Criticism of Wikipedia
Wikipediais the largest free content encyclopediaproject written by volunteers, as a result of which, it has attracted criticism. Notable criticisms include that its open nature makes it unauthoritative and unreliable (see Reliability of Wikipedia), that it exhibits systemic bias, and that its group dynamicshinder its goals. Specific criticisms include:
* the encyclopedia's exposure to obvious or subtle
* criticism of the encyclopedia taken as personal attacks upon it
* attempts by strongly opinionated editors to dominate articles
* inaccurate or sometimes non-existent sourcing for controversial assertions in articles, and
* edit wars and other types of nonconstructive conflict among editors. Particularly noteworthy controversies about Wikipedia's content and editors have attracted wide and unfavorable media attention. Critics have used the Seigenthaler and Essjay incidents to call Wikipedia's reliability and usefulness as a reference into question. Wikipedia has also been the subject of
parodyand other humorous criticism.
Criticism of the content
Robert McHenry said that Wikipedia errs in billing itself as an encyclopedia, because that word implies a level of authority and accountability that they believe cannot be possessed by an openly editable reference. McHenry argues thatcquote|"to the ordinary user, the turmoil and uncertainty that may lurk beneath the surface of a Wikipedia article are invisible. He or she arrives at a Wikipedia article via Google, perhaps, and sees that it is part of what claims to be an "encyclopedia". This is a word that carries a powerful connotation of reliability. The typical user doesn't know how conventional encyclopedias achieve reliability, only that they do." [ cite news | author=McHenry, Robert | date =
url = http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=121305E | title = The Faith-Based Encyclopedia Blinks | publisher = TCS Daily | accessdate = 2005-12-30]
Frequent Wikipedia critic Orlowski wrote on a December 2005 OpEd at "
cquote|"If what we today know as 'Wikipedia' had started life as something called, let's say —'Jimbo's Big Bag O'Trivia'— we doubt if it would be the problem it has become. Wikipedia is indeed, as its supporters claim, a phenomenal source of pop culture trivia. Maybe a 'Big Bag O'Trivia' is all Jimbo [Jimmy Wales] ever wanted. Maybe not.
"For sure a libel is a libel, but the outrage would have been far more muted if the Wikipedia project didn't make such grand claims for itself. The problem with this vanity exercise is one that it's largely created for itself. The public has a firm idea of what an 'encyclopedia' is, and it's a place where information can generally be trusted, or at least slightly more trusted than what a labyrinthine, mysterious bureaucracy can agree upon, and surely more trustworthy than a piece of spontaneous graffiti—and Wikipedia is a king-sized cocktail of the two." [cite web|url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/12/wikipedia_no_responsibility/page2.html|title=Who's responsible for Wikipedia?|author=Andrew Orlowski|date=2005-12-12|publisher="The Register"|accessdate=2007-10-27]
A number of academics – such as
Sarah Deutch, dean of social sciences and professor of history at Duke University, and Margaret Humphries, professor of history and associate clinical professor of medicine at Duke – have criticized Wikipedia for its perceived failure as a reliable source. A related if somewhat " ad hominem" criticism is that many Wikipedia editors do not have degrees or other credentials generally recognized in academia.cite news
first = Susan
last = Youngwood
title = Wikipedia: What do they know; when do they know it, and when can we trust it?
url = http://vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070401/FEATURES/70330002
work = Vermont Sunday Magazine
April 1, 2007
accessdate = 2007-04-05
quote =Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Wikipedia - both its genius and its Achilles heel - is that anyone can create or modify an entry. Anyone means your 10-year-old neighbor or a Nobel Prize winner - or an editor like me, who is itching to correct a grammar error in that Wikipedia entry that I just quoted. Entries can be edited by numerous people and be in constant flux. What you read now might change in five minutes. Five seconds, even. — Susan Youngwood.] The use of Wikipedia is not accepted in many schools and universities in writing a formal paper. Several educational institutions have blocked Wikipedia in the past while others have limited its use to only a pointer to external sources.cite web| url=http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/2007/03/28/News/Several.Colleges.Push.To.Ban.Wikipedia.As.Resource-2809247.shtml|title=Several colleges push to ban Wikipedia as resource|publisher=Duke Chronicle|date=2007-03-28|author=Lysa Chen|accessdate=2007-04-02] University of Maryland professor of physics
Robert L. Parkhas characterized Wikipedia as a target for "purveyors of pseudoscience." [cite web|url=http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN07/wn032307.html|title=Wikipedia: Has a beautiful idea fallen victim to human nature?|publisher=What's New By Bob Park|author=Bob Park|date=2007-03-23|accessdate=2007-04-02]
Some academic journals do refer to Wikipedia articles, but are not elevating it to the same level as traditional references. For instance, Wikipedia articles have been referenced in "enhanced perspectives" provided on-line in the journal "Science". The first of these perspectives to provide a hyperlink to Wikipedia was "A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light," [cite web|author=Linden, Hartmut|year=
2002-08-02| url=http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/297/5582/777|title=A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light|work=Science|accessdate=2005 (subscription access only)] and dozens of enhanced perspectives have provided such links since then. The publisher of "Science" states that these enhanced perspectives "include hypernotes - which link directly to websites of other relevant information available online - beyond the standard bibliographic references." [cite web|url=http://www.aaas.org/publications/books_reports/CCLI/PDFs/01_D_Perspectives.pdf|title=Perspectives from AAAS|publisher=American Association for the Advancement of Science|author=Yolanda S. George and Shirley S. Malcolm|accessdate=2007-10-27|format=PDF]
librarians, academics, and editors of other encyclopedias consider it to have little utility as a reference work. cite news | author=McHenry, Robert | date = 2004-11-15
url = http://www.techcentralstation.com/111504A.html | title = The Faith-Based Encyclopedia
publisher = Tech Central Station | accessdate = 2005-12-30 ] Most university
lecturersdiscourage students from citing any encyclopedia in academic work, preferring primary sources. [cite web|url=http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/02/27/2003350261|title=Wikipedia on an academic hit list|author=Noam Cohen|publisher=NY Times News Service|date=2007-02-27|accessdate=2007-04-16|quote=Middlebury professor Thomas Beyer, of the Russian department, said: 'I guess I am not terribly impressed by anyone citing an encyclopedia as a reference point, but I am not against using it as a starting point.'] One university program and several schools have even banned Wikipedia citations specifically. [" [http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/01/26/wiki A Stand Against Wikipedia] ", "Inside Higher Ed" ( January 26, 2007). Retrieved on January 27 2007.]
Wikipedia's policies state that assertions should be supported by reliable, published sources—ideally, by
peer reviewed publications. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability|title=Wikipedia: Verifiability] Jimmy Wales, the " de facto" leader of Wikipedia,cite news|url=http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07092/772696-96.stm|title=Wikipedia co-founder seeks to start all over again—this time with contributors' real names|author=Brian Bergstein|date=2007-04-02|accessdate=2007-04-21|publisher= Associated Press|quote=Wikipedia's de-facto leader, Jimmy Wales, counters that real names are overrated. cite web|url=http://www.matei.org/ithink/papers/ambiguity-conflict-wikipedia/|title=Ambiguity and conflict in the Wikipedian knowledge production system|author=Sorin Adam Matei and Caius Dobrescu|publisher=2006 International Communication Association Annual Meeting, Dresden, Germany|accessdate=2007-04-26|quote=The participants included several notable contributors, such as James Wales, Wikipedia’s founder and de facto arbiter and leader of the project. cite web|author=Holden Frith|title=Wikipedia founder launches rival online encyclopaedia|url=http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article1571519.ece|publisher=" The Times"|date=2007-03-26|accessdate=2007-04-26|quote=Wikipedia’s de facto leader, Jimmy Wales, stood by the site's format.] stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate as primary sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative. [http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/dec2005/tc20051214_441708.htm Wikipedia: "A Work in Progress"] , BusinessWeek( December 14, 2005). Retrieved on 2007-01-29.]
Accuracy of information
Lack of authority
Wikipedia acknowledges that it should not be used as a primary source for serious research.cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Researching_with_Wikipedia|title=Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia|work=
Wikipedia|accessdate=2005-12-14] Librarian Philip Bradley stated in an October 2004 interview with " The Guardian" that the concept behind the site was a "lovely idea," and he would use it in practice, and that he is "not aware of a single librarian who wouldn't. The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window." cite news
last = Waldman | first = Simon | date =
2004-10-26| title = Who knows?
url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2004/oct/26/g2.onlinesupplement
The Guardian| accessdate = 2005-12-30] Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of " Encyclopædia Britannica" said in November 2004:
Wikipedia contains no formal
peer reviewprocess for fact-checking, and due to the lack of requiring qualifications to edit any article, the contributors themselves may not be well-versed in the topics they write about. As the cultural commentator Paul Vallelyput it, writing in " The Independent" on the subject of Wikipedia:cquote|"Using it is like asking questions of a bloke you met in the pub. He might be a nuclear physicist. Or he might be a fruitcake." [cite news
url = http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/article1886601.ece | publisher =
title = The Big Question: Do we need a more reliable online encyclopedia than Wikipedia? | last = Vallely | first = Paul
2006-10-18| accessdate = 2006-10-18 ]
Due to lack of intrinsic authority, Wikipedia has been also criticized for relying too much on citing sources, particularly in disputed articles, instead of relying on expert authority for the credibility of its contents. [cite web|url=http://blog.citizendium.org/2007/03/21/we-arent-wikipedia/|title=We aren’t Wikipedia|author=Larry Sanger|publisher=Citizendium Blog|date=2007-03-21|accessdate=2007-04-29|quote=Since we’ve got expert editors on board, we can take a more sensible approach to citing sources. The editors we have on board create the sort of sources that Wikipedia cites. We do cite sources, of course, but we have a sensible approach to doing so. We cite sources because doing so helps the reader. We do not cite sources in order to settle internal disputes, or to “prove” a point to contributors; as seasoned researchers, we know that you can find sources for all sorts of ridiculous claims.]
