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Experts Rate Wikipedia Higher Than Non-Experts 204

Posted by Zonk
from the they-know-what-they're-talking-about dept.
Grooves writes "A new Wikipedia study suggests that when experts and non-experts look to assess Wikipedia for accuracy, the non-experts are harder on the free encyclopedia than the experts. The researcher had 55 graduate students and research assistants examine one Wikipedia article apiece for accuracy, some in fields they were familiar with and some not. Those in the expert group ranked their articles as generally credible, higher than those evaluated by the non-experts. One researcher said 'It may be the case that non-experts are more cynical about information outside of their field and the difference comes from a natural reaction to rate unfamiliar articles as being less credible.'" That's the problem people face when 'everyone who disagrees with you is a moron'.
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Experts Rate Wikipedia Higher Than Non-Experts

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  • A Possible Reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:58PM (#17019862) Journal
    Whatever the reason for the results, they will cheer defenders of Wikipedia's accuracy, though Chesney urges caution in extrapolating too generally from his study. For one thing, the sample size was small. For another, 13 percent of those in the "experts" group reported finding mistakes in their assigned articles.
    If I may speculate why this happened, I often encounter non-experts having a higher opinion on a topic than an expert. Part of being an 'expert' (in my opinion) is the ability to see all major sides of an issue that they are experts on. Case in point, I've found while watching the History channel that I judge a historian's greatness on whether he tells me what to think about history or whether he tries to cover as many of the major angles as possible in as little time as possible. Example on Nazis:

    Historian A: "The Nazis were horrible awful people who killed and murdered millions of people during World War II. They created nothing but pain and suffering while seeking out total fascist control of the entire world."
    Historian B: "Nazism is not a precise, theoretically grounded ideology. It consists of a loose collection of ideas and positions: extreme nationalism, racism, eugenics, totalitarianism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and limits to freedom of religion."

    Now the reason I put those two up there is because your average person (I'm American so I may be biased on 'average') would probably favor historian A's perspective as opposed to historian B. Historian B is actually an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]. It's more encyclopedic as it's not opinion oriented. I'm not saying Wikipedia is free of opinions but what I'm proposing is that non-experts have an opinion and often when they read something that doesn't align with that opinion, they consider it to be incorrect.

    The (on average high) neutrality of Wikipedia is most likely what causes non-experts to rate it as more erroneous than experts. Since the sample set was so low (as the report notes) then it is perhaps more likely that this happened.

    I think that this is what the "Everyone who disagrees with you is a moron" article is getting at. I'm guessing experts are training not to suffer from that disease.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PieSquared (867490)
      While that may be the case, it could also be a matter of sample size, as the researcher himself said. 55 just isn't that big.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rblancarte (213492)
        I was going to say just the same thing. We are not really looking at a) a good sample size, or b) a really good sampling variety to really hit some pages that could be vandelized, etc. What would have been good would be to have these experts each hit 10, or 20 pages, then really see what they think.

        I think another issue with this is that neither the ArsTechnica NOR the actual write up actually say what pages were viewed. I think that these are VERY important questions that should be asked about this "stu
    • by gigne (990887) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:12PM (#17020196) Homepage Journal
      Of all of the historical things you could used as an example, you choose Nazism. If you didn't have such a good point I might have called Godwin's law [wikipedia.org] on you.
      • It appears that Goodwin's law is not invoked for the first comment in a discussion. This come logically from the requirement that Goodwin's law apply to a discussion that involves the Nazi/Hitler example as a means to refute another comment.

        Being the first comment, an off-by-one exception occurs, resulting in an aborted termination of the thread.
      • by Knuckles (8964)
        If you hadn't just linked but also read your source, you'd know that Godwin's law just states that

        As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

        Specifically it does not say that it is never appropriate to mention or compare to Nazism, and it says nothing about ending the thread. There are some corollaries that state that the thread is over when a comparison to Nazism is made, but even those have logical bounds: obviously valid comparisons exi

      • by freeweed (309734) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @04:24PM (#17023090)
        As a non-expert in both Nazism and Godwin's Law, I'm highly sceptical of that article.
      • by Dun Malg (230075)
        Of all of the historical things you could used as an example, you choose Nazism. If you didn't have such a good point I might have called Godwin's law on you.
        Dun's Corollary to Godwin's Law: The time in seconds before an false invocation of Godwin's Law by someone who does not know that comparison to Nazis/Hitler is a requirement and that it only speaks of probability, roughly approximates the inverse square of the number of years since 1990.
    • Peer reviewed (Score:5, Interesting)

      by maddogsparky (202296) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:15PM (#17020244)
      Isn't this the same criteria used for "well-respected, peer-reviewed journals"? You can abuse any such journal, just as wikipedia sometimes is.

