Sopoforic Agents in Childhood

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Academics vs. Wikipedia, again

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 14, 2008

I’ve just come across a fairly annoying little article about the use of Wikipedia by students, written by Rodney Gedda and focusing on criticism of Wikipedia by Sharman Lichtenstein, associate professor of information systems at Deakin University.

If you are faced with the prospect of having brain surgery who would you rather it be performed by – a surgeon trained at medical school or someone who has read Wikipedia?

That’s the view of Deakin University associate professor of information systems Sharman Lichtenstein, who believes the popular free encyclopedia that anyone can edit is fostering a climate of blind trust among people seeking information.

Dr. Lichtenstein has some fairly odd ideas, though, in my opinion. For example, she is said, in the article, to be leading a team of researchers looking at how Wikipedia operates, but she is then quoted:

“People have invested a lot in becoming an expert and they are trying to earn a living and you can’t expect experts to contribute without pay.”

I wonder how she and her team of researchers missed the large number of experts that we do have contributing–without pay, even. Perhaps she blindly trusted some critics of Wikipedia, rather than checking it out for herself.

The article refers to Wikipedia as a “‘web of trust’ network”, which betrays a misunderstanding of either Wikipedia or the meaning of ‘web of trust’. Fortunately, we have an article to help them out.

Too, she seems to believe that Google is going to put articles from Knol at the top of searches:

“Google Knol is supposed to be a competitor to Wikipedia that will involve experts, and because it’s Google, search results will appear above Wikipedia entries which are quite often the first result,” she said.

I do not know in what world she lives that it could be considered a good thing for Google to give preference to its own products in search results, but fortunately it is not the same world that I live in.

She also seems to think that Wikipedia editors are some sort of elite group, and that our notability policy promotes discrimination and elitism. Well, the whole point of the notability policy is to discriminate among possible topics for those which ought to have articles, and as for elitism…

There are quite a few other odd bits in the article, but I’ll leave finding them as an exercise to the reader. It shouldn’t be too difficult.

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2 Responses to “Academics vs. Wikipedia, again”

  1. Wikipedia Review said

    Leichenstein’s analysis was fairly accurate. Wikipedia fails to meet the basic standards required to become a service to students. And there is a growing mountain of evidence of its failings. Many of which are very serious. The best course of action for any teacher is to educate pupils as to the ongoing danger and threat posed Wikipedia to all publishing standards. And impress upon others the need for reform.

  2. Tracy Poff said

    @wikipedia reviewI don’t deny that Wikipedia has problems, or that students need to better understand what sort of information can and cannot be trusted. And, as scholars, to trust Wikipedia without verifying its sources would be folly. I do tend to think that Wikipedia is useful, though, and worth improving, and the idea that teachers should waste their time specifically teaching students about the ‘threat’ of Wikipedia seems more than a bit ludicrous.Whatever the particular merits of Wikipedia, though, I can’t see Lichtenstein’s argument as being accurate, in any real sense. The only statement she makes that I really agree with is:“There is a need for easy-to-use information that is correct and has been produced by a rigorous process.”However, I believe that a well-referenced Wikipedia article (like a < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GA" REL="nofollow">Good Article<>, say), when viewed by a discerning reader (as all students ought to be, when doing research) is just such a source of information. Not <>all<> articles are of sufficient quality to pass this test, but improving them so that they are seems like a good goal, to me.While Lichtenstein says few things that are obviously wrong (her negative opinion of Wikipedia, however I may disagree with it, isn’t really a falsifiable statement), she says few things that are clearly right, as well. Try not to confuse “I agree with her opinions” with “her analysis was accurate.”

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