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Wikipedia and the Politics of Verification 283

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-am-who-i-say-i-am dept.
Slashdot regular contributor Bennett Haselton writes "The reports of Sinbad's death become greatly exaggerated. A Wikipedia contributor is unmasked as a fraud, raising questions about why he wasn't called out earlier. NBC airs a piece about how anybody can edit any article on Wikipedia, and errors creep in as a result. (Duh.) But what's most frustrating about all these controversies surrounding Wikipedia is that news reports describe these incidents as if they are a permanent, unsolvable problem with any type of community-built encyclopedia, when in fact there seems to be a straightforward solution." More words follow. Just click the link.

In its simplest form, couldn't a person's academic credentials be verified by sending a confirmation link to their .edu e-mail? (Which could be identified as a faculty address either by a domain name like "faculty.schoolname.edu", or by a Web page in the faculty section of the school's Web site identifying the person's e-mail address?) And then once the user's bona fides have been verified in this or some other way, couldn't they put their seal of approval on any article whose contents need to be considered reliable, or that readers want to cite as an authoritative source? In this way, with only a few minutes of effort and without changing a single word of the article, its value is increased many times -- surely one of the best possible trade-offs in terms of effort versus reward. (As for the question of "What experts would do this?", the answer is, presumably the same people who contribute to sites like Wikipedia currently. If their motives are altruistic in the first place, hopefully they would be willing to take this extra step if they knew it would increase the article's usefulness.)

Something like this model is planned by the operators of Citizendium.org, a Wikipedia alternative (I balk at using the word "rival" although it is inevitable that people will see them that way). The last time I wrote about Citizendium, some thought it sounded like such a valentine to the project that they wondered if I was a shill; actually, sometimes a project just comes along that aligns almost exactly with what I would have done if I could have re-done a popular project like Wikipedia with a few design changes, and when that happens, I just say so. Some others may have wondered if I was sucking up for a board position or something. No, that would be, like, work. But I think they have some good ideas that will make them a more useful alternative in some cases, unless Wikipedia copies back some of their ideas in order to serve both needs at once, which would also be a good thing.

Consider the two major issues on which Citizendium is planning to take a different approach from Wikipedia: (1) user verification, and (2) putting published articles into an "approved" state under the stewardship of a credentialed editor, who has to sign off on any future changes to the article. The issue of user verification can be further divided into two sub-issues: (a) verifying users for the purpose of ascertaining their credentials, and (b) verifying users for the purpose of limiting the amount of vandalism committed by new users under pseudonyms. (While editorial control on Citizendium means that it is not possible to vandalize the public-facing version of an article after it has gone into an "approved" state, users can still vandalize an article while it is a "work in progress" being built up towards the first milestone where it can be approved. Citizendium founder Larry Sanger says that such vandals are surprisingly, pathetically motivated even though their work is only seen by a small audience.)

On the first issue, the one of verifying user credentials, I think the verification of .edu addresses especially would be a cheap and easy way to increase the value of every article that that user writes, or signs off on. I don't think, however, it's necessary to go as far as Citizendium is currently planning on going, by requiring real names and biographies of all users. My thinking is that if an article is synthesized by 100 monkeys with typewriters but the finished product is giving the blessing of a credentialed professor of physics, it's pretty much just as reliable as if the professor had written it themselves. And if the same article gets the blessing of multiple credentialed experts, it could justifiably be considered more reliable than many printed sources written by a single author. The point is that the credentials that matter, are those of the people who stake their reputation on the accuracy of the article, not necessarily those of the people who contribute to it. So on this front, I think that while Wikipedia asks too little of users' backgrounds, Citizendium's current plan would ask too much, because as long as you have the credentials of one person who has signed off on an article, collecting non-verifiable bios of the article's other contributors doesn't actually gain anything.

The other side of verifying credentials is the use of credentials to prevent vandalism. In this situation it's not necessary to verify that the user actually is who they say they are; the system only needs to ensure that the same user is not signing up over and over again after previous accounts get banned for abuse. (You could ban users by IP address, but tools like Tor make it easy for users to connect from what appears to be a different IP address every time.) A blog post from Citizendium founder Larry Sanger lists three possible approaches instead: (a) requiring existing user X to vouch for new user Z before Z can join; (b) requiring new user Z to provide a link to a "credible" Web page establishing their identity; or (c) requiring new user Z to provide a link to a "credible" Web page of some person X who can vouch for Z's identity. I don't know how quickly a system could grow by referrals only -- after all, I was surprised that GMail took off so quickly during the period when you could only join with an "invite" from an existing user. Then again, GMail was giving away something for free that almost everyone could use, so most people who wanted it, would find themselves closely linked to someone else who had it. Citizendium, on the other hand, asks not what they can do for you but what you can do for them, and so might not achieve enough penetration to spread by referrals only.

I suggested that one alternative would be to send a postcard to each new user's physical address with a unique six-digit number, which they would have to enter in order to complete their registration, in order to verify that new users really were unique. The problem here, apart from the privacy concerns, is the delay that users would incur before their registration was complete, which would take away the "instant gratification" that they could get from starting to contribute right away. (You could let users edit before their address is verified, but that would just enable the same person to keep re-creating new accounts with unique but fake addresses, and use them to commit vandalism before the account was found out.)

Another idea would be that for new users, their first, say, three edits would go into a queue to be reviewed by verified users, and once the first three edits have been approved, the user is able to make edits in real time. (Since anybody would be able to review a new user's edits to make sure they were not spam, the new user's edits could be reviewed very quickly, since any Citizendium volunteer who was online, could review the latest entries in the edit queue and approve them.) It's true that a user could game this system by, for example, submitting three minor improvements, and then using their unblocked account to vandalize articles while they're being worked on. However, even in this case, the "vandal" would probably end up having a positive contribution to the site, because of the three small improvements that they'd already made. If a legitimate Citizendium volunteer would have to spend more effort making those three small improvements, than it would take to let a new user make those constructive changes and then ban them and revert their destructive changes once the user is caught committing vandalism (and the latter wouldn't take much effort at all), then Citizendium has actually gotten a good deal out of the "vandal"! (To make this work, a user's first contributions could not be "neutral" changes like replacing one word with a synonym; they would have to be actual improvements, even small ones, thus ensuring that the net effect of a potential "vandal" is positive.) There may be other possible solutions. These are just alternatives in case the model of referral by trusted users turns out not to work.

