read CNN, or listen to the president. Everyone has a bias--the best solution would be to know what the bias of the author is when you're reading it for those people who aren't perceptive enough to figure it out by reading the article.

            At the very least Wiki gives you a heck of a lot of information on a topic which makes it a lot easier to refine your Googling efforts. Wikipedia entries are often near the top of Google results, so I usually read them first. That gives me enough knowledge on the topic that I then know what I really need to Google for.

    • by Elemenope (905108) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:31PM (#15694663)

      I would agree that Wikipedia is poor at reporting stories that are both recent AND controversial - but to be fair, I don't think those are the kinds of things you should be looking up in an encyclopedia anyway.

      The comment above is just the sort of comment that deserves a few 'insightful' mod points. Sometimes, pointing out the blindingly obvious is difficult when people so desperately want things to be something other than what they are. Wikipedia is, at best, something *like* an encyclopedia, and as such should serve similar purposes. Some people think that somehow there is a way to take the human element and passion out of a user-contributed site, or any site, or any work or endeavor of humankind for that matter. There isn't. Let us simply understand that you can't have the factual accuracy and neutrality of an encyclopedia for something that occurred yesterday; technology alters the quantity and speed of information, not its quality. If you want neutrality, you must wait for cooler (and further removed) heads to prevail.

    • To be fair (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sterno (16320) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:34PM (#15694684) Homepage
      Also, Wikipedia marks articles that involve current events and controversey as such to make it clear that it's not necessarily an objective and concise source of information. So long as they are forthright about that, I don't see a problem.
    • You're exactly right, you know. Anything recent and controversial on wikipedia is very likely inaccurate - and most users find this out pretty quickly, whether through common sense (ie: you have regular people editing articles) or through experience (such as this Ken Lay thing).

      As a result, you quickly get the idea that WIKIPEDIA IS NOT FOR NEWS. Meanwhile, the author of TFA seems to be under the impression that its information should always be bang-on accurate immediately. This ain't gonna happen. Just
    • Winston Churchill (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Skadet (528657)
      Look back at this same article in six months and I guarantee it'll be correct and unbiassed.
      "History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill
    • What you say is generally true but I did find a counterexample.

      The wikipedia entry on Kryder's Law, which is just Moore's law for hard disks was an example of a technical article older than 6 months, which should not have been controversial. It turned out to have some serious problems, like there never was any such thing as Kryder's law until Wikipedia invented it.

      Since I originally pointed out the error, the article has been updated. You can read about what was wrong with it at http://www.mattscompu [mattscomputertrends.com]
  • The person submitting the story is even wrong. As far as I know and what I read last week when the story broke, they said sentencing wasn't until October.
  • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:19PM (#15694592) Homepage Journal
    You don't go to Wikipedia to learn things about actively controversial subjects. You go to Wikipedia to learn things that nobody cares to dispute. Like science, math and biology. Or even history.

    If there's significant controversey, it'll usually get its own section on a page.
    • by mkosmo (768069) *
      As I recall, Wikipedia is consistantly more accurate on concrete subjects (ie. minimally disputed science and academics) than published encyclopedias, so yes, very true.
    • I went to wiki to search for a household item substitute for thermal compound to replace a CPU on a spare motherboard, and it suggested nappy rash cream. Since we have a rug-rat, and therefore loads of nappy rash cream, I (st00pidly) decided to try it out.

      Let's just say that at least in modern processors, I definately DO NOT recommend anything but actual thermal compound, and wikipedia owes me $50.
    • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:23PM (#15694928) Journal
      You don't go to Wikipedia to learn things about actively controversial subjects.
      I vehemently disagree. If it's controversial then you'll learn lots from Wikipedia because you'll see the actual controversy live as it happens rather than the sanitised version you'll read 50 years later in Britannica.
  • I'm not buying it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mindstrm (20013) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:21PM (#15694603)
    You step into Wikipedia, you understand what's up.
    You know it's not a peer-reviewed encyclopedia. It's a WIKIpedia.
    You know anyone, including you, can edit it.

