Wikipedia Confession? :: Does Bias Exist at Online Pseudo-Encyclopedia?

The following opinions are based upon admittedly anecdotal observations. I stand by the many criticisms I’ve posted about Wikipedia over the years.

I randomly came upon this Twitter post by @tylerdmace (Tyler Mace).

tyler-mace-wikipedia-secret

There is a tylerdmace active on Wikipedia. The user has made 349 total edits to a total of 151 distinct Wikipedia pages. (Source)

Just sayin’ here, I’d be a bit wary of any of those 151 pages that tylerdmace has edited, based upon the Twitter post above.

Now, why is this important? If an editor is willing to admit to these errors of judgement, how many other editors are doing the same thing … and not letting us know. Yes, the answer could be that no other editors on Wikipedia are doing this. All those that believe that, please comment below.

Also, given this public protestation of flawed rational thought on the part of Taylordmace, why has that user account not been disabled? Does Wikipedia even track these types of transgressions by their users? I don’t think so, at least not to the extent that assures a legitmate online dictionary is producing consistently correct information.

Now, let’s take the low hanging fruit here. If someone changes something on any Wikipedia entry, how long is the lag time between an editor checking the change for validity and what is the traffic on that entry between the time the edit is made and corrected (if a correction is required)?

Do we now see why the very essence of Wikipedia’s operation makes it ripe for providing flawed information?

My post to Twitter, upon finding this little gem from TyleDMace, launched a few replies from friends.

mat1583: @rdfrench Reputable wiki editors are known in the same way as reputable PR blog editors. My cousin is a great example: http://is.gd/eTpq

erob1: @rdfrench lol that was hilarious! I always go to wikipedia for something, then go to the sources at the bottom for credibility lol

Tex3911: @mat1583 @rdfrench I’ve been considering returning to the blogsphere. I’ll wite a post on this.

Tex3911: @rdfrench such approval is absent in the US. This absence is fundamental to freedom of speech.

Tex3911: @rdfrench “credentialled” implies that one must be officially approved to contribute to the writing process.

mat1583: @rdfrench I’m not saying that wiki has no faults. It definitely does. But I think that articles with complete citations are very useful.

mat1583: @rdfrench I can’t argue it here on Twitter, but I’ve seen the behind the scenes work. There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes.

mat1583: @rdfrench Have you extensivley participated in the process of creating/editing a wiki article? It’s much more intensive than you think.

Tex3911: @mat1583 @rdfrench some of the rebuttal from Britannica is kind of sad, especially the one where they confirm an error but won’t admit to it

mat1583: @rdfrench That doesn’t mean everyone lets them go free. @Tex3911 is right. It’s proven to be just as accurate or moreso than Britannica.

Tex3911: @rdfrench like that doesn’t happen at “reputable” publications. That’s one editor. Besides, Britainica isn’t much better: http://is.gd/eRXr

barbaranixon: @rdfrench Just curious: do you think it’s okay for people to link to Wikipedia in blog posts for general info? (Def not in academic work)

I’m not going to rehash my criticisms linked to above regarding my previous posts. I will state the following as it relates to this conversation and Tylerdmace’s confession.

I do not doubt for a moment that there are honest and faithful editors involved in the Wikipedia.org project. I do not doubt that, for some, this is a truly earnest effort to (a) provide information to the world and (b) a worthwhile ideal. But, ideals are not always reached.

To their credit, Wikipedia does provide a warning.    How many read this warning, however, is open to debate.

Because Wikipedia is an ongoing work to which, in principle, anybody can contribute, it differs from a paper-based reference source in important ways. In particular, older articles tend to be more comprehensive and balanced, while newer articles more frequently contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism. Users need to be aware of this to obtain valid information and avoid misinformation that has been recently added and not yet removed (see Researching with Wikipedia for more details). However, unlike a paper reference source, Wikipedia is continually updated, with the creation or updating of articles on topical events within seconds, minutes, or hours, rather than months or years for printed encyclopedias. (Source)

I do have very serious doubts about the veracity and trustworthiness of the site’s overall trust factor. Which entries can you believe and which entries require further vetting? To me, they all require further vetting. There is no way to be assured that any one Wikipedia entry you may come upon is true, factual, and/or trustworthy. Having mob rule editing just makes it impossible. That is especially true given the fact that many editors are anonymous and there is no way to vet them.