Now switching to the other side of the reliability issue: Whether the default article that is displayed to the public for a given topic, should be the latest "stable" version approved by credentialed users, or the very latest version incorporating all edits submitted by any user whatsoever. Having talked with members of the Citizendium and Wikipedia communities in their respective forums, there appear to be three schools of thought on the article stability issue. The first is that the whole idea of putting articles into an "approved" state and moderating all changes going forward, goes against the "spirit" of wikis in general and Wikipedia in particular. The second, suggested on the Wikipedia discussion list by Sheldon Rampton, is that it would be a useful feature if credentialed users could select certain page versions in the page history and "sign off" on the accuracy of one of those past versions; the page displayed by default would be the bleeding-edge latest one (with all of the possible vandalism and inaccuracies that entails), but users who wanted a reliable, citable source could look in the history. The third school of thought is that reliability is so valuable, that the default page displayed to the public and carrying the stamp of the project, should be the latest version approved by credentialed editors -- the model that Citizendium currently has in mind.

I'm not really partial to the first view, since I think the success of the project should be defined by how it achieves its goals (whatever you define those goals to be) and not in whether it kept with its original "spirit". Since Wikipedia has far more readers than contributors, if your motivations for contributing to or maintaining Wikipedia are at all oriented towards doing good for other people, presumably meeting the needs of readers is more important than keeping the party going for contributors (provided, of course, that the environment for contributors is at least pleasant enough to keep them contributing). The choice between the second and third points of view is more interesting. There's no obvious best-of-both-worlds choice here, because what motivates many contributors (the fact that their changes go live to the entire world, right away) is also what motivates vandals.

On the other hand, the problem doesn't sound unsolvable. You could go with the Citizendium model of editor-approved changes but create a prioritized system for "urgent" updates, in the case of changes to an article made to incorporate current events. Suppose users (who have been verified using one or more of the methods above) are each issued a certain number of "credits" that they can use to mark a proposed update as an urgent, breaking change. (Misusing these credits to mark changes as "urgent", that really aren't, would be considered abuse tantamount to spamming or vandalism.) Then let's say, for example, Anna Nicole Smith dies. A user could submit this change to the Anna Nicole Smith article, along with a link to a reliable news source (e.g. a wire service story) and a credit marking the change as "urgent". Since an editor would not need any particular expertise to view the article and verify that the change was accurate, any editor could review the "urgent request queue" and approve that particular change for publication, ensuring that the queue was checked frequently throughout the day and urgent updates would get pushed through quickly. Thus the site could keep pace with breaking current events without the kind of inaccuracies that plagued Kenneth Lay's Wikipedia entry when he died.

So there's a trade-off there, between displaying all the latest changes by default and motivating people to contribute but also running the risk of vandalism, versus displaying only the latest editor-approved page. Where there is not a trade-off, that I can see, is in the option of simply having an editor-approved version of a given page -- whether it's displayed by default, or only stored in the version history where people can look for it. To me, both of these steps seem to consist of pure gain for relatively little effort:

  1. Verify credentials of academic professionals by poking their .edu address.
  2. Allow them to give their "blessing" to certain versions of a page in the page history, so that users can rely on those specific page versions and even cite them as sources where appropriate.

So I hope that Citizendium will help bring more prominence to the idea, and that something similar might get incorporated back into Wikipedia. The approval of an identity-verified expert can improve an article's value so much, for such comparitively little extra effort, that it makes no sense not to have that option.

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Wikipedia and the Politics of Verification

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  • ok I'll bite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Coraon (1080675) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:06PM (#18516495)
    here is a question, what creditationals do you need to report someones death? or how about reporting the plot line of a TV show? I mean do I need the nod of the TV geek from beat the geeks or something? I dont mean to poke fun at the issue here but lets be honest, if I wanna say that the number of bears is on the rise in the wild I can convince someone with the cred I need to do it for me... The power or Wiki is that anyone can edit, so anyone can fix the mistake.
    • Re:ok I'll bite (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:20PM (#18516679)
      First, let's acknowledge that this incident was a non-issue. Does anyone on this planet actually believe that it wasn't Sinbad or his publicist who edited the Wikipedia entry in the first place?

      That aside, I'd like to point out that they are focusing on the wrong problems here.

      Incorrect information that everyone knows is incorrect will swiftly be corrected. That isn't a problem. The real danger is when information is correct, but not recognized by the majority as being correct. You then end up with false information certified by the uninformed, mislead or simply incorrect majority.

      The other large problem is the number of articles regarding people or subjects that are controversial and stir up emotions on both sides of the issue. The Wikipedia community becomes so bogged down in debating the subject and trying to ensure that the resulting article is completely devoid of anything even remotely biased-sounding to them that valid and reasonable information (like comments Anne Coulter made which caused a lot of controversy) are left out entirely. Some articles become incredibly bland and lacking so as to appease everyone.

      It would seem that facts are facts and there should be no limit on the number or details of facts that are appropriate for a Wikipedia entry, as long as they are included in a sensible format. Instead, the attempt often seems to be to include the top ten percent of information about a subject and leaving out the rest. I presume the expectation is that the rest of the information will always exist elsewhere, so just provide a quick rundown on Wikipedia. Seems counterintuitive to the entire premise of a worldly collection of information.

      I'm a huge wikipedia fan, but as I've stated - the general consensus agreeing to edit-out valid information is a greater fear of mine than the unlikely situation of invalid information somehow escaping the thousand-eyes.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        When you included the likes of someone like Alec Baldwin with the likes of someone like Ann Coulter then I'll agree.

        The problem is that when Left Wing Wackos like Baldwin say inflamatory stuff like suggesting that a congressman ought to be killed and wife and kids raped and beaten on Broadcast TV the left thinks it is funny. When Ann Coulter says something similar it is "hate speech".

        The correct answer is that BOTH are equally bombastic Wingnuts. Neither are funny and both scare the crap out of me. I don't
        • The problem is that when Left Wing Wackos like Baldwin say inflamatory stuff like suggesting that a congressman ought to be killed and wife and kids raped and beaten on Broadcast TV ...

          Exagerating a bit here? Can you give me one example of a statement like this from any celebrity? I'm not saying your overall point is or isn't valid but you'll have to do better then this to convince anyone. I don't even think Sean Penn has crossed the line you drew in your comment...