    Whenever you read up on a controversial topic, you expect controversial results... would a traditional encyclopedia even HAVE information about some enron executive? I doubt it.

    Let's not make controversy where there is none.. wikipedia is a stunning example of what the internet is good at.

  • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <slashdot@ d e forest.org> on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:21PM (#15694606)
    The advantage of WP isn't that it's right all the time, it's that it is (through the tireless effort of zillions of people on five-minute breaks) self-correcting. When the AP screwed up their Ken Lay story, it took overnight before a retraction was posted. WP's story is screwed up for 5-20 minutes at a time.

    The mainstream media are almost equally susceptible to being hacked -- even if you don't follow wingnuts like Rush Limbaugh or the insane propaganda and political fart-lighting on Fox News, it's not hard to spot gross errors or oversights in news reporting. "Unbiased" news doesn't exist, investigative reporting isn't anymore, and the media circus is just that -- a circus. Wikipedia may be raw, uncensored, or wrong, but at least it tends to correct itself rapidly.

    For what it's worth, the science articles are rapidly becoming the most comprehensive archive of science knowledge ever aimed at the general public. (Of course the refereed literature is larger, but it's not a reference work for the layperson).

    • I agree with this sentiiment. No "encyclopedia" is going to be infallible. They are all subject to the bias of the person(s) writing the articles. The beauty of wikipedia is that as that number of authors grows, gross bias is less likely to survive review. So it may be subject to short-term pendulum swings in terms of inaccuracy, but I find that to be preferable to a room full of "editors" deciding what is the truth. Perhaps they can find some way of calculating the "newness" of information bits to hel
      • With a hard-copy offline encyclopedia, the reader never has the opportunity to see full revision histories for a given article, and certainly won't hear the editorial discussions going on in connection with a given article. With wikipedia, the full revision history of every article is right there, and more controversial articles invariably also have an associated online discussion. The revision history certainly gives some clues as to how reliable or above question an article is likely to be (too few revisi
    • The advantage of WP isn't that it's right all the time, it's that it is (through the tireless effort of zillions of people on five-minute breaks) self-correcting.

      In theory.

      When the AP screwed up their Ken Lay story, it took overnight before a retraction was posted. WP's story is screwed up for 5-20 minutes at a time.

      Sure there is a handful on controversial and/or current articles that get fixed that fast. But for each of those articles, there are dozens more which remain broken for mon

      • by someone300 (891284) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:00PM (#15695378)
        I have in my watchlist over two dozen pages that I know to be incorrect - that have lain untouched for as much as a year.
        Correct them then; that's the point.
  • I find that for satisfying my own curiosity about things where factual accuracy is appreciated but not vital, such as the general nature, history, and operation of air-to-air missiles, Wikepedia is a powerful and satisfying tool.

    For all other purposes, I generally ignore Wikipedia altogether.
  • by TWX (665546) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:23PM (#15694615)
    and that is, "consider the source." If someone is dumb enough to believe uncorroborated reports without any kind of consideration for the fact that the reporter could be wrong, lying, misinformed, or promoting an agenda then they get what they get.

    The Internet is a great resource. Wikipedia has been very good for helping me find new things to be interested in, but it's not the end solution. If anything it's the beginning and the beginning only. I use Wikipedia to find out that I want to learn more about a subject, and from there, once I have had a chance to consult or read from true experts then I can make my judgement.
  • by finkployd (12902) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:25PM (#15694629) Homepage
    This is simply a case of people not being able to understand that wikipedia is not the exact same thing as Britannic. You have to look at the talk page, you have to hit a few revisions if you want to be comfortable about the accuracy of data. At times I have learned more reading the debate back and forth of two opposing viewpoints than the entry itself.

    Unfortunately, people think in metaphors. Well, that is not so bad in itself, but people often seem unable to get beyond the metaphor and understand that some things are not exactly like anything they are familiar with. Case in point, how many people equate hacking into a website with breaking into a house? Or infringing on a copyright with stealing a car? This is just another case of people unable or unwilling to appreciate that wikipedia is unique and cannot be treated like a traditional encyclopedia.