      However, wikipedia is different from such journals because it is a commons which is shared by people with differing viewpoints. It doesn't get the same bias that some journals may get where submitters and readers gravitate towards one of several different publications with slightly different biases (e.g. some journals favor publishing articles related to global warming as a concequence of human activities while others favor articles about it being a more natural phenomonon).

      Debate is healthy, as long as it is reasoned. Wikipedia's nature enforces reason on debates about its contents. If a wikipedia entry gets edited by a person with a bias, a person with an opposing bias deals with it directly by editing the _same_ article, instead of proposing an alternate view somewhere else where it may not be seen by readers of the article. This beats the status quo , where oposing sides tend to just keep shouting their message without having any true debate.

      • Re:Peer reviewed (Score:4, Informative)

        by OctaviusIII (969957) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @05:08PM (#17023916) Homepage
        Problems still arise with bias, but generally they arise in some of the less travelled articles where individuals can cut what they don't like. For example, the article on the Laurentian Leadership Centre [wikipedia.org], where I happen to be right now, was expanded upon by one of the students. Another editor simply didn't like the host school and cut it back considerably (although it looks like the proper edits are back), censoring what he didn't like and creating a bias. It's like the plagiarism thing a while back - quality decreases when traffic decreases, but that's the nature of a Wiki project, I suppose.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760)
        "science is a religion"

        No, science is a methodology based on the faith that the real world exists. It claims no insights into devine truth or spirituality.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      People are spoonfed by the media to believe what the media wants them to belileve ...

      If you argue that evidence of Global Warming only proves a short term warming trend and that it is inconclusive whether it is influence by man or if it represents a long term climate change people will call you delusional even though you are correct ...
      • Re:A Possible Reason (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sheldon (2322) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:32PM (#17020548)
        If you argue that evidence of Global Warming only proves a short term warming trend and that it is inconclusive whether it is influence by man or if it represents a long term climate change people will call you delusional even though you are correct ...


        I'm pretty agnostic on the whole Global Warming debate, but it bothers me that the people who are so opposed to it argue on what they believe to be true, rather than what they think to be true. That is what you have done here. You've offered no substantial evidence to support your conclusions, rather you simply imply that all those opposed to your belief are morons.

        So why are you so surprised when you are called delusional? You certainly don't offer anything to counter that impression.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by udderly (890305) *

          Like you, I consider myself agnostic on the global warming. But I'm a little confused at your response to the parent post. How does one offer "substantial evidence" when one feels that the evidence is inconclusive? What type of evidence would he offer?

          The whole subject of global warming being caused by people would seem to me to fall under the heading of an "inferred best explanation," which suggests a strong probability, but falls short of being proof according to the Scientific Method [wikipedia.org].

          The main p

          • by sheldon (2322)

            Like you, I consider myself agnostic on the global warming. But I'm a little confused at your response to the parent post. How does one offer "substantial evidence" when one feels that the evidence is inconclusive? What type of evidence would he offer?

            It's the "only proves" statement. The limited amount of data doesn't prove anything. Whether it is short term climate change or long term climate change is part of the question which we have inconclusive data for. The data we have shows past results, but w

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wikipedia is a great resource for exploring a subject if the following two stipulations are observed.

      1. You have a small inkling of the subject, and you are using the Wikipedia article to enhance your understanding.

      2. You verify all statements in the Wikipedia article by reading all the primary source references. If the article has no references, discard it as a claptrap of lies.

      #1 will enable you to spot the obvious (possibly deliberate) inaccuracies. #2 is to ensure the validity of the informati

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jon_E (148226)
      I think that this is what the "Everyone who disagrees with you is a moron" article is getting at. I'm guessing experts are training not to suffer from that disease.