    • The answer to that one is simple. Anyone can make that sort of an edit. If they can back it up, they're golden. The editors have the power of "approving" the articles and certifying them. Nothing stops you from making a change to an unapproved page, or the draft of an approved page. If there's a major turn of events, like a living person dying, we'll have the article reapproved in a hurry.

      So far as TV plot lines go, it's going to be hard to have approved articles and experts in those sorts of areas.
      • by Frymaster (171343)
        Anyone can make that sort of an edit. If they can back it up, they're golden.

        thank you for actually understanding one of the core principles of wikipedia!

        it's pretty simple, actually. wikipedia is an encyclopedia and as a result all material must be properly referenced (WP:CITE for the wikinerds out there). it doesn't matter if you have a .edu email address or a phd or if you're hang drywall for a living. if you can cite your contribution and the cites meed the standards then the material is fit. peop
        • Correct. The purpose of having experts is to make the article somewhat trustworthy in addition to the sources. Sure, you could check all the sources to see all the facts, or you could check the sticker that says "An expert has vouched for the quality of this article." In an ideal world, you'd check all the sources, but let's face facts: 90% of the people in the world wouldn't bother. Having a trustworthy secondary/tertiary source will be a major boon to people who want to learn something, but don't hav
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          wikipedia is an encyclopedia and as a result all material must be properly referenced

          You are incorrect. Note that the page says it is "a guideline... and is considered a standard that all users should follow. However, it is not set in stone and should be treated with common sense".

          It applies this guideline to All material that is challenged or likely to be challenged. Therefore, "The sun is made up mostly of hydrogen" does not need a reference.
    • Re:ok I'll bite (Score:5, Informative)

      by eln (21727) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:29PM (#18516767) Homepage
      You make a good point about subjects where no credentials exist (a PhD in Happy Days-ology?), but this is an imperfect solution even when credentials are available.

      Even if credentials are valid, that doesn't stop people from making errors. If a credentialed professor puts his stamp of approval on a piece of information on the Wiki that he mistakenly believes is correct, that makes it a lot harder to correct that mistake, because the professor will be seen by most of the editors as the authority on the subject. Even credentialed professors are not infallible.

      Also, what about a professor with a PhD in one field posting inaccurate information in another, closely related, field. The professor may honestly believe his information is correct, but that doesn't make it so. In this case, the incorrect information will stay on the Wiki until someone with more relevant credentials can successfully argue against it.

      The only way to make sure information is correct (or at least in line with current academic thought on the subject) is to backup every statement of fact on the Wiki with a peer-reviewed authoritative source, such as a study published in a reputable journal or something like that. While this may sound like an ideal, I don't think it's really a reachable goal if you want to maintain the vast amount of knowledge that Wikipedia currently maintains.

      The issue here is whether Wikipedia wishes to remain true to its original goal of being a community-edited encyclopedia or not. If so, it has to deal with the problems that come from that, and which are exacerbated by enormous popularity. The more popular you are, the more "undesirables" you attract: vandals and people who are trying to use your platform to spread an agenda. The only way to effectively combat this is with dedicated editors willing to spend an enormous amount of time policing the site for vandals, and doing research on disputed statements of fact. Trusting credentials, even verified ones, rather than research is a shortcut, and one that just isn't going to work as well as people seem to think it will.
      • The issue here is whether Wikipedia wishes to remain true to its original goal of being a community-edited encyclopedia or not. If so, it has to deal with the problems that come from that, and which are exacerbated by enormous popularity.

        Exactly right. This is really the crux of the entire topic. All of the conversation about adding credentials and other layers are moot if Wikipedia wants to retain its own definition.

        The discussion only has value to other sites which are forks or competitors of wikipedia.
      • Re:ok I'll bite (Score:4, Informative)

        by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @01:09PM (#18517315)
        Three quick comments:

        1) You're correct that no one is infallible, but we have two or more experts on every approved article. That certainly helps reduce the odds of mistakes. That keeps one expert from running roughshod over a whole field too.

        2) Having credentials does not excuse people from citing sources. Fortunately, most people with credentials understand "reliable sources" better than most others. In the last three months, I haven't run into the issue of an expert saying "I've got a PhD, I don't need a source"

        3) We have articles which are approved, and others which are not. This allows for articles on Happy Days or articles that aren't up to snuff yet to exist, while preventing negative drift of good articles [wikipedia.org] by locking those articles from unreviewed changes.

        Zach Pruckowski - Citizendium Executive Committee
      • by Coryoth (254751)

        Also, what about a professor with a PhD in one field posting inaccurate information in another, closely related, field. The professor may honestly believe his information is correct, but that doesn't make it so. In this case, the incorrect information will stay on the Wiki until someone with more relevant credentials can successfully argue against it.

        This can and does happen. A good example of this is the case of Carl Hewitt [wikipedia.org], a Computer Science professor at MIT and (co-)creator of the Actor Model [wikipedia.org] as a formalism for concurrency. The problem was that Hewitt was very fond of his own and his students ideas, and this spilled over into his editing, with extreme boosterism for the Actor model approach spilling over into pages about other formalisms (such as CSP [wikipedia.org], CCS [wikipedia.org], and others) with (dubious) criticisms of the other formalisms added to those pages. Worse,

      • Re:ok I'll bite (Score:4, Informative)

        by nuzak (959558) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @02:08PM (#18518171) Journal
        It's true that credentials don't automatically equal veracity, even when subjected to peer review. What's hard to dispute however is that they're still far more trustworthy than the current situation in Wikipedia. Did you know phlegm causes vomiting in rodents? That's a fact that was in WP before I deleted it for lack of a cite, let alone the dubiosity (no, I'm not particularly fascinated with phlegm: I was looking up the notion of "humours", e.g. phlegmatic, and surfed there). That's wikiality for you.
    • Re:ok I'll bite (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:31PM (#18516799) Homepage

      Yeah, I don't really like the idea of credentials and such. The truth is that the whole topic is much stickier than lots of people want to believe. For example, being a PhD on a subject does not mean that you're unbiased regarding that subject. It doesn't mean that you're incapable of being wrong about that subject. It doesn't mean that there aren't non-PhDs who know more than you do.

