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Wikipedia Criticised by Its Co-founder 727

wikinerd writes "Wikipedia is under criticism by its co-founder Larry Sanger who has left the project. He warns of a possible future fork due to Wikipedia's Anti-Elitism and he presents his view on Wikipedia's (lack of) reliability. New wikis on various subjects have already emerged, with some of them being complete forks of Wikipedia. Critical articles on Wikipedia are also being published by other sources."
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Wikipedia Criticised by Its Co-founder

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  • by IO ERROR ( 128968 ) * <error@@@ioerror...us> on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:44AM (#11244131) Homepage Journal
    I occasionally use Wikipedia for something or other, generally when I click a link to an entry which someone has posted on their Web site. I've found that it's reliable for the most part, but when you run into something that's wrong [wikipedia.org], it's really [wikipedia.org] wrong. And the threat of revert wars [wikipedia.org] can keep many people (including me) from contributing at all.
    • I occasionally use Wikipedia for something or other, generally when I click a link to an entry which someone has posted on their Web site. I've found that it's reliable for the most part, but when you run into something that's wrong, it's really wrong. And the threat of revert wars can keep many people (including me) from contributing at all.

      That's about where I am on it. I used to actively contribute, write (small, out of the way) articles, but I got tired of my work being molested for someone's agenda, and threatened for not pandering to the trolls.
      • I often find that most of the major articles have one or two hardcore guys with an agenda who "monitor" all the contributions everyone else puts in. For instance, the page on rape had a section called "Rape and Sexual Torture" and talked about societies where rape is tolerated and accepted as a government function. Then the link at the end was "Abu Ghraib prison scandal."

        While Abu Ghraib is definitely an abuse situation, there were no cases of rape involved, and it's not standard U.S. policy to rape peop
        • by Anonymous Coward
          While Abu Ghraib is definitely an abuse situation, there were no cases of rape involved, and it's not standard U.S. policy to rape people. U.S. society doesn't view it as a viable, standard policy.

          I'm going to have to disagree with you here. It is commonly known that if you go to prison [msn.com], you're probably [aclu.org] going to be raped [spr.org]. Prison officials have done little to nothing to curb the problem, so the threat remains. Therefore, it has become defacto U.S. policy to rape people.
        • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @01:12PM (#11245600)
          Just curious, if someone forced you to pose naked in a position where it appeared you were about to engage in homosexual acts, and took pictures and threatened to show the pictures to your friends and family would you take offense. Might you call that "sexual torture"?

          You see you got hung up on the "rape" part exclusively and the article's title was "Rape and SEXUAL TORTURE". Whether rape occurred at Abu Ghraib is open to debate, you dismiss it out of hand though you don't know. What would it take to prove to you rape happened at Abu Ghraib? Well video tapes but video tapes aren't proof either, they tend to just look like porn and its not likely someone would be stupid enough to actually rape someone in front of a camera anyway. Is anecdotal evidence good enough, well that is mostly what you have that Saddam used rape as tool, and that is mostly what you have that it occurred at Abu Ghraib. As in most cases of political propaganda you have anecdotal evidence that you choose to believe(against Saddam) and anecdotal evidence you choose to disregard(against Abu Ghraib) because you predetermined which you wanted to believe.

          The rape issue aside, there is a mountain of photo and video evidence of sexual abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib, but you seem to be trying to brush it under the rug because it doesn't conform to what you want to believe.

          If you weren't pushing a political agenda here you should have probably added the link to Saddam's use of torture, and not tried to purge the Abu Ghraib link. Abu Ghraib is an undeniable instance of sexual torture, occuring in a U.S. military prison, with indisputable graphic evidence on a scale which is rare. You choose to try to make Abu Ghraib go away because it doesn't conform to what you thought the U.S. stands for. Well the U.S. unfortunately has fallen pretty far from the lofty ideal you seem to think it adheres to. You trying to pretend otherwise isn't going to change it. If you feel bad about it you should hold the Bush administration and the Army responsible for failing to insure humane treatment of prisoners of war.

          As for state sponsorship of all this, well that is a tough one. Unfortunately the organization that conducted the investigation was the same organization that perpetrated the offense, the Army. It is an unspoken truth about most militaries that, if they can they will blame everthing on the little fish, the enlisted men, and protect their officer corp and chain of command. It appears they may have done just that at Abu Ghraib so far. Its pretty much undeniable military intelligence officers and the CIA were endorsing the "softening up" that was occuring at Abu Ghraib, though maybe the people doing it got carried away. There have been far to many leaks of of information showing that officers and the civilian leadership in the Bush administration has been sanctioning degrees of torture as a matter of policy. Unfortunately when you santion a little torture you run a pretty high risk of it becoming rampant and abusive as it did at Abu Ghraib. This is a place the U.S. just simply should have never gone. It should have strictly adhered to the Geneva conventions in treatment of all prisoners instead of finding legal justifications in the White House for why people in these wars aren't worthy of this most basic humane treatment. You strictly adhere to the Geneva conventions, if for no other reason, than to help insure your soldiers will get the same humane treatment if they are taken prisoner. It is no assurance of that treatment but at this point the U.S. has no ground to stand on in demanding humane treatment of its POW's because it has chosen to unilaterally withdraw from the Geneva conventions using legalistic hair splitting.
          • You see you got hung up on the "rape" part exclusively and the article's title was "Rape and SEXUAL TORTURE".

            The article's title is "Rape [wikipedia.org]." There is a section in this article on "Rape and Sexual Torture." Since this is a section of the article on rape, I think the parent is correct in getting "hung up on the rape part."
        • by Antaeus Feldspar ( 118374 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @01:52PM (#11245945) Homepage
          It seems that in both cases (including the one where I wasn't the other party whose participation you are misdescribing) your problems seem to stem from a misunderstanding of what Wikipedia's standards should be. That standard seems to run like this:

          If I, rd_syringe, do not personally believe that something is true, no reference to it should be made.

          This is clearly the case in the "Fisher Price" incident. This is a well-known criticism of Windows XP. The "hardcore guy" you are criticizing did the correct thing by citing the references and showing that yes, this is a criticism that's out there. You did the wrong thing by declaring 'Well, it doesn't belong in Wikipedia unless it's the majority view!' Is that what you think Wikipedia's purpose and policy is, to report only the "majority" view and pretend those other 'minority' views don't exist?

          On the issue of the "Rape" article, you fail to mention several things.

          One is that when you claimed that the wording only applied to "countries where torture is tolerated or accepted as part of the normal behaviour of police or security", the wording was changed to eliminate that artificial restriction on discussion of the subject. (It wouldn't make sense to create separate sections for "Rape and sexual torture in countries that tolerate it" and "Rape and sexual torture in countries that don't officially tolerate it", since they'd say pretty much the same thing.) Funny that you mention that "based strictly on the wording of the section, the link didn't apply," but fail to mention how that technicality disappeared.

          Another is that you're bringing in your misconception again that the majority view (your view) is the truth and there's no need to discuss any others. First you say "there were no cases of rape involved" at Abu Ghraib. Then you mention "except that one prisoner is claiming it without proof." If you had joined Wikipedia earlier, instead of just joining around the same time that you started repeatedly removing the link to "Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse", I wouldn't have been surprised to see you editing out any reference to coercive interrogation techniques being used there because, hey, it's only one person claiming it without proof! Then it's only two people claiming it without proof, only five people claiming it with a photo of Lynndie England smirking at hooded naked prisoners simulating fellatio as proof...