      That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, you moron ..

    • Experts qualify (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Martin S. (98249)
      Experts understand the subtle nuances of a subject and therefore qualify their position with lots of 'if' or 'buts'. An informed observer appreciates these nuances. An uninformed observer does not, it appears less precise and less clear.

      The less competent see fewer nuances and therefore make more straight forward assertions, they qualify their position less, therefore it looks clearer to an uninformed observer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by iocat (572367)
      One example talks about nazis, the other about nazi-ism. Both statements can be true! And, IMHO, both are true: The nazis were a bunch of assholes who didn't even have a totally coherent ideology. Historian B's description is a pretty precise definition of an asshole, anyway.
    • by xero314 (722674)
      I don't see how the above example illustrates anything since Both Historian A and B in the above example are at best highly incomplete and at worst significantly wrong.
    • In addition to what you are saying, I suspect that experts are more likely than non-experts to recognize the weaknesses in other publications (Encyclopaedia Britannica being the canonical example). If that's true, then an expert would view Wikipedia more favourably when compared to those other publications.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:59PM (#17019872) Homepage Journal
    As everyone else but they know a little bit more about the process through which their own expertise derives. One need only read professional historians to understand that they have as much an agenda as anyone else for example.
    • Propoganda? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by diersing (679767)
      Why is it when Microsoft/oil company/tobacco company is torched whenever they release a study saying Windows/gasoline/smoking is good because they are paid off blow-hards serving their masters but a Wikipedia study saying their articles are accurate (and make no mistake, that is what they are saying) doesn't raise an eyebrow?
      • Simple (Score:3, Insightful)

        by truthsearch (249536)
        Because corporate-sponsored studies aren't editable by the public. People do raise an eyebrow with regards to Wikipedia, but any person with true knowledge can have a say in the content of an article. Plus there is clear public debate. No one can publicly debate or dispute a corporate study before it's published. Anyone can criticize it afterwards, but those disagreements never become an addendum to the study.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by diersing (679767)
          For a change I tried to RTFA but all I got was "Server Error in '/' Application."

          I didn't realize the study was editable prior to it being released.

      • Re:Propoganda? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bigpat (158134) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:38PM (#17020668)
        Why is it when Microsoft/oil company/tobacco company is torched whenever they release a study saying Windows/gasoline/smoking is good because they are paid off blow-hards serving their masters but a Wikipedia study saying their articles are accurate (and make no mistake, that is what they are saying) doesn't raise an eyebrow?

        Probably because wikipedia is a charitable non profit registered 501(c)(3) educational foundation [wikipedia.org] which means that it is legally obligated by both the US government and State of Florida to serve a public purpose, in this case education. While those companies that you speak of are for profit multi billion dollar corporations trying to people their products and sevices and are often lobbying the government to pass laws to make it easier to sell their stuff.

        Sure anything that adds to wikipedia's reputation for accuracy will make donors feel more comfortable about donating to wikipedia. But the simple fact is that every page view on wikipedia is an expense for the Foundation, they make no money directly from their content. The best way to judge a non profit is to look at the number of people getting paid by them. And so far, the Wikimedia Foundation still seams pretty lean compared to other foundations and they are keeping their other overhead expenses reasonably low as far as I can tell.

        So, yes it is good to question all studies which promote one product over another, but this simply confirms something that we might have thought anyway. That if you know more about something than others, then you are in a better position to judge the accuracy of what was written about that something.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by netruner (588721)
      I think that the experts may be biased because when they read an article, they know enough to disregard small defects, the average user does not.

      In short, I'm asserting that an expert requires less accuracy in their documents than nonexperts because their own expertise can fill in the spaces.

  • by maddogsparky (202296) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:01PM (#17019918)
    Wikipedia is used all the time in the IP lawfirm where I work. If we need a definition or a quick rundown on a field before filing a patent, it's a good, well linked source.

