Friday, December 16, 2005

Trimming the Wikipedia

(fair warning - some of the linked comics contain nasty language and naughty thoughts)

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, but some of my written stylings come from a man I know only as 'Tycho.' He's half of a webcomic duo that creates some pretty hilarious comics about gaming and such. The thing is that many of their comics require a pretty deep explanation if you aren't in the gaming 'cool kids' circle - and I left that circle a long long time ago. So, anyway, I like the way the guy writes even if there are (gasp!) spelling errors (I'm done grading. I'm done grading. I'm done grading).

explanations done, the Penny Arcade folks have taken a look at Wikipedia. And it's not that pretty.

A selected chunk from the newspost that accompanies the comic: (persistent link may be here)
Reponses to criticism of Wikipedia go something like this: the first is usually a paean to that pure democracy which is the project's noble fundament. If I don't like it, why don't I go edit it myself? To which I reply: because I don't have time to babysit the Internet. Hardly anyone does. If they do, it isn't exactly a compliment.

Any persistent idiot can obliterate your contributions. The fact of the matter is that all sources of information are not of equal value, and I don't know how or when it became impolitic to suggest it. In opposition to the spirit of Wikipedia, I believe there is such a thing as expertise.

The second response is: the collaborative nature of the apparatus means that the right data tends to emerge, ultimately, even if there is turmoil temporarily as dichotomous viewpoints violently intersect. To which I reply: that does not inspire confidence. In fact, it makes the whole effort even more ridiculous. What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for my information.
I note this because I've been fighting a losing battle to keep Wikipedia sources out of students' papers. I really like Wikipedia, but I know that it's not particularly reliable. That's not to say that you can't find good informaiton there, because obviously, you can, especially on techy stuff. There was a recent study comparing Wikipedia with Britannica, and Wiki held its own, with 4 errors per entry vs. Britannica's 3. I think the problem is that many people see Wiki as the answer instead of a tool that you can use to help find the answer.

Now that I write that up, I guess it's not that different from any other source. Hmm... Is Wikipedia legitimate as a source? Do you folks let students cite Wikipedia?

1 comment:

mendi-la said...

i don't grade papers, as you know, so i wouldn't fight this battle over using Wiki as a source, but the penny arcade guys have a point. how can you trust the info if it comes from any joe off the street - maybe i should go add some of my two cents to wiki. It does not make me feel better that the britannica has almost as many errors. I feel very let down.

but hey, all the answers are out there somewhere on the internet, aren't they! I know i should cite some here but i simply don't have the time...:)