          Thirdly, you offer up as your proof that you were the thoughtful considerate party in the right, and that it was the other side, the "hardcore guy", who was "politically motivated", who "snuck in" his restoration of the link you removed ("snuck in"? are you suggesting I had a webcam on you and was carefully watching and waiting until you were looking the other way?) the fact that you offered The Rape of Nanjing as an alternate. Which you are claiming now is "more pertinent to that section than either of the links we had" and "just a given".

          You fail to mention that it was explained to you why that was not a suitable alternative: the Rape of Nanjing was a famous military atrocity where there is no question that rapes were committed, as well as murders, as well as wholesale destruction. However, the entire reason that the Rape article has a section on Rape and Sexual Torture is to discuss rape when it occurs not as an act of self-gratification committed at another's expense (as it usually does), but as a method of torture to advance policy. No historical evidence has ever suggested that the Japanese commanders said to the soldiers who did the raping, "Hey, we're gonna want to get information out of those civilians later, so why don't you torture them by raping a bunch?" There's no suggestion that it was anything other than "They're the enemy anyways; whatever you feel like doing to them, go ahead and do it." To quote someone whose name I can't recall, "based strictly on the wording of the section, the link didn't apply."

    • by tentimestwenty ( 693290 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:58AM (#11244249)
      Wikipedia has the right basic structure but they need a rotating team of pro Guest Editors to go through and fact-check and then "lock" articles, or portions of articles. I'm sure they could easily add a section entitled "Are you and Expert" and many experts would volunteer their time to look at specific sections.
      • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @01:30PM (#11245761)

        "Wikipedia has the right basic structure but they need..."

        Like the original article and most posts here everyone says Wikipedia has "the right basic structure" but we need to change it in a really fundamental way so it completely stops being what it is. Wikipedia is inherently "Antielitism" and it should stay that way. If you want it to be written and edited by vetted experts in their field, tell you what, READ AN ENCYCLOPEDIA, instead of trying to make Wikipedia something its not. Wikipedia is a people's encyclopedia written by people, with all the brilliance and flaws you find in people. It is a creation of the collective web consciousness of all the people that choose to contribute to it and fight over it.

        As soon as you put a bunch of "expert" editors in charge of it chances are the only people who are going to contribute to it, or at least get their contributions included, are the "expert" editors. Amazingly enough they probably all have agendas too and a bunch of them are going to troll if anyone challenges their "expert" opinions.

        Knowledge is unfortunately subjective, in most arenas there is no absolute truth. There are nuggets of pretty much absolute truth embedded in it like when an historical event occured, but all the interesting stuff around the edges is not so cut and dried. Wikipedia is a collection of views of what is true which tend to be be different which each set of beholder's eyes. It is interesting precisely because it is a collection of eclectic views by ordinary people. Wikipedia is one collective view of truth, so is Britannica, so is Encarta, so is most of the propaganda nation states put out as their history and news. If you are a good researcher, tell you what, read them all and form your own opinion on what is "right". One thing don't do, don't try to homogenize all information sources so they tell the same story, and all of the alternative views are silenced.

        If you want a wikipedia with "expert" editors please fork it and see if you can make it fly. Not sure you will because there is already Encarta and Britannica in that niche. JUST LEAVE WIKIPEDIA ALONE.
    • I've found that it's reliable for the most part, but when you run into something that's wrong, it's really wrong.

      If it is reliable for the 'most part', then it is not reliable at all. If I am looking for information on a topic, I can't rely on a source that is mostly correct. This is the reason that you always check your facts with other sources. Using an unreliable source as a primary source or to verify information is essentially a waste of time.

      I use Wikipedia only for casual information. I would n
      • I use Wikipedia only for casual information. I would never cite it.

        You shouldn't cite any encyclopaedia in your own work - use them as a jumping board towards new lines of research.

        This is why it's so important for encyclopaedia (and Wikipedia) articles to give references. Treat them as brief introductions and overviews of particular areas, and then do your own reading and work from the references. An encyclopaedia should never be the primary source of a particular piece of information. [wikipedia.org]

        Wikipedia leans
        • You shouldn't cite any encyclopaedia in your own work - use them as a jumping board towards new lines of research.

          That depends whether the article is a normative reference or a background or credit reference. There used to be a time when academics used to claim that there should NEVER EVER be references to URLs in academic papers. Then the engineering journals started to discover that many network standards are only available through the web and the URL is the definitive reference.

          The emphemeral nature

        • Sites and sources (Score:3, Interesting)

          by SeanDuggan ( 732224 )
          This is why it's so important for encyclopaedia (and Wikipedia) articles to give references. Treat them as brief introductions and overviews of particular areas, and then do your own reading and work from the references. An encyclopaedia should never be the primary source of a particular piece of information.

          This is one of the reasons why I love the Snopes Urban Legends site [snopes.com]. Not only do the stories tend to be well-researched, they list references at the bottom and the writers tend to admit when they're

      • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:27AM (#11244474) Homepage
        If it is reliable for the 'most part', then it is not reliable at all.

        No data sources are reliable. The Encyclopeadia Britanica which keeps being referred to as some sort of gold standard of accuracy was started as a triumphalist celebration of the British Empire.

        But even unreliable data can point to data that is more reliable. Police investigations do not begin with firm facts, they begin with a set of evidence which may or may not be contaminated in various ways. The same is actually the case in physics research, there are very few experiments that work really well and repeatedly when they are first done.

        In the last election we discovered that the mainstream media are terrebly sloppy and unreliable. The media gave far more attention to the smear boat liars for Bush and TANG memos provided by a highly dubious source than they did to actual policies.

        The problem with openness is that it only takes a small proportion of jerks to screw everything up. I don't think anyone would seriously consider running the Linux kernel on wiki lines.

        Fortunately there is a very simple way out of the current situation and one that will inevitably be put into practice. Just as slashdot has a reputation mechanism and can be surfed at +1 (mostly good stuff) or -1 (mostly trolls) the same sort of mechanism will eventually be put in place on wikipedia or a branch thereof.

        The creative commons license even makes it easy for people to do this, the troll version of wiki is simply the last input to the editor queue.

        A deeper problem though is the one that all these knowledge engineering projects suffer from at some point, not everything is physics, in most fields there is no absolute knowledge of the form that fits into a rigid taxonomic structure. There is no definitive opinion of the literary merits of Burroughs or Dickens.

        The revert wars are in part reflecting genuine differences of opinion. A bunch of loonies who think they have found absolute truth and attempt to construct a rigid ideology arround it are not going to tolerate dissenting views. And bunches of loonies with a rigid ideology are not going to tollerate any form of epistomological relativism.

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:04AM (#11244295) Homepage
      I occasionally use Wikipedia for something or other, generally when I click a link to an entry which someone has posted on their Web site. I've found that it's reliable for the most part, but when you run into something that's wrong, it's really wrong.

      Thank you for so neatly summing up the problem in what appears to be one of the first posts. I've read several articles over the last while on wiki that contained a paragraph or two in them that I just simply cringed at because the author didn't really know what the heck they were talking about.

