The Longest Now


Statements of unreliability, and earning trust
Friday August 26th 2005, 4:07 pm
Filed under: metrics

There are an increasing number of articles and works published whichrefer to Wikipedia as an implicitly reliable source — often ininappropriate contexts.  As its quality improves, Wikipedia
seemsto be shirking a certain quiet
duty

to be modest; something which wasnot a problem back when none would
have mistaken it for a meticulouslyedited compilation. 

Example:  Ann Simmons, writing in the
LA Times on a matter of British peerage earlier this summer, used the
clause “according to Burke’s
and Wikipedia,”
a snippet which should immediately give one pause.  For one
thing,the two references have nothing in common.  It seems that aneditor tacked on the clause, “,
an online encyclopedia,”
in a vain effort at
clarification.  The full quote:

 
According
to Burke’s and Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, Fredericksucceeded
his father, Robert Capell, the 10th Earl, who died in June.(The late
earl was a distant cousin of the 9th Lord Essex.)

The 11th Earl is a bachelor and has no children.
With no otherapparent successor in sight, Capell is the new heir to the earldom.
Hisaristocratic genealogy is documented in the 106th edition of “Burke’sPeerage & Baronetage.”


Please understand me; I will be the first to tell you that you can
find
articles and collections
on Wikipedia – including many
on peerage and
royalty
– which are among the
best
overviews in the Englishlanguage; if only you know where to look, and how to check the latest
revisions in each
article’s history.  

But
the process for checking information added to Burke’s and that
foradding information to Wikipedia are vastly dissimilar. 
TheWikipedia overview article on the Earl of
Essex
,for
instance, continues to list no references, two months after theabove
(widely syndicated) article drew new attention to the wiki
articles on Frederick andRobert Capell. 

It is
embarrassing to imagine some newscasster, writer, lawyer,politician,
student, professor, or publicistciting a random article from Wikipedia,
on peerage or anything else,without somehow verifying
thatthe article had been carefullyresearched.  So what can be done?  Short of the
full-fledgeddrive for moderated or static views of the project, that is. 

What I would like to see is an internal quality review group that
issues regular recommendations
to the rest of the world.  At first these
recommendations would look like a brief whitelist of the categories and
subsubfields thatare really
top-notch and being monitored by a healthy community ofrespected
users.  As content improves, it would add various
hard metricsfor each of
various top-level categories — spot-check accuracy;vandalism
frequency/longevity; proportion/longevity of POV and otherdisputes;
rates of article creation, editing, and deletion; &c,
&c
.

The recommendations could go out to educational, librarian, andresearch bodies –including
some of you reading this.   Theywould be prominently linked
to the sitewidedisclaimer[s].  The metrics would be available to
anyone asfeedback, including those working on relevant WikiProjects.
What do
youthink? (… read the full
essay
A tip o’ the cursor to
lotsofissues

(Update: quintupling of this post reverted.  Now how did that happen?  Rogue content editor alert…)



5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Halo! — Well, first off, that article still needs some edit work; a reader who didn’t know anything about Wikipedia or Burke’s might have thought they were related. I’m embarassed about the quality of the LA Times, being from S. Cali and all.

Onto more important things: a review is a great idea! The role of the reviews would be to admit where the articles are incomplete or need to be better supported after all, right? And I would want the review to be public and on the article, as well as sent out to a list of special volunteer managers. I want to know where I’m making assumptions I shouldn’t. I want to know where my boundaries are. Though I hope that reviews wouldn’t put Wikipedia of being even more wantonly referenced when it may not have been the intention. At least, not before it’s ready. Good that these efforts make it more ready.

Next question, how to encourage people to add more citations, references? To LOVE referencing information? And to believe that the truth as we know it, can be as ephemeral as air and even more dynamic…

Comment by Tuyen 08.31.05 @ 2:53 am

you read my mind (maybe I read yours?). indepth response later.

Comment by phoebe 08.31.05 @ 5:25 am

I don’t mean there should be reviews of individual articles; but rather of the encyclopedic work as a whole. Eventually it might make its way down to the article level, certainly. But on a more immediate timescale, there should be a page to visit with simply-coded overviews of which articles and sections to trust how much — with the global caveat that every topic includes excellent articles and you should learn how to identify it from first principles.

Comment by sj 08.31.05 @ 8:36 pm

Hmm… I’m not sure I understand. Would such a page be internal? Would the average reader go to such a page to double-check the status of the article/topic?

Comment by Tuyen 08.31.05 @ 11:01 pm

What does it mean to have an internal page on a public wiki? It would be external in that, in addition to being a wiki page, it would also be released as a document, linked to from that month’s news summary, sent out to a mailing list of researchers and active/interested users…

Comment by sj 09.03.05 @ 4:31 am



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