      "Facts" are often more complicated than they seem. One way or another, we can usually trace most of our knowledge back to some authority figure telling us, and we accept a lot based on authority. However, "authority" can easily be wrong, and often is. I actually rather like the idea of Wikipedia contributions being relatively anonymous. "Appeal to authority" is listed among "logical fallacies" for a reason. If your point is good, if you're correct and you have the background to argue your point well, then a know-nothing shouldn't be able to stand against you in a debate. If you can't debate your point, and you need to fall back on, "I'm a professor at [such-and-such] College!" then you probably don't really know what you're talking about anyway.

      Identifying users has a good purpose-- to track who is making good contributions and who is making bad contributions. Citations are useful for determining where information is coming from. But does it really matter who is actually making the contribution? Do we really want the Wikipedia to be based on authority, rather than on demonstrably good information?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I agree. When I worked at Sprint, my Director was a EE/ME major with a PH.D. Although he was very astute of certain concepts and academia, he was not able to see applications and long-term implications when using that techology/concept. You could have asked the PH.D in electrical theory about how 3G data network operated and some of the reply would be wrong or misleading (because it would include correct observations based upon incorrect assumptions).

        Some of the brightest people don't have a lick of sch

      • "Appeal to authority" is listed among "logical fallacies" for a reason. If your point is good, if you're correct and you have the background to argue your point well, then a know-nothing shouldn't be able to stand against you in a debate. If you can't debate your point, and you need to fall back on, "I'm a professor at [such-and-such] College!" then you probably don't really know what you're talking about anyway.

        Correct. Being an expert does not preclude you from having to prove yourself. And no one exp
    • by Improv (2467)
      TV shows are easy - it's incredibly rare that they're encyclopedic, so there's negligible coverage needed. As for deaths, most people who are encyclopedic are already dead, and for those who arn't, the contribution can be based on an obit (which we'd presume reliable). Wikis are nice, but without a strong, maintained sense of purpose, they fall apart.
    • by lawpoop (604919)
      At times in the past, I've proposed a reputation system for credentials. There's a lot of possible ways to do it, but it's basically a quantification of public opinion.

      As I imagine it, people would mod your articles and that would affect your reputation. Additionally, people could mod you directly. One user, one vote per article or other user.

      Then, as you are browsing articles, you can set up your own filters, setting thresholds of ratings for articles, perhaps giving bonuses for personal mods. There w
    • here is a question, what creditationals do you need to report someones death?

      Well when I was an officer of a national organization, I had to forward any reports of deaths within our membership to the editor of our national newspaper. It always required an obituary posting in the local paper, and/or confirmation by a close relative of that member.

      However, I agree with your opinion on the trivial subjects.

      The power or Wiki is that anyone can edit, so anyone can fix the mistake.

      The problem of a Wiki that

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonbritton (950482)
      The power or Wiki is that anyone can edit, so anyone can fix the mistake.

      More to the point, anyone can edit/revise/delete, and you're supposed to read the system with that in mind. Should we really be building public resources that are aiming at flawless, objective truth? Or should we be encouraging everyone to develop better bullshit detectors, read more skeptically and demand reasonable evidence?

      I read plenty of Wikipedia articles that are just nonsense. Not that I can refute their claims, but I
  • I'd say 99.9% of University's have the number for their switchboard on their website. Call and ask for Professor [Insert Name Here].

    You will get two outcomes:
    1. There is no such professor
    2. Sure, please hold while I transfer you.

    Problem solved.
    • by MS-06FZ (832329) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:09PM (#18516547) Homepage Journal
      "Hello, could I speak to Professor prof_guy_303 please?"
      "Sure, please hold while I transfer you."
      • Well, since people are using real names, they're not gonna get verified unless someone gets through to a professor of that name at the university who says "Yeah, I signed up last week". If the professor says "WTF? Who are you?" then that's a hint that there's a prankster afoot...
  • by Grashnak (1003791) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:08PM (#18516531)
    I don't think demanding credentials from people is going to make any difference. Some people will be more than happy to have their real names associated with pranking an online encyclopedia. I think the only realistic way to ensure that only "acceptable" material makes it into "print" is to have edits submitted to an editor to be proofed before they go live. Oh, and distrust anything you see on the internet regardless of who wrote it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hax0r_this (1073148)
      I make a policy of distrusting anything I see anywhere. Especially if its on paper, because then I know that its "editor approved".
    • The problem with the solution suggested by the author is that a certified "expert" can put his approval on an article. When he does this the article is perfect, but what if errors creep in later, edited in. All of the sudden we don't have a page that we need to take with a grain of salt but a certified "truth" that is in fact misinformation that the "expert" wouldn't agree with.

      The current system is good because you have the understanding that anything you really want to know should have its references chec

    • Approved articles (even those written by experts) will be subject to peer review before being approved. That doesn't mean that people can't prank the system on unapproved articles, but if an article has the approved sticker on it, we have at least one expert (and usually 2-3) who have gone over it and gone on record as saying "This is a good article".

      Zach Pruckowski - Citizendium Executive Committee
    • I contend that 'credentialed' experts are not the driving force behind the articles in Wikipedia. It is the layperson, the mildly-knowledgeable, and the fanatics that actually write and maintain the vast majority of content. Experts *might* come in and tweak some information or possibly start the occasional article in their area, but their presence is minimal and not sufficient for verification.

      People that talk about accountability and experts and reputation and such want to know the information is 'corre
    • And credentials do nothing to limit the influence of subjective opinions.
  • I like my privacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:09PM (#18516535) Homepage Journal
    1) Not all experts have an EDU address
    2) Many experts with institutional addresses can't or won't get their employer involved in authenticating them
    3) "Underground experts" such as black-hat security experts value their anonymity greatly.
    4) The same goes for political dissidents who have expertise to share under a pseudonym.

    On a site like Wikipedia, some people will choose to post their biographies on their user pages and provide ways to contact them through "verifiable" email addresses such as an .edu address. Others will rely on the reputation they develop within Wikipedia or among several web sites where they use the same psuedonym.
    • by alexgieg (948359)
      Citizendium has a policy in place for cases where a person cannot have his name known. These cases are allowed to use pseudonyms, but they must be hand approved by Citizendium's board.
    • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:36PM (#18516879)

      3) "Underground experts" such as black-hat security experts value their anonymity greatly.

      Is it possible to provide an anonymous identity that's certified to belong to only one person, so that people could build reputation under a pseudonym? It could be used by the black hats, and more importantly, by whistleblowers and political dissidents.

      If anyone wants to do that, I hereby put this super-cool idea into the public domain.