Comparative study on scientific articles conducted by "Nature"
In December 2005 the journal "
Nature" conducted a single-blind study comparing the accuracy of a sample articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica. The sample included 42 articles on scientific topics, including biographies of well-known scientists. The articles were compared for accuracy by academic reviewers that remained anonymous − a customary practice for journal article reviews. Based on their review, the average Wikipedia article contained 4 errors or omissions; the average Britannica article, 3. The study concluded:cite journal | title = Internet encyclopaedias go head to head | author = Jim Giles | journal = Nature| volume = 438 | pages = 900-901 | doi = 10.1038/438900a | date = 2005-12-15
accessdate = 2008-09-06 ] cquote
Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds."Encyclopædia Britannica"'s initial concerns led to Nature releasing further documentation of its survey method. [cite news|url=http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051212/exref/supplementary_information.doc|work=Nature|title=Supplementary information to accompany Nature news article "Internet encyclopedias go head to head"|date=2005-12-22] Based on this additional information, Encyclopædia Britannica denied the validity of the "Nature" study, claiming that it was "fatally flawed" as the "Britannica" extracts were compilations that sometimes included articles written for the youth version.cite web |url=http://corporate.britannica.com/britannica_nature_response.pdf |title=Fatally Flawed |publisher=
Encyclopædia Britannica|month=March | year=2006 |accessdaymonth=14 July |accessyear=2007 |format=PDF] "Nature" acknowledged the compiled nature of some of the "Britannica" extracts, but disputed the claim that this invalidated the conclusions of the study. [cite journal | title = Britannica attacks | journal = Nature| volume = 440 | pages = 582 | doi = 10.1038/440582b | date = 2006-03-30
url = http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v440/n7084/full/440582b.html
accessdate = 2006-07-14 ] Encyclopædia Britannica also argued that the "Nature" study showed that while the error rate between the two encyclopedias was similar, a breakdown of the errors indicated that the mistakes in Wikipedia were more often the inclusion of incorrect facts, while the mistakes in "Britannica" were "errors of omission", claiming thatcquote
Britannica was far more accurate than Wikipedia according to the figures; the journal simply misrepresented its own results."Nature" has since rejected the "Britannica" response [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4840340.stm|title=Wikipedia study 'fatally flawed'|date=2006-03-24|publisher=BBC News] and published a point-by-point response to "Britannica"'s specific objections about alleged errors. [cite news|url=http://www.nature.com/nature/britannica/eb_advert_response_final.pdf|publisher=Nature|work=Press release|title=Encyclopædia Britannica and Nature: a response|date=2006-03-23|format=PDF]
Lack of fact checking on esoteric topics
Inaccurate information that is not obviously false may persist in Wikipedia for a long time before it is challenged. The most prominent cases reported by mainstream media involved biographies of living persons.
Seigenthaler incidentdemonstrated that the subject of a biographical article must sometimes fix blatant lies about his own life. In November 2005, a user edited the biographical article on John Seigenthaler Sr.so that it contained several false and defamatory statements. [cite news|url=http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-11-29-wikipedia-edit_x.htm|work=USA Today|date=2005-11-29|title=A false Wikipedia "biography"|author=John Siegenthaler] [ Katharine Q. Seelye(Dec. 3, 2005) [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/weekinreview/04seelye.html "Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar"] [http://nytimes.com "The New York Times"] ] The inaccurate claims went unnoticed between May and September 2005 when they were discovered by Victor S. Johnson, Jr., a friend of Seigenthaler. Wikipedia content is often mirrored at sites such as Answers.com, which means that incorrect information can be replicated alongside correct information through a number of web sources. Such information can develop a misleading air of authority because of its presence at such sites: [cite web|url=http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ss/stories/s1613571.htm|title=Mistakes and hoaxes on-line|publisher=Australian Broadcasting Corporation| date=2006-04-15| accessdate=2007-04-28]
Then [Siegenthaler's] son discovered that his father's hoax biography also appeared on two other sites, Reference.com and Answers.com, which took direct feeds from Wikipedia. It was out there for four months before Seigenthaler realised and got the Wikipedia entry replaced with a more reliable account. The lies remained for another three weeks on the mirror sites downstream.
In another example, on
March 2, 2007, MSNBC.com reported that Hillary Rodham Clintonhad been incorrectly listed for 20 months in her Wikipedia biography as valedictorianof her class of 1969 at Wellesley College. (Hillary Rodham was not the valedictorian, though she did speak at commencement.) [cite news|first=Bill|last=Dedman|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17388372/page/3/|title=Reading Hillary Clinton's hidden thesis|publisher=MSNBC.com|date=2007-03-03|accessdate=2007-03-17] The article included a link to the Wikipedia edit, [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hillary_Rodham_Clinton&diff=18494301&oldid=18493966|title=Hillary Rodham Clinton|publisher=Wikipedia|date=2005-07-09|accessdate=2007-03-17] where the incorrect information was added on July 9, 2005. After the MSNBC report, the inaccurate information was removed the same day. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hillary_Rodham_Clinton&diff=112070224&oldid=111773323|title=Hillary Rodham Clinton|publisher=Wikipedia|date=2007-03-02|accessdate=2007-03-17] Between the two edits, the wrong information had stayed in the Clinton article while it was edited more than 4,800 times over 20 months.
Attempts to perpetrate
hoaxes may not be confined to editing Wikipedia articles. In October 2005 Alan Mcilwraith, a former call centreworker from Scotlandcreated a Wikipedia article in which he claimed to be a highly decorated war hero. The article was quickly identified by other users as unreliable (see ). However, Mcilwraith had also succeeded in convincing a number of charities and media organizations that he was who he claimed to be: [cite web|url=http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=16929538&method=full&siteid=66633&headline=meet-sir-walter-mitty--name_page.html|title=Exclusive: Meet the Real Sir Walter Mitty|author=Cara Paige|publisher=Daily Record|date=2006-04-11|accessdate=2007-11-24] cquote
The 28-year-old, who calls himself Captain Sir Alan McIlwraith, KBE, DSO, MC, has mixed with celebrities for at least one fundraising event.
But last night, an Army spokesman said: "I can confirm he is a fraud. He has never been an officer, soldier or Army cadet."
There have also been instances of users deliberately inserting false information into Wikipedia in order to test the system and demonstrate its alleged unreliability. [cite news|author=Gene Weingarten|date=2007-03-16|url=http://www.newsobserver.com/105/story/553968.html|title=A wickedly fun test of Wikipedia|publisher=
The News & Observer|accessdate=2006-04-08] Television personality Stephen Colbertlampooned this drawback of Wikipedia, calling it wikiality.
Wikipedia considers the insertion of false and misleading information in bad faith. The Wikipedia page states:
Neutral point of view and conflicts of interest
The concept of a neutral point of view (NPOV), which is regarded as a non-negotiable principle of Wikipedia, [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:NPOV|title=Wikipedia: Neutral point of view] has itself been criticized as an impossible ideal due to the inevitable biases of editors. In an interview with Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia critic
Robert Cox, NPR commentator Mark Glaserstated:cquote|"I keep hearing from my readers (many of whom I’m guessing are Wikipedians or ex-Wikipedians) that attaining NPOV is impossible, that everyone has bias and introduces it in some way...Can anyone write from an NPOV? Doesn’t everyone have inherent biases?" [cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/email_debatewales_discusses_po.html|title=Wales Discusses Political Bias on Wikipedia|date=2006-04-21|author=Mark Glaser|publisher=NPR|accessdate=2007-10-27] Other critics allege that NPOV privileges "mainstream points of view" and imagines that they are neutral, when often mainstream points of view legitimize existing power relations. These critics also argue that NPOV accepts mainstream ideas about what is "radical" and "progressive," rather than applying a consistent standard of critique and assessment to "mainstream" and "progressive" contributions. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view/FAQ|title=Wikipedia:Neutral point of view/FAQ|work=Wikipedia|accessdate=2006-09-13] [cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/wikipedia_biasis_there_a_neutr.html|title=Is There a Neutral View on George W. Bush?|author=Mark Glaser|publisher=PBS|date=2006-04-17|accessdate=2007-10-27|quote=The search for a “neutral point of view” mirrors the efforts of journalists to be objective, to show both sides without taking sides and remaining unbiased. But maybe this is impossible and unattainable, and perhaps misguided. Because if you open it up for anyone to edit, you’re asking for anything but neutrality.]
The 2005 "Nature" study also reported on the outcomes of two scientific disputes on Wikipedia. The first dispute was on the topic of violence in
schizophrenia, and pitted the neuropsychologist Vaughan Bellagainst some anonymous editors. "Nature" did not report on the outcome of this first dispute. The second dispute reported by "Nature" involved the climate researcher William Connolley, again opposed by anonymous editors. (editor's note: "Nature" considered anonymous editors that did not use their real names). The topic in this second dispute was climate change; "Nature" reported that this dispute was far more protracted, and led to arbitration, which took three months to produce a decision. The outcome of arbitration, as reported by "Nature", was a six-month parole for Connolley − during this time he was restricted to one revert per day. Connolley's opponents were reportedly banned from editing climate articles also for six months.
