Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Witherington on Wikipedia

As I have argued here before (Wikipedia), the way forward for Wikipedia in the academy should be critical engagement rather than spurning. I have been critical of Ben Witherington's remarks on the subject in the past (New Testament scholars on Wikipedia; More on how to engage with Wikipedia) and today in a new blog entry, "What is truthiness?" The truth about Wikipedia, Ben has a little more. Referring to Shlashdot's comments on Simson Garfinkel's interesting article Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth, Ben writes:
My son the computer whiz sent me this recent article on the standard of 'truth' that Wikipedia uses, namely verifiability from a recognized source. When one couples this with the banning of original research, it leads to real problems, and explains why so many academics do not allow the use of Wikipedia in student papers much less in scholarly work.
The criterion of verifiability from a recognized source is in fact one of the reasons for the competence of many of Wikipedia's articles, and acts as a good model for students who are engaging critically with what Wikipedia says on a given subject. And the avoidance of original research is also entirely natural and right in an encyclopaedia of this kind. Encyclopaedia Britannica is the same -- it is not a place to publish original research. Original research is published in monographs and journal articles and not in encyclopaedia entries. Indeed the value of the encyclopaedia is that it directs the reader to good original research on the topic in question.

Incidentally, I do rather like the last line of Garfinkel's article:
That standard is simple: something is true if it was published in a newspaper article, a magazine or journal, or a book published by a university press--or if it appeared on Dr. Who.
Of course the truthiness there depends on whether one is talking about canonical Who or not (a remark for the geeks).


Doug Chaplin said...

I can see Jim West's boot heading for your testicles!

Judy Redman said...

I agree that the fact that something is on Wikipedia doesn't necessarily make it wrong, or even suspect, and that encyclopedias are not the place for original research. On the other hand, I was at a trivia morning the other week where one of the tables disputed the answer given by the people running the event and they explained that they'd got their answer from Wikipedia. One of the disputants said "Give me half an hour and an internet connection and our answer could be on Wikipedia, too". Wikipedia is just to volatile a source to be a good one.

I don't think students should be banned from using it, but it should act as a starting point, not an ultimate authority, in the same way that any other single source of information should be checked in other references.

Mike Duncan said...

The truthiness is further enhanced if Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker is the Doctor.

rpg said...

The problems with wikipedia are that (a) any fool can edit it and (b) factual corrections get 'uncorrected' editorially.

Not worth the hassle.

John C. Poirier said...

Jim West represents Wikipedia as something that anyone can change at any time, but the one time that I corrected an entry, my correction didn't appear in the article in question until its factuality was confirmed by somebody at Wikipedia! I wonder, therefore, how many of West's complaints are based on a false understanding of Wikipedia. (I agree that it is not the sort of authority that students should use in their bibliographies, but it has the advantage of being corrigible. When a mistake appears in a printed encyclopedia, there's little that can be done to fix it.)

实木复合地板 said...

The problems with wikipedia are that (a) any fool can edit it and (b) factual corrections get 'uncorrected' editorially.

Not worth the hassle.