  • by huckda (398277) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:01PM (#17019950) Journal
    that just by being a grad-student or a research assistant you become labeled an expert!
  • That's because there's an article about experts [wikipedia.org], but none for non-experts. If I weren't an expert about everything, I'd be pissed too!
  • by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:06PM (#17020060)
    Could this just be a case of someone saying, "That can't be right!" only because they don't know if it really is?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:12PM (#17020198)
    I don't understand the people who attack Wikipedia....

    It is free, a lot of people have put a lot of effort into it, and it is incomparable to any other repository of knowledge known to man.

    Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oGMo (379)

      I don't understand the people who attack Wikipedia....

      Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.

      It has to do with why the "people who disagree are morons" article is wrong: if everyone could suddenly identify who the geniuses were, the not-so-geniuses would immediately kill them all out of fear, or jealously, or whatever.

      Wikipedia is just a repository for information and who is informed on various subjects (whether the information is right or wrong, agr

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.

      Or get yourself an Encyclopedia Britannica [amazon.com]. Only $1,100.00 new from a reseller.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sillybilly (668960)
      It's not that simple. Those who don't like it don't like it not because they want to know about something, but because they are control freaks, they'd like to sell the same "knowledge" to you, or collect a membership fee, but it's hard when there is a free alternative, free as in both freedom and beer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rotten168 (104565)
      Because a couple of crap articles are controlled by a few nitwit administrators with no recourse to their power, that's why. It undermines the credibility of the whole project.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by turing_m (1030530)
      The alternative is not going to the library. The alternative is using a search engine to find a good sampling of articles on the subject, seeing what facts are presented, seeing what the opposing opinions say about those facts, making a judgment as to the reliability of the facts on the table, and seeing which arguments best hold up considering those facts. *

      While this takes time, it is of course way better than wikipedia, provided that you have the intelligence to do a good job of the above. If you don't h
  • by rdmiller3 (29465) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:13PM (#17020210) Journal

    A new Wikipedia study suggests that when experts and non-experts look to assess Wikipedia for accuracy, the non-experts are harder on the free encyclopedia than the experts.

    I just hope that those non-experts didn't feel the urge to "fix" anything.

  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:14PM (#17020230) Journal
    ... that when it comes to academic articles (e.g. physics) the only people who know enough math/jargon to get it close to right are the academics. So, the acuracy is of course going to be fairly high.

    BUT, when it comes to policitically charged articles (or other non-academic articles), b/c of people's "MY true is reality no matter what the facts say" mentality nowadays, the acuracy plumits.

    Basically, this study is nothing but a false positive in favor of wikipedia.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lahvak (69490)
      I agree with your first assertion. I am an expert in some areas of higher mathematics, and in my area of expertise, articles on Wikipedia are generally very accurate. there is very little noise, very few mistakes (almost all of them typos, that get quickly corrected), and occasional controversy is nearly exclusively limited to questions of notation and terminology. People who contribute to these articles generally know very well what they are talking about, and any mistakes and inaccuracies are easy to sp
  • Rawr (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Trashhalo (985371) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:19PM (#17020316) Homepage
    Let me just say that I am so tired of the the rampant bias against wikipedia in education. I have had teachers go on 10 minute rants on how horrible of a site it is. I also am frustrated with the fact that during these rants generally there are no facts, studies or examples given to why they believe wp is untrustworthy only that anyone can change it so that means it is bad. Are there bad articles in wikipedia? Yes I dont think anyone would disagree with that. Are the bad articles the ones you will be looking at? I think thats the more important question. The more popular a topic is the edits it receives and the more trustworthy the information is. That is ofcourse ignoring the fact that now many big wikipedia articles cite sources. Another baseless concern is that at the time you are looking at the article some random false fact will have been inserted. Wp has this little feature called "history" I always check the last couple changes to a article before citing it in a paper. If something seems fishy I will cite a earlier version of the same article.

    Anyways I guess in summary people are way too afraid of the wiki model.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by svyyn (530783)
      If something seems fishy I will cite a earlier version of the same article.

      Thus easily allowing you to choose which 'facts' you want to include.
    • by sedyn (880034)
      Of course people can't quote a source to back up their opinion, it hasn't been posted on Wikipedia yet!
    • by dfghjk (711126)
      "The more popular a topic is the [more] edits it receives and the more trustworthy the information is."

