Wikipedia - is it objective, does it tell the truth
#1
Interesting article.

http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article...s-creation

Personally I think the author is missing the point. Any encyclopedia is edited and so by definition biassed. Same is true for any history book, analysis, etc.

It's fair to give low marks for citing Wikipedia. But I would also give equally low marks to anybody citing any other enyclopedia or pre-digested work such as a school or popular history book. To do research on history etc you have to use different sources (and be sure those sources really are different rather than rehashing one another or a single common source) and draw your own conclusions, not have an editor do it for you.

Wikipedia is good to get at the broad facts quickly and put things into perspective - a starting point if you don't know where to start. Anbody who thinks everything on wiki is true has lost the plot. Same as believing everything that comes on TV or is written in the newspapers or is said by a famous professor is true. It isn't, never was and never will be.
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#2
but having said that, there is one great strength in Wiki that other encyclopedias and reference books miss. You can go in and debate things if you don't agree. If you read something in Britannica or in your poular history reference book that you think is twisted or misinformed or biassed or not properly researched you can just say, maybe its a mistake and maybe the editor has an agenda but you'll never know. On Wiki you can go and debate it and maybe get it changed. This does provide a certain level of filtering and objectivity. Of course it's not absolute but it helps.
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#3
I agree, shadowfax. I use Wikipedia alot. It's a good starting point to form a strong base of information on a subject I know little or nothing about. From there I can go out and collect for info that will either confirm or deny what I've learned on Wikipedia.

Generally speaking, as you've said, it's never a good idea to take information from any one source as the end-all truth.
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#4
shadowfax Wrote:It's fair to give low marks for citing Wikipedia. But I would also give equally low marks to anybody citing any other enyclopedia or pre-digested work such as a school or popular history book. To do research on history etc you have to use different sources (and be sure those sources really are different rather than rehashing one another or a single common source) and draw your own conclusions, not have an editor do it for you.

You state the case exactly as I would. Citing an online source is not bad, and Wikipedia is a good place to start. I don't see that citing it should necessitate a poor score, unless it is the only source cited. Any properly prepared high school or college student should be aware that single source citations are the same as painting the academic equivelant of a target on your paper and then posting a sign that says, "Hit the Bull's Eye and Win $100 - All Shots are Free!"

But Wikipedia is excellent for giving quick, high to medium level information and providing a basis for deeper research, even if you're not a college student struggling with a paper on Spartacus. They strive to provide a balanced view, giving arguments widely held for an against certain aspects, and providing citations within their own articles.

It is, almost without exception, the best place to start any research on any topic that you are not already familiar.
All your base are belong to us.

It could be that the purpose of my life is only to serve as a warning to others.
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#5
It's been a while since I did research papers for university. Then I had to travel to colleges and universities in the area to use their libraries to exhaust the topic. I am curious. These days, can one do all needed research online, or are there plenty of paper books out there that are not available online and so must be read in person?
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#6
Arcadia Wrote:It's been a while since I did research papers for university. Then I had to travel to colleges and universities in the area to use their libraries to exhaust the topic. I am curious. These days, can one do all needed research online, or are there plenty of paper books out there that are not available online and so must be read in person?

The internet does contain stupendous amounts of information on all imagineable subjects. Even many scientific books and journals can now be downloaded (for a charge) so reducing the amount of time you need to spend in libraries. But IMHO, unless maybe you are researching the internet itself, no serious research can rely wholly on information gleaned off the net.
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#7
one reason for this is the relative commonness of circular references on the net. In printed documents all source references, besides the work you did yourself (such as primary research and interpretations), are documents that must, by definition, have been published previously. You can then get those documents and check their souces in turn and so trace every concept to its origin. This is especially useful in debunking wierdo theories, where you often find that either the original docment is a fraud or references were made up somewhere along the way or someting has been misinterpreted (not always intentionally). When you are dealing with electronic docments you are dealing with a medium that is continously changing. So not only can online pages vanish or change, but quite often people may add references at a later point when they find other sources that concur with their ideas. This leads to circular references and goes against the principles of objective science.
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#8
The general quality of Wikipedia's content is pretty horrible. There are numerous well-publicized accounts of experts, or individuals who are the subjects of articles, attempting to correct Wikipedia and being blown out of the water by the pompous admins.

