Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Degrees vs. Democracy at Wikipedia

I think we all have used Wikipedia, the online people's encyclopedia, from time to time. I have found it to be fairly accurate on the occasions I have consulted it about Russian history, but lately there have been problems. Someone editing the entry on Robert F. Kennedy inserted an outrageous inaccuracy last year, and now there have been instances of editors claiming advanced knowledge or degrees working on entries involving issues like canon law in the Catholic church. These incidents have prompted some history departments to forbid students from using it as a source.

Now Wikipedia is attempting to address these problems by asking contributors to fax proof of expertise where they claim to have advanced knowledge...perhaps having alleged PhD or MA editors fax a copy of their diplomas to the editor-in-chief. But then Wikipedia will lose its democratic essence as an online encylopedia to which the world is invited to contribute on an ongoing basis. So should degrees or democracy determine Wikipedia content? It's an interesting issue.

I notice that not all entries and issues are accessible for anyone wishing to contribute. One prominent example is the Armenian genocide...gee, I wonder why the editors wouldn't want that to be a free-for-all subject? Access is severely restricted there, for some strange reason...anyway, you can check out the whole story when you have time. It's definitely a 21st century phenomenon.


Anonymous said...

Evidence of advance degree won't settle all arguments on Wiki, as it doesn't within academia itself :).

I don't use Wiki, nor will I accept Wiki-based research from my interns or staff. There are just too many areas I've found errors to make me comfortable with its use as anything other than a start out guide.

But what one will or won't accept in the workplace is not the same in my mind as forbidding students to use it for research. I've been following some of those discussions as well. I wouldn't deny students the chance to use Wiki for research, but I would also hope that as a professor I made it clear to them that there are risks involved, and if using Wiki, they should take some time and double check their facts.

moville said...

hi, you're right, for some people, PhD means "piled higher and deeper." i could name some names for a price...
i guess the standard warning for anything Internet is in order here: CAVEAT EMPTOR!!

jodmeister said...

I only use wiki to get a brief overview of something. I'm a WWII buff and they have a cool map of the occupation of Europe month by month from August 1939 to June 1945 on wiki under WWII.

Besides, I had an American History professor pound it into my head that wiki is not a credible source!

german said...

wiki should go the way of the doo doo bird. obviously our society is not ready for this type of inclusive site. i doubt anyone really chekcs the accuracy of the submiters. iys just a bad idea all around. maybe for pre writing only is iys only function. what ever happened to a real enclycopledia anyways?????? you know one that is shaped like a bookk and its updated every few years