When do you know what you read on Wikipedia is true?

Wikipedia logo via Wikimedia Commons
“The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage,” writes Tom Simonite for MIT Technology Review.

The sixth most widely used website in the world is not run anything like the others in the top 10. It is not operated by a sophisticated corporation but by a leaderless collection of volunteers who generally work under pseudonyms and habitually bicker with each other. It rarely tries new things in the hope of luring visitors; in fact, it has changed little in a decade. And yet every month 10 billion pages are viewed on the English version of Wikipedia alone. When a major news event takes place, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, complex, widely sourced entries spring up within hours and evolve by the minute. Because there is no other free information source like it, many online services rely on Wikipedia. Look something up on Google or ask Siri a question on your iPhone, and you’ll often get back tidbits of information pulled from the encyclopedia and delivered as straight-up facts.

Yet Wikipedia and its stated ambition to “compile the sum of all human knowledge” are in trouble. The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking. Those participants left seem incapable of fixing the flaws that keep Wikipedia from becoming a high-quality encyclopedia by any standard, including the project’s own. Among the significant problems that aren’t getting resolved is the site’s skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy. Authoritative entries remain elusive. Of the 1,000 articles that the project’s own volunteers have tagged as forming the core of a good encyclopedia, most don’t earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-­ranking quality scores.

The main source of those problems is not mysterious. The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.

Today’s Question: When do you know what you read on Wikipedia is true?

  • Gary F

    I know that in 2008 they listed newly elected Barack Obama as an example of “Cult of Personality”. Then months later, it was removed.

  • JQP

    So …. its like about 95 of the rest of the business worldt. Run by loud mouthed men, inserting their fantasies as priority and squabbling over who should earn the merit for a substandard product.

    • Fred Garvin

      Does MPR fall into that category?

      • JQP

        just like you! and me! and all of America !

        • Fred Garvin

          Sorry JQP, you do NOT speak for me.
          So, please stop doing so.

    • Bilbo

      As long as we’re spouting sexist non-sense; The reason the world is run by loud mouthed men is that weak timid mouthed women are too scared to do anything about it..

      • Fred Garvin

        Nice Bilbo!
        Let’s see JQP weasel out of this one!

  • PaulJ

    Well I used to believe, thanks a lot. Just what I need – another Catholic church.

    • Fred Garvin

      Wow, I guess anti-catholic bigotry still thrives.
      Come on–it’s 2013 Paul.

      • PaulJ

        ref: disappointment in a systemic institution – not bigoted against the capital C catholic.

        • Fred Garvin

          You’re trying to weasel out of your blatant bigotry.
          The Catholic Church, as with all churches and ALL associations of all kinds, is not an antiseptic “system” or “institution”–it’s made up of PEOPLE. So, when you claim that you’re disappointed in the “institution” not the people who populate it, you’re trying to create a difference where there is none.
          What’s the difference between YOUR stance (institution v. individual) , and the Catholic Church’s position against homosexuality, not the homosexual?
          You’re toast!
          Come on, just admit your knee-jerk mistake, and let’s move on into 2013.

          • JQP

            Fred – I’ll do you one better …I contend/think/believe/ that the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the ultimate fabricator of false truth and global hogwash. Its the worst ponzi scheme of all.
            While individuals who believe in Catholicism may, themselves, be good and truthful people – it is largely through their own temerity and not through the leadership of the Holy Corporate Roman Catholic Church.

            Happy Now….
            the people may be good – not all of them are – but the organization is as rotten as it gets.

          • Fred Garvin

            Much like your calling the well-known black economist/author Thomas Sowell a “boy”, you’ve managed to one-up your racism into a bizarre anti-religious and bigoted screed.
            Congrats JQP.

          • PaulJ

            Not all the people (because that would be stereotyping) but the behaviors of the institution (because that is reasonable consequences for its actions). In other words, I don’t hate all users of Wiki just because I disapprove of the ‘abrasive atmosphere’ of the management collective. I still feel like soft freshly baked bread.

          • kevins

            There are knees, and there are jerks Fred.