    Finkployd
  • Encyclopedia (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sleepykit (942636)
    As far as I know, one does not check an encyclopedia for things that have happened in the last couple of weeks. That's why we have newspapers (online and otherwise).
  • by Spluge (888605) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:26PM (#15694639)
    You don't expect the encyclopaedia on your shelf to be up to date and accurate on something that happened half an hour ago. Wikipedia was never intended as a news service, anyone who treats it like one is going to be sorely disappointed.

    The role of Wikipedia is for reference, give it time and the information there settles down to the truth or at least something close to it.

    Don't ask it to be something that it isn't any you won't be disappointed.

  • When a Wikipedia page gets controversial and wild swings in the content are being made, there's usually a warning of disputes at the top of the page. Maybe an additional bit of information could be a stability index. How much of the page has changed, both recently, and over time. In the utopian Wikipedia world, a topic might go through several changes as the wording is refined, sources cited and then eventually settling down. A value or other indicator might be a handy thing. You could always read the p
    • by sbaker (47485) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:04PM (#15694826) Homepage
      Maybe an additional bit of information could be a stability index. How much of the page has changed, both recently, and over time.


      Look at the little row of tabs at the top of every Wikipedia page. See the one marked 'history'? Click on that. You are now looking at a complete history of edits to that page. The handle of everyone who edited it, the date and time it was edited and the commit comment they attached to it. Isn't that enough?


      You can click the radio buttons to the left and get a side-by-side comparison of the article as it was at any times in the past or you can see the entire article exactly as it was on any given date. You can click on the author's name and send them a message on their 'Talk' page if you want to ask about why they changed whatever they changed. You can go to the 'Talk' page for the article itself and see comments from the various editors - heck, you can even get a history of the edits to the Talk page!


      Generally, if there are a lot of 'rv: vandalism' entries on the history page (eg on the "Computer" article that gets vandalised a lot) - then perhaps the article itself is pretty stable - but gets a lot of editing history because people are fixing up the actions of complete idiots. If on the other hand there is some kind of 'edit war' between two editors - then this is still a controversial subject - so treat the article with care. If the article had a busy period for some days or weeks - but then all the subsequent edits were spelling fixes, addition of foreign language versions and stuff like that - then this is a stable and trustworthy article.


      The number of References at the bottom of the article is another good gauge of quality.

  • History books are written by the winners. Science publications/journals are prone to politics and following groupthink on the currently theories in vogue, with scientist throwing out facts to fit their models. And lets not even begin the popular media.

    Just don't believe everything you read anywhere, think for yourself.

    And wiki is a good source to begin your search on a topic you knew nothing about. It improved searching for quick facts or overviews on a topic by orders of a magnitude rather than the tedi
  • .. wikipedia had a penny for everyone who bashed it, the wikipedia organization would be richer than Gates.

    I for one cherish WP, and use it as a jumping point for most anything. It's probably my second most referenced general research tool after google.

    The thing is, those who bash it are rarely saying anything all that new, and certainly nothing new to anyone who uses WP on a regular basis ..

    Every (honest) caveat that these bashers stipulate is pretty much a gimme - but the real issue is, is this not true f
  • Seems rather like criticising today's newspaper for being less than forthcoming on the Long-tailed Planigale [wikipedia.org]. Horses for courses....
  • At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.

    Certainly it is true. Also, at their worst, people are active deceivers, powerful tyrants, not saints.

    Wikipedia is a good resource for getting your foot in the door on a topic, but it is imperfect just as people are imperfect. If you take it for what it is, it does no harm.

    It is true that the worst sides of humanity are able to emerge when there is little oversight. But it may also be true that the best sides ca
  • ... who is being partisan? (or maybe this comment should have been titled "Case in point, 2")

    You could always read the following quote from the above /. article summary:-

    Case in point: Enron's Kenneth Lay, who died of natural causes last week, shortly after being sentenced to prison. His Wikipedia entry was altered repeatedly to include unfounded rumors that he had killed himself, or the stress from his trial had caused the heart attack

    as itself being partisan in assuming the "rumours" are "unfounde

  • You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.

