Monday, August 20, 2007

New Testament Scholars on Wikipedia

One way of testing claims about the intrinsic and insurmountable problems with Wikipedia is to ask how good it tends to be in its entries on individual scholars. Ben Witherington recently commented on the problems he saw with Wikipedia, with a strong "keep away" message. It made me wonder what the Wikipedia article on Ben Witherington looked like and in fact, it is not bad. The only problem with it is that it is a little on the terse side; it needs someone with some knowledge and expertise to add some more detail. Indeed, it is one of those articles that has been tagged: "This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources."

That reminds me that I have only ever created one new Wikipedia page myself, and that is on Michael Goulder. I wanted to do this in part to test the claims about the unreliability of Wikipedia. Would people come in and deface what I outlined on Michael Goulder? On the contrary. There is simply a welcome invitation, to me or someone else, to improve the article:
This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. Please include more appropriate citations from reliable sources.
This is something that seldom gets mentioned by those who prefer not to engage critically with Wikipedia, that it actually encourages authors and editors to provide proper citations for the claims that are being made, a very useful encouragement to students who are learning about academic writing.

The only other one I've contributed to has been the entry on E. P. Sanders, where I made one or two minor edits to improve accuracy, and added a couple of references. That was over a year ago, and they have not been changed or edited away in the interim.

In this category, my feeling tends to be more sympathetic to those who wish to engage critically with Wikipedia than with those who wish to turn their backs on it, but perhaps that will change in time as the site continues to grow.

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