        • Pearly

          Replace the work Catholic with a skin color and reread your bigoted statement Paul. I find it offensive.

          • Sue de Nim

            In contrast with people of color, the Catholic Church throughout its history has more often been the oppressor than the oppressed. That doesn’t justify anti-catholic
            bigotry, but it’s understandable.

          • Fred Garvin

            ” more often been the oppressor than the oppressed.”
            You have no basis for that other than your own anti-religious prejudices.

          • Sue de Nim

            If I have an anti-religious bias, how come strident atheists on these pages keep slamming me for my Christian faith? You’re a knee-jerk troll, Fred, just looking for things to pounce on.

          • Fred Garvin

            Once again, we see the left reduced to name-calling.

          • Oh Please

            But it’s OK when it is your bigotry towards anyone who doesn’t share your political, ideological, or troll baiting point of view? Hypocrite!

          • Fred Garvin

            If you would point out any of those instances, I would be happy to review them, redact them, or revise them.
            I try to point out whenever I read something here that just doesn’t pass a simple civility or logic test. PaulJ’s odd connection of Wiki to the c/Cathiolic c/Church must be adressed for what it is: a bizarre association rooted in bigotry. I’ve pointed out why, and I encouraged him to revise it and move/ on. What we’ve all seen is that the bigot bandwagon get heavier.
            Meanwhile your personal attack does nothing to further the discussion.

          • Fred Garvin

            How can bigotry be “understandable”?

          • Pearly

            BS. replace Catholic with Muslim and see how far that gets you get around here. Let face it bashing Catholics is acceptable/encouraged here

          • david

            That sort of is true in this part of the nation, as bashing Baptist and Evangelicals in the south is also true among the non-indoctrinated. It probably isn’t fair towards them, but they bring it upon themselves when they decide to get involved in politics. Many believe they have no right to. If they want to turn the country into a theocracy then dealing with a little bashing is getting off lightly.

          • david

            BTW I, and I would guess others, did not read Paul’s original statement as catholic bashing until garvin decided to either project his shouldered chip or try to bait an argument for his own satisfaction.

          • Fred Garvin

            David,
            Would you please provide a reasonable explanation of how one could respond to a question about Wikipedia by inserting the Catholic Church into the response? It’s explicable ONLY if it’s founded in ignorance and bigotry.
            Notice that I did not call PaulJ a troll for his bizarre association of Wiki with the Catholic Church–I responded to his statement and have argued since that it was inappropriate.
            Again, you can call ME a troll all you want, but please provide a rational explanation of how an association of wiki with the Catholic Church is NOT a trolling comment?
            Or is your name-calling an indication of your anti-catholic prejudices too?

          • david

            You look stupid enough on your own without my help. Two guy at Cornell named Dunning and Kruger have a theory about people like you. Life is to short to waste on you. If you don’t like it I don’t care. You can think you “won” if you like, if that helps you sleep.

          • Fred Garvin

            So it appears that your statement that, “If they want to turn the country into a theocracy then dealing with a little bashing is getting off lightly,” is just another inflammatory trolling statement, since you refuse to back it up.
            Summary: toss out an inflammatory statement (in an attempt to justify another trolling statement linking Wiki with the Catholic Church) , refuse to defend it ,and then indignantly disappear into the ether, strutting with the head held high!
            By definition, a troll.
            It’s endlessly amusing just how many visitors to MPR post bizarre things (mostly in the liberal vein or liberal mantras), and then are violently surprised when someone calls them out for his/her ignorance or bigotry. I guess that it’s what happens when you live in a bubble-like liberal echo-chamber.

          • Fred Garvin

            You might read a thorough historical essay by Philip Jenkins on this bigotry from which you may suffer..
            Life is indeed too short to indulge in ignorance. Many times, the prejudice and attitudes are so ingrained as to be nearly indivisible. Just witness the reactions to my unmasking those attitudes here.

          • Fred Garvin

            Please provide one mainstream evangelical or Baptist congregation that wishes to turn the US into a theocracy.

