Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wikipedia skepticism

Oliver Kamm has been a longtime critic of Wikipedia. The charge? It makes no distinction between informed and uninformed opinion. It treats knowledge as democratic rather than scientific. Which is absolutely true. I even provided him ammo against the site on one occasion. But as someone who uses Wikipedia very frequently, how can I reconcile this with being a skeptic?

I think the answer is that Wikipedia is a great resource if you're a skeptic. If you don't put too much stock into what it says, if you actually click on the sources to see if they're valid, if you can laugh away all the ridiculous opinion injections, flame wars, and cranks.

And cranks there are many. They see a way to popularize their pet issue and they hammer it hard. Skeptics fight back, and articles just on criticism of crank issues grow to amazing lengths. But the number of critics seems inversely related to a crank issue's popularity. Lots of psuedoscience slips through the cracks. An in articles that should, admittedly, be completely informative and need not contain skeptical criticism, measured scientific temperament gets crowded out by fervor. Take, for instance, the entry for Garden of Eden. The majority of the text lists suspected locations, few of which are particularly important to religious traditions, and none of which are true given the story's completely mythical character. Instead of discussing the Garden's place in the history of mythology or theology, editors have turned the article into a literalist buffet--pick your favorite evidenceless speculation. And, as of the time of this posting, the "Eden in Art" section is just a jumble of namedropping.

So remember, Wikipedia, while handy in a pinch, is still the result of a bunch of internet forum posters angrily fighting with each other. Its quality on controversial issues is about what you'd expect.


guni said...

Wikipedia is an academic playground. Don't visit the articles where the fights break out.

Brittany Gill said...


Brittany Gill said...

and wait, hold up, you're wrong about all this. Wikipedia is never wrong. Wikipedia told me so.

Swimmy Lionni said...

What are you talking about? Wikipedia is full of liberal media bias. But conservapedia, that's never, ever wrong.