This post was submitted to the Wikipedia Review forum in February 2008 by the Reviewer “Dogbiscuit”:
Dogbiscuit: Not so long ago, Gomi did a pretty good summary of what was wrong with Wikipedia (enshrined in blogland now). In recent posts, there have been some observations about why this is a problem. I’m sure others can put this in more learned ways, but I would like to set it out in simple terms, for public consumption.
Clearly, the context is that Wikipedia is omnipresent on the Internet, but I thought it would be useful to enumerate why this concerns me, or us. I don’t think it is simply a matter for academic accuracy, but a wider concern about the ability to misinform on a wider scale.
Here are my starters:
- Humans are by nature lazy and although they should do the right thing and read around their subject, the fact is that they will not. Therefore the earliest and easiest found resources will become the de facto “common knowledge” regardless of their accuracy.
- The general public are unaware of the battles that go on underneath the surface of Wikipedia, so are not equipped with sufficient cynicism to interpret entries, especially when distorted by NPOV negotiations on controversial subjects.
- There are concerted efforts to redefine the public perception of controversial subjects, for example the sly redefinition of bestiality into the neologism of zoophilia. The amorality of Wikpedia is abused to assert that certain activities are morally acceptable.
- TA variation on (1), here is an assumption that humans are capable of forming their own reasoned judgements which will be rational, whereas I hold that many grown ups are never capable of a sensible interpretation. I think the battles on Wikipedia are evidence enough. Therefore, presenting information that requires intellect to establish the veracity is dangerous and dishonest.
To me it is the same as when you read a press article when you were actually there, or even saw events on TV and you realise that if that small event is mis-reported, and the only way we can make our judgements is on information filtered through the media, then we have to question how valid any of our judgements on world affairs are. Given that the powers that be seem so keen on the press being an arbiter of Wikipedian article quality, and I saw a few of those battles on controversial subjects - that’s when the alarm bells rang for me.
This post received an illuminating reply from scholar Jon Awbrey, (also known as The Review’s resident polymath, Jonny Cache) . This reply is reproduced in full below:
Jon Awbrey: I agree with most of what you say above, but there are some things that make me call Wikipediocy a Â«Danger To SocietyÂ» and other choice words that I do not regard as hyperbole.
The gist of it for me goes to the very heart of what it takes to form a Democratic Society that is capable of governing itself wisely.
If the People have the Power, then the People need the wisdom to use that Power in a way that does not hurt themselves. Wisdom depends on having good information about real conditions, and knowledge of the ways of gaining knowledge. All those goodies depend on the widest possible distribution of education. For as long as I can remember educators who take the trouble to reflect on the practice of education have emphasized the fact that a live education requires a knowledge of the Way that knowledge is formed, not just a rote memorization of the current TOC.
But this is precisely the point where the Massive Achievement In Miseducation (MAIM) that we know as Wikipedia has managed to mangle all the best practices of our contemporary education enterprise to the point of becoming an utter mockery of the name Education.
And because this maiming goes on largely behind the scenes of Wikipediot cover pages the Public and the Media have yet to take widespread notice of the inherent danger to society.