            It’s time to either put up or shut up.

          • Fred Garvin

            Nice analogy Pearly!
            Can one be disappointed in “the black race” but not individual blacks?
            Gee, doesn’t sound right, does it Paul?

          • PaulJ

            So, if I said the government offended me; I would be biased against all Americans because it is a government of offended people in which I’m a protected class? That does nothing for my self esteem.

          • Fred Garvin

            It’s odd (and inaccurate) to hear that a THING like the “government” offends you.
            Things do not offend, people do. The president offends me. The “White House” cannot, unless I mean every person in the WH offends me, which is highly unlikely.
            Does that make sense?

          • PaulJ

            It is a colloquial usage which reduces the need to track the chain of authority for each aspect of multifaceted policies. For example: I would say I sued GM, instead of listing every stock holder.

        • Sue de Nim

          The capital-C Catholic Church is the institution. It’s the lower-case-c, catholic as an adjective, catholic Church that’s the people.

          • Fred Garvin

            Well no, the Catholic Church IS the people (just like any association; this is not news–it’s INARGUABLE!).
            As many parishes are finding out, without the people and priests, the empty church building and empty parish school mean nothing.
            You too are trying to weasel out of your blatant prejudices.
            IT’s 2013–GROW UP.

  • davehoug

    That’s easy, everything I agree with is true :)

  • Sue de Nim

    One has to have a working crap detector. One sign of bias is when there’s no “criticism” section in the article.

    However, my biggest beef with Wikipedia is that most of the articles on medical or science topics use technical terminology that’s largely inaccessible to the general public. I sometimes have to spend half an hour following hyperlinks just to understand the first paragraph, and I’m fairly conversant on science topics. There’s an effort to address this issue in medical articles, but they have a long way to go.

  • david

    It’s a good starting point. And for the majority of things accurate enough. Now I’m sure that statement will be troll fodder. I wouldn’t use Wikipedia to base a doctoral dissertation on, but to satisfy a simple and fleeting curiosity. It does usually give sourses if you want to dig further.

    Citizendium was started by a cofounder of Wikipedia to deal with a lot if wiki’s short comings. Funny thing is it ended up dying a quicker death for the very things this article says is wrong with wiki. It’s thought it was too micromanaged by the founder and a small group of editors. The bureaucracy is blamed for its lack of contributors and the attrition of the few it had.

    Rationalwiki is a good one to check out for certain subjects. Much more entertaining to read just for the fun of it.

  • reggie

    Wikipedia is no different than any other information source. It takes a discerning reader to distinguish between verifiable facts (Barak Obama was elected president in 2008 and reelected in 2012) and opinions stated as fact (Barak Obama is a beacon of hope/an incompetent fool). Relying on the veracity of Wiki articles requires a willingness to dig into the source material. At its best, it points to good reference material. At its usual, it’s no less subjective than any other “curated” web site, and maybe only marginally more accurate than a drunken barroom conversation with a stranger.

  • kevins

    I find it a good place to start, but never the end of the search. I always tell my students that if their only reference is Wikipedia, they will get an automatic “F”. I also teach them how to dig back for the original literature, read it carefully, and then form an opinion or assert a fact.

    • Jamie

      That’s what my kids were taught, so they think EVERYTHING on Wikipedia is crap, even though it’s 99% correct for day to day look-ups of miscellaneous factoids.

    • david

      I recall being told that same thing about the world book encyclopedia back in the day.

      • kevins

        libraries are good

        • david

          Indeed. Hope they are still there for future generations.

          • kevins

            Ditto

    • Fred Garvin

      And your students will soon realize that your stubbornness is irrational and unreasonable. Wiki is a good (not perfect of course) source, and much can be learned from it–so why the F?
      What exactly is “original literature”?

  • Scott44

    You know it is on the internet and everything on the internet is true…Bonjour, I am a french model.

    • Fred Garvin

      Bon jour madam Scott44,
      My name is Monti Te’o and I have lots of money.
      Let us meet soon; please do not die tragically in a car accident before then.