My doubts arise with the site’s operation and their failure to act quickly and judiciously in several high profile incidents (Source). My doubts arise when one of the site’s founders, Jimmy Wales, has tried to manage his own profile (manage his own public persona) in Wikipedia.

Again, all that is low hanging fruit.  I could go on for a long time documenting Wikipedia flaws and errors.  Of course, others could go on documenting my flaws and errors, too.  ;o)

My point in all this Wikipedia discussion?

Reference sources are not supposed to be based upon majority opinion or conventional wisdom. They are supposed to be based upon scholarly work that allows for the vetting of the content and the editors themselves. Wikipedia does not accomplish this feat nor meet these standards. That is why, in my opinion, Wikipedia is not a trustworthy reference source.

I know this won’t, in any way, settle this difference of opinion, but I do appreciate the reality that we may all agree to disagree on Wikipedia’s veracity and trustworthiness.

Seriously, I want Wikipedia to succeed.  Jimmy Wales is an Auburn graduate.  I want Auburn grads to achieve great things.  I just don’t think Wikipedia, as it is currently being administered, is a successful effort providing trustworthy information on a broad range of topics on a consistent basis.

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0 thoughts on “Wikipedia Confession? :: Does Bias Exist at Online Pseudo-Encyclopedia?

  1. Matt

    After the Twitter posts yesterday I tried thinking from your side of things. Let me first explain my side. I am a recent graduate (07) and a consumer of information. I seek trustworthy resources for information. Misinformation such as fictional chain letters and urban legends are a pet peeve of mine. Wikipedia is one of the easiest resources for me to comb. Part of that process involves verifying sources. Whether or not I take a Wikipedia resource as truth depends on how well the the wiki is cited and how many resources it pulls from. As such, I believe I can find very reliable information.

    I can now see how, as a professor, you would dread having to comb through every single Wikipedia article your students quote to insure their resources are legit. Yes, bias does happen and you cannot spend time determining whether a resource is biased or not or whether it has been cited well. Therefore, you cannot generally consider Wikipedia a reliable resource. It makes complete sense.

    I also want to say that there is a lot more going into a high profile Wikipedia article than you seem to think. I know two Wiki editors that take their ‘hobby’ very seriously. Both have completely re-written articles to remove bias and add citations. They participate in discussions with the Wiki community and work diligently to make Wikipedia a more reliable resource. It is unfortunate that there aren’t more people like them, because Wiki would be much better if all people took on the responsibility as well as they do. Until then, I will continue to use Wikipedia as a reliable resource upon further verification. And you should also continue not to accept it as such for Academic purposes.

    Reply
  2. Gregory Kohs

    Just a few comments. I chaired a study of the 100 Wikipedia articles about the hundred US senators. We found that these articles were purposely stocked with misinformation and libel, about 6.8% of the time (4th quarter, 2007). Do you allow links?

    http://www.mywikibiz.com/Wikipedia_Vandalism_Study

    As for the leadership of the English Wikipedia, I think that the project (and the world) deserve a more competent and ethical leader than Jimmy Wales:

    http://www.mywikibiz.com/Criticism_of_Jimmy_Wales

    Finally, I think that an openly-edited wiki is an EXCELLENT way to aggregate initial content for an all-encompassing encyclopedia. Once you get to 2 million articles that way, though, it’s time to shut down the open-editing feature and allow the experts to take over. The Wikimedia Foundation has the authority to do this, but they don’t, because they have allowed the “Free Culture Movement” cart to be placed before the “Reliable Free Encyclopedia” horse.

    It’s sad.

