Monday, July 16, 2007

In Defence of Wikipedia III

Back in March, I wrote In Defence of Wikipedia and followed it with In Defence of Wikipedia Response, specifically to criticize the trendiness of academic sneering at a resource that students are using more and more. I offered a range of reasons to suggest that our reaction to Wikipedia should be more nuanced. Putting our fingers in our ears and closing our eyes is not a realistic option. As always, the academic's best option is critical engagement. Inevitably, some misread the posts; others disagreed. It is encouraging to see John Hobbins writing intelligently about Wikipedia, Bible Study and the SBL, from which this is an excerpt:
How might Wikipedia’s presentation of biblical and related literature be improved? Let me count the ways. Coverage is spotty and sometimes amateurish. Links are not always top-notch. Bibliographies often seem slanted.

But, as I said before, improvement over time is noticeable.

Wikipedia does not adhere to the shameful practice of much scholarship in the humanities, whereby essays published decades ago are republished unchanged with nary a nod to developments in the field since original publication.

Wikipedia is a community effort. It is up to scholars to stop griping, roll up their electronic sleeves, and improve it themselves.
The ever reasonable and always interesting Doug Chaplin has a nice follow-up on Metacatholic headed Wikipedia or Wickedpedia? with the message "Wikipedia is here. Deal with it." One of the most important ways of embracing this challenge is the one suggested by John, echoing my own earlier suggestions of getting involved. If one is serious about rigorous academic life, then one should be serious about being a critical participant rather than a critical outsider.

Jim West criticized my earlier piece and he now does the same again. As Doug mentions, I earlier suggested that a way out of the impasse would be to test Jim's claims by means of the Wikipedia article on Zwingli. I would be interested to know if Jim has taken up that challenge and how he feels about the resulting product. Jim suggested that I too test things by working on the Wikipedia article on the Q document, which I have been doing, just every now and then. So far, I've been pleased with what I have seen. The article is looking OK, though with some work still necessary, but when I make changes, they usually stay. To be honest, the real challenge would have been the Synoptic Problem article, which is a bit of a mess and needs some serious work. But I've recently written a lengthy encyclopaedia article for a print volume (which therefore will get far less exposure than Wikipedia) on that topic, so I am loathe to end up duplicating my work there, all the more so as I already have something of a web presence on this topic. So perhaps others would enjoy taking up this challenge?

One last thing: I was shocked to see that there was no Wikipedia article on Michael Goulder, so I have added one. At the moment it's just a skeleton, but I hope to add to it in due course, or perhaps you would like to?

4 comments:

Matt Page said...

Ironically those who write off Wikipedia often haven't done their research. There have been several studies on the reliability of Wikipedia, including the most well known by Nature which concluded that Wikipeida was of the same order of accuracy as Encyclopedia Britannica (at least in science). Whilst Britannica criticised the Nature survey, Nature offered their own rebuttal and the sheer number of other surveys which have drawn similar conclusions is, perhaps, significant.

In any case, if someone offers an impressive, well worded, brief summary of an issue, then surely it shouldn't matter who said it, or where they wrote it, so long as its inclusion is backed up by sound reasoning.

Matt

David Gerard said...

When I first came to Wikipedia a few years ago, I edited quite a few articles on the Gospels and related documents ... just copyediting, making them more sensible, etc. I'm not a scholar, but I sure can copyedit.

If an article is suffering too many cooks, a good copyedit and shuffle can do wonders. Do it in stages, mention what you're doing on the talk page and you'll mostly be fine.

Scott Ferguson said...

"But I've recently written a lengthy encyclopaedia article for a print volume (which therefore will get far less exposure than Wikipedia) on that topic, so I am loathe to end up duplicating my work there, all the more so as I already have something of a web presence on this topic."

Doesn't this indicate that the very people who it assumed will keep the Wiki accurate and up-to-date lack the time and incentive to do just that.

"To be honest, the real challenge would have been the Synoptic Problem article, which is a bit of a mess and needs some serious work."

Ideed, I posted a page on my grandfather, silent fim actor George Ferguson, and expect no controversy or outside editing. 99% of the articles will probably be "okay". It is the contentious areas that will breed edit and counter-edit. Unfortunately these are the very topics on which students would benefit most from stable, sober information.

I feel the jury is still way out on Wikipedia and Web 2.0 in general.

Dystopos said...

This caught my eye: "I feel the jury is still way out on Wikipedia and Web 2.0 in general."

Perhaps it is better to say that the jury room is wide open and the verdict will never be final.