      I seem to remember a story not long back ... yeah, here [techcentralstation.com] ...
      in which the former head of Encyclopedia Brittanica criticized it for that very reason.

      It is in danger of becoming just another set of web pages which may or may not be opinion. The fact that its co-founder is pointing this out as well says a lot.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:18AM (#11244393)
      Sure, there are revert wars, but there are also technical measures in place to stop them quickly. Wikipedia's so-called "Three Revert Rule" (any single person cannot revert the same article more than 3 times in any 24 hour period) get fairly strictly enforced nowadays. If you notice a glaring mistake, you could at least point it out on the articles Talk page. Reverting Talk pages is a big no-no, and if anyone disagrees they can add a comment to your objection, rather than reverting your edit.

      In general the "threat of revert wars" you speak of seems more like FUD to me. People always say, "Anyone can edit? That will never work." Yet so far it's been working amazingly well. Sure there are trolls and, perhaps more importantly, changes made in good faith that are of poor quality or plainly wrong. The fact that anyone can edit helps, since you can go in and correct those mistakes.

      Don't take a vague threat of a revert war as an excuse. You may need to explain on an article's Talk page why you made certain corrections, but that's a Good Thing. Anti-elitism is something to be embraced: it means not blindly following someone because they have the right credentials as an authority. It's usually good to have those credentials, but it's better to demonstrate that you know what you're doing than to simply assert it. If you really know your stuff, you should be able to explain your position clearly and I shouldn't have to take your word for it.

      Ideally, this also means that editors cannot abuse trust based on a history of useful contributions. Here on /. it can happen that someone builds up excellent karma and then starts to troll, somewhat with impunity at least initially. On WP you may be forced to explain a change you made even though you may have a history of good edits, but that too is a Good Thing. You may be an expert in one area, but that doesn't mean all your changes should be automatically trusted.

      Overall, open rational dialog is a successful approach. Sure, there will be trolls who try to abuse this, but you already know how to deal with them from your experience here on Slashdot.
      • "Anti-elitism is something to be embraced: it means not blindly following someone because they have the right credentials as an authority." I certainly agree that all knowledge should be looked at critically. Yet, the notion that the best approximation of truth will some how rise from conversation among non-experts is very flawed. If this were the case, why do we bother to employ teachers or professors. Why not just put all of the students in a big room together and let them come up with their own versi
    • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @12:01PM (#11244852) Homepage
      but when you run into something that's wrong, it's really wrong.

      I'm curious what is really wrong about the Fox News piece. There are a couple of other replies asking the same question that appear to indicate a bias against Fox News, and I want to make clear that I'm not railing against Fox. I host a highly politically charged mailing list with extremists and moderates from the full spectrum. While there is strong disagreement on whether Fox News presents the views of the majority of the US, those from both the left and the right concur that, overall, it is presented with a neo-conservative perspective. Likewise, members of the list from both the left and right concur that The New York Times presents things from a liberal perspective. I hasten to add that the fact that those people concur does not make the content of the allegations fact, but it does make the allegations themselves worthy of inclusion in a proper analysis of current events.

      If the Fox News piece were reflective of some bias in Wikipedia, I would not expect to see reports of left bias allegations in the article on The New York Times - but, indeed, the entry for The New York Times [wikipedia.org] includes a similar section on allegations of bias.

      This strikes me as being about stating the facts. There are allegations of bias, and it's not Wikipedia's job to decide that those allegations are correct (and state them as fact) or that they are incorrect (and not state them). The role of an encyclopedia, at least in the context of current events, and where made possible by the technological capabilities of Wikipedia, is to state the facts, and make clear when those facts are allegations (IE: the allegation itself is a fact, the truth of the content of the allegation may be questionable).
    • by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @01:09PM (#11245570) Journal
      As usual when people point out problems with Wikipedia, I have to ask "what is the problem with that?" What is wrong with the Fox News article? It contains loads of useful and accurate information. The "allegations of bias" section may be unnecessarily long (though 2/3 of the article is devoted to other, more useful information), but this simply reflects the fact that there is real controversy there. Everything is presented from very near a neutral point of view, and every criticism has a counter-point. You can't disagree with the article because it only states facts about what other people believe. Everything in the article is demonstrably true. Would you prefer the entire section was deleted and no record of the controversy over Fox News was kept in Wikipedia?

      Another poster argued that the Fox News "allegations of bias" section is unfair because no similar section can be put on CNN's article. This simply shows that *there is less controversy over bias on CNN* which is undoubtedly true. CNN is generally percieved as no more or less biased than the general American media; whose percieved bias is already documented [wikipedia.org] on Wikipedia. All Wikipedia can do is be a record of what is generally percieved; it cannot aspire to some higher standard of "genuine truth". Indeed, the nature of "genuine truth" is a philosophical question which can be debated at length. Despite this lack of "genuine truth", Wikipedia (including this "Fox News" article) is still an amazingly valuable resource.

  • by apsmith ( 17989 ) * on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:47AM (#11244158) Homepage
    I hadn't realized Sanger's background was in the theory of knowledge. I'm wondering now if what he's actually up to is something much more subtle than seems evident on the surface. Of course Google is into the "sum of all human knowledge" business too, but they're going for bulk and automated quality selection methods, rather than Wikipedia's human touch. Having been around myself since the Interpedia [wikipedia.org] days, I know there's a long history here...

    The first encyclopedists [utm.edu] had at least ulterior motives. Anybody have any other ideas what this is really all about? Then there's always the parallels to the world of Asimov's Foundation series, which started off as an Encyclopedia project!
    • Ulterior motives (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:29AM (#11244488) Homepage
      I suspect everyone has ulterior motives. The notion that an encyclopedia can be unbiased is ridiculous when if you sat twenty scientists in a room and gave them one article an academic fight would break out with many subjects.

      Flaming Wikipedia for inaccuracy is missing the two most important single points about Wikipedia that no other encyclopedia has.

      #1 You can reuse, reference and reprocess the content. If you want trusted articles then set up a scheme where experts in the field can GPG sign versions of the article that they believe to be correct.

      #2 Unlike every other encyclopedia you can take Wikipedia content under license and "fix it", where fixing means adjusting to your own world view. If you happen to think the Encyclopedia Britannica has its head up its backside you can't fix it. Wikipedia you can. Thats both powerful and dangerous as you can easily imagine groups with an agenda doing things like issuing 'evolution free' wikipedia variants to schools.

      What matters for Wikipedia isn't IMHO whether Sanger has an axe to grind but who is going to build the tools to take this kind of distributed public knowledgebase further.

      • by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @12:35PM (#11245191)
        If you happen to think the Encyclopedia Britannica has its head up its backside you can't fix it. Wikipedia you can.

        I agree, and this potential is what makes the project interesting.

        However, fixing things requires mindshare and timeshare. If everyone who points out the systematic failings in the current Wikipedia is either, at best, ignored as some poor luddite from the depths of the 20th century (when people exchanged knowledge on bits of dead trees, poor fools) or, at worst, shouted down, nothing will get get fixed because the consensus view (at least among the majority of current contributors) that nothing needs to be fixed will never be overturned.