    Reply
  3. Robert

    Gregory, thank you. Your study is exactly the type of damage I have been wondering about, re: damaged views. The number of people that see these instances of incorrect information and take it as fact can have a horrible impact on education. I’ve heard proponents of Wikipedia tout its purpose as being a great free educational resource for developing countries. Well, this is just one of the likely many examples where flawed information would actually do damage to that education process.

    It is sad. Too sad.

    Reply
  4. Robert

    By the way, this article was recently shared with me via Twitter by @CubanaLAF.

    See Five ways Wikipedia beats newspapers. I’m sharing this here as I will want to refer to these links in class. I won’t comment there as it would likely just start yet another round of exchanges with another Wikipedia proponent. Here is what I would have posted:

    You write, “the article quickly gets investigated and deleted within three weeks.” I challenge you to prove this is the case. First, you cannot cite all the innaccurate articles as they may well have not yet been discovered.

    Two examples.

    First, consider this study of how long Wikipedia vandalism can last on the site: http://www.mywikibiz.com/Wikipedia_Vandalism_Study

    Second, please allow me to remind you of the Seigenthaler incident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Seigenthaler_Sr._Wikipedia_biography_controversy

    I’ll not await your proof of quick Wikipedia corrections taking place to surface very fast, as it does not happen in all cases. Therefore your proof cannot be produced.

    Reply
  5. Shava Nerad

    For almost every article I’ve read on wikipedia where I’ve had verified and specific knowledge, they’ve been right — and where they haven’t I’ve submitted an edit, and included the justification on the discussion page, if it were more than a minor edit.

    But if you aren’t the sort who believes that every textbook — say American history — that you ever read was God’s Own Truth, you sure read like that kind of person.

    Honestly, though, very little of the *veracity* of Wikipedia overall is even relevant to the “random twitter post” you cite though.

    What this editor said was, that if he comes upon an article that has been vandalized — and he admits he recognizes it’s been vandalized — *HE LEAVES IT TO ONE OF THE OTHER 1500 MAJOR EDITORS* or maybe even one of the millions of minor contributors to clean it up.

    Sometimes.

    This is the rough equivalent of a *volunteer* at the Red Cross blood drive seeing a coffee spill, not feeling like wiping it up, and leaving it to one of the other dozen people feeding donors sugar cookies to clean it up while s/he goes to set out more cookies.

    Yes, in fact, it’s something to feel guilty about. No, it’s not a cardinal sin, and it doesn’t make them a bad volunteer, overall. It also doesn’t mean that the blood drive folks are bad people, and you shouldn’t trust them to put a needle in your arm.

    You sound like a person with an emotional. Why does wikipedia threaten you so badly? It is designed, as one of your tweets above said, to be used as an initial summary of a topic with references to primary and secondary sources at the bottom.

    As an amalgam of secondary sources, as it were, it is not particularly less reliable that most journalism or non-fiction books. If you think of it as a replacement for the Britannica — well, that’s your limitation, not wikipedia’s. It’s a crowdsourced, cooperative alternative that is much more web-friendly, and one of the lovely assets is that it *teaches* critical thinking, rather than teaching blind acceptance of authority.

    You could take your average high school American History textbook, and anything by Howard Zinn, and the difference between them and wikipedia would be that certain sections in wikipedia are marked “This section is controversial and contains disputed opinions” — textbooks and history books don’t highlight those things because you depend on one person’s bias, usually.

    Wikipedia is, by nature, a living document. It has no more authority, in a way, than a public school textbook written by one teacher and approved by a committee of bureacrats. (If you think I’m wrong, google the Texas State Textbook Committee).

    Reply
  6. Robert

    ~sigh~

    Shava Nerad, you’re obviously a ‘true believer’ in Wikipedia. I realize that few, if any, of the true believers will be able to see past the obvious rational thoughts represented in the criticisms of Wikipedia.

    Further, you’ll note that I haven’t engaged in ad hominem. You have. This speaks volumes about you.

    Suffice to say, the name of your site – the one you entered in the comments – speaks volumes about you, too. A self-professed odd fellow?

    oddfellowstudios (dot) com

    Again … ~sigh~

    Gregory’s analysis is valid, Shava. It raises legitimate questions about Wikipedia’s trustworthiness.