Exposure to political operatives and advocates
While Wikipedia policy requires articles to have a neutral point of view, it is not immune from attempts by outsiders (or insiders) with an agenda to place a spin on articles. In January 2006 it was revealed that several staffers of members of the
U.S. House of Representativeshad embarked on a campaign to cleanse their respective bosses' biographies on Wikipedia, as well as inserting negative remarks on political opponents. References to a campaign promise by Martin Meehanto surrender his seat in 2000 were deleted, and negative comments were inserted into the articles on U.S. Senator Bill Fristand Eric Cantor, a congressman from Virginia. Numerous other changes were made from an IP addresswhich is assigned to the House of Representatives. [cite web|author=Margaret Kane|date=2006-01-30|url=http://news.com.com/2061-11199_3-6032713.html|title=Politicians notice Wikipedia|publisher=Cnet news.com|accessdate=2007-01-28] In an interview, Wikipedia "de facto" leader Jimmy Walesremarked that the changes were "not cool." [cite web|url=http://lawnorder.blogspot.com/2006/01/senator-staffers-spam-wikipedia.html|title=Senator staffers spam Wikipedia|accessdate=2006-09-13] Some organizations are making efforts to correct inaccuracies. For example, the Telegraph reported that a Boston-based media watchdog asked supporters to help edit clearly anti-Israeli biases in Wikipedia articles. [cite web|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1934857/Israeli-battles-rage-on-Wikipedia.html|title=Israeli battles rage on Wikipedia|accessdate=2008-05-08]
Articles dealing with Latin American history and groups (such as the Sandinistas and
Cuba) are often written from a quasi-Marxist perspective which treats socialist dictatorships favorably. [cite web|auther=Pablo Bachelet|url=http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=MH&p_theme=mh&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&s_dispstring=cuba%20wikipedia%20AND%20date(all)&p_field_advanced-0=&p_text_advanced-0=(cuba%20wikipedia)&p_sort=_rank_:D&xcal_ranksort=4&xcal_useweights=yes|title=War of Words: Website Can't Define Cuba|date=2006-05-03|Publisher= Miami Herald|accessdate=2008-07-08] [cite web|author=Matt Sanchez|url=http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/wiki-whacked-by-political-bias/|title=Wiki-Whacked by Political Bias|date=2008-05-14|Publisher= Pajamas Media|accessdate=2008-07-08] ( [cite web|auther=Larry Delay|url=http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/asce/pdfs/volume16/pdfs/program.pdf|title=A Pernicious Model for Control of the World Wide Web: The Cuba Case|date=2006-08-03|Publisher=Association for Study of the Cuban Economy(ASCE)|accessdate=2008-07-08|format=PDF] + [cite web|auther=Larry Delay|url=http://draftarticlesldaley.blogspot.com/2006/07/pernicious-model-for-control-of-world.html|title=A Pernicious Model for Control of the World Wide Web: The Cuba Case|date=2006-07-27|Publisher=Larry Daley (complete text of ASCE presentation on author's blog)|accessdate=2008-07-08] )
In April 2008, the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) organized an e-mail campaign to correct perceived Israel-related biases and inconsistencies in Wikipedia. [Metz, Cade, " [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/29/wikipedia_blocked_doj_ip/ US Department of Justice banned from Wikipedia] , "The Register",
April 29, 2008.] Excerpts of some of the e-mails were published in the July 2008 issue of Harper's Magazineunder the title of "Candid camera". cite web|url=http://harpers.org/archive/2008/07/0082086/|title=Candid camera|work= Harper's Magazine|date=2008-07] CAMERA argued the excerpts were unrepresenative and that it had campaigned "toward encouraging people to learn about and edit the online encyclopedia for accuracy". [ [http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=32&x_article=1525 CAMERA: CAMERA Letter in Harper's Magazine About Wikipedia Issues] ] Five editors involved in the campaign were sanctioned by Wikipedia administrators.cite web|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1934857/Israeli-battles-rage-on-Wikipedia.html|title=Israeli battles rage on Wikipedia|work= The Daily Telegraph|publisher=Telegraph Media Group Limited|accessdate=2008-05-08|date=2008-05-08|last=McElroy|first=Damien]
On August 31 2008, "
The New York Times" ran an article detailing the edits made to the biography of Sarah Palinin the wake of her nomination as running mate of John McCain. The editor responsible for adding many flattering details was identified as single-purpose account of a McCain campaign volunteer. [Noam Cohen (August 31, 2008) [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/technology/01link.html?ex=1378008000&en=2690a3850cb270d0&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink "Don’t Like Palin’s Wikipedia Story? Change It"] Technology. "The New York Times".] Rush Limbaugh, an American conservative political commentatorand radio personalitywho has been familiar with Wikipedia since at least November 2005, [cite web
title=History of Scandals from 1979 to 2005 |date=November 29, 2005
Transcript|publisher=Official website of Rush Limbaugh
accessdate=2008-10-09] [cite web
title=Facts, Science Smash the Global Warming Myth |date=February 28, 2007
Transcript|publisher=Official website of Rush Limbaugh
accessdate=2008-10-09] [cite web
title=Global Warming Update |date=April 25, 2007
Transcript|publisher=Official website of Rush Limbaugh
accessdate=2008-10-09] [cite web
title=Drive-Bys Rev Up Racism Charge |date=September 19, 2008
Transcript|publisher=Official website of Rush Limbaugh
accessdate=2008-10-09] has called Wikipedia "liberal" on his long-running and popular radio show. [cite web| url=http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_100608/content/01125113.html.guest.html| title=This Election Looks Like 1976| date=October 3, 2008|work=
Transcript|publisher=Official website of Rush Limbaugh| accessdate=2008-10-09]
Editing for financial rewards
In January 2007 Rick Jelliffe claimed in a story carried by
CBSBrian Bergstein (Jan. 24, 2007) [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/24/tech/main2392719.shtml Microsoft Violates Wikipedia's Sacred Rule] The Associated Press. Retrieved on 2008-09-03.] and IDGNews Service Nancy Gohring (Jan 23, 2007) [http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9008842 "Microsoft said to offer payment for Wikipedia edits"] IDG News Service. Retrieved on 2008-09-03.] Nancy Gohring (Jan 24, 2007) [http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9008842 "Microsoft's step into Wikipedia prompts debate"] IDG News Service.] that Microsofthad offered him compensation in exchange for his future editorial services on Wikipedia's articles related to OOXML(Open Office Extensible Markup Language). A Microsoft spokesperson, quoted by CBS, commented that "Microsoft and the writer, Rick Jelliffe, had not determined a price and no money had changed hands - but they had agreed that the company would not be allowed to review his writing before submission". Also quoted by CBS, Jimmy Walesexpressed his dissapproval of Microsoft's involvement: "We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach".
In story covered by the
BBC, former Novellchief scientist Jeffrey Merkeyclaimed that in exchange for a donation his Wikipedia entry was edited in his favor. Jay Walsh, a spokesman for Wikipedia, flatly denied the allegations in an interview given to the Daily Telegraph. [March 12, 2008 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7291382.stm Wiki boss 'edited for donation'] Technology. BBC News.]
In a story covered by
InformationWeek, Eric Goldman, assistant lawprofessor at Santa Clara Universityin Californiaargued that "eventually, marketers will build scripts to edit Wikipedia pages to insert links and conduct automated attacks on Wikipedia", thus putting the encyclopedia beyond the ability of its editors to provide countermeasures against the attackers, particularly because of a vicious circlewhere the strain of responding to these attacks drives core contributors away, increasing the strain on those who remain. [cite web|url=http://www.informationweek.com/internet/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=196601766|author=Thomas Claburn|title= Law Professor Predicts Wikipedia's Demise|publisher= InformationWeek|date= 2006-12-05|accessdate=2006-12-16]
WikiScanner systematically exposes biased editors
In August 2007, a tool called
WikiScannerdeveloped by Virgil Griffith, a visiting researcher from the Santa Fe Institutein New Mexico, was released to match anonymous IP edits in the encyclopedia with an extensive database of addresses. Griffith said he developed WikiScannerFact|date=September 2008cquote
to create minor public-relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike (and) to see what 'interesting organizations' are up to.News stories appeared about IP addresses from various organizations such as the
Central Intelligence Agency, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Diebold, Inc. and the Australian government being used to make edits to Wikipedia articles, sometimes of an opinionated or questionable nature. The BBCquoted a Wikipedia spokesperson as praising the tool: "We really value transparency and the scanner really takes this to another level. Wikipedia Scanner may prevent an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to." [cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6947532.stm|title=Wikipedia 'shows CIA page edits'|date=2007-08-15|accessdate=2007-08-15|publisher=BBC|author=Jonathan Fildes] Another story stated that an IP address from the BBC itself had been used to vandalize the article on George W. Bush. [cite web|url=http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article2264150.ece?token=null&offset=12|title=Exposed: guess who has been polishing their Wikipedia entries?|date=2007-08-15|accessdate=2007-08-15|author=Rhys Blakely|publisher=Times Online]
The WikiScanner story was also covered by "
The Independent", which stated that many "censorial interventions" by editors with vested interests on a variety of articles in Wikipedia had been discovered:
Jimmy Wales, who played a central role in the founding of Wikipedia, spoke enthusiastically about Wikipedia Scanner: "It's awesome -- I love it...It brings an additional level of transparency to what's going on at Wikipedia...Wikipedia Scanner uses information we've been making publicly available forever, hoping someone would do something like this." [cite web|url=http://www.technewsworld.com/story/58856.html|title=New Tool Outs Would-Be Wikipedia Tricksters|date=2007-08-15|accessdate=2007-08-16|publisher=TechNewsWorld|author=Katherine Noyes]
Not everyone hailed WikiScanner as a success for Wikipedia.
Oliver Kamm, in an article for " The Times", argued instead that: [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article2267665.ece Wisdom? More like dumbness of the crowds | Oliver Kamm - Times Online ] ] cquote
The WikiScanner is thus an important development in bringing down a pernicious influence on our intellectual life. Critics of the web decry the medium as the cult of the amateur. Wikipedia is worse than that; it is the province of the covert lobby. The most constructive course is to stand on the sidelines and jeer at its pretensions.
Conflicts involving policy makers
In February 2008, British technology news and opinion website "The Register" published an article called "Wikipedia ruled by 'Lord of the Universe'", in which it was pointed out that despite the fact that a prominent administrator of Wikipedia, Jossi Fresco, declared a conflict of interest related to
Prem Rawat, the article alleged that not only did Fresco edit the article of Prem Rawat to keep criticism to bare minimum, he altered the Wikipedia policies over personal biography and policies regarding "conflict of interest", to favour his alleged "biased" editing. The article pointed out that Fresco was also involved in Wikipedia's "Conflict of Interest Noticeboard", the situation which "the Register" article described as "a conflict of conflict of interest". The article ended with the claim:Metz, Cade, [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/06/the_cult_of_wikipedia/ "Wikipedia ruled by 'Lord of the Universe'"] , "The Register", February 6, 2008.] cquote
Jossi Fresco may bear the most extreme conflict of interest in the history of Wikipedia - and he edits the policy that governs conflict of interest.
Some of the most scathing criticism of Wikipedia's claimed neutrality came in "The Register", which in turn was allegedly criticized by founding members of the project. According to "The Register": [Cade Metz (March 6, 2008). " [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/06/a_model_wikipedian/page2.html Why you should care that Jimmy Wales ignores reality] ". "The Register". Retrieved on 2008-09-03.] cquote
In short, Wikipedia is a cult. Or at least, the inner circle is a cult. We aren't the first to make this observation.
On the inside, they reinforce each other's beliefs. And if anyone on the outside questions those beliefs, they circle the wagons. They deny the facts. They attack the attacker. After our Jossi Fresco story, Fresco didn't refute our reporting. He simply accused us of "yellow journalism". After our Overstock.com article, Wales called us "trash".