      I don't agree with that. Trustworthiness is more a function of how invested in the "facts" the contributors are. Where stronger emotions exist you lose trustworthiness.

      WP is a great resource just so long as you don't count on it being definitive. Having millions of edits is no guarantee of accuracy.
    • by joe 155 (937621)
      I'll agree to some extent with your comment. A lot of the people who critice WP out of hand really annoy me, they are not being rigorous - which is what they accuse WP of in the first place.

      Still, a lot of the time you see things that if you know a lot about a topic you know are wrong - or at least not as right as it could be... I try to edit it sometimes but it ends up being a lot of effort and then (often) someone changes it to make it worse and an editing war takes place.

      Even so, I wouldn't cite WP
    • by kabocox (199019)
      Let me just say that I am so tired of the the rampant bias against wikipedia in education. I have had teachers go on 10 minute rants on how horrible of a site it is. I also am frustrated with the fact that during these rants generally there are no facts, studies or examples given to why they believe wp is untrustworthy only that anyone can change it so that means it is bad. Are there bad articles in wikipedia?

      I've got a first grader and I'm almost shocked by how many requests to look up information on the i
    • by jesterzog (189797)

      Let me just say that I am so tired of the the rampant bias against wikipedia in education. I have had teachers go on 10 minute rants on how horrible of a site it is. I also am frustrated with the fact that during these rants generally there are no facts, studies or examples given to why they believe wp is untrustworthy only that anyone can change it so that means it is bad.

      Personally I think Wikipedia is great, and I use it a lot for day-to-day reference when I want to find out about things... and to be h

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scruffy (29773)
      Teachers don't like encyclopedia articles for references. Why? Because they are summaries of the articles you should be referencing.
    • Well, for one thing, consensus is *not* how truth is decided. Yet that's essentially the Wikipedia model. The thought is that 700 people who know nothing about relativity can come to the truth about what relativity is and how it works, just by essentially modifying the misunderstood portions the last person left. That's not how truth works. Truth isn't decided based on what everybody agrees on, it's discovered.

      Think about medicine for a second. Would you rather have 500 enthusiastic amatuers doing su

  • Why I Doubt (Score:3, Informative)

    by greysky (136732) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:21PM (#17020358)
    I tend to take most things I read on Wikipedia that I'm not an expert on with a grain of salt, simply because I keep finding errors in articles that I am.
    • Re:Why I Doubt (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sloppy (14984) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:37PM (#17020636) Homepage Journal
      I tend to take most things I read on Wikipedia that I'm not an expert on with a grain of salt, simply because I keep finding errors in articles that I am.

      But that's why this experiment's results are so interesting. What you're saying reminds me of how people look at mainstream media's coverage of things. It appears somewhat reasonable when they're talking about things you don't really understand, but then once they get onto a topic you know anything about, suddenly you see how full of shit they are. Your ignorance allows you to trust them, and your expertise makes you distrust them.

      This study perversely suggests that Wikipedia is having an opposite effect on people, than mainstream media does.

      I wonder if it has to do with what happens when people find errors in things they're familiar with. When you find errors in Wikipedia articles, do you do anything about it? With mainstream media, you can't do anything about it, but with Wikipedia, you can. Maybe you don't correct errors, but eventually someone may, and perhaps the motivation to do that, is somehow proportional to expertise.

  • One idea on why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arodland (127775) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:22PM (#17020372)
    The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing", and the non-expert says "wow, this is some really shitty writing." So the expert comes away with a higher opinion.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      That's kinda what I was thinking.

      IMO, 'The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing"' because experts have a body of knowledge which fleshes out all the unexplained basics which a layperson may or may not know.

      That background knowledge (or lack thereof) makes a huge difference in their ability to evaluate information.
    • by westlake (615356)
      The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing", and the non-expert says "wow, this is some really shitty writing." So the expert comes away with a higher opinion.

      We have a winner.

      In reading through old sets of the Britannica, (people really do save such things,) the first thing you notice is the quality of the writing: T.E. Lawrence on Guerrilla Warfare, H.L. Mencken on the American language.