    /discussion

    Reply
  7. Gregory Kohs

    Robert, here’s another zinger I recently noticed…

    Did Abraham Lincoln attend the first Republican Party platform convention in Jackson, Michigan?

    According to history, no way. Abe only set foot in Michigan one time, in Kalamazoo.

    According to Wikipedia, though… this “fact” was “undisputed” from May 18, 2007 (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jackson,_Michigan&diff=next&oldid=130167692 ) until January 8, 2009 (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jackson,_Michigan&diff=262826238&oldid=262550036 ) that Abraham Lincoln was in attendance in Jackson, Michigan. This was handily disproved by a multi-degreed Historical Commissioner. But, for the 601 days that this falsehood stuck in Wikipedia, we might estimate that the page was viewed over 89,000 times ( http://stats.grok.se/en/200801/Jackson%2C_Michigan ).

    Yet, time and time again, we hear from the cult-addled minds that Wikipedia “gets it right” astoundingly often, and errors are “fixed” rather quickly. How do they explain a 601-day error viewed 89,000 times about one of the most famous historical figures of the entire span of the 19th century?

    Reply
  8. Robert

    Thank you, Gregory.

    I doubt many, if any, of the Wikipedia cult will want to see past their own trees and look at the forest. Still, I’m glad you shared further evidence of these instances.

    This has always been my main concern about Wikipedia. There is not real ‘complete’ process tracking all edits & posts that is regularly vetted and reported on the site. There is no real ‘complete’ vetting going on as to the validity of the editors. Then, given all of that, we have the sad reality that edits containing false information can stand for long periods of time.

    In the past, I’ve seen instances where Wikipedia true believers speak of the site as a way to educate the poor and developing nations. Well, this would be an example of that education … with misinformation.

    Wikipedia, in its present form, is too similar to the ‘knowledge bureaus’ we see in George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. To see people so blindly follow such a blind example of a pseudo-reference collection … well, it is truly frightening.

    Reply
  9. Greg Parmer

    I find wikipedia to be a *great* reference…to references. That is all it really attempts to be. It isn’t a worthwhile reference in of of itself. Everyone reads the pillars before criticising, right?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars

    What makes the editor referenced so special? We are ALL editors. It is a wiki. If you find something wrong you have the ability to fix it. Not doing so makes you at least as flawed as “tylerdmace,” if not moreso. If fact, I read that editor’s tweet as a very tongue in cheek joke.

    Granted the idea of Wikipedia is a wild concept, but it is based in democracy. There are far more good people in the world than bad, so good can win out. If you don’t believe that…well…doesn’t democracy fall apart too? I like that it accepts the input of all people and thus is absolutely defined by the online majority, which has the collective wisdom to respect the voice of the minority.

    Reply
  10. Robert

    Sorry, Greg, but your argument blames the critic or the victim. It does not address the very real arguments that Gregory raises and cites, for instance.

    If Wikipedia were a democracy, Greg, then it would exhibit “a form of government (management/administration) in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” Please show us the free electoral system. Please show us how all those editors are selected. It happens from within, Greg – not from the masses. And, there are illustrations of how the editors rule with iron hands … when they are not right/correct in their citations.

    Many people on the site cannot be identified, nor can they be contacted. The process is set up so that questions, complaints and more may be ignored.

    There are too many examples of long standing errors that go uncorrected. The John Seigenthaler example is one. How many others like that exist? None? One? If it is one or more … it is one too many. Gregory and others have found legitimate examples.

    We shall agree to disagree.

    There are instances where Wales and others have touted the site as legitimate as a reference because it was accepted in a court of law, for instance. Just because that happened does not make it reliable. I could go on, but why … there are the believers and the doubters.

    But, please remember this. The critics are not the ones creating a site that is being touted as a reliable reference … when it isn’t. I can appreciate your statement that it is “*great* reference…to references.” Sometimes that is true. Not always, though.

    Reply

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