Thursday, July 01, 2010


Pajamas Media has a report on political censorship at Wikipedia. Be alert.

Look, I love Wikipedia, because I have become addicted to finding out what the capital of The Gambia is, or what year Gilligan's Island started, all at a moment's notice. Though I suppose with a search engine, Wikipedia isn't so necessary after all. But I don't trust them on anything political or controversial. Its editors have not yet embraced the moral ideal of neutrality and objectivity.

If you have a strong bias about a topic, then you bend over backwards to give the other guy a fair shake. That's a very elementary morality. Which I am not capable of, BTW - I know my editing would favor one side no matter how hard I tried. But that is one reason I don't set myself up as an objective editor of controversial material. I could do pretty well, by sheer effort. But pretty well isn't good enough.

Of course, having a strong bias about a topic usually decreases your ability to see that. You just think you and your friends are right, and the other side populated by jerks and liars. The deeper the bias, the less one perceives it.


Gringo said...

Many who have a more than trivial knowledge in a controversial subject can see that Wikipedia entries are often controlled by "true believers" among posters and editors who are more concerned with pushing their agenda than in having Wiki-entries that are well-documented and well-written.

At least that has been my experience with a number of issues pertaining to Latin America. BTW, the English language entries pertaining to the Allende era in Chile are substantially more objective than those coming from the Spanish language version of Wikipedia.

Often the Wikipedia entries are self-correcting. The Wikipedia entry for my high school sometimes has entries such as "Kobe Bryant is an alumnus" ( not), but these are usually corrected in short order. I was amused to find some such nonsense entry that came from one of my high school classmates!

Wikipedia is good for non-controversial matters. If you want to find out what the population of NYC was in 1970, Wikipedia is probably the fastest place to find such information.
It is best used as a place to find source material.

jaed said...

Wikipedia's got structural problems.

One is that it's completely possible for someone to decide that they "own" an article, camp on it, revert all changes to it. Others attempting to edit the article see their changes reverted and eventually give up. Although it is not strictly necessary that the self-appointed "owner" be insane, it helps. Thus, Wikipedia will eventually converge to a state where all articles are controlled by a crazed obsessive, and the only changes will be to new articles. (Which will in turn be eventually located by a crazy obsessive, etc.)

Another is the frankly bizarre policy on sourcing, which is very heavily weighted in favor of mainstream-media outlets. (A first-hand account of an event? "Not a reliable source!" The NYT editorial page? "A reliable source!")

A third is that as far as I can tell, the original Wikipedia core group were heavily liberal, and there's a founder effect (those who didn't share this political orientation were more likely to feel unwelcome, and the skew snowballed). This one may be unavoidable where the founders share a particular bias (political or otherwise).

Structural problems are hard to fix. They can be hard to see, even, for committed members.