Quality of the presentation
"Waffling" prose, "antiquarianism" and quality of writing
Roy Rosenzweig, in a June 2006 essay that combined both praise and criticism of Wikipedia, had several criticisms of its prose and its failure to distinguish the genuinely important from the merely sensational. While acknowledging that Wikipedia is "surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history" (Rosenzweig's own field of study) and that most of the few factual errors that he found "were small and inconsequential" and that "some errors simply repeat widely held but inaccurate beliefs," many of which are also reflected in "Encarta" and the "Britannica"; nonetheless
Contrasting Wikipedia's treatment of
Abraham Lincolnto that of Civil War historian James McPherson in "American National Biography Online", he acknowledges that both are essentially accurate and cover the major episodes in Lincoln's life, but praises "McPherson’s richer contextualization… his artful use of quotations to capture Lincoln’s voice … and … his ability to convey a profound message in a handful of words." By contrast, he cites an example of Wikipedia's prose that he finds "both verbose and dull." Further, he contrasts "the skill and confident judgment of a seasoned historian" displayed by McPherson and others to the "" of Wikipedia (which he compares in this respect to "American Heritage" magazine), and states that while Wikipedia often provides extensive references, they are not the best ones. Still, he acknowledges that "not all historians write as well as McPherson and [Alan] Brinkley, and some of the better-written Wikipedia entries provide more engaging portraits than some sterile and routine entries in "American National Biography Online".cite journal|author=Roy Rosenzweig|title=Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past|journal=The Journal of American History|volume=93|issue=1|month=June | year=2006|pages=117–146|url=http://chnm.gmu.edu/resources/essays/d/42|accessdate=2006-08-11 (Center for History and New Media)]
Rosenzweig also criticizes the "waffling—encouraged by the npov policy— [that] means that it is hard to discern any overall interpretive stance in Wikipedia history." He cites as an example of this the conclusion of Wikipedia's article on
William Clarke Quantrill. While generally praising the article, he nonetheless points to its "waffling" conclusion: "Some historians…remember him as an opportunistic, bloodthirsty outlaw, while others continue to view him as a daring soldier and local folk hero."
Other critics have made similar charges that, even if Wikipedia articles are factually accurate, they are often written in a poor, almost unreadable style. Frequent Wikipedia critic Andrew Orlowski commented: "Even when a Wikipedia entry is 100 per cent factually correct, and those facts have been carefully chosen, it all too often reads as if it has been translated from one language to another then into to a third, passing an illiterate translator at each stage." [cite web|url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/10/18/wikipedia_quality_problem/page2.html|title=Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems|author=Andrew Orlowski|date=2005-10-18|publisher="The Register"|accessdate=2007-09-30]
In article in "The Times" of London Jimmy Wales stood by the quality of the presentation in Wikipedia:cquote
“I am unaware of any problems with the quality of discourse on the site,” he said. “I don’t know of any higher-quality discourse anywhere.”
"Wall Street Journal" debate
2006-09-12edition of the " Wall Street Journal", Jimmy Walesdebated with Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of " Encyclopedia Britannica". [cite web|url=http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115756239753455284-A4hdSU1xZOC9Y9PFhJZV16jFlLM_20070911.html|title=The Wall Street Journal Online|accessdate=2006-09-13] Hoiberg focused on a need for expertise and control in an encyclopedia and cited Lewis Mumfordthat overwhelming information could “bring about a state of intellectual enervation and depletion hardly to be distinguished from massive ignorance.”
Wales emphasized Wikipedia's differences, and asserted that openness and transparency lead to quality. Hoiberg claimed that he “had neither the time nor space to respond to [criticisms] ” and “could corral any number of links to articles alleging errors in Wikipedia,” to which Wales responded: “No problem! Wikipedia to the rescue with a fine article,” and included a link to the Wikipedia article "Criticism of Wikipedia".
ystemic bias in coverage
Wikipedia has been accused of
systemic bias, which is to say, its general nature leads without necessarily any conscious intention, to the propagation of various prejudices. Although many articles in newspapers have concentrated on minor indeed trivial factual errors in Wikipedia articles, there are also concerns about large scale, presumably unintentional effects from the increasing influence and use of Wikipedia as a research tool at all levels. In an article in the " Times Higher Education" magazine (London) [ "Times Higher Education" 28 August 2008 p26 ] the radical philosopher Martin Cohenaccused Wikipedia of having "become a monopoly" with "all the prejudices and ignorance of its creators imposed too". Cohen cites the examples of the Wikipedia entries on Maoism(which he implies is unfairly characterised as simply the use of violenceto impose political ends) and Socrateswho (on Wikipedia at least) is " Plato's teacher who left behind not very many writings". This last, to readers of the Times Higher Education at least, is patent nonsense, but illustrates the shallow knowledge base of editors who then proceed to make sweeping judgements. There are many other instances which have been discussed both within and outside Wikipedia of the supposed 'Western, 'white' bias of the encyclopedia, such as the assertion that 'philosophy' as an activity is essentially a European invention and discovery. Cohen accuses Wikipedia's editors of having a 'youthful cab-drivers' perspective, by which he means they are strongly opinionated and lack the tools of serious researchers to adopt a more objective standpoint.
Another example of claimed systemic bias is the tendency to cover topics in a detail disproportionate to their importance. As an example,
Stephen Colbertonce mock-praised Wikipedia for having a "longer entry on ' lightsabers' than it does on the ' printing press.'" In an interview with "The Guardian", Dale Hoiberg, the editor-in-chief of " Encyclopædia Britannica", noted:This flaw has been the subject of a game known as "Wikigroaning", a term coined by Jon "DocEvil" Hendrencite journal |title=Oh, that John Locke |first=Jamin |last=Brophy-Warren |journal=Wall Street Journal |issue=June 16, 2007 |pages=P3 |url=http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB118194482542637175-lMyQjAxMDE3ODExNzkxNDc0Wj.html] of the website Something Awful. [cite web |title=The Art of Wikigroaning |date=2007-06-05 |first=Johnny "DocEvil" |last=Hendren |accessdate=2007-06-17 |work=Something Awful |url=http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/wikigroaning.php] In the game, two articles (preferably with similar names) are compared: one about a serious subject and the other about a topic important only to a select group of fans.cite journal| first=Andrew |last=Brown| issue=June 14, 2007 |title=No amount of collaboration will make the sun orbit the Earth |journal=The Guardian |url=http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,2101810,00.html] Critics of Wikipedia concede that the encyclopedia's coverage of pop culture does not impose space constraints on the coverage of more "serious" subjects, as spelled out in the "" article. As Ivor Tossell noted:
Notability of article topics
The level of trivia on Wikipedia is kept in check by guidelines on .
Online comicsare particularly susceptible to deletions due to alleged lack of notability. [ [http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2007/10/31/wikipedia-falls-foul-comic-book Wikipedia falls foul of the comic book crowd - The INQUIRER ] ] Various theories have been proposed to explain this apparent contradiction with the lack of space constraints referenced above, including censorship to make the encyclopedia appear more "respectable" to media sources; or favoritism for particular comics, etc. and against others on the part of editors.Fact|date=September 2008
Wikipedia's notability guidelines (de facto policies), and the application thereof, is the subject of much criticism.
Nicholson Bakerconsiders the notability standards arbitrary and essentially unsolvable:Volume 55, Nicholson Baker (March 20, 2008) [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21131 The Charms of Wikipedia - The New York Review of Books ] Vol. 55, Number 4.] cquote
There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.Criticizing the "
deletionists", Nicholson Baker then writes:cquote|Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come.
[...] It's harder to improve something that's already written, or to write something altogether new, especially now that so many of the World Book–sanctioned encyclopedic fruits are long plucked. There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples' work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard "Engrish." They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.
Complaining that his own biography was on the verge of deletion for lack of notability,
Timothy Noahargued that: [ [http://www.slate.com/id/2160222/pagenum/2 Evicted from Wikipedia. - By Timothy Noah - Slate Magazine ] ] cquote
Wikipedia's notability policy resembles U.S. immigration policy before 9/11: stringent rules, spotty enforcement. To be notable, a Wikipedia topic must be "the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject and of each other." Although I have written or been quoted in such works, I can't say I've ever been the subject of any. And wouldn't you know, some notability cop cruised past my bio and pulled me over. Unless I get notable in a hurry—win the Nobel Peace Prize? Prove I sired Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter?—a "sysop" (volunteer techie) will wipe my Wikipedia page clean. It's straight out of Philip K. Dick.In the same article, Noah mentions that the Pulitzer Prize-winning
Stacy Schiffhad to write her own biography on Wikipedia because no other editor considered her notable enough.
=Criticism over pornographic
Wikipedia has also been criticised for allowing graphic sexual content such as images and videos of
masturbationand ejaculationas well as photos from hardcore porn films found on its articles. Child protection campaigners say graphic sexual content appears on many Wikipedia entries, displayed without any warning or age verification. [ [http://www.livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/09/09/Wikipedia_attacked_over_porn_pages Wikipedia attacked over porn pages] ]
Exposure to vandals
" Note: this section considers vandalism in the [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vandalism dictionary] sense of the word. Wikipedia itself labels as a wider range of behaviors."
Wikipedia has a range of tools available to users and in order to combat vandalism. Supporters of the project argue that the vast majority of vandalism on Wikipedia is reverted within a short time, and a study by Fernanda Viégas of the MIT Media Lab and Martin Wattenberg and Kushal Dave of IBM Research found that most vandal edits were reverted within around five minutes. [cite paper|url=http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~fviegas/papers/history_flow.pdf|publisher=MIT|format=PDF|title=Studying Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with history flow Visualizations|author=Fernanda Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, Kushal Dave] While most instances of page blanking or the addition of offensive material are soon reverted, less obvious vandalism has remained for longer periods. For example, a user made several racist edits to
Martin Luther King, Jr. Daythat were not reverted for nearly four hours. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Martin_Luther_King_Day&oldid=54585762|title=Martin Luther King Day|work=Wikipedia|date=2006-05-22] Columnist Sujay Kumar commented: "While Wikipedia says that most vandal edits are removed within five minutes, some falsities have managed to go unnoticed. An outlandishly fake entry about Larry King's uncontrollable flatulence was posted for a month." [cite web|url=http://media.www.dailyillini.com/media/storage/paper736/news/2007/04/13/OpinionColumns/Oh.The.Wonderful.World.Of.Wikipedia-2839245.shtml|title=Oh, the wonderful world of Wikipedia|author=Sujay Kumar|date=2007-04-13|accessdate=2007-10-04|publisher="The Daily Illini"]
A peer-reviewed studyReid Priedhorsky, Jilin Chen, Shyong (Tony) K. Lam, Katherine Panciera, Loren Terveen, John Riedl, "Creating, destroying, and restoring value in wikipedia", Proc. GROUP 2007, doi: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1316624.1316663] that measured the actual number of page views with "damaged" content, concluded:cquote
42% of damage is repaired almost immediately, i.e., before it can confuse, offend, or mislead anyone. Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of millions of damaged views.
privacyconcerns refer to cases of government or employer data gathering; or to computer or electronic monitoring; or to trading data between organizations. [See [http://www.mcbump.com/privacyissues.htm "Legal Issues in Employee Privacy"] by Thamer E. "Chip" Temple III for further discussion] . "The Internet has created conflicts between personal privacy, commercial interests and the interests of society at large" warn James Donnelly and Jenifer Haeckl.cite web|url=http://www.modl.com/images/library/114.html|title=Privacy and Security on the Internet: What Rights, What Remedies?|date=2001-04-12|author=James Donnelly and Jenifer Haeckl|publisher=MCLE] Balancing the rights of all concerned as technology alters the social landscape will not be easy. It "is not yet possible to anticipate the path of the common law or governmental regulation" regarding this problem.