    I don't understand. Why do people insist on making Wikipedia something that it is not? Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia. It is a Wikipedia. If you know what the term "wiki" means, how can you expect perfect accuracy? If you don't, aren't you curious what those four funny soun
  • by bahwi (43111)
    "Finally, by Wednesday afternoon, the Wikipedia entry about Lay said that he was pronounced dead at an Aspen, Colo., hospital and had died of a heart attack, citing news sources."

    So, while it was incorrect minute to minute(meaning, for live news, you should be reading ... wait for it ... news sources?! and not encyclopedias?!! wtf!?) in the end it was updated with citations and sources, and ended up better, thereby achieving what it set out to do, while, the "blogging" aspect of wikipedia, even though it is
  • by bunions (970377) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:53PM (#15694770)
    was, surprisingly, at Penny Arcade:


    Reponses to criticism of Wikipedia go something like this: the first is usually a paean to that pure democracy which is the project's noble fundament. If I don't like it, why don't I go edit it myself? To which I reply: because I don't have time to babysit the Internet. Hardly anyone does. If they do, it isn't exactly a compliment.

    Any persistent idiot can obliterate your contributions. The fact of the matter is that all sources of information are not of equal value, and I don't know how or when it became impolitic to suggest it. In opposition to the spirit of Wikipedia, I believe there is such a thing as expertise.

    The second response is: the collaborative nature of the apparatus means that the right data tends to emerge, ultimately, even if there is turmoil temporarily as dichotomous viewpoints violently intersect. To which I reply: that does not inspire confidence. In fact, it makes the whole effort even more ridiculous. 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 fucking mob for my information.


    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2005/12/16 [penny-arcade.com]

    I think it's valid criticism for non-technical articles. As noted by others, wikipedia kicks ass for noncontroversial, primarily technical topics.
    • by Silent sound (960334) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:20PM (#15694909)
      What you don't mention is Tycho's motivation in writing this rant against Wikipedia, as revealed by the part of the article you didn't quote: He was pissed off because they deleted some of his articles. Articles about a book series called "Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga". A book series that doesn't exist.

      In other words, this very set of arguments as to why wikipedia's system "doesn't work" was prompted by an incident of wikipedia's system working. Tycho tried to post false information, and Wikipedia rejected this. And Tycho got pissy and went and complained about Wikipedia on his blog.

      Now given, Tycho's false information was awesome; the ELOTH:TES stuff that Wikipedia rejected is truly hilarious, and now that it's been moved to its own wiki [pbwiki.com] (where it probably should have been in the first place), it's turned into a collaborative project in its own right, as if Borges' "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" conspiracy had had as their goal to parody fantasy novels.

      But it didn't belong on Wikipedia. And the incident in which it was removed from Wikipedia itself neatly refutes the complaints that the incident inspired Tycho to level against Wikipedia.

      The first complaint is that "Any persistent idiot can obliterate your contributions... all sources of information are not of equal value... I believe there is such a thing as expertise." I don't think it's very hard to read between the lines here; we already know Tycho is pissed off because some "persistent idiot" obliterated his contributions. It's not very hard to imagine that the real issue here is that Tycho (who certainly is a person with expertise) thinks he as a source of information is of value, and the Wikipedia hivemind does not. But Tycho himself shows that the things wikipedia values are more valuable than "expertise"-- Wikipedia values facts, neutrality and whenever possible rigor, and ignores authority. If we accepted "expertise" or appeals to authority, then we'd be obligated to accept Tycho as a source of information just cuz he's a real smart person with a real popular blog. And then Wikipedia would have a series of articles about a fantasy novel franchise and ill-fated 1980s children's TV show which never existed.

