Which right wing Canadian party would you rather vote for?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Wussification of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is for wussies and here's why:
  • Controversial topics inherently end up going back and forth between conservative and liberal arguments. There is no middle ground but instead a constant polarization of information.
  • It centralizes information on the internet, but that information is flawed, biased, incomplete, frequently open to abuse, has little or no authority to back-up many of the claims, has incomplete or improper references and is prone to misguided editorial-activism.
  • Students and academics researching a topic should NOT use Wikipedia because its information is inherently flawed and unreliable. Plus its the LAZY way of researching a topic. If the modern grade school student uses wikipedia for ALL of their research they will end up with an essay or research paper that is inherently biased and incomplete. My advice for teachers? Make it clear to students that they must research other sources and that Wikipedia should be considered the last source to check.
  • Google Scholar is a far better resource for genuine research purposes as it contains only those articles by professional writers and researchers. Yes, those writers/researchers may still be biased (we all are) but at the very least it will be well-researched and contain proper references, notes and bibliographies.
In much the same way Wikipedia is DEFINITELY the modern equivalent of a regular set of encyclopedias. When I was back in grade school we had strict orders from our teachers not to use any encyclopedias as references for essays and projects. We were told to go straight to the primary sources such as non-fiction books, scholarly articles, magazine/newspaper clippings and quote those instead.

There is, I've noticed, no universal online archive of old and recent newspaper/magazine clippings. Such an archive could contain clippings from the last 100 years easily and include sources like the New York Times, People Magazine, the Rolling Stone, the Toronto Star, etc. It would take a combined effort on the part of numerous magazine and newspaper companies to create such an archive.

But imagine the advertising revenues generated from what would be a popular site for both research and entertainment. We could look at movie reviews for films that came out 30 years ago and see what people back then thought of them.

Don't get me wrong, I think Wikipedia is still a great idea. Its just a flawed one to expect things to even out. C0ntroversial topics such as abortion, the war in Iraq, the JFK assassination, conspiracy theories about 9/11 are simply bound to rife with biases and flawed research. Its basically the fault of the general public for being largely uneducated.

Which is ironic because Wikipedia is meant to be an educational tool, but if its used for spreading misinformation how can it really be a viable tool? It will inherently be wrong or inaccurate 90% of the time.

Think for example of Wikiquote.org... any idiot can go on there and add quotes purporting to have been said by some famous celebrity or politician or whomever. No guarantee it is true or not. It makes me almost pity George W. Bush with all the times he's been misquoted or had quotes applied to him that he didn't actually say. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the bad attention but lets at least quote only things he actually really said.

Therefore there is two major flaws with wikipedia:

  1. False information by people who don't do proper research and are there to support some bias;
  2. People quoting the false information on other websites, in news reports, research, etc.
Lets stop and consider the amount of media attention that is given to Wikipedia. I don't think media personalities should be quoting Wikipedia as a source. If we tune into CNN do we really want the news anchor quoting articles from Wikipedia that are likely inaccurate and false?

Furthermore, Wikipedia could be used to destroy a person's career or personal life. If for example the latest gossip on Mr and Mrs Famous gets published on Wikipedia and then repeated countlessly then that gossip has just become "fact" insofar as the public is concerned. The general public doesn't care whether or not its true, but once its out there that famous person or group of people could very have their career, marriage or personal life destroyed by simple gossip.

And in that respect Wikipedia is no better than the National Enquirer. We don't quote the National Enquirer on television (unless its for a documentary on aliens or some other conspiracy theory) so why would we do for Wikipedia?

Its because Wikipedia attempts to be authoritative, but that authority is not to be respected. Its dubious at best.

So please people. Think twice before quoting Wikipedia. If you're a teacher make it clear to students they should not use Wikipedia (or any other online encyclopedia) as their sole sources of research. Do not respect Wiki's authority for its no better than a news rag on the street.