Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Following the Wikipedia Controversy

As many people are aware by now, controversy over the biography of John Seigenthaler Sr. on the collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has triggered extensive debate over the reliability of Wikipedia, and more broadly, over the nature of online information. The encyclopedia, to which anyone can contribute and whose articles anyone can correct, has been presented as an example of self-correcting knowledge sharing or pooling. It contains hundreds of thousands of articles on everything from Madonna to nanotechnology, and from Belgian symbolist poetry to zambonis.

The entry on Wikipedia falsely suggested that Seigenthaler may have had a role in the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. The error stood for months before it was revealed and removed.
  • A false Wikipedia 'biography' (USA Today): John Seigenthaler's tells his story in an article on Nov. 29, 2005. "Federal law also protects online corporations — BellSouth, AOL, MCI Wikipedia, etc. — from libel lawsuits. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, specifically states that 'no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker.' That legalese means that, unlike print and broadcast companies, online service providers cannot be sued for disseminating defamatory attacks on citizens posted by others. "
  • Wikipedia and the nature of truth (CNET posted on Dec. 2, the article remarks "Purists may sniff at the elevation of Wikipedia to the rank of serious reference source. But that's what it has become for millions of people around the world. On your ride home today, try pondering a future where Wikipedia's model of competing versions of the truth becomes the norm. Will the increasing influence of the wisdom of the crowd force us to rethink the nature of knowledge? With the proliferation of the Internet, more voices inevitably will become part of that conversation. "
  • Growing pains for Wikipedia (CNET posted on December 5 - "'Wikipedia is so often considered authoritative. That must stop now, surely. Every fact in there must be considered partisan, written by someone with a conflict of interest,' blogging and podcasting pioneer Dave Winer wrote in his blog. 'Further, we need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship'."
  • Wikipedia Tightens Submission Rules (Associated Press, on Yahoo! News): December 5 - "Wikipedia will now require users to register before they can create articles, Jimmy Wales, founder of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Web site, said Monday. People who modify existing articles will still be able to do so without registering... While it would not prevent people from posting false information, the new process will make it easier, said Wales, for the site's 600 active volunteers to review and remove factual errors, defaming statements and other material that runs afoul of Wikipedia policy."
  • The online credibility gap - False claim on JFK murder shows vulnerability of Wikipedia (San Francisco Chronicle): December 6 - " 'In the future, people will look at an article from Britannica and say, 'This was written by two people and reviewed by two more; I want an article reviewed by hundreds of people, fact-checked scrupulously by dozens and dozens of people.' In the future, we can say Britannica can't touch these (Wikipedia's) articles; it doesn't have the manpower to do it.' [Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales] But many devotees of traditional research tools think there's a danger in relying on the accuracy of an open-source encyclopedia. 'If you look at the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can be fairly sure that somebody writing an article is an acknowledged expert in that field, and you can take his or her words as being at least a scholarly point of view,' said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and dean of library services at Cal State Fresno. 'The problem with an online encyclopedia created by anybody is that you have no idea whether you are reading an established person in the field or somebody with an ax to grind. For all I know, Wikipedia may contain articles of great scholarly value. The question is, how do you choose between those and the other kind?'."
  • Wikipedia to Require Contributors to Register (National Public Radio broadcast): guests on the December 6 show "Talk of the Nation" were John Seigenthaler and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
  • Is Wikipedia safe from libel liability? (CNET December 7 - "But people like Seigenthaler who are unhappy about an anonymous posting on the site may well find that they have no legal recourse since Congress has decided that without giving service providers protections against legal liability, only very rich and cautious media companies would be able to host third parties' content, said Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "
  • Wikipedia joker eats humble pie (BBC): Dec. 12 - "Quoted in The Tennessean newspaper, Mr Chase said: 'I knew from the news that Mr. Seigenthaler was looking for who did it, and I did it, so I needed to let him know in particular that it wasn't anyone out to get him, that it was done as a joke that went horribly, horribly wrong'." The culprit, Brian Chase, 38, ended up resigning from his job as an operations manager at a Nashville delivery company as a result of the controversy
  • There's no Wikipedia entry for 'moral responsibility' (The Register, UK): December 12 - "For sure a libel is a libel, but the outrage would have been far more muted if the Wikipedia project didn't make such grand claims for itself. The problem with this vanity exercise is one that it's largely created for itself. The public has a firm idea of what an 'encyclopedia' is, and it's a place where information can generally be trusted, or at least slightly more trusted than what a labyrinthine, mysterious bureaucracy can agree upon, and surely more trustworthy than a piece of spontaneous graffiti - and Wikipedia is a king-sized cocktail of the two".
  • Is an Online Encyclopedia, Such as Wikipedia, Immune From Libel Suits? ( December 12 - "There is a strong case for giving Wikipedia at least some immunity. It would be a shame if Wikipedia were to become so cautious that it took down any content of which a person complained - no matter how meritless. This would stifle the marketplace of ideas... But should Wikipedia have total immunity? It presents itself as an online encyclopedia - which has the connotation of reliability (and, in the past, edited content). We'd be foolish not to take blog postings with a grain of salt - but what about an article that is characterized as an encyclopedia entry? Unsurprisingly, many people are relying on the content as if it were correct and using the site as a reference tool... In addition, Wikipedia is very influential. It ranks very highly in the major search engines. This means that Wikipedia's potential for inflicting damage is amplified by several orders of magnitude. Finally, because Wikipedia's content is so fluid - and is user-altered - an article can appear, do its damage, and disappear, all within a short space of time. "
  • A Vote of Confidence in Wikipedia -- A study by the journal Nature finds that the online encyclopedia is nearly as accurate as Britannica -- and is widely used by scientists (Business Week): December 14 - "There's no question that Wikipedia entries on politically charged topics such as abortion, evolution, and almost anything related to the Islamic faith reflect the efforts of a great many cooks. The resulting articles are often conscientiously bland and exhaustively footnoted. But draw back the curtain on how each article is actually produced, and you'll find a reassuring competition for accuracy, as well as a surprisingly efficient mechanism for establishing which writers have the best information. "
  • Special Report - Internet encyclopaedias go head to head - Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds (Nature): December 15 issue - "Editors at Britannica would not discuss the findings, but say their own studies of Wikipedia have uncovered numerous flaws. 'We have nothing against Wikipedia,' says Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications at the company's headquarters in Chicago. 'But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written. There are lots of articles in that condition. They need a good editor.' ... This criticism is common among information scientists, who also point to other problems with article quality, such as undue prominence given to controversial scientific theories. But Michael Twidale, an information scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that Wikipedia's strongest suit is the speed at which it can updated, a factor not considered by Nature's reviewers. 'People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica,' Twidale adds. 'Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one'."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:15 pm


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