The concern in the case of Wikipedia is the right of a private citizen to remain private; to remain a "private citizen" rather than a "
public figure" in the eyes of the law. [See [http://www.texaspress.com/Lawpress/LawMedia/Libel/LibelCases.htm "Libel"] by David McHam for the legal distinction] It is somewhat of a battle between the right to be anonymous in cyberspaceand the right to be anonymous in real life(" meatspace"). Wikipedia Watchargues that "Wikipedia is a potential menace to anyone who values privacy" and that "a greater degree of accountability in the Wikipedia structure" would be "the very first step toward resolving the privacy problem." [ [http://wikipedia-watch.org/hivemind.html Wikipedia's Hive Mind Administration ] ]
A particular problem occurs in the case of an individual who is relatively unimportant and for whom there exists a Wikipedia page against their wishes.
In January 2006, a German court ordered the
German Wikipediashut down within Germany due to it stating the full name of Boris Floricic, aka "Tron", a deceased hacker who was formerly with the Chaos Computer Club. More specifically, the court ordered that the URL within the German .de domain (http://www.wikipedia.de/) may no longer redirect to the encyclopedia's servers in Florida at http://de.wikipedia.org/, though since German readers were still able to use the US-based URL directly, there was not really any loss of access on their part. The court order arose out of a lawsuit filed by Floricic's parents, demanding that their son's surname be removed from Wikipedia. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2006-01-16/Tron_dispute|date= 2006-01-16|work=Wikipedia Signpost|publisher=Wikipedia|title=Tron dispute] On February 9, 2006, the injunction against Wikimedia Deutschland was overturned, with the court rejecting the notion that Tron's right to privacy or that of his parents were being violated. [ [http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/news/69391 Heise Online: "Court overturns temporary restraining order against Wikimedia Deutschland] , by Torsten Kleinz, 9 February 2006.] The plaintiffs appealed to the Berlin state court, but were refused relief in May 2006.
Criticism of the community
The Wikipedia community consists of people who are frequent contributors. [" [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Wikipedians&oldid=101942105 Wikipedia:Wikipedians] ", Wikipedia (
January 20, 2007)] Emigh and Herring argue that "a few active users, when acting in concert with established norms within an open editing system, can achieve ultimate control over the content produced within the system, literally erasing diversity, controversy, and inconsistency, and homogenizing contributors' voices." Editors on Wikinfo, a fork of Wikipedia, similarly argue that new or controversial editors to Wikipedia are often unjustly labeled "trolls" or "problem users" and blocked from editing. [" [http://www.wikinfo.org/index.php/Critical_views_of_Wikipedia/General_Criticisms Critical views of Wikipedia: General criticisms] ", Wikinfo ( March 30 2005). Retrieved on 2008-07-31.] The community has also been criticized for responding to complaints regarding an article's quality by advising the complainer to fix the article themselves. [Andrew Orlowski, " [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/07/23/wiki_fiddlers_big_book/ Wiki-fiddlers defend Clever Big Book] ", "The Register", July 23 2004.] Professor James H. Fetzercriticized Wikipedia in that he could not change the article about himself; [ [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1683057245164550824&q=fetzer Professor James Fetzer Exposes Wikipedia.org] ] to ensure impartiality, Wikipedia has a policy that discourages the editing of biographies by the subjects themselves except in "clear-cut cases", such as reverting vandalism or correcting out-of-date or mistaken facts. ["cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Autobiography|title=Wikipedia:Autobiography|publisher=Wikipedia|accessdate=2007-05-03]
The community has been described as "cult-like," [cite news |url=http://technology.guardian.co.uk/opinion/story/0,16541,1667346,00.html |title=Log on and join in, but beware the web cults |first=Charles |last=Arthur |date=
2005-12-15|publisher= The Guardian] cite news |title=What is it with Wikipedia? |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4534712.stm |date= 2005-12-16|publisher=BBC |first=Bill |last=Thompson] [cite news |url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/06/wikipedia_bio/ |title=Who owns your Wikipedia bio? |date= 2005-12-06|first=Andrew |last=Orlowski |publisher=The Register] although not always with entirely negative connotations. [cite news |url=http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/08/03/wikipedia/index.html |title=Wikipedia: The know-it-all Web site |date= 2003-08-04|first=Kristie |last=Lu Stout|publisher=CNN] A popular joke is that Wikipedia cannot possibly work in theory, but does work in practice. [http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/your_takehow_much_do_you_trust.html PBS' "MediaShift", hosted by Mark Glaser] , 14 April 2006, accessed on 2007-01-30] A larger social community also helps in maintaining a supportive atmosphere and collective etiquette, such as resolving disputes by appealing to reliable sources and Wikipedia's own policies. [" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Researching_with_Wikipedia Wikipedia:Research with Wikipedia] ," Wikipedia ( March 28 2005).] Failed verification|date=September 2008
Wikipedia does not require that its users identify themselves. This anonymity has been criticized, since it does not allow editors to be held accountable for their edits.
Public Information Research. http://wikipedia-watch.org- Wikipedia Watch. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.] It also means that multiple people may use one account—or, more often, one person may use multiple accounts, often in an attempt to influence an argument. The latter practice is known as "sock puppetry," which is actively discouraged on Wikipedia. [" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sock_puppetry Wikipedia:Sockpuppetry] ", Wikipedia. Retrieved on 2007-01-27.]
Selection of editors
Wikipedia is an online community devoted not to last night’s party or to next season’s iPod but to a higher good. It is also no more immune to human nature than any other utopian project. Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site. Nothing about high-minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse.
Anti-elitism as deterrent for experts
Co-founder of Wikipedia, and former editor-in-chief of
Nupedia, Larry Sanger,cite web|url=http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1818630,00.html|title=This time, it'll be a Wikipedia written by experts|author=Glyn Moody|publisher= The Guardian|date=2006-07-13|accessdate=2007-04-28|quote=Larry Sanger seems to have a thing about free online encyclopedias. Although his main claim to fame is as the co-founder, along with Jimmy Wales, of Wikipedia, that is just one of several projects to produce large-scale, systematic stores of human knowledge he has been involved in..." [Jimmy Wales] saw that I was essentially looking for employment online and he was looking for someone to lead Nupedia"...Career: 1992-1996, 1997-1998 Graduate teaching associate, OSU; 2000-2002 Editor-in-chief, Nupedia.] stated in an opinion piece in Kuro5hinthat "anti-elitism"—active contempt for expertise—was rampant among Wikipedia editors and supporters. He further stated that "far too much credence and respect [is] accorded to people who in other Internet contexts would be labelled 'trolls'." [cite web | date = 2004-12-30
url = http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/12/30/142458/25 | author = Sanger, Larry
title = Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism | publisher =
accessdate = 2006-07-14 ] The sort of sentiment Sanger describes is more commonly known as
In 2006 "Nature" covered the launch of Wikipedia's rival
Citizendum, and noted in the editorial: [cite journal|title=Wikipedia rival calls in the experts|author=Jim Giles|year=2006|journal=Nature|volume=443|url=http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v443/n7111/full/443493a.html] cquote
Many scientists would like to help make sure this resource remains accurate, but they have no desire to navigate the treacherous waters of Wikipedia's editorial system, which accords them no official role.
Lack of credential verification and the Essjay controversy
In July 2006 "
The New Yorker" ran a feature about Wikipedia by Stacy Schiff.Schiff, Stacey. [http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060731fa_fact "Know it all: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?"] , "The New Yorker", July 24, 2006.] Experts including the president of " Encyclopædia Britannica," Jorge Cauz, and Wikipedia's "de facto" leader Jimmy Wales, gave their opinions on the future of Wikipedia. Cauz stated that Wikipedia risked a "decline into a hulking, mediocre mass of uneven, unreliable, and, many times, unreadable articles" and that "Wikipedia is to "Britannica" as " American Idol" is to the Juilliard School." Wales countered by stating that he would consider "Britannica" a competitor, “except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within five years.”
The "New Yorker" article included an interview with a known by the
pseudonymEssjay, who was described in the article as a tenured professorof theology.cite web
url = http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,2028328,00.html
title = Read me first
accessdate = 2007-08-01
last = Finkelstein
first = Seth
March 8, 2007
work = Technology
archivedate=At some point, Essjay claimed he had sent a letter to a real-life college professor using his invented persona's credentials, vouching for Wikipedia's accuracy. In the letter he wrote in part, "It is never the case that known incorrect information is allowed to remain in Wikipedia."] Essjay's Wikipedia user page [cite web|title=Archived copy of Essjay's Wikipedia user page|publisher=The Internet Archive|url=http://web.archive.org/web/20060111060701/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Essjay] (now removed) made the following claim:
I am a tenured professor of theology at a private university in the eastern United States; I teach both undergraduate and graduate theology. I have been asked repeatedly to reveal the name of the institution, however, I decline to do so; I am unsure of the consequences of such an action, and believe it to be in my best interests to remain anonymous."