When I found a couple of news group propagandists modifying Wikipedia articles about Tolkien and Middle-earth to reflect their personal views (which are generally contrary to what Tolkien writes in his books), I attempted to insert corrections. We got into a reversion war and after the cooling-off period several admins told me I needed to "assume good faith", despite the fact that the propagandists were violating Wikipedia guidelines.

Since I became very ill about that time I let the matter drop, but the bottom line is that people who are completely ignorant and incompetent in specific areas of expertise continuously intervene in all attempts to improve Wikipedia's reliability and they push out the knowledgeable people in favor of anyone who has a high edit history.

And there is a growing number of former Wikipedia admins who just bash the core group incessantly. They argue that the political correctness which rules Wikipedia has just rendered the entire concept unworkable. I have to agree with them.

A professional encyclopedia sets standards of quality and research that Wikipedia will never meet.

I doubt I will ever find any reason to recommend Wikipedia as a useful, authoritative source of information. It's just not going to make it that far down the road.
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#9
Michael has had personal experience and has documented some of the downfalls of the unique manner in which Wikipedia accepts and publishes information. As he stated, anyone can put up an article to Wikipedia and while the content can be disputed, the general idea is that with those for or against a certain article a balanced article will be created that represents both sides of the facts. The problem that is highlighted with this is exactly as Michael states.

However, this shouldn't be considered a discrediting of Wikipedia. The concept is reasonable solid, and in less controversial respects, it works quite nicely. For instance, how many encyclopedia will have an entry for "That 70's Show" or for a detailed breakdown of a trebuchet's throwing action? How about the comic book print history of James O'Barr's The Crow? Need a brief overview of StarCraft or any rumor updates? Wikipedia has all these and more.

As has been mentioned above, as a starting place for first glance information, Wikipedia is rapidly becoming second to none. That it is not all things too all researchers is hardly unprecedented. But what is impressive is the quick updates and the vast information on most any subject you can think of.
All your base are belong to us.

It could be that the purpose of my life is only to serve as a warning to others.
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#10
If your searching more than just wikipedia your good. Wikipedia is still great for projects and it's never failed to give me a high mark. Though Wikipedia might not give you the whole story it's enough for a highschool teacher Smile
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#11
In most cases, wikipedia is great. Great for extremely up to date information and on stuff that you wouldn't find in conventional encyclopedias.

there is an article on almost anything you search - and if there isn't you can create yourself!
Sure it has it's problems, like what MM has described - but overall it is very good.

The number of times that I visit wikipedia every week is uncountable. If I don't know what something is that I come accross or/and want more info on something I get it. It is just a huge great font of information of many sorts. Questionable information is debated and then deleted. They actually have pretty strict standards and certain things must have cited sources, or the information will be removed.

While I was in High School, I used it all the time for background information and very good overviews. Used it for various European history stuff and court cases, etc.

I didn't use it for my Research Paper - and I don't think that I would cite Wikipedia until that becomes acceptable.
Tongue
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#12
I doubt it will ever become generally acceptable to use WIkipedia as a source for any serious research -- not under its current administrative structure. It lacks true quality control and professional contributions are sporadic.

