No Fancy Name
Thursday, December 15, 2005
some Wikipedia notes
I haven't posted anything about the latest Wikipedia kerfuffle because I haven't been posting anything except silly updates about my various and sundry papers (which are now out of my hands) and work things (still in my hands). But Mel did recently (and so did By-the-Bayou John). She asked:
First, why didn't he just change the entry himself? or have one of his minions do it? (In the past few days, on the heels of this issue, Wikipedia has changed the rules so that only registered users will be able to contribute information, allowing all changes to be tracked to a particular user.)

Second, no one with any sense would take a Wikipedia article on a super-controversial (and potentially wacky) topic like the Kennedy assassination very seriously.
On the first point, a big fat "exactly!" to that. Some people, not naming names here (*cough*me*cough*), sometimes peruse changelogs and the "who's been bad on Wikipedia and should we ban 'em" pages just for kicks. Well, and also to see the sorts of things that people like to deface, and how. Also, I actually thought people already had to register/login before making changes—I had to (and still do). It's not like making changes in a wiki is terribly difficult, and if you screw it up you can simply re-do or someone will catch it right away and fix it for you (if it's something like formatting). So yeah, it's pretty lame the guy didn't fix it because there would still have been a changelog/diff results and thus he could point to the old content in the changelog/diff results while making his point, but the incorrect info wouldn't still be posted for all to see.

On the second point, again with the big fat "exactly!" I use Wikipedia for general knowledge/date ranges/starting points kinds of stuff because in some cases the related links are a pre-filtered Google search and that cuts down on the time I spend weeding through crap while looking stuff up. I mostly use it for things related to history and religion where I think I know the answer to my own question but I want to quickly check if I'm even close.

If you want to talk about kerfuffle around topics, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Deconstruction and note the big fat warning at the top: "This article needs a complete rewrite for the reasons listed on the talk page." Then go to the actual talk page for this topic and watch your head explode. Fun for all!

When it comes to the accuracy of items in Wikipedia articles, just published the results of a comparison between the accuracy of 42 science-related articles in Wikipedia and Brittanica. The results showed "the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three." Further: "Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively." The article goes on to raise some good points as it relates to researchers and teachers.

Via Slashdot comes a link to this really interesting follow-up, where the relative length of articles is discussed. Namely, that "the Wikipedia articles in the sample were, on average, 2.6 times longer than Britannica's" (6.8K in Wikipedia to 2.6K in Brittanica) making the error rate—when using errors per 2K versus errors per article—1.3 for Wikipedia and 3.6 for Britannica.

Overall, I am a fan of Wikipedia and at some point hope to add more content to articles and make corrections where appropriate. For instance, I want to edit the Jean Toomer page because it's pretty sad and I've done a bunch of Toomer-related work this semester. In a discussion about various other technology-related things, my AmLit prof mentioned how he needs to go in and edit the Lady Caroline Lamb page because he's written a book about her and obviously knows a great deal. I'd recommend anyone with knowledge of anything take a few minutes one day and edit an article on a topic near and dear to you. It's not difficult or scary, I promise!

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