Saturday, July 11, 2009

Safe Surfing in a Wikipedia World

  • One of the evaluation methods 21CIF has been promoting is verification of facts using external links. We also promote triangulation of data; finding three substantive resources that agree on the same fact.

    This article calls into question the essential building blocks of Wikipedia, with good reason!

    Tags: wikipedia, fact checking

    • The process of rectifying those mistakes was more disturbing to Duguid than the original errors he had discovered: "My corrections were undone by people who clearly had little idea what they were talking about almost as quickly as they were made by me (who knew a little of what he was talking about)." Well-intentioned but "ill-informed editors" added their corrections to the article without offering meaningful sources for verification or entering the discussion on the discussion page. "People point to the instantaneous revision process as an indication of Wikipedia's quality-assurance mechanism," says Duguid. "These problems - of earnest but inept changes - are to me much more significant than simply finding errors."
    • Duguid and Nunberg agree that the key to using any source of online information is to know its strengths and limitations. "We don't think Encyclopedia Britannica would have a definitive article on Madonna," says Duguid. "Instinctively we just know that. We need to develop those same instincts around tools like Wikipedia."
    • Nunberg, who delivers commentaries on language for National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program, evinced no surprise at the errors on Wikipedia. "You throw it open so that anyone can contribute, and people are shocked it's a flawed research tool?" he asked rhetorically. While admitting that Wikipedia is "surprisingly good" on some topics - in particular when dealing with concepts familiar to many people, such as "the undead and zombies" or the chi square - he says it falls short in treating "broader cultural topics" such as "Hitler, World War II, or the rise of the novel.
    • Wikipedia's collaborative process treats information as though it is "modular and granular," says Duguid. The problem is that "once you say that information is the basic building block, the assumption is that a lot of people can contribute these blocks and what we'll end up with is the Taj Mahal." Wikipedia's methodology is more likely to result in a patchwork quilt, he says, one that, in Wikipedia's case, is "simply an amalgam of facts." Such an approach, he says, isn't how good encyclopedia articles get written.

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