The Media

Lay off the Wikipedia!

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Phillip Robinson jumps late into the debate about the Wikipedia, arguing that the online encyclopedia cannot be trusted. He writes:

In the past 18 months, however, there have been several discoveries of wrong or hugely biased articles in Wikipedia. During the 2004 election there were partisans creating or rewriting articles about the candidates and the issues, sometimes back-and-forth-and-back-again.

Hmm. Gosh. Gee. Wrong information? Hugely biased articles? It makes sense that the mainstream media has so gleefully leapt to attack the open source encyclopedia; the wiki is encroaching on their turf. The Wikipedia is far from a perfect source of information, but so are traditional encyclopedias, newspapers, and books. The last time I checked, the Wikipedia didn’t help encourage this nation to go to war with false information, ala Judith Miller.

What troubles me about the attacks on collaborative works like the Wikipedia and blogs is not the fair criticisms about their shortcomings. Rather, I am troubled by the assumption that traditional forms of communication are held up in some way as the gold standard. Sure, the Wikipedia reported falsely that John Seigenthaler was implicated in the assassination of RFK, but the Los Angeles Times ran an Internet hoax about wolves in Wyoming as a new story. The broader point is that mistakes are made by editors and writers of new stories and encyclopedias in both online and print forms.

More broadly, critics seem to miss the point. The great thing about the Wikipedia (and blogs) is that they encourage debate and discussion. Constant revision in articles about subjects like global warming is not a sign of the weakness of Wikipedia, but a sign of its strength. Dialogue, discussion, debate are the paths to learning—not ossified texts held up as infallible, even when demonstrated not to be.

Final Thought: Given that the Nature study that Robinson cited found that in 42 articles in Wikipedia had four errors while Brittanica has 3–-in articles that were, on average, half as long, why not call the article “You just can’t trust everything you read in Brittanica?”

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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