rowing up in a university family, both parents were professors, I was always surrounded by books. One vivid memory is the encyclopedias and dictionaries that filled our home.
Britannica was one of the encyclopedias. Big black books that took up two rows on the main family bookcase. Right next to Britannica sat the Oxford English Dictionary. Again, huge black books filled with information. Then, there was also the World Book, among others.
We would take them down when reading the paper or watching television and look up anything that we didn’t know about. We would read and enjoy it. I wonder, are kids still doing this today? Or, do they just pickup their nearby Wifi laptop and look things up, instead? Oh, please don’t tell me they are going to Wikipedia … and believing they are getting solid information. (Yes, I know they’re being fooled and doing it every day.)
For me, nothing beats a book. I love the fun of flipping through pages and finding something new.
Even better, a book (even online) that has real editors. So, my new found great Britannica Online reference brings me to an issue that bothers me greatly. Wikipedia and editors. Editors are important. Crucial.
Editors with credentials. Editors that may be vetted. Not editors with names like StaticGull at Wikipedia. Static Gull’s credentials? “This user can make The Spinning Dancer turn both ways.” Oh, now there’s a selling point. No real name for Static Gull. No way to vet their knowledge and trustworthiness, yet h/she has edited (and reverted edits) entries such as the Battle of Blenheim. There are so many examples like this in Wikipedia that the site becomes laughable when offered up as a trustworthy reference. You’ll see links to many instances of chicanery within Wikipedia below.
Shel Holtz kindly shared a free account to access Britannica online, recently. I was happy to have it. Thanks, Shel. I imagine that Britannica hopes to have a word-of-mouth campaign spring from this regarding the views of educators on the validity of Wikipedia as opposed to Britannica. Why?
See screen shots of Wikipedia vandalism on Wikipedia Watch. Check out this refutation of a Nature journal article that attempted to claim Britannica and Wikipedia are not too much different from one another. The Study and the Data (PDF). That article has since been roundly refuted and discredited. See links below.
You know, there has been a lot of talk about online reference sources these past few years. For instance, as of this writing, Alexa lists Yahoo! #1, Google #2, Windows Live #3 and Wikipedia #7 in their Global Top 500 sites ranking. All four are used as reference sites, in their own way.
If I were to rank them as valid and useful reference resources, I’d likely put the search engines up high as sources I could then verify with further study. Wikipedia, however, I wouldn’t even rank. For instance, if a student turns in a paper with a Wikipedia reference, I require that they provide two or three independent resources to verify the Wikipedia reference. I would accept the Britannica reference – alone.
Why? Britannica has editors. They have names, real names. Britannica has a long history of academic discovery. They are open. They accept input and you can actually speak with real people and vet them based upon their academic credentials.
Funny. See how Wikipedia cites those behind Britannica here: Encyclopædia Britannica. Now, where is the list of characters behind the names like: WillowW. That’s one of the editors for the Britannica article.
Britannica, unlike Wikipedia. does not have an inbred system that causes errors to remain – even be defended. They don’t have a relatively invisible process which allows great falsehoods to linger on their site and requires a struggle to remedy. See any of the instances cited in the related links below.
I don’t know for certain, but it may be possible that Wikipedia is one of the greatest deceptions (if not outright frauds) perpetrated on the world’s population. The koolaid drinkers among the ardent supporters will say it is an excellent resource to educate the 3rd world. Please. Well, if we want to mis-educate them, maybe.
Wikipedia’s refusal to institute (a) some form of captcha technology and (b) a stern policy of verifying e-mail addresses for all members/editors suggests to me that they are more interested in traffic. They seemingly invite spam. Reminds me, in a way, of a paraphrase of the “Gold Hat” (Alfonso Bedoya) line in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. “Credentials? We ain’t got no credentials. We don’t need no credentials. I don’t have to show you any stinking credentials.” (IMDb)
Now, let’s be clear on that idea of fraud. Fraud is defined as “…a deception made for personal gain” or “a deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.” (Source) The unfair part refers to Wikipedias emphasis on participation and visitors, not on verification of content. Traffic spurred by their lax system is the gain. Yet, vandalism is rife throughout the site. How many people see those vandalized pages, accept them as fact, and leave feeling they have learned – when they have actually been deceived. I believe that it is possible the site desires to keep their bad practices in place because it appeals to their volunteer base. Further, the site’s traffic does wonders for propping up the faux fame of its particpants – even the founders.
Want Wikipedia to earn credibility? Institute real processes to assure some validity in the site. Nope, they don’t do it. Those volunteers might balk. The site’s traffic flounders. The founders fame flounders, too.
Consider the remarkable relationship between Google and Wikipedia. Why Google makes Wikipedia links often register as the first result for many terms, I cannot fathom. Wikia certainly benefits from all this. Ah, the founders are now making money.
Wikipedia’s koolaid drinking supporters certainly try to defend the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. But, it is that “anyone can edit” aspect that frightens me. It should frighten you, too. Why? Because people are beginning to give the site undue respect using the fallacy that “It has been there so long, it must be true.” That argument is actually used by Wikipedia editors, sometimes, to defend efforts to correct an inaccurate article. The site is bizarre.
When considering Wikipedia as a reference source, I think of one saying that even the supporters of Wikipedia will understand is – “Danger, Will Robinson!”
You want a wiki as reference source that you can trust? Visit Citizendium.