        The two most talked about articles lately regarding the Wikipedia are from a) an ex-editor of EB and b) a co-founder of Wikipedia. Both articles were thoughtful essays from experts that addressed and analysed, albeit from different directions, the same underlying problem: Wikipedia has a credibility and a reliability shortfall. I think it's unfair to dismiss this point of view as simply "flaming Wikipedia for innaccuracy."

        In particular, given Sanger explicitly discussed the licensing of Wikipedia and how it allowed for a fork, he can hardly be accused of "missing the two most important single points about Wikipedia that no other encyclopedia has."

        Alas, just because the licensing can allow Wikipedia to be fixed, doesn't mean that it will, or that, in the interim, Wikipedia deserves a free pass.

        if you sat twenty scientists in a room and gave them one article an academic fight would break out with many subjects.

        That's a straw man. It's all a matter of degree. Ask twenty physicists about an article regarding some fine point of string theory, you're going to get 20 answers, because string theory's new and shiny and no-one understands it properly and the maths and the empirical evidence are still coming up to speed. But ask them to comment on, say, an article on Maxwell's Laws and you're going to get a high, if not unanimous, degree of concordance.

        Absolute nonbias is probably impossible, true. But that still doesn't mean everything is on a level playing field. Between bias and non-bias is a continuum, and even if the limits are asymptotically unreachable, it's neither ridiculous or a fools errand to demand articles from the non-biased end of the spectrum.

        Remember UseNet FAQs? An awesome collection of knowledge, also theoretically forkable and open to all, but practically, very pro-expert.

        Until the Wikipedia develops a mechanism for promoting expert viewpoint above that of others, it's credibility and reliability problems will remain, and it will never fulfil its potential.
        • by maxpublic ( 450413 )
          The attraction of Wikipedia to trolls and fanatics is very simple: amongst average clueless users who know about Wikipedia it appears to be more credible than the crap posted on most forums or web pages. That means that a troll, a fanatic, or some mediocre nobody who'd otherwise be dismissed as being a fool can use Wikipedia to their own ends as a way of legitimizing their point of view. If their clueless ignorance were posted on a forum or personal web page it'd be tossed off as bullshit by 99% of the p
      • "The notion that an encyclopedia can be unbiased is ridiculous when if you sat twenty scientists in a room and gave them one article an academic fight would break out with many subjects."

        That's a misleading statement. Certainly the potential for disagreement exisits at the periphery of the field, but on the core tenents relevant to their expertise - the part relevant to an encyclopedia - there's far more likely to be complete agreement. It's hard to see how any science could proceed without.

        • Re:Ulterior motives (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Alan Cox ( 27532 )
          I don't think that it is misleading. There are disagreements at the very core of many fields. There are also deeply messy divides about basic objects between different sciences.

          Take a look for example at Egyptology and at Geology on the subject of the Sphinx. It's a nice simple question "Who built the Sphinx and when", its a rather complex non-answer.

          Actually the fact Wikipedia can encompass both wel l is nice - also that it is rapidly updated. My paper encyclopedia still says in learned style that the Ti
  • by jasonmicron ( 807603 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:50AM (#11244183)
    Wikipedia was set up as a very big experiment. As with all experiments you will have problems and run the risk of eventual failure.

    Maybe a completely free online encyclopedia is just impossible. There are hundreds if not thousands of revisions done on Wikipedia each day and to have a team sit there to review each update and research it would be monotonous without a paid team of researchers.

    As well, having a team of professionals review their particular field on the online encyclopedia surely will not come free. Perhaps Wikipedia has hit a stopping point, if not slowing point?
    • by Cappy Red ( 576737 ) <miketoon@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:41AM (#11244630)
      Wikipedia will live or die by its traffic. As it seems bent upon being an encyclopedia of everything, it has to have the hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands and more revisions each day.

      For any project that seeks to be an encyclopedia of everything, there are but two roads: leave the door open to all, like Wikipedia, or keep the writing closed, and hire researchers to build the articles from the inside. The trouble is, the more knowledge you want to include, and the faster you want it, the more researchers you'll need to hire. That costs a lot of money, and unless you hire a true army of people to do the job, it's going to be a few years before you begin to see any progress. And the progress doesn't get faster.

      No, for all the inaccuracies, arguments, and varied forms of pettiness, the raging river of activity has to remain and grow for Wikipedia to survive... and to have any form of accuracy. Consider that one person creates an article. It is only a stub, but it all information in it is correct. Someone edits it, and adds something, but some part of that is incorrect. Someone else edits again, correcting that, and adding something else that's incorrect. Someone else adds something else, and misses the mistake. Another person comes along, and fixes the mistake. The stub is shaping up, and the article gets more attention for some reason. A few people edit the budding article one way and then another. They get into an argument, and the argument becomes a fight. The truth lies somewhere between their positions, but that's forgotten. Maybe there's a reversion war. One of them gets pissed off and leaves. The other one feels he's won the day, and lingers for a little bit, then leaves. Then somebody else comes in and fixes the article.

      The end result is the article becomes acceptably accurate. And it has the hands of many different people, and the subtle truths that they bring. A single researcher brings only his own hand and the truth he knows.

      Great example of some of the strengths of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea [wikipedia.org]
    • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:55AM (#11244787) Journal
      There are hundreds if not thousands of revisions done on Wikipedia each day and to have a team sit there to review each update and research it would be monotonous without a paid team of researchers.

      Wikipedia has exactly one problem, neatly broken into two (related) main subproblems:

      It allows stateless-user modification. This allows untrusted users to completely trash perfectly good entries, and it doesn't allow for the creation of "untrusted" users.

      A very, very simple fix for this exists - Force users to register (they don't need to provide any IRL info, as I'll explain in a moment), and implement a Slashdot-like karma and moderation (and metamoderation, if necessary) system.

      Limit all users to only creating new entries, and to editing their own entries and those at least one karma-class below themselves (with the highest karma-classes kept in check by a few absolutely-trusted WikiGods (most likely the physical maintainers of the site). Additionally, to address your point about having expert review of topics, allow users to grant other users permission to edit their own created topics.

      Thus, a new user will have basically no power, other than to contribute new material. This stops people from making accounts just to trash legit entries. If a new user makes a slew of new entries consisting entirely of mindless drivel, they'll never gain any karma, thus can't cause any real damage. At the same time, this allows the creation of local experts, those who have proven themselves worthy of editing certain topics by higher-karma but less-expert users (if so desired by both) based on personal permission-granting.

      I suppose this also sounds a bit like E2's approach, but without the annoying minimum number of nodes per level (the biggest reason I stopped contributing to E2 - A user would do better to write large amounts of barely tolerable crap than to write a small number of well-researched, well-written nodes; Personally, I wrote a dozen or so rather good entries and (two crap ones, I'll admit it), including seven "Cool"s, and never got past level 1) and with the addition of actual editing of entries rather than only creating or appending new ones.
      • "A very, very simple fix for this exists - Force users to register (they don't need to provide any IRL info, as I'll explain in a moment), and implement a Slashdot-like karma and moderation (and metamoderation, if necessary) system."

