Wikipedia Politics

Amusing short piece on Wikipedia politics (it is actually a good meditation on rhetoric in general and the speed of online rhetorics in particular). My favorite part:

For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War -- and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge -- get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved. And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse with Randy until the sword-skeleton theory can be incorporated into the article without passing judgment.


Lance said...

I wonder how typical such situations are. Anecdotally, I have heard recently (maybe in the academic blogosphere?) of a teacher demonstrating to his class why Wikipedia is an unreliable source by replacing vast amounts of text in an entry (forget which one) with a picture of his cat. Thing is, two minutes later, the original text was restored. Wikipedia may be the most policed source of information a person could hope to find, and the people doing the policing of a given entry are likely to care enough about it to also know, more or less, what they're talking about. So, I wonder how representative the sword-wielding-skeleton school of Peloponnesian War Studies is of typical voice-vying dynamics on (in?) Wikipedia.

My speculation is not without its challenges, though. The April 2006 Atlantic ("Primary Sources" section) reports on a study showing Wikipedia to be less reliable than typical encyclopedias on CD (Encarta, in particular, if memory serves), but only marginally so, with something like 3 errors to every 2 found on CD's. (I'd like to look more carefully at that study, though, since my intuition tells me that even those relatively close numbers overstate the unreliability of Wikipedia. I wonder, for example, how the researchers defined "error," given that, even in academic scholarship, one person's fact may be another's conjecture.)

Doc Mara said...

Yeah, I think Wikipedia makes some "experts" a little unsettled because it foregrounds the derivative and collaborative nature of most expertise. I used to circle uses of Wikipedia in student papers as questionable, but now encourage students to think of sourcing and attribution similarly to DJs (one of the reasons I use Johndan Johnson-Eilola's datacloud: Toward a Theory of Online Work in my classes). Wikipedia makes it easy to find a pretty good thumbnail sketch of an argument around an artifact or idea, but it definitely strips the information of its "sourciness." DJs spend inordinate amounts of time "digging"--looking for interesting tracks for their compositions. Good writers and rhetors have usually done the same. The time of the "expert" is gone. The time of "the possee" is at hand.

Or something like that.