Essjay also claimed on his user page that he held four academic degrees: Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (B.A.), Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.), Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology (Ph.D.), and Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD). Essjay specialized in editing articles about
religionon Wikipedia, including subjects such as "the penitential rite, transubstantiation, the papal tiara"; on one occasion he was called in to give some "expert testimony" on the status of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Five_solas&diff=prev&oldid=15002257|title=Talk:Five solas|publisher=Wikipedia|date=2005-06-11|accessdate=2007-06-18] In January 2007, Essjay was hired as a manager with Wikia, a wiki-hosting service founded by Wales and Angela Beesley. In February, Wales appointed Essjay as a member of the , a group with powers to issue binding rulings in disputes relating to Wikipedia.cite web|url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/02/wikipedia_fraud/|title=Bogus Wikipedia Prof. was blessed then promoted|accessdate=2007-03-18|last=Orlowski|first=Andrew|authorlink=Andrew Orlowski|date= March 2, 2007|work=Music and Media|publisher=The Register]
In late February 2007 "The New Yorker" added an editorial note to its article on Wikipedia stating that it had learned that Essjay was Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old college
dropoutfrom Kentuckywith no advanced degrees and no teaching experience. [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6423659.stm|title=Fake professor in Wikipedia storm|publisher=BBC|last=Staff|date=2007-03-06|accessdate=2007-03-08] Initially Jimmy Wales commented on the issue of Essjay's identity: "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it." Larry Sanger, co-foundercite news
title=Sanger says he co-started Wikipedia
March 25, 2007
quote =The nascent Web encyclopedia Citizendium springs from Larry Sanger, a philosophy Ph.D. who counts himself as a co-founder of Wikipedia, the site he now hopes to usurp. The claim doesn't seem particularly controversial—Sanger has long been cited as a co-founder. Yet the other founder,
Jimmy Wales, isn't happy about it.] cite news
title=Fact-Driven? Collegial? This Site Wants You
publisher=New York Times
2001-09-20"I can start an article that will consist of one paragraph, and then a real expert will come along and add three paragraphs and clean up my one paragraph," said Larry Sanger of Las Vegas, who founded Wikipedia with Mr. Wales.] [cite news | url = http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2006/02/12/bias_sabotage_haunt_wikipedias_free_world/?page=4 | title = Bias, sabotage haunt Wikipedia's free world | author = David Mehegan | work = Boston Globe| date = February 12, 2006| accessdate = 2007-07-30] of Wikipedia, responded to Wales on his Citizendiumblog by calling Wales' initial reaction "utterly breathtaking, and ultimately tragic." Sanger said the controversy "reflects directly on the judgment and values of the management of Wikipedia."Cite web|url=http://blog.citizendium.org/2007/03/01/wikipedia-firmly-supports-your-right-to-identity-fraud/|title=Wikipedia firmly supports your right to identity fraud|accessdate=2007-03-02|publisher=Larry Sanger|date= 1 March 2007|author=Larry Sanger|work=Citizendium Blog]
Wales later issued a new statement saying he had not previously understood that "EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes." He added: "I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the [Wikipedia] community." [cite web|title=User talk:Jimbo Wales|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&oldid=112270687] Sanger responded the next day: "It seems Jimmy finds nothing wrong, nothing trust-violating, with the act itself of openly and falsely touting many advanced degrees on Wikipedia. But there most obviously is something wrong with it, and it’s just as disturbing for Wikipedia’s head to fail to see anything wrong with it."Cite web|url=http://blog.citizendium.org/2007/03/03/jimmy-wales-latest-response-on-the-essjay-situation/|title=Jimmy Wales’ latest response on the Essjay situation|accessdate=2007-03-03|publisher=Larry Sanger|date=
3 March 2007|author=Larry Sanger|work=Citizendium Blog]
On March 4, Essjay wrote on his user page that he was leaving Wikipedia, and he also resigned his position with Wikia. [cite web|url=http://www.wikia.com/wiki/User:Essjay|title=Essjay's Wikia user page|accessdate=2007-09-19] A subsequent article in the "
Louisville Courier-Journal" suggested that the new résuméhe had posted at his Wikia page was exaggerated. [cite web |first=Andrew |last=Wolfson |title=Wikipedia editor who posed as professor is Ky. dropout: Man resigns post after controversy |url=http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070306/NEWS01/703060446/1008 |publisher= Louisville Courier-Journal|date= March 6 2007|accessdate=2007-03-07 |archiveurl=http://www.kctcs.net/todaysnews/index.cfm?tn_date=2007-03-06#9315 |archivedate=2007-05-17] The March 19, 2007 issue of "The New Yorker" published a formal apology by Wales to the magazine and Stacy Schiff for Essjay's false statements.citation| last = Wales| first = Jimmy| author-link = Jimmy Wales| newspaper = The New Yorker| date = 2007-03-19| year = 2007| title = Making amends| pages = 24 .]
Discussing the incident, the "New York Times" noted that the Wikipedia community had responded to the affair with "the fury of the crowd," and observed:
The Essjay episode underlines some of the perils of collaborative efforts like Wikipedia that rely on many contributors acting in good faith, often anonymously and through self-designated user names. But it also shows how the transparency of the Wikipedia process—all editing of entries is marked and saved—allows readers to react to suspected fraud. [cite news |first=Noam |last=Cohen |title=A Contributor to Wikipedia Has His Fictional Side |url=http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/05/technology/05wikipedia.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=f79cc41f899c2de6&ex=1330750800&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss |work=
New York Times|date= 2007-03-05|accessdate=2007-03-05 ]
The Essjay incident received extensive media coverage, including a national U.S. television broadcast on ABC's "
World News with Charles Gibson" [cite web|url=http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2929512|title=ABC News broadcast on Essjay|accessdate=2007-03-08] and a March 7, 2007 Associated Pressstory that was picked up by more than 100 media outlets listed in the March 7 2007] The controversy has led to a proposal that users claiming to possess academic qualifications would have to provide evidence before citing them in Wikipedia content disputes. [cite news|url=http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,129702-c,webservices/article.html|title=Wikipedia Founder Addresses User Credentials|first=Martyn|last=Williams|publisher=IDG News Service|date=2007-03-09] The proposal was not accepted. [ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Credentials Wikipedia Credentials] ]
Another criticism is that a politically liberal bias is predominant. According to
Jimmy Wales: "The Wikipedia community is very diverse, from liberalto conservative to libertarian and beyond. If averages mattered, and due to the nature of the wiki software (no voting) they almost certainly don’t, I would say that the Wikipedia community is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population on average, because we are global and the international community of English speakers is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population. There are no data or surveys to back that." [cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/email_debatewales_discusses_po.html|title=Wales Discusses Political Bias on Wikipedia|author=Mark Glaser|publisher=PBS Mediashift|date=2006-04-21|accessdate=2007-08-21] The belief in a liberal bias at Wikipedia led to the creation of Conservapedia,cite news | last = Johnson | first = Bobbie | year = 2007 | url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2024434,00.html | title = Conservapedia—the US religious right's answer to Wikipedia | work = The Guardian | date = 2007-03-01] whose editors have compiled a list of alleged examples of bias in Wikipedia. [cite web|url=http://www.conservapedia.com/Examples_of_Bias_in_Wikipedia|title=Examples of Bias in Wikipedia|publisher= Conservapedia|accessdate=2007-07-08] In 2007, an article in " The Christian Post" criticised Wikipedia's coverage of Intelligent design, saying that it was biased and hypocritical. [cite web|url=http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070509/27307_'Design'_Proponents_Accuse_Wikipedia_of_Bias,_Hypocrisy.htm|title='Design' Proponents Accuse Wikipedia of Bias, Hypocrisy|author= Doug Huntington|date=2007-05-09|accessdate=2007-08-09|publisher="The Christian Post"] Lawrence Solomonof the " National Review" considered the Wikipedia articles on subjects like global warming, intelligent design, and " Roe v. Wade" all to be slanted in favor of liberal views. [cite web|last=Solomon|first=Lawrence|title=Wikipropaganda On Global Warming|url=http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/08/opinion/main4241293.shtml|work=National Review|publisher=CBSNews.com|date=2008-07-08|accessdate=2008-07-20]
A 2007 study by
Hitwise, reproduced in "Time", [cite web|url=http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1614751,00.html|title=Who's Really Participating in Web 2.0|author=Bill Tancer|publisher=" Time Magazine"|date=2007-04-25|accessdate=2007-04-30] found that visitors to Wikipedia are almost equally split 50/50 male/female, but that 60% of edits are made by male editors.
In November 2006 a group of female long-term contributors to Wikipedia formed [http://wikichix.org/wiki/WikiChix WikiChix] , a group inspired by and modeled after the female-dominated
LinuxChix, in response to their perception of how male-dominated Wikipedia has become, and how uncomfortable some women are when contributing in such an atmosphere. The existence of a mailing list limited exclusively to female contributors prompted some controversy; the list was subsequently moved from the Wikimedia Foundation's servers to Wikia, the separate wiki-hosting service. [cite web|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2006-12-11/WikiChix|title=Female-only wiki mailing list draws fire|publisher=Wikipedia Signpost|accessdate=2006-12-21]
Anonymity of editors
Larry Sangerwrote: [cite web |title = Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge (longer version) |url = http://www.citizendium.org/essay.html | work = Citizendium.org | accessdate = 2006-10-10 ]
But more importantly, allowing anonymous editing generally induces a lack of authority, accountability, and healthy (or at least civil) interaction: [B. Bergstein, [http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/2007-03-25-wikipedia-alternative_N.htm Citizendium aims to be better Wikipedia] , "
USA Today", Posted 3/25/2007 3:00 PM.]
A February 2008 article in "
SF Weekly" details a journalist's futile attempts to track down the real identity of Wikipedia user Griot, who got involved in edit wars over the biography of Ralph Naderas well local politicians, and was eventually banned on Wikipedia for . The article draws the distinction between the press and Wikipedia:Mary Spicuzza (February 13, 2008) [http://www.sfweekly.com/2008-02-13/news/wikipedia-idiots-the-edit-wars-of-san-francisco Wikipedia Idiots: The Edit Wars of San Francisco] "SF Weekly"]
Say what you will about the press: There is at least a measure of accountability in a newspaper that is rarely seen on Wikipedia. It's called a byline. I mean, I'm sure I've produced some less-than-brilliant work during the dozen or so years I've been a journalist. But at least I've had the guts to sign my name — my real name — to what I write.
The article also quotes
Paul Grabowicz, the new-media program director for the University of California at BerkeleyGraduate School of Journalism:cquote
"I guess I have the same feeling about Wikipedia and other citizen-generated sites [as I have] about the media: The more transparency the better" [...] "People should be able to find out who is producing the information."
Wikipedia itself considers editors anonymous in a much narrower sense of the word than the citations above, namely only those editors that do not have a registered account, and use an auto-generated IP-labeled account, are considered anonymous. To disambiguate the two notions on anonymity, in the remainder of this section we use the term "unregistered" for the narrower Wikipedia meaning.
Since unregistered editors reveal their IP addresses, which can be used by admins to register complaints with Internet service providers or to put "range blocks" in place. Admins may also choose not to block because they might exclude regular contributors who share the same IP. Knowledgeable computer users and hackers, though, are easily capable of finding ways around IP blocking. Many have suggested requiring users to register before editing articles, and on
December 5, 2005non-registered editors were prohibited from creating new articles. [cite web|author=Wales, Jimmy|year= 2005-12-05|url=http://mail.wikipedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2005-December/033880.html|title=WikiEN-l Experiment on new pages|accessdate=2005-12-30] This does not address the larger problem of anonymity however.