  • by excelsior_gr (969383) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:23PM (#17020398)
    I believe that the difference between the groups that this study used was not really the fact that in one group there were "experts" and in the other "non-experts", but that in one group there were "grad-students" and in the other "non-grad-students".

    One of the things that one learns while doing his/her PhD is that he/she is NOT an expert in ANY field. It is only a matter of time for some big-headed know-it-all grad student to get crushed in a conference by a more experienced, better informed researcher. Being a grad-student and having research as your job makes you more open to new ideas and other people's opinions.

    When you daily come accross many different approaches that try to solve the same problem, you are bound to learn that you must examine them all first before you decide. Otherwise you might miss a good idea that may eventually cost you your PhD. Sure you will have a favourite in the end, but that will be only after giving way to every possible option.

    So a grad-student reading a Wikipedia article with an "alternative" (i.e. mistaken) point, would say "Hmm.. why not?", while a non-grad-student could say "WTF is this?" Of course, this would be the case only when the point is more close to being debatable and not obviously wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by heroofhyr (777687)

      I believe that the difference between the groups that this study used was not really the fact that in one group there were "experts" and in the other "non-experts", but that in one group there were "grad-students" and in the other "non-grad-students".

      And I believe someone should RTFA before weighing in on it. It wasn't divided into "people who are grad students" and "people who aren't grad students," it was divided into "people who are grad students or researchers in a certain field and are given an article from Wikipedia about that field" and "people who are grad students or researchers in a certain field and are given a random article from Wikipedia's 'Random Article' link in the Navigation Menu on the front page." Or maybe we shall let the study it

  • by Trespass (225077) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:29PM (#17020476) Homepage
    I got into this discussion with some people on another forum the other day. There's a lot of people who regard it as little more than a repository of useless information, but it seems to me that that's more a factor of what sort of information they're looking for. There's a lot of things one there that I personally find pretty trivial, but who cares? It's not like having an exhaustive list of all the Pokemon characters is bothering anyone.

    Personally, I find it to be a very useful resource for information on technical topics outside of my field of specialization. I do lots of modeling and conceptualization for games, so it's reeeeally nice to have an easy resource to explain the basics of say 19th century steel production or aircraft engines from the 30s. It's also really cool just to be able to read about a historical event and click a related topic to trace a thread through time. It's not a complete resource, but what is?
  • As It Should Be (Score:3, Interesting)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:30PM (#17020516) Homepage
    If you're not an expert, you should be skeptical about your sources. In the case of Wikipedia, you should find an actual expert you can trust, have them read the entry, and tell you their expert opinion of its reliability.

    Also, note that these experts aren't necessarily saying that Wikipedia is 100% accurate or reliable. The real issue might be that where a non-expert might mistakenly disregard a large amount accurate information from Wikipedia, an expert might understand that while the majority of the information was accurate, a few important inaccuracies were also present.
    • If you're not an expert, you should be skeptical about your sources. In the case of Wikipedia, you should find an actual expert you can trust, have them read the entry, and tell you their expert opinion of its reliability.

      Or you should have the basic critical thinking competence to review whether the claims in the article are sourced, and review the sources (particularly if the use is of any importance.)

      An encyclopedia is, after all, a starting point for research, not an ending point.

      If you don't understan

    • in the case of Wikipedia, you should find an actual expert you can trust, have them read the entry, and tell you their expert opinion of its reliability.


      If you know an expert in a field why bother checking Wikipedia at all?

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:33PM (#17020568) Homepage
    "Caution--and further research--needs to be used before citing anything learned from Wikipedia as a fact."

    Yes, well, caution--and further research--needs to be used before citing anything learned from the Encyclopaedia Britannica... or the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics... or the World Almanac as a fact.

    All of these are secondary sources. All of them are highly useful and are used as actionable sources of information every day, but none of them would be an acceptable citation in a research paper.

    Furthermore, Wikipedia has always had policies that all information in Wikipedia must be derived from a published "reliable source" and that the source should be cited. Although these policies have mostly been honored in the breach, in the past year or so there has been an increasing tendency to cite sources explicitly. This is virtually a requirement for an article to become a home-page "featured article," for example. In some cases it is easier to trace the source of a fact in a Wikipedia article than in a traditional encyclopedia.
    • by pilkul (667659)
      This is virtually a requirement for an article to become a home-page "featured article," for example.