        Slashdot is not the best model to emulate. Whenever the topic discussed is one in which I'm well versed I always cringe at the high moderation given, for lack of a better term, 'feel good' posts full of factual errors. Moderators have a strong prediliction to assign points base

      • E2's minimum node requirements ensure that the user has a significant body of work which can be inspected and that they are contributing. Since users cannot edit the writeups of others, and gaining levels does not grant you any powers over other users (they seem to be there mostly to raise the bar to abuse of the system and to make you look cool) the situation is in no way analogous to your suggestion. In addition E2 now has a system called the honor roll which greatly decreases the writeups necessary to le
    • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @02:50PM (#11246544) Homepage
      Just to put this all in perspective, Larry Sanger's Nupedia [wikipedia.org] was a failure, whereas Wikipedia (which was never really his baby) is a huge success, within certain limits.

      I also feel that Larry's criticism about "antielitism" is a little weird, because I actually tried to contribute a physics article to Nupedia, and the reason I gave up on the process was exactly because I felt that it was the kind of "antielitist" atmosphere he seems to be imputing to Wikipedia. I have a PhD in physics, I teach physics at a community college, and I've written some free physics textbooks. I don't expect other people to fall down on their knees and worship my erudition, but I think I qualify as an expert within my field. My experience with Nupedia was that I was being endlessly nitpicked by people who had no particular expertise in physics. On Wikipedia, OTOH, I've generally found that people tend to contribute at their level of ability, and it works great. People who know a lot do the biggest, most important edits, and people who know less generally exercise a lot of self-restraint. I'm an amateur musician, but not an expert by any means. If I'm editing a music article, I'll typically restrict myself to correcting typos, or contributing factual information that I'm very sure of (or, if it's something more substantial, I'll typically post on the article's talk page).

      Wikipedia is a huge success, within certain limits. The main limitation is simply that it doesn't work well on controversial topics. I find it really odd that Larry's critique talked all about rudeness, trolling, etc., but never talked about the situation that, in my experience, is what leads to people getting upset. It comes from arguments about controversial topics: Ronald Reagan, astrology, ... And the problem with these topics is not that people ignorant about Ronald Reagan fail to defer to people who are experts on Ronald Reagan. The problem with those topics is that there is intense disagreement. That's the way Wikipedia is. It can't handle controvesial topics, and I don't see any way to modify it so that it can. The NPOV (neutral point of view) policy works fine on noncontroversial articles, and doesn't work at all on controversial ones. Wikipedia is a tool that works for some jobs, but not for others.

      • by maxpublic ( 450413 ) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @02:13AM (#11251732) Homepage
        And astrology is only a controversial topic on Wikipedia because complete fucking idiots who actually believe that tripe are given the same credence as everyone else. Ignorant fools who think blind mysticism is somehow just as important as the science that gives them electric lights, automobiles, cell phones, penicillin, the very computers they're typing on, and just about every other thing that makes their lives tolerable are allowed to push their superstition as having the same importance as the science that's built the world around them, and without which many of them would be dead, or never born.

        That in and of itself is a very good reason not to put too much trust into Wikipedia.

  • Sanger's Dead-On (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tiberius_Fel ( 770739 ) <.fel. .at. .empirereborn.net.> on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:51AM (#11244185)
    Sanger's dead-on with his points. These are precisely the reasons that have kept me from relying on Wikipedia for anything important.

    Every once in a while I may go look something up on there for general interest purposes, but never for anything for my classes.
  • Larrys History (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobertTaylor ( 444958 ) <roberttaylor1234@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:51AM (#11244189) Homepage Journal
    Larrys contributions page [wikipedia.org] on wikipedia...

    2002 was the last time he edited a page *not* related to himself :)
    • Could it be that he's making other revisions under an "anonymous" screenname to cover himself, or something?

      Besides, if he's for elitism, it may be that he thinks he's not qualified to edit other articles.

      Just giving him the benefit of the doubt...
  • by The-Bus ( 138060 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:54AM (#11244210)
    It should work -- in theory. What happens is that you get a mass conglomerate of well-detailed correct knowledge, intentionally misleading information, vague summaries of misunderstood concepts, and/or group think. I admit, I have edited a few entries on Wiki (mostly on highly non-technical information [wikipedia.org], and have seen it work. I've also seen a lot of articles on more technical info (in my field) that aren't wrong, they're just... bad.

    The best solution I have seen was someone suggesting "stickyness" -- the longer an entry remains, the sticker and more truthful it is. I think that, combined with academics actually starting to put in information* and some sort of meta-moderating system, could work.

    Either way, I think it's neat. I would not rely on it for critical information, but then, I never do that with the internet to begin with.

    * I'm sure academics do now -- I guess I meant "Academia" in that a lot of them contribute.
  • OT: Annoying (Score:4, Insightful)

    by avalys ( 221114 ) * on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:54AM (#11244212)
    You know, one thing that annoys me about Wikipedia (I know this is OT, but I don't care) is how so many articles have nonsensical links.

    For example, let's say we're looking at the article on Wikipedia itself. Somewhere within it, it says "Wikipedia has been criticized [wikipedia.com] for being an unreliable source of information."

    Now, anywhere else on the web, you'd expect that the link in there would point to further information on that specific criticism of Wikipedia. But, instead it points to a page defining the term "critic"! How useless is that?

    I can't count the number of times I've seen a link on Wikipedia that made me say "ooh, I'd like to know more about that" and clicked it, just to find out that it only points to a simple definition of whatever term I clicked. That's not what I wanted, dammit!
    • Ummmm... this is how wikis work. When you post something, they automatically link words that have wiki pages defined for them within the same wiki. So if you see a word linked, it is to another wiki page.
  • by yndrd ( 529288 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:57AM (#11244245) Homepage
    I agree with Sanger that there should be greater respect for expertise, but I have to say I rarely use Wikipedia for researching any subject that has a real "expert."

    Most of the time, I use it as a resource for pop culture references (leet, for instance) for which other people, though not experts, know a bit more than I do. I think of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia of the moment.
  • Here is an example (Score:4, Informative)

    by AnuradhaRatnaweera ( 757812 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:58AM (#11244248) Homepage
    A good example is this article [wikipedia.org], which has a section biased towards the separates Tamil Tiger guerrillas. Compare it with this article [cnn.com] on CNN.
    • In case you miss the above mentioned section in Wikipedia, here is the exact quote:

      At least four trucks loaded with relief supplies heading north to Tamil regions were commandeered by Sinhalese mobs and minor government officials.

      There were many other incidents, and many many Sinhalese groups took stuff exclusively Tamil Tsunami victims and vice versa, as signs of friendship, but only the above appeared on Wikipedia, which gave a very wrong picture of our country. I am sure someone will soon change it.

  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @10:58AM (#11244250) Homepage Journal
    I said this months ago and many of you pooh-poohed as nonsense. But committees that accrete information based on whomever is motivated enough to motivate others to contribute is clearly establishing a bias and an agenda. But even if I'm right and most of you are wrong, you are wrong but you don't really care. And this begs the question, what is the value of accuracy or truth?

    If you're in school and you're doing one of the 3 million papers you will do in your school career about the Civil War, let's say and you go to Wiki and it's chockful of subtle agendized "Wawr of Northun Aggresshun" revisionism. So what? You will probably get a good grade if you live in the south and you will probably get a pass if you live in the north and all its multicultural tolerance and whatnot.