      • easy enough today (Score:2, Interesting)

        by davidwr (791652)
        Say I want to be "davidwr" on Wikipedia. Oh wait, I am.

        I can put a note [wikipedia.org] in Wikipedia saying I am "davidwr" on Slashdot and a note on Slashdot saying I am davidwr on Wikipedia.

        Since the names are password-protected, you have all the proof you need that the same person that made these edits [wikipedia.org] also made these posts [slashdot.org].

        For email and non-password-protected web-postings, PGP and the like work quite nicely.
  • I think the success of the project should be defined by how it achieves its goals (whatever you define those goals to be) and not in whether it kept with its original "spirit".

    Wikipedia defines itself as the encyclopedia anyone can edit. Therefore it can't change without redefining itself. That won't happen without angering everyone.

    The future is niche wikis [docforge.com]. With smaller communities it's easier to keep it open and still watch for vandalism.
  • Do you get enough of your suitably approved .edu type folks to ensure that no dissenting opinions make it on the "official" page?
  • Why do people focus on that it happened for as long as it did without getting caught instead of the fact that they did ultimately put a stop to one particular person's efforts?

    If anything, it's verification that the system works... maybe not instantly, but over time, it works.

  • One of the things that bothered me about the NBC report is that the college told reporters about the errors, but the report said nothing about the college trying to fix the errors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:16PM (#18516631)
    As a world renowned proctologist, I welcome this type of identity verification.

    Sincerely,
    Dr. Seymour Butts
  • Abe Vigoda
  • by cyclop (780354) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:17PM (#18516641) Homepage Journal

    Really nice, and I mostly agree. Basically, you are asking for peer review for Wikipedia, that's something I really want.

    I see three main problems:
    - A .edu address is not a good technical solution. I am a Ph.D. student in Italy, and we don't have .edu addresses (my university address is @unibo.it). OTOH, I don't know if ALL .edu addresses come from respectable institutions (I remember I heard that some diploma mills had .edu addresses)
    - There are subjects that are basically hard to be covered by academic institutions. Internet fads, TV series, web comics, urbant legends... What kind of academic peer review can be done on these articles? (Yes, they are important articles IMHO. They make of Wikipedia a resource that a traditional encyclopaedia cannot be).
    - On the other hand, sometimes someone doesn't need to be a Ph.D. to be autoritative on a subject. A 16-y.o. hacker can be more autoritative on some software details than an informatics professor.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      As far as I know, .edu addresses are for United Statesian schools only. I live in Canada, and every school I know uses .ca addresses. So using a system like this, only Americans could participate. Also, again, I'm unsure of what credentials are required to get a .edu domain, and whether or not you have to be an actual school, or how easy it is to fake. Also, I believe students as well as professors have email addresses as @schoolname.edu, so I don't believe that just having a .edu address is enough to s
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jonbritton (950482)
        I'm unsure of what credentials are required to get a .edu domain

        I believe it's as simple as, "you must be a regionally accredited four-year university," where "regional accredition" comes from one of the organized bodies in the US for evaluating academic criteria and standards.

        So, yes, the .edu solution is perfect. Stephen Hawking can't comment on Physics or Cosmology, because what does he know? He's British. Want Jean-Paul Sartre to rise from the dead and comment on existentialism (how's that for
    • by alexgieg (948359)
      Citizendium will have both kinds of articles: approved and unapproved. While approved ones will have the same reliability that a standard encyclopedia has, thus being apt for citation on school work and the like, unapproved ones will be in the same league of Wikipedia articles in general. The whole thing with Citizendium is that it''ll be easy to distinguish between both kinds of articles.

      Thus, articles in the topics you mentioned probably won't have an editor, and none of them will appear as approved. In s
      • by cyclop (780354)
        Shouldn't in this case Citizendium "just" be a collection of "peer-reviewed" Wikipedia articles? A "stable" (in the software sense) Wikipedia? Why completely forking an encyclopaedia doing Citizendium articles on subjects where the Citizendium process offers no advantage on the Wikipedia one?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'll address your first and third issues, then your second.

      On your first point, having a .edu address is not the be-all-end-all of being an expert. Experts can verify themselves by other methods, and other proofs can be required beyond having a .edu address. There's nothing that says you have to be a Ph.D. in a subject. And even if you're not an editor, you can still bring a lot to the table and help with the article. The editors might offer guidance and are ultimately involved in approving the artic
      • by cyclop (780354)

        I have a number of friends on Citizendium, I like the concept behind your project, but I'm not thinking about joining, currently. I still believe in the "bazaar" approach of Wikipedia, although I'm well aware of its shortcomings.

        What I'd want is your project to act as a peer review of Wikipedia, and I'd want Wikipedia to honour that peer-review by 1)using the peer-reviewed version, if existing, as the current article version, with the fluid version being the "unstable", editable one 2)having admins reject

  • Ok. Wikipedia is made of a bunch of "untrusted" individuals who has their own agendas.

    Then who can be trusted? Mass media? They aren't made up of trusted individuals without any of their agendas either. Whenever there a subjective topic (say religion, god, Iraq war, free software) the individual's preferences come into play. And in fact, media organizations have their organizational agenda to add to individual agendas, which make them worse than Wikipedia.

  • by writertype (541679) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:19PM (#18516671)
    A bit of an irony here, since we're talking about authorities on a particular subject. My quick Google search [google.com] turns up Hazelton as a twenty-something computer programmer who runs the Peacefire [peacefire.org] web site about filtering software and how to circumvent it.

    That's all fine and good, but I'm not seeing how that qualifies him for an editorial on the Slashdot site. Or is he just a friend of an editor?

    Not trying to troll here, honestly. I'm just curious why he was given the soap box to stand upon.

  • I can see where you'd rather go to Citizendium for mission-critical information, but the same relative anonymity that enables vandalism at Wikipedia also enables objective independence, especially from the politics of academia. Besides, which Harvard professor is going to sign off on the All Your Base Are Belong To Us [wikipedia.org] article?

  • by Balthisar (649688) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:23PM (#18516699) Homepage
    I'm an automotive engineer without an .edu address. I'm probably more qualified to edit content related to my particular field of study than some academic schlub that's never built a thing in his or her life.
    • by geek (5680)
      If you think "academic schlubs," especially ones teaching auto mechanics don' know their field, you are sadly mistaken. I've always found it funny how blue collar folks like to deride educators precisely because they are educated. Grow up, maybe you'll learn something from them.
      • For all you know, he could be the "automotive engineer" that designs engines for BMW.