      Not just virtually, it is a formal requirement [wikipedia.org]. The only FAs that have few/no references were promoted a few years ago when standards were lower, and the removal process is gradually pruning them out.

  • For the endocrinology classes I teach at the med school here, the most popular reference for both the students taking the class and the guest lecturers seems to be Wikipedia...I've even regularly seen physicians use the Wikipedia article as a refresher on a subject.
    • IME, Wikipedia is often better on technical subjects than on subjects of general interest, because the people who are motivated to actual read/edit the articles tend to have some knowledge of the field, know how to do research, and not be particularly interested in goofing around with it.

    • I've heard complaints about Wikipedia from many people who are eminently unqualified to make such assertions.

      Conversely, the experts in the area seem to like Wikipedia, much as the above story suggests. Along these lines, I was interested to hear a podcast from Australia's Science Show [abc.net.au] talking about this very issue (the podcast is no longer up, but there is a transcript [abc.net.au]).

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:49PM (#17020972) Homepage
    Increasingly people don't trust things that they aren't very familiar with because of the sort of political, under-handed, deceptive crap that has crept into so many areas of knowledge from the political world. Most people I know don't trust the mainstream media anymore and that ranges from people who are nearly communist in their left leanings to people who are practically John Birchers. Dispassioned, reasoned discussions are rare these days.

    Think it's not the problem with even science? Why do so many people attack Bjorn Lomborg with a fanatical ferocity for daring to raise scientific questions about how, why and if global warming is happening? Why can't people who claim to operate on civilized values like reason sit down and have a friendly chat. "Interesting, Bjorn, let's look at your facts; Hmmm, interesting, but I don't think you considered the following (X, Y, Z); Touche, but I would like to present this, this and that to prove that global warming is not human-caused." Instead it's more like, "YOU MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION ANY ASPECT OF GLOBAL WARMING?!"

    The truth is that there are so many people who are significantly maleducated today that it's no wonder why people are screwed up. I mean, it was a real eye opener for me, when I started reading up on my own time, about some of the cultural practices of the ancient world. Most of the people who look horrified at religion today have never even heard of such practices as Pater Familias nor know that their celtic ancestors (if that applies to them) often practiced human sacrifice. I honestly think that based on some of the conversations I have had since I started doing these things on my own, that the maleducation of the American public today is worse than the lack of education that existed 200 years ago. There is nothing worse than having a horrendously bad education--it'd be better to simply be a void that can be filled by actual knowledge.

    Now, the reason that I brought up the global warming issue was not to beat a popular pinata, but to illustrate the fact that to many "laymen," the "experts" often come off as narrow-minded fanatics. That doesn't inspire confidence in the average person. What does inspire confidence is a calm ability to articulate on his or her level with facts that back it up. Problem is, too many people have an agenda and too many people are too caught up in it to be convincing to the majority who won't immediately accept what they say at face value as though it were penned by the hand of God.
    • by dedazo (737510)

      but to illustrate the fact that to many "laymen," the "experts" often come off as narrow-minded fanatics.

      That's true for large sections of Wikipedia, and that's one of the many reasons why it sucks as a primary reference source. You can be pretty much assured that any "hot button" topic will be a veritable mess of crap created by borderline "expert" well-organized editor cliques aggressively pushing POV agendas. This is an interesting ecosystem to observe, actually, as an example of how online communities

      • by jotok (728554)
        You can be pretty much assured that any "hot button" topic will be a veritable mess of crap created by borderline "expert" well-organized editor cliques aggressively pushing POV agendas

        Can you provide examples of this in action?
        • by dedazo (737510)
          Look at the talk pages for pages like Srebrenica, abortion, global warming, United States, any topic related to Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, biographies of people like Ghandi, George Bush, Tony Blair, Milosevic, Abraham Lincoln. Apple pie. Latex. Hitler. There's literally thousands of them.
    • by Palshife (60519)
      Maleducation? I resent that. They teach the girls badly, too.
    • by Vellmont (569020)

      Think it's not the problem with even science? Why do so many people attack Bjorn Lomborg with a fanatical ferocity for daring to raise scientific questions about how, why and if global warming is happening?