    A few weeks ago for example the entire nationalized abstinence sex ed curriculum was exposed as a fraud, jammed with flat out inaccurate information. So? It wasn't an accident and the fact that it's exposed really doesn't change anyone's mind. So in the end, truth is whatever you can use to further your own aims and accuracy be damned.
  • by DocSavage64109 ( 799754 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:01AM (#11244272)
    It seems that incorporating a version of Slashdot's moderating routines would not only solve most of wiki's downsides, but people may learn lot from just metamoderating.
    • A moderation system does nothing to solve the problem of groupthink and favoritism.

      Take the example of the "FOX News" entry someone made earlier. Since the subject has somehow become emotionally and politically charged it is clear that people will tend to moderate edits based on which side they are on - not on research and facts.

      Groupthink tends to be reinforced by a moderation system by allowing administrators to easily determine which "side" someone is on, the site administrators can then easily ident

  • anti-elitism? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wizbit ( 122290 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:03AM (#11244281)
    I don't really see where Sanger gets off calling it "anti-elitism" that the project doesn't let experts have the final word. I agree with him when he says "if the project participants had greater respect for expertise, they would have long since invited a board of academics and researchers to manage a culled version of Wikipedia." And this would probably produce a superior product - but not the one Sanger envisioned when he started the project, as he fully admits. No, this was not to be the be-all-end-all everything-to-everyone reference volume, it was first and foremost a community-oriented enterprise, and the (somewhat misplaced) loyalty to the community, even in the face of people who generally should know better, means the current maintainers' hearts are in the right place with regard to that goal.

    So, "Anti-elitism"? No, it's "pro-community," and while I agree that it's out of place for mediating some rather silly disputes, the community-driven atmosphere has survived. Sanger is rightly second-guessing the community's ability to make Wikipedia a fully credible source, but while Wikipedia has been one of the internet/open source community's greatest achievements, it should also be allowed to highlight its limitations.
  • by etymxris ( 121288 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:03AM (#11244290)
    There are plenty of elistist encyclopedia publications out there for people that want to "respect the experts and authorities". Pick your favorite pre-net era encyclopedia, and contribute to that. If you want respect for your authority or expertise.

    Larry Sanger may be an epistemologist, but his views on knowledge and its justification seem a bit naive. Who determines who the "experts" and "authorities" are? It can't be these same people, that would just beg the question. Or perhaps its the social structures already created that mold and promote expertise. But then why even make wikipedia in the first place? Wikipedia is not a reflection of these social structures, and that was intentional from the very beginning. It's not a mistake to be rectified.

    Go ahead, fork the project. It was founded so that those unhappy with its direction could fork it. Just like Linux. Make your own elitist version. Just don't expect any tears from me.
    • Who determines who the "experts" and "authorities" are? It can't be these same people, that would just beg the question. Or perhaps its the social structures already created that mold and promote expertise.

      What most of us call "facts" are the very things which are independent of social structures, cultural contexts and other biases. As such, anyone is in the position to determine who is an expert and who is not.
      An expert is a person who has a more detailed knowledge of facts than someone else.

  • by benzapp ( 464105 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:05AM (#11244303)
    So the masses of folks have no respect for expertise and the elite of various fields. How is this different than society as a whole?

    The problem that infects Wikipedia is not limited to a few simple trolls. It is a world-wide societal problem. It is the wicked child of the delusional advocates of democracy and egalitarianism, who in their naivete believe that all people are equal in their abilities and judgement.

    How else can we explain the sick believe that masters of rhetoric and intrigue make decisions that are affecting the future of the world? How is it a moron with an 8th grade education is allowed to have a legitimate position on highly technical topics like environmental protection and global warming?

    The world has become too complex for any one man to have the requisite knowledge to make decisions about anything other than his field of expertise. What we require is a new social order than recognizes the various discplines of each citizen and identifies his expertise. When our electorate is organized along these lines, only then can representative government work. Instead of a mass of rhetoricians ruling over the world, we should have a council of experts, each elected by the members of his respective field. Chemists should elect the most elite chemist. Electrical engineers, the most elite electrical engineer.

    With this top down approach, Wikipedia and society at large will work far better. Further, we may prevent the complete destruction of our civilization by ceasing to hand power to the unqualified and depraved.
  • by cyngus ( 753668 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:07AM (#11244316)
    This is kind of the "who's watching the watchers" question, except, who's editing the writers (and editors).

    You need a peer rating system where authors and editors can be given points as to the quality of their material and corrections. I think Experts Exchange [experts-exchange.com] and probably others offer something of this kind. This, as always, required community participation to work effectively. But beyond that, for an encyclopedia people should have an overall rating and a rating for subcategories, for example a lot of ./er's can tell you a ton about Star Wars, but probably very little about the Easter Island heads.
  • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:09AM (#11244326) Homepage
    As an evolutionary genomicist specializing in microbes, I have contributed to Wikipedia and always explained in the discussion why I changed things and mentioned my (easily verified) credentials relating to the topic. In general, people are quite willing to accept changes if someone can explain *why* the current information is out of date or just plain wrong. Maybe affairs like the status of Taiwan or Tibet will be biased in Wikipedia, but they will be in normal encyclopedias too, because in such cases there are no "right answers", just political opinions.
  • by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@@@yahoo...com> on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:11AM (#11244345) Journal
    The Linux kernel is a good model of how Wikipedia should work. All source code contributions must be vetted by Linus or one of his designated underlings before being checked into the kernel. If anybody and everybody could check whatever code they want directly into the root branch, the kernel would quickly become an unusable mess. New Wikipedia submissions or changes should be held as pending until passing editorial review.

    Another option is /. style moderation, where you can log in and vote on the accuracy of an article. Enough -ve mods and the entry would be deleted or rolled back to its previous iteration. Meta-moderation would ensure that the moderation system is not abused, and trolls are prevented from moderating.

    But the idea behind Wikipedia is great, and shouldn't be allowed to die. Despite its warts, I do consider it a valuble reference, and keep a quick link to it on my Mozilla toolbar.
  • Niche media (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:23AM (#11244439) Homepage
    I've said from the beginning that the major problem with Wikipedia is that it tries to be everything to everyone.

    In the past 20 years or so, media has become extremely niche (if you're a bicycle rider into tarantulas, there's probably a magazine for you). The benefit of this is that you often get experts and people genuinely interested in the subject writing the articles.

    I tried Wikipedia and gave up in disgust (particularly that articles about GNAA trolls, filled with lies and editorials, were kept). I since have spent some time with the (admitally silly) Homestar Wiki at http://www.hrwiki.org, and have found it to be a much different environment. No brass arguments, no format wars -- just people adding bits and pieces of what they like about their favorite web cartoon. I've thought about setting up a similar MST3K wiki.

    The point is, all-encompassing media is dead. No one expects CNN/Fox News/etc. to focus on every story available, and no one should expect the same from internet sites. Niche media will continue to thrive.
  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @11:42AM (#11244640) Homepage Journal
    Time and time again, I run into this wrong headed notion of the "expert". When I was a kid, I bought into it. I believed there were people who knew just about everything there is to know about a particular subject. As I got older, I saw these "experts" cut down one by one as they could no longer provide answers to questions for me. It happened first with my parents. Then with various teachers and librarians while I was in elementary school, junior high and high school. Finally, with my professors at the various colleges I went to. This is not to say that these people don't know a great deal, but there is not one person on the planet that can be called an expert.