        Also, remember that there can be no certification in a field until that field has been explored by the non-certified.

      • f you think "academic schlubs," especially ones teaching auto mechanics don' know their field, you are sadly mistaken. I've always found it funny how blue collar folks like to deride educators precisely because they are educated. Grow up, maybe you'll learn something from them.

        OP was maybe a bit caustic in his vocab (schlub)[1] but he makes a very good point. Those who are working in a field may have a lot of valuable information that those who are employed in research (and also happen to have a .edu addre

        • by geek (5680)
          So you accuse me of being testy and tell me to grow up then reverse my own statement to do the exact same thing? Doesn't that in turn make you testy, emotional and in need of "growing up"?

          Simply put the OP was trying to discredit academics who dedicate their lives to the sole purpose of knowledge and education. I find that indefensible and ignorant, almost as ignorant as your defense of him.
    • So go ahead and sign up, and list your experiences, and how we can verify them. We'd be happy to have an automotive engineer. In fact, someone who doesn't have a degree in the field just started working on a few automobile articles a few days ago. Why don't you join and give him a hand?

      Zach Pruckowski - Citizendium Executive Committee
  • Stephen Hawking will be pleased when he goes to write an article about the Hawking Hole that he's discovered...
  • by ausoleil (322752) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:26PM (#18516739) Homepage
    Bias. Slander/Libel. Misrepresentation of academic credentials...and other malfeasances. These are unique to wikipedia? Hardly. These very things happen in the mainstream mass media from outlets we all know -- for example, the New York Times. Have they forgotten about Jayson Blair?

    Blair is only one example of many. Fox News has had David Milloy, discredited author of junkscience.com on their payroll for years. Reuters has been shown to doctor photographs of Beiruit. And so forth and so on. Yet these organizations will tell you that they maintain the highest standards, and that they can be trusted. Thing is, their history shows that they make mistakes too. That they have been burned by liars and miscreants in their employ.

    So what's the real issue here?

    It has to come down to money, somehow, somewhere. Wikipedia is a free open-source reference center that sees widespread usage. This surely has to displease those that operate similar services in the for-pay space.

    Yes, wikipedia needs to evolve and put in controls to limit vandalism, bias and academic fraud. But that does not imply for one second that other sources are any better and that they are free and clear of these problems themselves.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:44PM (#18516991)

      Bias. Slander/Libel. Misrepresentation of academic credentials...and other malfeasances. These are unique to wikipedia? Hardly. These very things happen in the mainstream mass media from outlets we all know -- for example, the New York Times. Have they forgotten about Jayson Blair?

      The fact that something occurs in some other forum does not really have any relevance to Wikipedia's problems, especially as an excuse.

      The main problem here is not that Wikipedia has these problems, but that it gets so much undue focus: is it a problem or a strength?

      My issue with Wikipedia is that as much as people bleat on and on about how it's not supposed to be an authoritative source, they also tend to wink when it's used as one, and fanatically defend its value as if it where one.

    • by thethibs (882667)

      It's Steven Milloy, and he's not so much discredited as seriously annoying to liberals who object to having their gods blasphemed and their oxen gored.

      Good point, however. Wikipedia's just another source—OK if all you want to do is scratch an itch, but for something important it's nothing more than a starting point for real research.

      Dubito ergo sum

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DogDude (805747)
      But that does not imply for one second that other sources are any better and that they are free and clear of these problems themselves.

      To compare Wikipedia to the a group like the NY Times is absurd. Yes, every academic group and media outlet makes mistakes. The thing is, when the NY Times makes a mistake, it's world news. It's so insanely rare for a publication as well respected as the NY Times, that it's news when it happens. When Wikipedia has a mistake, it's so common, that there's no way to poss
  • There's also readability. And trust me, I know all too well that experts in the field don't always write the most understandable, remotely well written (or even grammatically correct) articles. Locking down to approved versions as the default display will discourage mildly knowledgeable people from cleaning up articles for the purpose of understandability. If you can't see your edits taking effect live, I'd bet that many people will loose the impetus to make little fixes. After all, who am I to mess wit
  • Wikipedia has a set of guidelines indicating what is suitable for inclusion - the central WP:ATT considered the core policy to ensure attribution, with WP:V (Verifiability), WP:OR (Original Research) and WP:RS (Reliable Sources) being supporting policies.

    As these issues becomes known, Wikipedia can simply identify a new method to apply it's existing policy - whether by creating something more specific (e.g. WP:BLP), or by recognizing a new method to apply existing policy. Consider it to be a variant of evo
  • I thought that I'd posted something on this before, but I posted it at Wikipedia and they don't seem to have a search engine for discussions. Anyway, I can't find anything by Googling, so I'll (re-)state my idea here.

    I propose a Slashdot-like system for giving users karma points for good deeds, such as article submissions and editing. Some sort of moderation system would separate the good edits from the bad, and users would receive "Karma Levels" that are basically "log(points)", again like /. but withou

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:31PM (#18516811)
    Credentials shouldn't matter on Wikipedia. People aren't supposed to post original research there, so we shouldn't have to take anybody's word for it that they're more correct than someone else because of their credentials. Cite your sources so that other people can evaluate them, and do a good job of interpreting those sources for the layman when you edit an article, and you're doing your job.

    Besides, how many Wikipedians are experts in a field, but never purport publicly to have a particular credential? Are those editors somehow less worthy of editing a technical article because they don't say they're a well-published physicist, even though they actually are? As long as Wikipedia doesn't require everyone to specify their expertise, credentials will be worthless.

    • The point is that simply if an article has a expert with credentials willing to go on record saying "This exact version is a good version, and I'd gladly point people here as a good resource", then it gains a lot in terms of credibility as a source. It'll probably be better as an article with the expert participation, but even if it's identical to the WP article, it still gets credibility because it's a guy with expertise in the matter staking his name on it.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:38PM (#18516903) Homepage Journal
    Sorry but to simply make an article out to be good based on a person's current job or education doesn't cut it for anything but hard sciences. When it comes to soft sciences, politics, religion, or hell even fashion, who is going to be the deciding factor?

