Touchy, those Wikipediasts
A passing remark in the post “Democracy and participation” about Wikipedia* — “Wikipedia advises its readers — I am not making this up — not to rely on the accuracy of its entries” — drew a couple of waspish responses from a Mr. David Gerard.**
He quotes boilerplate legal language about rights and liability from the Britannica and Baltimoresun.com Web sites as if that had something to do with the point I was making. Let me be more explicit. This is what Wikipedia says about itself:
In particular, older articles tend to be more comprehensive and balanced, while newer articles more frequently contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism. Users need to be aware of this to obtain valid information and avoid misinformation that has been recently added and not yet removed. ...
So. This is an encyclopedia that tells you up front that at any given moment, what you see in one of its entries may well be the product of ignorance, fraud or malice. I find that extraordinary, but to the Wikipediasts it’s apparently no big deal.
To save you the labor of reading all the posts cited below, I’ll boil down what I have to say about Wikipedia to this:
Item: I admire the generosity and public-spiritedness with which contributors to Wikipedia share their knowledge and expertise.
Item: I think that it is reprehensible that Wikipedia lacks an adequate mechanism to verify that information and to protect verified information from contamination or malice.
Item: Because the accuracy of the information in Wikipedia entries cannot be trusted, I instruct The Sun’s copy editors and my copy-editing students at Loyola that they must not rely on it. If they look up a subject in Wikipedia, they must confirm any information by consulting an independent and more reliable source.
*If you are not already familiar with my misgivings about Wikipedia, you are welcome to examine these previous posts:
** I’m a little surprised that, given his apparent commitment to Wikipedia’s democracy of ideas, he didn’t welcome my contrary views as equally valid.