The editorial process
Level of debate, edit wars, flame wars, and harassment
The standard of debate on Wikipedia has been called into question by persons who have noted that contributors can make a long list of salient points and pull in a wide range of empirical observations to back up their arguments, only to have them ignored completely on the site.cite news
url = http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/insideit/story/0,,1667345,00.html
title = Log on and join in, but beware the web cults | last = Arthur | first = Charles
2005-12-15| accessdate = 2006-07-14 ] An academic study of Wikipedia articles found that the level of debate among Wikipedia editors on controversial topics often degenerated into counterproductive squabbling: "For uncontroversial, 'stable' topics self-selection also ensures that members of editorial groups are substantially well-aligned with each other in their interests, backgrounds, and overall understanding of the topics...For controversial topics, on the other hand, self-selection may produce a strongly misaligned editorial group. It can lead to conflicts among the editorial group members, continuous edit wars, and may require the use of formal work coordination and control mechanisms. These may include intervention by administrators who enact dispute review and mediation processes, [or] completely disallow or limit and coordinate the types and sources of edits." [cite web|url=http://mailer.fsu.edu/~bstvilia/papers/stvilia_wikipedia_infoWork_p.pdf|title=Information Quality Work Organization in Wikipedia|author=Besiki Stvilla, Michael Twidale, Linda Smith, Les Gasser|publisher=Florida State University|accessdate=2007-10-05]
Another complaint about Wikipedia focuses on the efforts of contributors with idiosyncratic beliefs, who push their point of view in an effort to dominate articles, especially controversial ones. [cite web|url=http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=55&objectid=10368068|title=Wikipedia - separating fact from fiction|publisher="
New Zealand Herald"|date=2006-02-13|accessdate=2007-04-17|author=Martin Hickman and Genevieve Roberts|quote=Such checking leads to a daily battle of wits with the cyber-wreckers who insert erroneous, ludicrous and offensive material into entries. How frequently entries get messed about with depends on the controversy of their subjects. This week the entry Muslimis being attacked dozens of times a day following the row about cartoons of Mohammedwith angry denunciations of suicide bombing and claims of hypocrisy. Prime Minister Tony Blair's entry is a favourite for distortion with new statements casting aspersions on his integrity.] cite news
title=World of Knowledge
work =The Wikipedia Project
month=February | year=2005
quote=The Wikipedia's open structure makes it a target for trolls and vandals who malevolently add incorrect information to articles, get other people tied up in endless discussions, and generally do everything to draw attention to themselves.] This sometimes results in revert wars and pages being locked down. In response, an Arbitration Committee has been formed on the English Wikipedia that deals with the worst alleged offenders—though a conflict resolution strategy is actively encouraged before going to this extent. Also, to stop the continuous reverting of pages,
Jimmy Walesintroduced a "three-revert rule", [cite web |url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:3RR |title=Wikipedia: Three revert rule] whereby those users who reverse the effect of others' contributions to one article more than three times in a 24-hour period may be blocked.
Another edit war reported in mainstream press happened soon after the death of
Kenneth Lay, the disgraced former CEOof Enron, who died due to a heart attack. Several editors to the encyclopedia added content to Lay's Wikipedia biography surmising that the death was in fact a suicide, well in advance of any official determination of cause of death. Such edits were reverted and re-inserted several times; eventually the article reported the cause of death as a heart attack. As of July 2007, there is no evidence to suggest that Lay's death was by other than natural causes. The edit history of the article was investigated by the press, and the " Washington Post" published a column on the subject. [cite news|url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/08/AR2006070800135_pf.html/|title=Death by Wikipedia: The Kenneth Lay Chronicles|date=2006-07-09|author=Frank Ahrens]
A "SF Weekly" article commented on the stakes of edit wars:cquote
Many an edit war may seem like a fight over nothing to the casual observer, but considering that according to its staff, the popular, multilingual Web site gets about 7 billion views per month, stakes can be high. An edit yields what millions of people read on the site on any particular topic.
A common complaint about Wikipedia concerns so-called "flame wars", or deliberate insults made by users to create a hostile environment. This concern has been acknowledged by Wikipedia; civility [cite web | url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:CIVIL |title= Wikipedia: Civility] and "no personal attacks" [cite web | url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:NPA |title= Wikipedia: No personal attacks] are official policies of the project, and the concept of "wikiquette" has been adopted by some users in response. [cite web|url=http://www.springerlink.com/content/h074pg176l3k3120/fulltext.pdf|title="Wiki: Web Collaboration", Chapter One: "The Wiki Concept", p. 28-29|author=Anja Ebersbach, Markus Glaser and Richard Heigl|publisher=Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2006 ISBN 978-3-540-25995-4|accessdate=2007-01-28|format=PDF]
In an article in "
The Brooklyn Rail", former Wikipedia contributor David Shankbone contended that he had been harassed and stalked because of his work on Wikipedia, had received no support from the authorities or the Wikimedia Foundation, and only mixed support from the Wikipedia community. Shankbone wrote that "If you become a target on Wikipedia, do not expect a supportive community." [cite web|url=http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/06/express/nobodys-safe-in-cyber-space|title=Nobody's safe in cyberspace|last=Shankbone|first=David|month=June | year=2008|work= The Brooklyn Rail|accessdate=2008-07-10]
Consensus and the "hive mind"
Oliver Kamm, in an article for The Times, expressed skepticism toward Wikipedia's reliance on in forming its content:cquote
Wikipedia seeks not truth but consensus, and like an interminable political meeting the end result will be dominated by the loudest and most persistent voices.
In his article, "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism" (first published online by "Edge: The Third Culture,"
30 May 2006), computer scientist and digital theorist Jaron Lanierdescribes Wikipedia as a "hive mind" that is "for the most part stupid and boring," and asks, rhetorically, "why pay attention to it?" His thesis follows:
The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous.
Lanier goes on to point out the economic trend to reward entities that aggregate information, rather than those that actually generate content. In the absence of "new business models," the popular demand for content will be sated by mediocrity, thus reducing or even eliminating any monetary incentives for the production of "new" knowledge.cite news
title=DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism
May 30, 2006
Lanier's opinions produced some strong disagreement. Internet consultant
Clay Shirkynoted that Wikipedia has many internal controls in place and is not a mere mass of unintelligent collective effort:
However, critics charge that unless one is both familiar with Wikipedia and willing to spend a certain amount of time on Wikipedia these safeguards can and do fail.Fact|date=July 2008
In a 2005 study, Emigh and Herring note that there are not yet many formal studies of Wikipedia or its model, and suggest that Wikipedia achieves its results by social means—self-norming, a core of active users watching for problems, and expectations of encyclopedic text drawn from the wider culture.Emigh & Herring (2005) "Collaborative Authoring on the Web:A Genre Analysis of Online Encyclopedias", Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences. ( [http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/wiki.pdf PDF] )]
An article in "
Computer Power User" asserted that former editors of Wikipedia formed Wikitruth, a site that exposes alleged censorship and infighting on the encyclopedia: "Former editors recently created Wikitruth.info, which purports to expose articles and edits that Wikipedia censors and other “atrocities” involving in-fighting among the administrators." [cite web|url=http://www.computerpoweruser.com/editorial/article.asp?article=articles%2Farchive%2Fc0607%2F46c07%2F46c07.asp|title=When The Wiki Hits The Fan|author=Steve Smith|month=July | year=2006|publisher="Computer Power User"|accessdate=2007-10-27] According to " InformationWeek", Jimmy Wales dismissed the site as a "hoax" created by editors who had their articles deleted or modified on Wikipedia. [cite web|url=http://www.informationweek.com/hardware/personaltech/185303404|title=Wikipedia Protest Site 'A Hoax' - Founder|author=Antone Gonsalves|date=2006-04-17|publisher="InformationWeek"|accessdate=2007-10-27]
In an article on Wikipedia conflicts, "
The Guardian" noted criticism that administrators of the site, who have "special powers to lock down vulnerable articles from further editing, and temporarily block problem users from making changes to the site", sometimes abuse those powers to suppress legitimate editors. The article discussed "a backlash among some editors, who argue that blocking users compromises the supposedly open nature of the project, and the imbalance of power between users and administrators may even be a reason some users choose to vandalise in the first place."cite web|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/mar/25/wikipedia.web20|title=Wiki wars|author=Jenny Kleeman|date=2007-03-25|accessdate=2007-10-04|publisher="The Guardian"] cquote
'My vandalism started after an edit conflict over the Courier-Journal's sports and editorial coverage, where my - what I felt were - legitimate edits on the page for C-J criticism were removed and I was blasted,' he says. 'I have being vandalising Wikipedia and its user pages for months, mostly because seeing my vandalism or that of others was funny as hell... and to punish admins.
An article on "The Register", dated 4 December 2007 and entitled "Secret mailing list rocks Wikipedia", discussed the use of a private mailing list to coordinate administrative actions. [cite web|url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/04/wikipedia_secret_mailing/|title=Secret mailing list rocks Wikipedia|author=Cade Metz|date=2007-12-04|accessdate=2007-12-04|publisher="The Register"] A follow-up article on 8 December 2007 specifically alleged that administrators were collaborating with critics of
Overstock.comCEO Judd Bagleyto "own" articles about him and his company. [cite web|url=http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/06/wikipedia_and_overstock/|title=Wikipedia black helicopters circle Utah's Traverse Mountain |date=2007-12-08|accessdate=2008-05-02|publisher="The Register"]
Seth Finkelstein, well-known for his criticism of Wikipedia, has reported on allegations of financial misconduct and editorial bias in his technology editorial blog hosted by the "The Guardian". [Finkelstein, Seth (March 27, 2008). [http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/mar/27/wikipedia.scandal "Wikipedia's school for scandal has plenty more secrets to reveal"] . The Guardian. Technology "Read me first" series. Retrieved on 2008-09-03.] This report was based on the testimonial of a former foundation employee that now runs a blog highly critical of Wikipedia. The allegations were refuted by
Jimmy Walesin a more balanced report on the story that ran in "The New York Times". [Noam Cohen (March 17, 2008) [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/17/technology/17wikipedia.html?ex=1364702400&en=913af3afa2d6bd75&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink "Open-Source Troubles in Wiki World"] . Technology. "The New York Times". Retrieved on 2008-09-03.] The story was also covered in less detail by " USA Today", which reproduced an Associated Pressrelease. [Brian Bergstein (March 4, 2008) [http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2008-03-04-wikipedia-wales_N.htm?csp=34 Wikipedia's Wales defends breakup, expenses] . Technology. "USA Today". Retrieved on 2008-09-03.]