    Whats to prevent some anti-(insert favorite group) person getting in with credentials? They can then prevent edits to articles they get stewardship over. What if the group you use to determine an article's accuracy all has the same view? Its not hard when you get into politics. Just assuming they will be fair is meaningless when they can determine what is fair.

    Sorry, I doubt it will be better than Wiki. Wiki is at least being held to new levels of scrutiny because they screwed up. This new one is just trying to gain traction by pointing towards the successful one and going "look at me, look at me" and spouting good sounding, at the surface, ideas in hopes people will pay attention.

    I'll stick with Wikipedia for now. I know where their bias is and avoid those articles.
  • they want people be forced to stick to encyclopedia britannica and the like, which are sources of 'information' that are from companies which are controllable by big capital. wikipedia is not.

    hence, first stuff about 'wikipedia going bankrupt' in order to turn it to a capital corporation, then exagerrated news about vandalism in order to prevent uncontrolled knowledge entry.

    not so much out of sync with the anti net neutrality crowd.
  • Stable versions [wikipedia.org] would do more than verified credentials.
    • If you read a bit about Citizendium, we do both. We have stable version of articles that are approved and marked stable by verified experts. One of the major complaints from experts who left Wikipedia and came to Citizendium was that once they had an accurate, well-cited article, it could still be changed for the worse as time went on, and they lost patience with guarding it from vandalism or PoV or uncited claims. There's a reason Wikipedia has a set of former featured articles [wikipedia.org]. There are 350 articles
  • by geek (5680) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:42PM (#18516957) Homepage
    Every professor I've had has warned us vehemently not to use Wikipedia. It's useless for scholarly work as you have no idea if the material is plagerized or just down right incorrect. I've come across multiple errors myself, especially concerning some of the more subjective material. To use Wikipedia for scholarly work you would have to double check virtually every word, defeating the purpose in the first place.

    I view Wikipedia as a fun tool and nothing more. You may or may not be getting the right info but regardless, it's still better than word of mouth. So long as people understand its place I don't have a problem with it, but when people start linking Wikipedia articles like a Christian would link the bible I have to call them out on it. It is NOT a scholarly source, even if a scholar submitted something to it. I in fact met someone in a class who thought it was funny to screw with Wikipedia articles, simply knowing human nature as I do, I wouldn't trust it as far as I could throw it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jandrese (485)
      Well, once you finish your paper you should go back and correct the errors you found in Wikipedia (don't forget to cite your sources). I find that in general the more citations an article has, the more reliable it generally is, at least for scholarly subjects.
    • by Obyron (615547)
      Good Wikipedia articles list their sources. You can refer to those sources, cite them properly, and make your own conclusions (since part of using any source is determining bias and pointing it out as such). Wikipedia itself may not be a scholarly source, but it can be a good place to find some starting sources for off-beat topics, which makes it a good weapon in the scholarly arsenal.
      • Why go through the trouble when you can use an established and "credible" encyclopedia from your Universities library? Or hell, from their website. Why use Wikipedia at all in these cases? You don't need to take those extra steps if you just use a credible source in the first place.

        I'm not meaning to degrade Wikipedia, I surf it often just for fun and ideas, but I would never consider using it as a scholarly source for the simple fact it ends up being MORE work in the end than just using Brittanica from the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537)

      You're absolutely correct to say that no one should take the Wikipedia as an authoritative scholarly source. I've always said this. The unfortunate fact of the Wikipedia's setup is that there is no way to be sure that any given fact in any given article at any given time isn't flat-out wrong. The setup of the Wikipedia isn't to prevent errors from ever existing in the Wikipedia, but rather to hope that the errors eventually get corrected.

      However, I think you're wrong to say that it's only "fun". The fa

    • by Wildclaw (15718) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @02:24PM (#18518381)
      Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and as any other encyclopedia it has one and only one purpose when doing scholary work. That purpose is to act as a reference dictionary. Encyclopedias are never sources. When it comes to the information they contain, it is mainly useful in environments where look-up speed is a great factor than complete accuracy.

      I view Encyclopedia Britannica as a fun tool and nothing more. You may or may not be getting the right info but regardless, it's still better than word of mouth. So long as people understand its place I don't have a problem with it, but when people start linking Encyclopedia Britannica articles like Christian would link the bible I have to call them out on it. It is NOT a scholary source, even if a scholar submitted something to it.

      (actually, in reality, I view encyclopedias as both fun and useful tools)
    • by Shotgun (30919) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @02:26PM (#18518431)
      It's useless for scholarly work as you have no idea if the material is plagerized

      Scholarly work? Why are you using any sort of encyclopedia for "scholarly work". Maybe we're running up against a language barrier, but "scholarly work" would only be done with original text, and maybe authoritative analysis of original text. The best any encyclopedia could ever do would be to point you to where to look for original text. Wikipedia is not unique in this respect.

      And what has the possibility of plagiarism got to do with anything? If the text is posted there without the original authors permission, how does the text become any more true or false?

  • Why not just have the "verified sources" part of the article, and then the "sandbox" part? Why have a "user talk" page if the front page of the article's being used for that?
  • I thought the whole point of wikis was that "authorative sources" were considered suspect. That everyday people might have a better handle on subjects than academic professionals.

    The difference between being an author included in a published encyclopedia and being a verified academic professional in an online encyclopedia is ... well, nothing. Except there might be easier access to online publications. But this isn't the problem that Wikipedia was intended to solve.

    The whole idea is credibility is not ba
  • .edu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:53PM (#18517115) Homepage
    > In its simplest form, couldn't a person's academic credentials be verified by sending a confirmation link to their .edu e-mail

    Sure, if you can name a single educational institution with an edu address outside the US. Like the government sites here in Germany, our universities use country-codes. Banning Quatar's single IP address is one thing; alienating academics outside America is quite another.
    • A .edu address is neither a necessary nor sufficient criteria for being an editor (expert) on Citizendium.

      Zach Pruckowski - Citizendium Executive Committee
  • by Mycroft_514 (701676) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @12:54PM (#18517121) Journal
    .edu addresses can easily be faked as evidenced by one George Burgess, who works at the University of Florida in Gainsville. He is cited by publications all over as a shark expert and as "Dr. Burgess". In reality, he only has a BS degree in an unrelated field and happens to maintain a portion of the University's museum assests. He rolls the .edu address into "his" respectability by hosting his shark website on the university ISP.

    Another example was a professor at the United States Naval Academy (Full professor) who was quickly terminated when it came to light that he faked his resume and did not have a PHD.

