Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Why hate on Wikipedia? Here’s why.

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It’s easy to hate Wikipedia.

There are too many reasons not to hate it.

But let me be more precise, and explain what’s wrong with Wikipedia.

To be certain, what you’re about to read is in no way a defense of Wikipedia.

Instead, I will bash it unashamedly, and will explain why it is unreliable, and supply reasons for others to look askance at it. This critique is no casually jaundiced glace, but rather scathing.

It can be difficult to know exactly where to begin, but I think it possible to start with reliability, and move tangentially to toward other areas.

Wikipedia calls itself “the encyclopedia anyone can edit.” Such a description is accurate only on one account, which is that “anyone can edit.”

Among researchers, academicians and others for whom reliability is paramount, Wikipedia is a mere joke – a “wanna be” in the world of knowledge.

It is literally a “moving target,” which means that even in one day – and in some cases, within hours – an entire article can literally be obliterated, not from vandalism (though that remains a well-known problem for Wikipedia), but from the volume of even-minor changes that are made to it. And that problem itself is perhaps the solitary greatest problem for the website.

That issue is one of reliability, from which flows credibility. To understand why, let’s examine the word “encylopedia.”

An “encyclopedia” is defined as “a book or set of books giving information on many subjects or on many aspects of one subject and typically arranged alphabetically.” The origin and derivation of the word “encyclopedia” comes from the 1530s, and means “course of instruction.” The word itself is from the Modern Latin word “encyclopaedia” (c.1500), and is thought to be a false reading by Latin authors of the Greek words “enkyklios paideia” which was broadly interpreted as “general education,” but is literally defined as “training in a circle,” i.e. the “circle” of arts and sciences, the essentials of a liberal education. Those two words come from “enkyklios,” meaning “circular,” and “general” (from en “in” + kyklos “circle”) + paideia, meaning “education, child-rearing,” and emerges from pais (generally, paidos) “child.” The modern sense of “reference work arranged alphabetically” is from 1640s, and is often applied specifically to the FrenchEncyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts, et des Métiers” (1751-65).

In essence, Wikipedia bills itself as a “reference work” … “on many subjects, or on many aspects of one subect,” which is arranged alphabetically.

Now, let’s consider what it means to be a “reference work.”

When used as a noun in the sense that Wikipedia prefers to use about itself, “reference” is “the action of mentioning or alluding to something,” and/or “use of a source of information in order to ascertain something.” Terms synonymous with “reference” include “source, citation, authority,” and “credit.”

When used as a verb, “reference” means to “provide (a book or article) with citations of authorities.”

An “authority” is “the power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something.”

Terms synonymous with “authority” include “expert, specialist, aficionado, pundit, guru, sage,” and more.

(The reader will please bear with through these definitions as I make the case. It is necessary to understand what these words mean, all which have direct bearing upon all that is “Wiki.”)

Again, what we’re really dealing with in the Wikipedia case is truth, credibility and reliability. Veracity – conformity to truth – has little or no bearing in Wikipedia. I’ll explain why as we continue. However, for brevity sake, it may be necessary to continue that aspect of criticism in a separate entry.

A recent case in point which perfectly illustrates credibility and reliability is the situation with the Costa Concordia – the luxury cruise liner which grounded and capsized off the western Italian coast.

A history of the article shows it was started in 2006.

Until recently, it had relatively little activity. Then, in January 2012, all Hell broke loose. Just browse through the pages and see where there are – on some days – hundreds of “edits” and “revisions,” that little by little, eventually yet wholly obliterate the article until there remains no resemblance of any original article whatsoever.

The link is set to show 500 edits, and on January 14, 2012 alone, there were several hundred on that day alone.

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Costa_Concordia&dir=prev&limit=500&action=history

Here is a sampling of the description of edits:
(remove (again) uncited and distracting parenthetical)
(Removed badly spelled and unsourced additions.)
(- uncited parenthetical)
(Amenities: + preterite tense needed)
(What does “partially” capsized mean?)
(preterite tense needed)(Unclear whether can sail again.
(wording, less “now” emphasis)
(del duplicated and inconsistent casualty figures and history)
(grammar correction)
(dead include a crew member, not all were passengers)
(Replaced content with ‘Glug glug glug glug glug glug. THAT SHIP IS A GONER!’)
vandalism

Now, compare all that to any website – even a news website – and it’s quite easy to understand why Wikipedia is NEITHER a credible, nor reliable source.

We’ll continue Wikipedia criticism by addressing veracity – conformity to truth – and other problems in an upcoming separate entry.

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