Impact on society
In 2008 the
Scottish Parent Teacher Councilblamed Wikipedia for Scotland's falling exam pass rates. [ [http://news.scotsman.com/education/Falling-exam--passes-blamed.4209408.jp Falling exam passes blamed on Wikipedia 'littered with inaccuracies' - Scotsman.com News ] ]
Threat to traditional publishers
Some observers claim that Wikipedia is undesirable, because it is an economic threat to publishers of traditional encyclopedias, many of whom may be unable to compete with a product which is essentially free.
Nicholas Carrwrites in the essay "The amorality of Web 2.0," speaking of the so-called Web 2.0as a whole: "Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can't imagine anything more frightening." [cite web | title = The amorality of Web 2.0
url = http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2005/10/the_amorality_o.php | date =
work = Rough Type | accessdate = 2006-07-15 ] Others dispute the notion that Wikipedia, or similar efforts, will entirely displace traditional publications. For instance, Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of "
Wired Magazine", wrote in "Nature" that the " wisdom of the crowds" approach of Wikipedia will not displace top scientific journals with their rigorous peer reviewprocess. [cite web | title = Technical solutions: Wisdom of the crowds | url = http://www.nature.com/nature/peerreview/debate/nature04992.html |
work = Nature | accessdate = 2006-10-10 ] In fact, according to Wikipedia editing guidelines regarding the requirement of references to external primary sources, Wikipedia's existence is essentially dependent on these professional publications.
In 2005, staff at the "Encyclopædia Britannica" said it did not feel threatened by Wikipedia. "The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous improvement will lead to perfection; that premise is completely unproven," the reference work's executive editor, Ted Pappas, told "
The Guardian". [cite news
url = http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1386027,00.html | publisher =
title = Why encyclopaedic row speaks volumes about the old guard | last = Naughton | first = John
2005-01-09| accessdate = 2006-07-15 ]
Wikipedia has been satirized by humorists who call attention to factual inaccuracies that may appear in articles owing to sloppy or biased editors or vandalism. For example, an article in "
The Onion" was entitled [http://www.theonion.com/content/node/50902 "Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence"] . In a piece on The Colbert Report, entitled " Wikiality," Stephen Colbert encouraged his viewers to change Wikipedia's article on elephants to state that the number of African elephantshad tripled over the past six months. [cite news|title=Colbert speaks, America follows: All Hail Wikiality!|publisher=c-net news.com|url=http://news.com.com/2061-10802_3-6100754.html|author=Caroline McCarthy|date=2006-08-01] Colbert's comments provoked a wave of vandalism of various articles at Wikipedia. [cite web|title=Wikipedia satire leads to vandalism, protections|publisher=Wikipedia Signpost|url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2006-08-07/Wikiality|date=2006-08-07] On the 28 January, 2007edition of his program, Colbert did another segment on an attempt by Microsoftto hire writers to skew certain Wikipedia articles in their favor, ending with a call by Colbert to change the Wikipedia article on " reality" to the phrase "Reality has become a commodity" and offering a $5 cash reward to the first viewer to do so. In the animated " American Dad!" episode " Black Mystery Month" the character Steve Smith, seeking the “one place where a person can put out crazy information with no evidence that millions will accept as true,” turns to Wikipedia. [cite web|title=Fox Broadcasting Company recaps: American Dad - Episode 13: Black Mystery Month|url=http://www.fox.com/americandad/recaps/index.htm|date= 2007-02-18 Retrieved on March 8, 2007] "Mad Magazine" has spoofed Wikipedia several times in a section of "short takes" on topics of current interest.
Allegations that Wikipedia has been used as a platform for defamation gave rise to a joke in a 2007 episode of "
The Simpsons", where jailed hoodlum Snake says to his girlfriend, "Hey, baby. Listen carefully. Someone’s been editing my biography on Wikipedia. I want you to kill him." [ [http://www.tv.com/the-simpsons/i-dont-wanna-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings/episode/1052152/summary.html The Simpsons: I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - TV.com ] ]
An article in
The Sun[Katie Cheeseman (12 Dec., 2007) [http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article574234.ece "Wikipedia's bust idea ever"] The Sun] derided Wikipedia for including a list of "List of big-bust models and performers". Pretending to quote an unnamed "company source", the article concluded: "It’s every computer geek’s dream come true -- definitely one of Wikipedia’s breast, I mean best, assets".
Satire also exists in the form of parody encyclopedias such as
Uncyclopedia[cite web|url=http://usinfo.state.gov/usinfo/USINFO/Products/Webchats/wales_19_may_2006.html|title=Freedom of Speech through Wikipedia|date=2006-05-19|accessdate=2007-10-04|publisher=U.S. Department of State] and Encyclopedia Dramatica.cite news |url = http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/magazine/01WIKIPEDIA-t.html|title = Wikipedia |author = Jonathan Dee |publisher = New York Times Magazine |date = 2007-07-01 |accessdate = 2007-11-19]
History of Wikipedia
Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia
Reliability of Wikipedia
Wikipedia Reviewand Wikitruth, two web sites dedicated to criticizing Wikipedia and its leadership.
Andrew Keen. "The Cult of the Amateur". Doubleday/Currency, 2007. ISBN 9780385520805 (substantial criticisms of Wikipedia and other web 2.0 projects). Listen to: [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11131872 Does the Internet Undermine Culture?] , NPR interview with A. Keen, Weekend Edition Saturday, June 16, 2007.
Sheizaf Rafaeli& Yaron Ariel (2008). Online motivational factors: Incentives for participation and contribution in Wikipedia. In A. Barak (Ed.), Psychological aspects of cyberspace: Theory, research, applications (pp. 243-267). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [http://cyberpsych.yeda.info]
* [http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/is-something-fundamentally-wrong-with-wikipedia-governance-processes/2008/01/07 Is something fundamentally wrong with Wikipedia governance processes?]
February 27, 2008
* [http://www.slate.com/id/2117942/ Wikipedia is a real-life Hitchhiker's Guide: huge, nerdy, and imprecise] - by
Paul Boutin, "Slate", May 3, 2005.
* [http://www.thetranscript.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp?article=3452611 Wikipedia target of House 'editors'] - by Evan Lehmann, TheTranscript.com,
January 30, 2006.
* [http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1752257,00.html A thirst for knowledge] by Andrew Orlowski "The Guardian"
April 13, 2006
* [http://www.theregister.com/2005/10/24/wikipedia_letters/ Wikipedia: magic, monkeys and typewriters] - by Andrew Orlowski, "The Register",
October 24, 2005.
* [http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=255920&area=/insight/insight__national/ Can you trust Wikipedia?] - by Elvira van Noort, "
Mail & Guardian" (South Africa), November 7, 2005.
* [http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/departments/online/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001612397 "The Danger of Wikipedia"] , "Editor and Publisher",
November 30, 2005. (Login required)
* [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-1916781,00.html Unreliable (adj): log on and see] - by Rosemary Righter, "The Times",
December 9, 2005
* [http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/online-encyclopedias-put-to-the-test/2005/12/14/1134500913345.html Online encyclopedias put to the test] - by Stephen Cauchi,
December 14, 2005.
* [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/16/wikipedia_britannica_science_comparison Wikipedia science 31% more cronky than Britannica's] - by Andrew Orlowski, [http://www.theregister.co.uk "The Register"] ,
December 16, 2005.
* [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/10/18/wikipedia_quality_problem/ "Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems"] - by Andrew Orlowski, "The Register",
December 18, 2005.
* [http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/technology/archives/2005/12/19/does_wikipedia_win_through_the_wisdom_of_crowds.html Does Wikipedia win through the "wisdom of crowds"?] by Jack Schofield "
Guardian Unlimited" December 19, 2005
* [http://www.villagevoice.com/screens/0618,dibbell,73055,28.html Turf Wars: Wikipedia spars with a splinter site for truth] by Julian Dibbell "
The Village Voice" May 2, 2006
* [http://www.cadenhead.org/workbench/news/2828/wikipedia-founder-looks-out-number-1 Wikipedia Founder Looks Out for Number 1] - by Rogers Cadenhead,
December 19, 2005.
* [http://www.thetranscript.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp?article=3452611 Wikipedia target of House 'editors'] - by Evan Lehmann, TheTranscript.com,
January 30, 2006.
* [http://www.dailycamera.com/bdc/buffzone_news/article/0,1713,BDC_2448_4444477,00.html Profs knock Wikipedia] - by Brittany Anas,
February 6, 2006. (Login required)
* [http://www.archive.org/details/20060408-jscott-wikipedia The Great Failure of Wikipedia] ( [http://www.cow.net/transcript.txt transcript] ) by
Jason Scott Sadofskyat Notacon3 in Cleveland, Ohio
* [http://www.wired.com/news/columns/0,70670-0.html?tw=wn_index_3 The Wikipedia FAQK] , "Wired" article that provides sarcastic advice to new Wikipedia contributors.
April 19, 2006
* [http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2006/05/what-bears-do-on-lawn.html Neil Gaiman: What Bears Do On the Lawn] , May 11, 2006, criticism of Wikipedia by noted author and essayist
* [http://www.boingboing.net/2006/05/22/u_florida_cops_ask_f.html "U. Florida cops ask fiction writer for fingerprints, DNA"] , "boingboing",
May 22, 2006, retrieved May 25, 2006.
* [http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1965848,00.asp?kc=ewnws052306dtx1k0000599 Wikis Are a Waste of Time] by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols "
eWeek" May 22, 2006
* [http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/05/the_death_of_wi.php The death of Wikipedia] by Nicholas Carr
May 24, 2006
* [http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/05/now_lets_bury_t.php Now, let's bury the myth] by Nicholas Carr
May 25, 2006
* [http://www.theonion.com/content/node/50902 Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence] "
The Onion"'s satirical view July 26, 2006
* [http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,20411-2279162,00.html How wiki-wiki can get sticky] by Ben Macintyre "The Times"
July 21, 2006
* [http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2007/04/sanger_1.php "Stabbing Polonius"] by Nicholas Carr
April 27, 2007
* [http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/2007/05/sand_castles_of_knowledge.html Sand Castles of Knowledge] by
Kyle Gann May 5, 2007
* [http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/888/wikipedia.html "Wikipedia: A Million Monkeys Typing"] Editorial note from "
Workers Vanguard", biweekly newspaper of the Spartacist League/US
* [http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/890/let-wiki.html "Communiqué from Wikiality"] Letter and response from "Workers Vanguard" on Wikipedia
* [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.03/wiki.html?pg=1&topic=wiki&topic_set= The Book Stops Here]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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