Sunday, February 13, 2011

The reliability of Wikipedia

The reliability of Wikipedia came into question at the ART meeting yesterday, so I thought I might toss this out there to spark further conversation.

From the article entitled "The reliability of Wikipedia":

The reliability of Wikipedia, compared to other encyclopedias and more specialized sources, is assessed in many ways, including statistically, by comparative review, analysis of the historical patterns, and strengths and weaknesses inherent in the editing process unique to Wikipedia.[1]

Because Wikipedia is open to anonymous and collaborative editing, assessments of its reliability usually include examinations of how quickly false or misleading information is removed. An early study conducted by IBM researchers in 2003—two years following Wikipedia's establishment—found that "vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly — so quickly that most users will never see its effects"[2] and concluded that Wikipedia had "surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities".[3]

A notable early study in the journal Nature suggested that in 2005, Wikipedia scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of "serious errors".[4] This study was disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica.[5]

By 2010 reviewers in medical and scientific fields such as toxicology, cancer research and drug information reviewing Wikipedia against professional and peer-reviewed sources found that Wikipedia's depth and coverage were of a very high standard, often comparable in coverage to physician databases and considerably better than well known reputable national media outlets. Wikipedia articles were cited as references in journals (614 cites in 2009) and as evidence in trademark and higher court rulings. However, omissions and readability sometimes remained an issue – the former at times due to public relations removal of adverse product information and a considerable concern for fields such as medicine.


Clint Bourgeois said...

In my experience Wikipedia is great for non controversial topics. But if you look at articles for topics of importance to political parties or national identity you will find either some falsehoods or watered down facts. If you look even deeper at the discussion pages for the article you will find petty battles about what a neutral point of view is. Check out the Global Warming Discussion pages and read through that for a frustrating time. So all in all, not a bad article, but much of it is devoted to the controversy. One good thing about Wikipedia more recently is foring people to cite each and every claim. Going to the bottom of the article will give you loads of links to scientific journals and web articles that are much more in depth. So in my opinion Wikipedia is a great place to get not only a general idea of the subject, but it is also a jumping off point for more information.

Bernard Droege said...

When Wikipedia first went active, ANYONE could edit an article without accountability. This was changed a few years ago to either record the IP address of the editor, or to require a log-in and password.
here is the explanation given at the beginning of an edit.:

"You are not currently logged in. If you save any edits, your IP address will be recorded publicly in this page's edit history. If you create an account, you can conceal your IP address and be provided with many other benefits. Messages sent to your IP can be viewed on your talk page."

It has been my personal observation that this policy change has reduced the vandalism and improved the accuracy of articles significantly.

Robert Riehemann said...

I read the basic counterclaim by The Encyclopedia Britannica disputing the Nature findings. it can be found here.

Several of the disputed sections are appropriately claimed to be editorial choices (I usually agree with those assessments). However, it also seems clear that the Wikipedia articles include more depth.

My experience has been that the entries about mathematics and physics in Wikipedia are very good, but I find it odd that they are so detailed. What I think that this means (my opinion only) is that the people who use such articles are very different from those who use the biographical entries, for example. Since the users create the structure, the depth of articles reflects the knowledge of the users. In the Britannica, big book, approach, there is a uniform level (rather high in Britannica's case) of presentation. I consider this a constraint that is better removed.

I also have a somewhat related Britannica story of my own.

While reading the short article about Michael Faraday in Daniel Boorstin's, The Discoverers, I happened to look at the Britannica article on Faraday. They were very, very similar and I thought that it had to be plagiarism. And so I wondered: Did Boorstin---the 12th Librarian of Congress---crib from the Britannica or vice-versa? So I sent Boorstin a note (guessing that the famous scholar was the source and the giant company the copy). I didn't get a response for a year and the note did not comment on the problem except to say that the sources for Boorstin's books could be viewed at the LoC.

Someone later told me that there is a limit of one year after discovery for the correction of such things. I really don't know how to track that down. In any case, my guess is that Boorstin was the cheater.

PS. While this is a legitimate post, it is also a test to see if I can post a comment.

richard said...

I've become a rather serious student of early Buddhism over the past 10 years or so; I've read very many of the most well-regarded scholarly works, learned a little Pali, and have done a fair amount of writing and teaching. I recommend the Wikipedia Buddhism portal to my students as a great starting place, and as a wonderful site to browse around for an hour or so, just following links. I've gone pretty deeply into a number of topics there; while it's come up short a few times, failing to give me an answer to the particular question I was researching, I've never found any serious errors in the information I did find.


randy said...

Jaron Lanier goes into this and other issues about the human - computer- Web 2 - interactions in "You Are Not a Gadget" - a very good read- covered in next months science book club


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