    Sorry, your idea just doesn't cut the mustard.
  • I think requiring credentials for wikipedia is anti-wikipedia, for many of the reasons /.ers have pointed out. Frankly, I don't even want someone with a Ph.D. in comparative media studies, dissertation on Happy Days and The American Dream talking about shark-jumping (in fact, when that happens, wikipedia itself will have jumped the shark in a frenzy of circular referencing).

    What is relevant is some feature that only lets users present credentials if those are independently verified. If you can't/won't get
  • Why should "academic credentials" be both necessary and sufficient? It should be neither.

    It's lack of sufficiency is obvious. There are plenty of crackpots on faculties. When I was a CPR instructor, one of my fellow instructors was a firefighter. He told a story about giving CPR to somebody and a guy walks up and says, "Let me do that, I'm a doctor." So he steps aside and they guy starts doing all this weird shit on the victim. "What kind of doctor are you?" my friend asks. "I'm a Doctor of Philosop
  • Subtle bias. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @01:15PM (#18517407)
    My understanding of Wikipedia is that because submissions and edits are open to everyone that ultimately the users themselves are responsible for ensuring accuracy. Once a sufficiently large and varied group of people are visiting the site there will inevitably be enough informed people available to spot problems in articles. It's sort of like a libertarian version of an encyclopedia. Nothing is perfect, and perhaps that fraud should have been spotted sooner, but the fact remains that the problem was eventually identified.

    What I find more concerning than obvious errors, defacing and blatant bias is a more subtle bias creeping into such encyclopedias. Once the submitters and editors are reduced to a select few it creates a potential for that sort of situation. It's already a problem elsewhere. We've already got people who dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as extremists regardless of facts. That's an important, because you'll have people who are convinced they're being unbiased but in reality are merely pushing one idea or another. It's already a problem with many blogs; people who are presenting opinion and rumor as fact. Someone runs a story they've found on another blog, which they're presenting as concrete fact. Follow that link and it turns out they've linked the story from a third blog. Dig far enough and it turns out the story is all rumor, speculation and hearsay. All they care about it that it's consistent with their own opinions. The mainstream media is already bad enough, but at least they pretend to engage in fact-checking.

    So that's my concern with a more closed encyclopedia. It may start with devotion to fact and impartiality, but it can easily degrade into anything but. And as many others have mentioned here, just because someone has impressive credentials doesn't necessarily make them better informed about a subject than a regular person.
  • Sinbad is the problem. By staying alive after Wikipedia pronounced him dead he was clearly defacing Wikipedia. To solve this problem I'm starting DeathNote.org [wikipedia.org] which will have the following verification standards:
    * The human whose name is written in this wiki shall die.
    * If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds of writing the subject's name, it will happen.
    * If the cause of death is not specified, the subject wi
  • First off, I love Wikipedia. There's no quicker, more efficient resource to obtain background information from. And not just "encyclopediaish" information (ex: What is the population of Bermuda? or In what year did Napoleon invade Russia?) If you want to know exactly what "Numa Numa" is and the name of that fat dude on the webcam, Wikipedia has it.

    That being said, it's just not an academic resource. It's not. For the same reasons why I love Wikipedia (modern, up-to-date, and information available fo
  • Three things:

    1st) This is the third (or fourth, I lost the count) article that, albeit well written, touts Citizendium horn even if the final product is still in the vapor state (vaporware), taking advantage of Wikipedia's (well known and well publicized) weaknesses to push their marketing.

    2nd) I'm hearing a lot about Citizendium advantages over Wikipedia lately. How come? Why? Can't one create a product without pigbacking in the success of another? This "just like, but better" strategy is despised wh
  • by twifosp (532320) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @01:57PM (#18518009)
    This is getting blown way out of proportion. Every few months it seems we hear of a new journalist scandal. Photoshopping pictures. Making up movie reviews. Journalistic integrity is at an all time low. So of course the mainstream media is going to attack amateur sources of information in an attempt to improve their own image.

    If a professional media source doesn't present an advantage over free amateur sources of information, there is no reason for anyone to pay attention to the professionals. These advantages can include quality, accuracy, and time to deliver the information. The professionals will usually have the advantage in time delivery, but the other two are slowly slipping away from them. Instead of improve their quality, they rely on sensationalism stories to shock or guilt viewers into watching. They instill fear and uncertainty into their viewers to create a sense of dependence. Instead of improve accuracy, they report with a strategy of false confidence. If you sound right, you are right. By the time anyone cares to correct the issue, the story is long forgotten and no harm was ever done to your credibility. If the story is still in the memory of the public, other stories will be moved to the front page, to the top story, in order to distract from the previous problems.

    Professional media feels threatened that the public can get their information from other sources. So they attack the problems with amateur sources. Sure wikipedia can be innacurate. It can be downright false. It can have quality issues. It can be slow to deliver information. But those are all problems that the regular media has as well. So they attack it anyway and discredit it, using the very same tactic that wikipedia editors attempt to use. False confidence. The public believes what is presented as confident.

    The professional media has just as many problems as the amateur media. Fact checking is at an all time low. Errors are at an all time high. Corrections are a thing of the past. But why bother improving when you can launch a smear campaign and discredit alternative sources with one fell swoop? Fox news is particularly guilty of this. Watch fox news shows like Bill O'Reilly. They'll take other cable news clips and edit them to make them appear inaccurate or unbalanced. They'll take clips of the Daily Show, or the Colbert Report and edit them to discredit any news value the segment might have. Those two programs use satire and wit to make points and present news or make a political commentary. But when you watch an edited clip of one of those programs on Fox News, all you see is the silly actions of the hosts and they are made into goons rather than smart political commentary. If you don't watch either program, you can find some user submitted comparisons of these video clips on youtube with some searching. (I would post links, however I am at work and youtube is blocked).

    All in all, most of the media out there is just plain horrible. Information is hard to come by. You can't trust any single news source or source of factual information these days. You have to look at several sources to get a full picture. Fair and balanced news just doesn't come from one source just because they say so. None of the media outlets are fair and balanced, and if you care to follow a money trail to who owns the parent companies, and what time of campaign contributions they make, you'll see that none of the major news sources can be trusted for anything.

    The information wars are here, and I don't think there are really any winners.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes. -- Dr. Warren Jackson, Director, UTCS

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