Thursday, July 10, 2008

The People's Democratic Republic of Wikipedia

The idea behind Wiki is to generate superior stores of information via the combined wisdom of the masses. This is done by “encourag[ing] democratic use of the Web and promot[ing] content composition by nontechnical users.” In theory, anyone has an equal opportunity to create and edit content.

Alas, reality falls short of this utopian ideal when it comes to Wikipedia, the world’s largest and most influential Wiki.

The democratic nature of Wikipedia works remarkably well in many instances. The online encyclopedia includes almost 2.5 million articles in English (more than any other encyclopedic reference), and all of these articles are available for free to anyone with Internet access. Thus, people are freed from annoying encyclopedia salesmen and the need to store shelves of increasingly antiquated tomes. Many Wikipedia articles include more information and are better researched than the average fare you find in traditional encyclopedias.

With anyone being able to contribute and edit, Wikimedia realized early on that it would have to create a mechanism for resolving disputes that would inevitably arise. They have rules and they have ways of dealing with people that break those rules (see here). However, it seems that some are immune from disciplinary action.

Lawrence Solomon notes that when it comes to articles about issues on which the Left holds strong positions, ideological purity trumps Wikipedia’s free speech and edit war rules. Check out entries on global warming, Roe v. Wade, and Intelligent Design, for example.

Administrators and editors that are a little more equal than the rest of us monitor recent changes and rapidly purge any entries that dissent from the Left’s view on pertinent issues. Documentation doesn’t matter to these folks. If it doesn’t comport to their world view it goes away as well. Go ahead and try it. See what happens.

If Wikimedia tolerates this type of thought policing on issues important to the Left, what does that say about how much trust should be placed in any other Wikipedia article? I wouldn’t be any happier about this if the ideological slant benefited the Right. Wrong is wrong.

I have always known that anything on Wikipedia should be regarded with a grain of salt, but I have very much appreciated using Wikipedia as a reference resource and I will likely continue to do so. Just realize that everything you read on Wikipedia should be regarded with suspicion as long as they permit (promote?) their thought police to squelch dissent.


Bradley Ross said...

Somebody founded "Conservapedia" to combat this bias. I actually find the result to be even less appetizing than the original.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks for the tip. I had never heard of this project. I pulled up a few items of interest in Conservapedia to get an idea of what it is really all about.

On the plus side, bias is admitted, so you know what to expect. That is unlike Wikipedia, which demonstrates bias but purports that it doesn't exist.

On the minus side, the basic concept of combating bias with more bias (in the other direction) does not produce a balanced net result. Reading content run through two opposing ideological filters does not reliably produce truth.