    The fool who wrote this critique of Wikipedia is attempting to defend the exclusivity of who can be considered to be informed and who can't. One of the worst things in the world you can do to any information resource is to make it exclusive. When you make it exclusive, you make it useless and inaccessible to the average person. It might be nice to have someone who has a deep knowledge of philosphy share their knowledge on Wikipedia, but if they can't speak in terms that others can understand, what good is it? Even with it's warts, Wikipedia provides people with better access to knowledge on various subjects than they previously had access to. That's the point. If one wishes to expand their knowledge on that subject, then they can feel free to delve deeper into it from more authoritative sources. The Wikipedia is not meant to be ultimately authoritative. The set of Encyclopedia Britanica Year books I have at home prove that to me. In the early 50s, their music reviewer (a supposed expert) claimed that rock and roll was a fad of insanity where children wanted to play and listen to tribal rhythms. Apparently, he was wrong since rock and roll had a long life beyond the 1950s. By the 1957 edition, he had been replaced by someone who was a little more flexible in their thinking. By the previous expert's opinions, I'm sure that the new reviewer was one the "rabble" or the "hoi polloi" who didn't understand the value of real music vs. those tribal jungle rhythms. (Note: the older reviewer did refer to rock music in increasingly racial terms between 1955 and 1956 editions, I believe)

    My point is that there can be no experts because information is not immutable. It always changes and updates are required. Homosexuality used to be considered a psychological disorder that could be "cured". Blacks used to be considered sub-human as they didn't possess souls. These views are quite obviously wrong. But if you would have checked with an expert of the past, those are the answers you would have gotten. If Wikipedia never reaches a point where the information is 100% reliable at all times, it doesn't matter because it still does the job of opening minds to new subjects and areas of knowledge. I say, kick this guy in the bollocks and charge forward. If we want people to be armed with knowledge, Wikipedia is a pretty darn good tool.
  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @12:04PM (#11244880) Homepage
    First, full disclosure - I'm a wikipedia admin, I'm the featured article director (I choose the featured articles on Wikipedia's main page), and I'm one of the arbitrators (on the arbitration committee Larry mentions). I'm going to try to address Larry's points in turn. Some of what he says is true, but much of it is wrong, or totally misses the point. Larry left in 2002, meaning that he has been away longer than most of th currently active people have been there. The policies have changed radically, and so I don't think it's unfair to say he has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to the community or the policies.

    First, about the title of this thread - calling Larry Sanger a co-founder of Wikipedia is a bit of a stretch. It's before my time, but I know several people who were around from those days found this objectionable. As I understand it, Larry was more involved in Nupedia (now defunct). Wikipedia was started to augment Nupedia, and (as I understand it) the idea was Jimbo Wales'.

    Now, this "lack of public perception of credibility" Larry mentions - this is misleading. Wikipedia is (as others on this thread have said) an experiment. However, I don't think the public percieves us as uncredible. I think it would be more accurate to say that the public is still making up its mind. Yes, there is some inaccurate information in Wikipedia - the same can be said [wikimedia.org] of Britannica. However, Wikipedia has been cited in in books, [wikipedia.org] in academic studies [wikipedia.org], in conferences, and in court cases [wikipedia.org]. If the public really though of Wikipedia as a unreliable source, then I don't think that it would be drawing in these kinds of references

    The next problem Larry mentiosn is the trolls. The arbitration committee was formed about a year ago as a way for Jimbo Wales (the actual founder of Wikipedia) to devolve his powers to the community. In particular, he appointed a committee of 12 users who would have the right to issue decrees and such - the ability to prohibit people from doing certain things, or ban them, 'etc etc. The primary (and pretty much only) complaint against the committee to date has been that it has been too slow to act. On the other hand, I think if you were to ask the average user what he thinks, the trolling problem has been getting much better in recent months - just look at the list of complete cases [wikipedia.org]. Several long time trouble makers are currently banned (and if they come back, it resets the clock on their ban). I know one recently banned user (troll) said (before he was banned) how much he hated it, how much the "cabal" had taken over, 'etc. If the trolls are saying this, I take it as a good sign. Beyond that, I can't really reply to Larry's nebulous complaint about trolling because he's really not saying a whole lot there.

    Larry's third (and perhaps only concrete point - IE, specifically refutable point) is that he claims Wikipedia has a lack of respect for experts. Nonsense, I say. As a rule of thumb, we expect that everyone (experts and laymen alike), if requested, can cite specific sources to justify their edits. In this respect, it is no different than Academia. Quite frankly (and this is my personal opinion) I think a great majority of the editing disputes could be solved by requiring disputants to cite and/or quote reputable sources. On the other hand, Larry's asseration that "But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to "work with" persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best)." - I think this gets more to the heart of how Wikipedia works. If you want to contribut
    • "I think a great majority of the editing disputes could be solved by requiring disputants to cite and/or quote reputable sources."

      Which would only further erode the influence of experts who would, by definition, post their own knowledge of the subject.

      Instead, you would have people simply regurgitate what they read somewhere else, without any way to validate whether or not they correctly interpreted the information.

  • by Wildfire Darkstar ( 208356 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @12:49PM (#11245354)
    I think the basic problem with all of these criticisms of Wikipedia's reliability, or "anti-elitism" is that they flatly miss the point. The very reason we're having these sorts of discussions now are because Wikipedia's original model and ethos have been effective. Yes, there are always problems and pitfalls along the way, but the point of the matter is that no one would be arguing about how badly Wikipedia needs a stricter editorial review process (or whatever) if it was a collection of a dozen odd incomplete articles that no one ever bothered to contribute to....

    Wikipedia was built on the backs of the thousands of users who have contributed to it. Some of these contributors were bona fide academic experts in a specific field, others were just interest amateurs. But in both cases, they contributed because they could, and, most importantly, because the entire philosophy of the project not only allows for, but encourages, that sort of contribution. We've reached the point where we people can start to take Wikipedia seriously enough to ponder questions like the ones Mr. Sanger brings up.

    Wikipedia is not anti-elitist. That's a downright silly allegation. It does not specially privilege "elites," but they are likewise no more discriminated against than anyone else. The problem Mr. Sanger is addressing is ultimately not how eliminate anti-elitism, but how to institute pro-elitism. Which is absolutely fine, if your goal is to produce a traditional encyclopedia the likes of Britannica. But to encourage a special privilege for experts conversely discourages the participation of non-experts: if you make it so that average users can no longer edit Wikipedia articles, or make it enough of a chore that they no longer want to, then the entire project isn't Wikipedia anymore. And what's worse is if you appropriate the work they've already contributed in the process. It's the functional equivalent of a software company hosting an open source project which then they turn around and close once it's progressed to a certain point.

