Sopoforic Agents in Childhood

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Posts Tagged ‘wikipedia’

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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The end of print

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 16, 2008

The New York Times has an article titled “Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias” by Noam Cohen. “It has never been easier to read up on a favorite topic, whether it’s an obscure philosophy, a tiny insect or an overexposed pop star,” it says. “Just don’t count on being able to thumb through the printed pages of an encyclopedia to do it.” The article discusses some of the troubles print encyclopedias have had over the last fifteen years or so, and mentions some of the more popular electronic encyclopedias, including the new Encyclopedia of Life, Wikipedia, and the comparably ancient Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

It’s the sort of article we’ve seen before. In February, Brockhaus announced that it would no longer be publishing print editions of its encyclopedia, and earlier this month Gyldendal announced the same thing.

I am somewhat annoyed by the article’s presentation of Wikipedia, though. When it discusses the Encyclopedia of Life, it mentions what a great and ambitious project it is, with a suitably optimistic quotation from Dr. Edward O. Wilson, the project’s chairman. When it discusses the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it mentions that the SEP is written and verified by experts, again with a suitable quotation from Dr. Edward N. Zalta about how quickly the Encyclopedia is updated to account for recent events.

When the article discusses Wikipedia, it does mention that Wikipedia is large–it calls it a behemoth, actually, which doesn’t seem quite the most complimentary word that could be used. Then, rather than mention our quality initiatives, or our very excellent coverage of recent events, it spends a paragraph discussing… wiki-groaning. Honestly, I don’t ask that Wikipedia’s faults be glossed over, but is it really necessary to mention wiki-groaning in every article that is even marginally related to Wikipedia?

But that’s beside the point, I suppose. It is sad to see print encyclopedias go. I’ve got a dozen or more sets of encyclopedias at home, taking up more than one whole bookcase: specialized encyclopedias of science and nature; a collection of handyman’s encyclopedias which describe how things around the house work, and how to repair them; small, six or seven volume sets of more condensed encyclopedias; and then the larger sets of World Book, and Funk & Wagnalls (which became Encarta), and the Encyclopedia Americana. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading them, each set, each article unique and interesting.

My sadness over seeing them go, though, is outweighed by my joy at what is replacing them. Many of these encyclopedias’ online versions are to be freely accessible, and ad-supported. It’s not the same as being freely licensed, but this is still a huge amount of knowledge that anyone with an internet connection will be able to access for free. Even if Wikipedia were to fail tomorrow and the database be lost forever, the fact that these encyclopedias are now available online and for free means that our project has been a success. I look forward to far greater successes in the future.

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