The idea that people can share general knowledge seems noble on first glance -- everyone is empowered -- but since most people are not qualified to judge the quality and accuracy of the informatiion in such a commonwealth of wisdom, it's a highly unreliable source of information.
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#13
I think, Michael, that maybe you think too highly of many other encyclopedias and reference books. Here as in Wikipedia, there is some degree of arbitary editing decisons. Only the fact that you cannot go back and criticise and debate means that you, as reader, end up trsuting that the author is far more knowledgeable than yourself. Only in areas where you are yourself an expert do you notice the mistakes creeping in. I know that you too have criticised other Tolkien experts over their opinions and conclusions - only through your writings you have a platform to dissemiante your ideas which many others don't have to that extent. But when reading about things you don't know much about you choose to believe. Why should these areas be any different and the experts so much better than those whose tricks you know?

The fact that the author may be a broadly acclaimed expert or even a professor often doesn't help. Even a professor can be biassed and can have an agenda of some sort or just a very personal slant.

If you really want to get to the bottom of the facts, there is no alternative to original research. Any reference book of any sort is inm some way filtered, pre-digested and slanted. But if yopu want the facts quickly, its usually the best you can do. Now, as RR said, what other source of reference covers so many areas in such details as Wikipedia? I can't think of any.
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#14
It's a good, quick jump off point when you want a quick rundown of information. I wouldn't base an importnat paper on it, but sometimes, if you are on line and wonder "What the heck is Schadenfreude" you can go look it up on wikipedia, and not have to unearth your Funk&Wagnel.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#15
shadowfax Wrote:I think, Michael, that maybe you think too highly of many other encyclopedias and reference books. Here as in Wikipedia, there is some degree of arbitary editing decisons....

Encyclopedias have taken heavy criticism through the years, but generally speaking they rely upon credentialed contributors and qualified editorial review. That doesn't guarantee the best quality, but it sets a higher standard than a Wiki can typically meet.

Quote:...I know that you too have criticised other Tolkien experts over their opinions and conclusions - only through your writings you have a platform to dissemiante your ideas which many others don't have to that extent....

It is debatable who has the wider audience, me or Tom Shippey (with whom I have had the most blatant disagreement in publication, though he has never -- to my knowledge -- responded). But I would regard Shippey's stature in Tolkien scholarship and community respect to be well above my own.

David Day isn't someone whom I consider to be an expert or scholar. I've criticized him plenty.

Anyone else, maybe they do have less visibility, but it's not for lack of opportunity or trying.

That said, it's not about who is right or wrong. It's about what level of trust can be placed in a broadly advocated resource. Everyone can pick up a Michael Martinez book and a Tom Shippey book and decide whatever they want for themselves. Both authors get some citations here and there (Shippey clearly gets more) in other books.

But with a Wiki, people constantly refer to it like it has some weight of authority. The same is true for the Encyclopedia of Arda, the biggest flaw of which is its general incompleteness (not for lack of effort).

Quote:...But when reading about things you don't know much about you choose to believe. Why should these areas be any different and the experts so much better than those whose tricks you know?...

Let the experts hash out their disagreements in less public venues. It's bad enough that there is no capable management in charge of Wikipedia. There may be more capable management at lesser Wikis, but that's the big one.

The last thing the public needs is to see "information" that is nothing more than propaganda. Wikipedia is a propagandist's dream and an information manager's nightmare. The problem of propaganda is widespread.

Worse, there are many admins and former admins who think very poorly of the Wikipedia admin community in large part because they make unqualified and inappropriate judgement calls in the name of ignorance-based "assumed good faith".

Such naivete can only be manipulated like clay by propagandists who count on the trusting ignorance of rule-makers and enforcers to protect them.

That is why you should never trust anything posted at Wikipedia. You have no way of knowing (unless you're an expert in the topic) of whether the article you're reading represents one person's point of view, a communal point of view, or anything at all like a factual representation of general knowledge on the topic.

Any subject where passions or egos or self-esteem are inspired is at the very least questionable at Wikipedia. There are numerous accounts of people who tried to fix clear problems at Wikipedia, only to be stopped by the admin community.

Frankly, I'd rather recommend the Encyclopedia of Arda than Wikipedia.
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#16
There are soo many kids who cite wikipedia ..

I only use it to look up a few quick terms.
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