      Second off, Tycho issues the complaint that Wikipedia's "errors get fixed eventually" principle isn't very useful if you don't know whether the errors have been fixed yet. Simply looking at a wikipedia page, you have no way to know whether you're looking at a cleanly vetted, accurate bunch of information, or if your pageload just happened by random coincidence to fall in that 30-second gap of space between a vandal entering a statement that Ken Lay committed suicide and a watchlister rving it. This is a much more serious and substantial complaint, and one which is a serious problem for the idea of Wikipedia as an information source. The lesson to be learned here is of course that you shouldn't treat wikipedia as a primary source but rather a starting point for further information, and if the information you're taking from wikipedia is important you need to check the references like a hawk. But in the end, it still isn't a real problem-- as Tycho has shown us. After all, as Tycho found when he tried to introduce false information, that little gap of time where the Wikipedia Wave Function hasn't yet collapsed and pageloads return false information is strikingly small. This is generally not a matter of errors taking months to get fixed. It is sometimes measured in minutes or seconds. The probability of hitting at a bad moment is small enough we can effectively ignore it, unless we have some kind of ulterior motives and are just trying to make Wikipedia look bad.
      • by pilkul (667659)
        Actually, I understand what mostly pissed off Tycho was that his article was put for deletion voting on AFD [wikipedia.org] (Articles for Deletion), where a dozen people ("phalanx of pedants" in Tycho's memorable phrasing) made snide comments about it. So he did hit a problem with Wikipedia: it's well-known that AFD tends to anger newbies to the site and generally cause conflict.

        Note that nowadays the much friendlier Proposed Deletion [wikipedia.org] system is in place for articles which obviously don't fit the guidelines. It's likel
  • I can see the coder-geek authorbase as the primary cause of Wikipedia's problems. Here are the issues I've noticed in the past. Many of these examples may have been rectified, but they still exist in countless other forms:

    They're insidiously opinionated. Instead of saying wasabi is "fried with peas," they say it is "considered quite tasty with fried peas." Gee, "tasty" is completely objective I guess, not a matter of personal, ahem, taste, at all. Someone tries to argue them down, but they know they're "right," after all they learned C++ when they were 10.

    They miss the forest for the trees. The article on AIDS has wonderful information on the disease's origins, treatment and spread throughout the world. Too bad there's no fucking organization to anything in the article, and the section titled, "Global epidemic" is precisely redundant with the one named, "Current status." It's like the typical geek's desk, awash in code printouts and spec sheets. There's good stuff in there, somewhere (he's sure) but he'll be damned if he can make any sense out of it (but hey it's like a puzzle and those are fun). He should just print one more copy instead of checking if it's already there, and organizing his shit.

    They don't know how to write. If the spelling and language mechanics are correct, then it's good writing (which is like saying that any code that compiles is good code). There's no rule in Strunk & White about too many clauses in one sentence! Thus, the writing is perfect. Decent style, flowing sentences, consistent tone and voice are only for the weak-minded; hackers are made of sterner stuff (well, mentally).

    They're obsessed with dumb trivia. Every article must have its "In popular culture" section, just to prove that they, like Ken Jennings, know stupid references to everything.

    They don't know jackshit about page layout. Does every table need a full set of borders? Must LaTeX equations be fucking huge? Why can't editors use a color wheel (or common sense) to choose nicely matching colors? Deitel & Deitel is not the standard on typesetting or formatting; use a textbook that had an editor as a guide on page layout, like "Fundamentals of Aerodynamics" by Anderson. Clean tables without distracting borders, equations modestly marked by centering and italics (no huge font necessary), headings used only when needed. It's black and white because colors would be superfluous. But it's fun on Wikipedia to add superfluous formatting, it's just like adding new features to software. Oooh, shiney! Instead of featuritis, it's sectionitist, bolditis, table-itis.

