Fairness doctorin’

I look up a lot of stuff on Wikipedia. Political matters, though, justify finding other sources:

Sometimes zealots become obnoxious enough that they lose privileges or are even blocked — although it’s nearly impossible to block someone who uses a different IP address. But an administrator named William Connolley eventually was removed as an administrator because of abusive edits to climate change pages, and congressional staffers have been blocked for politically-motivated (and libelous) edits to opponent’s pages — not to mention one who is going to prison for doxing members of Congress on Wikipedia.

This is a real, and essential, problem with the Wikipedia model: it can’t both be open to general editing and a reliable source on controversial topics. Wikipedia tries to combat this with various policies, including maintaining a neutral point of view, and a stated policy that it’s “not a newspaper.” But the supply of zealots is unlimited.

So, the conclusion is not to trust Wikipedia on any controversial topic, and trust-but-verify on any topic.

I am a registered editor at Wikipedia. My ISP tosses me a new IP address every few weeks; one of them is actually blocked by Wikipedia, though not for anything I did. (The last edit I did was to this page.)

And you’d be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t, at the topics that have been locked by administrators.

3 comments »

  1. fillyjonk »

    11 July 2019 · 10:27 am

    Yeah, this is one reason why I discourage students from using Wikipedia as a source for their research papers. (The bigger reason? These are wannabee biology professionals; they should be reading the primary literature, not Wikipedia).

    But yeah: the supply of zealots is unlimited. And apparently they have a lot more time on their hands than the non-zealots.

    (And Would You Believe: there are some in academia who say discouraging Wikipedia as a source for research-papers-in-one’s-major is Problematic.)

  2. McGehee »

    11 July 2019 · 2:08 pm

    I don’t trust any one site on any controversial topic, not even my own. I mean, who better to know how slanted somebody’s arguments can be than the guy who writes them?

    I figured out pretty early on that any unsigned article on Snopes, if it was about anything political, was garbage, but anything signed by Barbara Mikkelson seemed, at the time, to be okay. It’s been a looooong time, though, since I’ve looked at the site so I don’t know what they’re like now.

    Everything is written from a point of view, and not everyone declares it up front. They may not realize their opinions are slanting their reporting, or they may be tilting it deliberately to mislead readers. The only defense is the (ahem) liberal application of skepticism even (especially) when the opinion being expressed is one you agree with.

  3. Roger O Green »

    12 July 2019 · 4:33 am

    The only things I’ve edited on Wikipedia were facts I did not need to look up, such as a 2005 post that said the next Presidential election was in 2007 instead of 2008.

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