    But more than that, it's a denial of what's gotten Wikipedia to where it is now in the first place. Without the active participation of all users, expert or not, it's unlikely Wikipedia would have gotten very far to begin with. To change it into something it isn't (and never aspired to be) now is silly. To imply that the contributions of non-experts are no longer desired because otherwise Wikipedia will never occupy the same privileged position as Encyclopedia Britannica is misguided. Wikipedia is not Britannica. It does some things better than Britannica, and it does some things worse than Britannica. While some specific failings can be addressed whilst maintaining the core of the Wikipedia philosophy, the key is to do so without damaging that which Wikipedia does well.
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @01:11PM (#11245581) Homepage
    Really. In the past two years Larry Sanger has made precisely one edit to Wikipedia that was not on his "user page", and that was to post the complaint that "I don't like the categorization scheme". I don't think he's qualified to suggest a sweeping paradigm shift at this point, because he really hasn't a clue what's going on.
  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @03:17PM (#11246879)
    I feel that articles on topics like Quantum Mechanics can come out OK on Wikipedia. Perhaps the ability to do quality control is necessary in the software, although I am suspicious of many of the people complaining about anti-elitism on Wikipedia.

    As far as pages pertaining to say Israel and Palestine, I think quality control is hopeless. I am perfectly happy to get into flame (or revert) wars on Wikipedia, but even I'm scared to go into that section. Different people have very different views on certain historical and political issues. I do not mind the idea of some kind of peer review for scientific articles, but I would be very suspicious of such a process related to say the Israel and Palestine pages, or the Northern Ireland pages, or the George W. Bush and John Kerry pages and so forth. Wikipedia already have administrators who are ideological fanatics. I'm thinking of four of them right now - two are hard-core right-wingers, one is a social democrat (Americans would say liberal) who is nonetheless fanatically anti-communist, and the other is far-left.

    I don't believe objectivity exists in historical and political matters. Wikipedia incorporates the now public domain 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, and some of the material in there would appear biased, racist, sexist and so forth to our modern eyes. English Wikipedia is mostly comprised of citizens of England and its former colonies, including the US. Relative to the half of the world living on less than $2 a day and whom have never made a phone call, these are relatively privileged people, and Wikipedia is a subset of even these people since Internet users and Wikipedians are more likely to be college-educated than from some ghetto or even a blue-collar household. This alone makes for a very elitist and skewed view of the world. For example, in the 1950's, there were lots of accusations in the US that the Bandung Conference was some kind of communist ploy, which in my opinion is far removed from reality. A person from India or some other third world country would have had a more realistic view of this I think. Then again, the rest of the world has some odd ideas about the US, perhaps they watch Baywatch, Friends, and shows like that and think that is what life in the US is really like.

    The link in the article to Wikinfo [wikinfo.org] is a fork of Wikipedia, one run by a right-wing Wikipedia user who thinks Wikipedia is too left-wing. There are forks by left-wing people who think Wikipedia is too right-wing by left-wing users as well - the "liberal Democrat" DKosopedia [dkosopedia.com] and the anarchist English Anarchopedia [anarchopedia.org] and Infoshop's OpenWiki [infoshop.org]. Wikipedia articles are GFDL so forks are easy.

    Wikipedia should be able to handle science articles on biology and so forth, although speciality forks might appear by people who realize the Man's conspiracy to cover up the reality of orgone energy [wikipedia.org] (please consult Robert A. Wilson). More likely, people will realize Wikipedia pages on the Israel/Palestine conflict will always be in flux depending on the time of day, and will go off and start wikis pertaining to primarily politics and history and other social science types topics. But outside of what touches upon the social world, Wikipedia should be able to handle it.

  • by dancingmad ( 128588 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @03:23PM (#11246947)
    I'll add my own wiki experience to the mix. I was doing a paper on the Japanese writer Higuchi Ichiyo last semester and, not knowing much about her, I ended up using wiki as a source. EVERYTHING I cited from wikipedia was factually wrong. Luckily I ran it by my professor before handing it in, but I will never use Wikipedia as a source on a paper again. They've completely turned me off to using it for any academic purpose. I do still visit wikipedia when I need general information but I even take that with a major grain of salt.

    Am I alone in thinking wikipedia should A) have experts come in and run a "stable" version of the encyclopedia and that B) a Google scholars type function is right up wiki's ally?
    • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @07:40PM (#11249537) Journal
      Actually, I'm curious--what is incorrect in the Wikipedia article?

      The dates of her birth and death check out, as is her appearance on the 5000-yen note. The year of her father's death is also right. I'm wondering about her siblings...? Beyond that, I haven't the time to fact check, and it's not in my field.

      Luckily I ran it by my professor before handing it in, but I will never use Wikipedia as a source on a paper again.

      Glad to hear it. I'm kind of surprised that a university professor wouldn't bite your head off for using an encyclopedia as a reference in an academic paper anyway--there should be better sources than a three-paragraph Wikipedia article.

      I do still visit wikipedia when I need general information but I even take that with a major grain of salt.

      Great! That's what encyclopedias are for.

      Am I alone in thinking wikipedia should A) have experts come in and run a "stable" version of the encyclopedia

      Perfect. And at twenty-five edits per minute, with one minute to review each edit, you'll just need a full-time team of a hundred highly-qualified fact checkers. That will cost, what, five million or so per year? This assumes that the rate of growth of Wikipedia does not increase, and that existing articles are not also reviewed.

  • Trust (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sacrilicious ( 316896 ) on Monday January 03, 2005 @04:35PM (#11247688) Homepage
    In the Kuro5hin article, Sanger makes the point that Wikipedia is deemed unreliable, and says that this is because there is too much tolerance of trolls and too little esteem for expertise. Slashdot and its [meta]moderator system constitute a distributed way of dealing with such problems, and thus makes for an interesting comparison. Slashdot would seem to have a different - and maybe easier - mission, since slashdot posts are largely opinions and are measured by a different standard (palatability, constructiveness) than encyclopedia entries (factuality). But even though many people acknowledge that there are true statements ("there was a French revolution") and false statements ("water is made of ammonia and iodine"), a lack of time and personal expertise prevents most people from being able to verify facts for themselves.

    And so facts, like opinions, largely become either trusted or untrusted, rather than verified. Wikipedia should implement a ratings system somewhat like that of slashdot, with these features:

    • Everyone can rate any entry at any time, rather than by dint of being granted mod points
    • More than one entry can exist for a given topic in Wikipedia, potentially conflicting directly with other entries on the same subject
    • In addition to being able to rate entries, everyone can rate everyone else in terms of how much a given person trusts another person
    The above leads to a situation where each person viewing wikipedia can mark various entries as trusted or not, and various people as trustworthy or not, and get a filtered view of wikipedia (or at least a per-entry score) individually tailored to the trust instincts of the individual viewer.

    For an example of a trust metric, check out Advogato [advogato.org].

    I do not mean to say that there is no such thing as objective truth or reality, there indeed is such a thing. But geographical distance, time passed, lack of measuring equipment, and other factors mean that in a very practical and real sense, "knowing" truth in many cases is reduced to a matter of trust and intuition. There is such a thing as expertise, but qualifying expertise is, in the end, a matter of trust.

    Debating this point is worthwhile, because it can be difficult to grasp and should not be accepted lightly. But neither should we go around in circles never acknowledging this point or moving past it. In the end, filtering reality through a sytem of trust, tailored to the individual, is something that should be reflected in entities such as wikipedia.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.