Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My Butt Can't be Trusted

Every time I see or hear about people complaining about the unreliability of Wikipedia, it really gets on my nerves. The reason is because usually these people are complaining about common sense. It is true that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source of information (what is?). It is true that there can be editorial content on some of the pages.


First of all, since when does one go to an encyclopedia to look up information about dynamic information such as current political events and then somehow expect it to give an impartial opinon? And since when have single-author texts been guaranteed to be less opinionated? Wikipedia's paradigm of presenting information is, after all, loosely based on the goal and format of an encylopedia: it gives you basic summary information. You're not supposed to trust it with your life and soul.

And for people who complain about how anonymous and open submission leads to false information: yes. It can. It can also lead to all the entries which make Wikipedia more useful than any static encyclopedia. There's really no other source of information that can give you a basic summary of everything from tensor analysis to season 7 episode 3 of The Simpsons. Nothing is perfect and it's anyone's perogative to condemn a tool if it has imperfections but I'd rather use Wikipedia with all its imperfections than not.

And on the matter of information being trustworthy in Wikipedia: most of it is. There may be mistakes in the in-depth details but the general gist of articles on things like the hydrogen atom or Venture Brothers are correct. An article on Kerry or Bush or the Israel-Lebanon may not be, but then what source would one trust for such subjects? Sure, you never "know" if an article is really trusted or right but, again, how would you "know" even for an article written by an expert? What guarantees that an "expert" will give useful or objectively tenable information (something the news networks want you to believe so that they can displace responsiblity)? It's really very constructive to point out Wikipedia's problems but it is less than useful to argue about its shortcomings against an impossible ideal of "objective truth".

1 comment:

Shryh said...

Hear, hear!

Did you read the Onion article on Wikipedia celebrating "750 years of independence"? It was funny, but rather overblown, I thought.