Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Sharman Lichtenstein’s rather uninformed criticism of Wikipedia. At the time, I was worried that the general public wouldn’t recognize the flaws in her statements, and that the press would end up repeating it uncritically.
However, I came across two new articles today, each responding to Dr. Lichtenstein: one, a post by Christopher Dawson to ZDNet Education, rebuts Dr. Lichtenstein with the usual points (students shouldn’t be using any encyclopedia, and should be using more than one source), and makes a comment that closely mirrors something I said in the comments of my blog post. He writes:
I’ve become a big fan of the word “discerning” lately. I think it applies to so much of what our students experience online, so here’s my use of the word for the day: Students must become discerning consumers of information. Telling them not to use Wikipedia doesn’t cut it. Teaching them to use a variety of sources of information and to critically examine the information they encounter on the Web is a lifelong skill that we have a responsibility to teach.
This is exactly what I and many other Wikipedians have been saying for a while now. Wikipedia’s unreliability, far from being a hindrance to teaching, ought to be taken as an opportunity to educate students to evaluate all of the information they discover, whether it comes from a supposedly reliable source or not.
Second, a post to Techdirt by Mike Masnick, which makes pretty much the same points. A nice quotation:
Furthermore, in a bit of pure irony, this professor doesn’t seem to realize that by making all of these incorrect statements, she’s showing just how little you can trust supposed “experts” in the first place. After all, she’s going on and on about trusting “experts” over the masses, while showing that she doesn’t even understand how Wikipedia works at all, showing her own wrong, incomplete, biased and misleading positions.
Seeing that people recognize the flaws in Dr. Lichtenstein’s statements is really reassuring. With any luck, this particular sort of misinformation will die out in the not-too-distant future. However, I’m under no illusions that more misinformation won’t replace it. We’ll just have to keep on reading things critically, I suppose. How perfectly awful.