The Problem with Wikipedia

Andrew Raff
April 19, 2006

Jason Scott recently gave a talk about The Great Failure of Wikipedia. The audio is available at the Internet Arcive: The Great Failure of Wikipedia (April 8, 2006). Scott uses specific examples to discuss the problems that face Wikipedia. Despite the appearance of veracity and authority, Wikipedia faces significant challenges before it embodies "the availability of the sum
of human knowledge to everyone on Earth for free."

Wikipedia remains a great place to be an information tourist, but falls short as a serious information resource. The anti-expert bias that Scott notes in the Wikipedia editorial process will continue to keep the actual Wikipedia from becoming anything more than a novelty for information professionals.

In the NY Times, Randall Stross writes: Anonymous Source Is Not the Same as Open Source "Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, currently serves up the following: Five billion pages a month. More than 120 languages. In excess of one million English-language articles. And a single nagging epistemological question: Can an article be judged as credible without knowing its author? Wikipedia says yes, but I am unconvinced."

At Concurring Opinions, Laura Heymann notes a case in the US Court of Federal Claims that discussed the reliability and admissibility of Wikipedia articles: Concurring Opinions: Wikipedia in the Courts: "In an opinion released in February, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims scolded a special master in a vaccine injury case for sua sponte supplementing the record with ‘medical ‘articles’ on afebrile seizures’ that she located on the Internet."

Lore Sjöberg, Wired: The Wikipedia FAQK: "The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: 'Experts are scum.'"

danah boyd offers some insight on the Wikipedia editorial process: on being notable in Wikipedia: "People wanted "proof" that i was notable; they wanted proof of every aspect of my profile. Then, when people in my field stood up for my entry in the discussion for deletion, they were attacked for not being Wikipedians."

Do any readers have academic Lexis/Westlaw or Hein access? Could you run a search to see if any law review articles cite to wikipedia, and if so, how many?

Previously: Wikipedia Woes, Wikipedia and Authority

(edited 4/24 to add Concurring Opinions, NYT and Wired links)

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