      I'm not really familiar with this guy, but it looks like he's a political scientist with some background in statistics that's published a book in the popular press critical of global warming. I guess it was my impression that science was done by people trained in the field, not by political scientists th
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jesterzog (189797)

      Most people I know don't trust the mainstream media anymore and that ranges from people who are nearly communist in their left leanings to people who are practically John Birchers. Dispassioned, reasoned discussions are rare these days.

      I don't think the problem is not trusting it so much as not being able to critically evaluate it. I don't usually trust the general media for what I think are some very good reasons, but many people I see, mostly outside my circle of friends, seem to be quite happy to simp

  • Many people complain about the lack of authority and accuracy in Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is a community project, that a community puts together. If Wikipedia is at fault it is because the community in general has allowed it to be that way.

    People can only know about faults in Wikipedia if they saw them for themselves (otherwise it's hearsay, and the complaints are therefore without merit). By looking up Wikipedia, people are acting as a part of the community, most likely with the intent of deriving benef
  • My experience with tradition media is that almost always when there is an article on something that I actually know a great deal about, they get many facts/details wrong and those stick out to me. Even if the overall story is basically OK, it is always troubling when there are significant numbers of obviously wrong things. In general, of course, this erodes my confidence in coverage of things outside my areas of expertise because there is no reason to think that reporters make mistakes only when they are
  • by gadfium (318941) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @03:03PM (#17021314)
    There are regular stories on Wikipedia on Slashdot, and occasional stories on other wikis. Shouldn't there be either a Wikipedia icon or a Wiki icon to distinguish these stories? The Wikipedia "multilingual globe being built" is copyright (one of the very few things in Wikipedia which is) so you can't use that, but the Wikipedia "W" is fairly well known. Looking through Wikimedia Commons [wikimedia.org], this puzzle piece [wikimedia.org] looked good to me. I don't know if the GFDL licence would be a problem for Slashdot.

    The MediaWiki sunflower [wikimedia.org] would only be suitable as an icon for Wikis powered by that piece of software. I don't have an idea for an icon to represent all wikis.
  • There's no guarantee that an article, at any moment in time, even approaches accuracy. If an expert in a field has reviewed some piece of information within it, perhaps a mechanism allowing him to digitally sign that piece of information would allow the article to gain some credibility.

    In theory, citations should achieve the same goal, but it's clear that people don't want to research Wikipedia articles that have already been written. They want to use them as research. Do we want to work to try to change
    • There's no guarantee that an article, at any moment in time, even approaches accuracy. If an expert in a field has reviewed some piece of information within it, perhaps a mechanism allowing him to digitally sign that piece of information would allow the article to gain some credibility.

      Since Wikipedia is licensed under a fairly permissive license, nothing stops experts (or anyone else) from serving digitally-signed copies of Wikipedia articles if they want to endorse them in that way.

      In theory, citations sh

  • True scientists are "experts" because they use logic to rate one's findings and conclusions. The "problem" with Wikipedia isn't a lack of often very good, "expert" knowledge. Rather, it's the lack of editorial value that limits its credibility. Experts familiar with a given area already have credible sources to conjur whenever they evaluate Wikipedia entries. I "believe" the entry on the MPEG standard because I'm very familiar with that topic. But were Wikipedia to be my first exposure to the topic, I'
  • We all have a bias regarding Wikipedia, one way or the other. The submitter is obviously pro-Wikipedia.

    - "Generally credible" is certainly better than "not credible", but note that "Very credible" was an option and Wikipedia didn't hit that mark. So people that say "Use Wikipedia as a starting point, but not as an authoritative source" are probably the ones who should draw the most self-validation from this study IMHO.

    - 13% of the articles contain errors - and that was excluding contested content and stubs!
  • Although Wikipedia has always had a hard core empiricist/scientistic bias of the kind that would make Richard Dawkins proud, its' insistence on practically enforcing said bias is only a relatively recent occurrence.

    The site's operators have however always suffered from a persistent, gnawing insecurity about credibility...but the question that has never been definitively answered is which particular group they so desperately need credibility with. I suspect said group is, as I said, pseudoscientific atheist

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