    So that's what I think ails Wikipedia in a nutshell. Many of these are addressed by Wikipedia policies, but when even Wikipedia's founder (Jimbo Wales) dislikes following them [wikipedia.org], how will they ever gain decent implementation? Especially when any editor with half a brain who does support them is just another uncool, uptight elitist who should be ignored [kuro5hin.org]. It's no wonder that Wikipedia today is still a nightmare of good information. Citing Wikipedia at the college level is still academic suicide. Unless their policies and people change throughout the chain of command, Wikipedia will never evolve to a real authoritative source that is a true encyclopedia. It's fun to read, but only as accurate and objective as the rest of the internet.
  • by ChaseTec (447725) <chase@osdev.org> on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:30PM (#15694964) Homepage
    Each page(sometimes a grouping) needs to become it's own community. I run a forum about writing operating systems and I've just setup a mediawiki to contain osdev(as it's called) information. My mediawiki requires accounts to edit/post content to the wiki and (with a free mediawiki plugin)the accounts are just forum members that I've placed in a certain group. Myself and fellow moderators can very easly determine who has valid content to contribute to a osdev wiki but it's just to overwhelming to try to maintain that level of control for topics I'm not familiar with. You compare just the "amateur systems" section on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osdev [wikipedia.org] with my project list at http://www.osdev.org/wiki/index.php/Projects [osdev.org], 23 vs 132 OS projects listed. I'm not saying that people visiting the Osdev page on wikipedia should be redirected to my site, I think more community features need to be added to mediawiki. I say lock all pages and require community involvement to gain editing rights. You might lose a poster that just wanted to dump off information but that's why I have a forum for people to make requests in. Basically the forums become the filter/distiller for the wiki in the long run.
  • Old news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anne Honime (828246) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:34PM (#15694987)
    This type of 'accident' may happen even on paper, depending on the slant of a writer or / and an editor. Case in point : France's most notorious (if not most serious) encyclopedia "for the masses" is the Larousse. In the first edition (circa 1870), at the entry "Bonaparte", you could read "Born in Ajaccio 08/15/1769, died in St Cloud, 18 brumaire an VIII of the Republic (11/9/1799)".

    As you may know, on this day, Bonaparte made a coup d'État and thus became known as "Napoléon"...

    Every time a single person (or institution) is in charge of the writing / editing of any article, a risk exists, and that's why a) encyclopaedias are not scholar references b) science suppose peer review.

    • Re:Old news... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      And now you're also only bringing up encyclopedias to compare with Wikipedia. I think one should keep in mind that this guy is talking about a current event, and looking at Wikipedia right at that moment. In that case, the articles are more at risk of being partially complete, contain misinformation or not had time to be vandalism checked properly. A better parallel in this case would be reading a news paper's breaking news, and accuracy check that. Chances are the journalists can have similar misinformatio
  • Not fud (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crossmr (957846) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:43PM (#15695561) Journal
    honeslty I don't see this as fud. Fud to me is someone needless, or warrantless spreading doubt about something. Doubt about wikipedia is justified. As a whole, society and people are stupid. When groups get together things inevitably turn into a gong show. Wikipedia is just another example of something that got ruined by a bunch of people using it.

    As I said on the other wikipedia article here not too long ago:
    its very easy for a few idiots to get together and muddle things into no concensus. You could write an article on something remotely notable that couldn't possibly have any sources and easily have it kept by having a few buddies show up for the AfD. They don't get major exposure, and all it takes is a handful 90% of the time. Part of the blame for this lies with the admins. Most seem lazy and unwilling to do anything that requires work. AfDs are supposed to be debates, and they insist that what it is, but admins often just tally the responses and go based on that, if an AfD look like this:

    Delete - Violates WP:OR
    Delete - not notable, original research, violates WP:V
    Delete - as above
    Keep - pickles
    keep - spork
    keep - I like ponies!

    they would simply close it as a no concensus even though its clear the people who want the article kept are brain damaged.

    Admins also aren't content editors. In a content dispute, they'll protect the article or block those involved in an edit war, but they won't go "Yeah, you're full of crap, stop trying to add that ridiculous information". Which basically means when blocks and page protection expire, they go at it again. There are two IPs that have been warring over Herner Werzog's nationality, an admin will randomly semi-protect the page, but it expires and they come back and fight over it again. These kind of things damage wikipedia a lot. Until they start actively dealing with these things, its going to suffer, and likely fail.
  • by edward.virtually@pob (6854) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @12:14AM (#15695850)
    The common whine about Wikipedia and "editorial neutrality" reflects the common ignorance of the fact that ALL sources have biases. At least in Wikipedia's case, the issue of bias is openly accepted, discussed, and worked around/with.

"Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines." -- Bertrand Russell

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