Wikipedia articles about US politicians found to have "surprising accuracy", but heavy recentness bias
Adam Brown, a political scientist from Brigham Young University has concluded that Wikipedia has become a reliable source of political information. He published a peer-reviewed study, titled "Wikipedia as a Data Source for Political Scientists: Accuracy and Completeness of Coverage" in Political Science and Politics 44:339–43, in which he reviewed "thousands of Wikipedia articles about candidates, elections, and office holders to assess both the accuracy and the thoroughness of Wikipedia’s coverage." He found "that Wikipedia is almost always accurate when a relevant article exists, but errors of omission are extremely frequent", following "a predictable pattern: coverage is best on topics that are more recent or prominent."
In the paper's introduction Brown observes that "studies of Wikipedia’s accuracy have generally found worries about its credibility to be overblown." He notes that most of them, including the famous 2005 Nature study, have used what he calls "the 'small-n, every-detail' approach": "The reviewers select a small number of seminal topics within a field and then check the accuracy of every statement in those articles". He argues that
||[This] approach is flawed in both its 'small-n' and its 'every-detail' aspects. First, when reviewers create their sample, they inevitably choose those articles that deal with the most important issues in their respective fields—but because of their importance, these articles are likely to be the most read, most edited, and therefore most accurate articles in Wikipedia. Second, the “every-detail” approach tends to focus on minor rather than major inaccuracies. Reviewers adopting this approach check every word in their sampled articles for errors, no matter how inconsequential.
In his own study, he tried to avoid these biases with "a 'large-n, specific-fact' approach. I identify a specific fact that every article in a category ought to contain and then check every article’s accuracy on that fact." Specifically, he examined all 230 Wikipedia biographical articles about major party US governorship candidates who ran for office between 1998 and 2008 and "checked a specific fact: whether Wikipedia accurately characterized the candidate’s previous political experience. I found no errors in these articles at all." Separately, he examined all yearly articles about United States gubernatorial elections back to 1976 to see whether the given results of the major political parties' candidates agreed with the official results, finding that "In only four (2.6%) gubernatorial elections was Wikipedia’s margin off by more than
one percentage point."
While acknowledging that Wikipedia is not a quotable source for academic publications, the study concludes by cautiously suggesting that "for political scientists with limited time and research assistance, Wikipedia may be just accurate enough to permit its use in preliminary work."
The study was covered by The Salt Lake Tribune ("BYU scholar: Wikipedia’s political content is reliable"), UPI Science News and Trebuchet magazine.
Judge admonishes lawyer for plagiarizing Wikipedia
Recently, several US law blogs noted a February court decision where the judge admonished one party for plagiarizing from the Wikipedia article Strickland v. Washington: "The court notes here that defense counsel appears to have cobbled much of his statement of [a law relevant to the case] by cutting and pasting, without citation, from the Wikipedia web site. Compare Supplemental to Motion for New Trial (DN 199) at 18–19 with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strickland_v._Washington (last visited Feb. 9, 2011). The court reminds counsel that such cutting and pasting, without attribution, is plagiarism. The court also brings to counsel’s attention Rule 8.4 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” ... Finally, the court reminds counsel that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source of legal authority in the United States District Courts." On the "Minnesota Lawyer" blog, an attorney (coincidentally named Michael Goodwin) commented that "Issues of plagiarism aside, this lawyer isn’t the first to use Wikipedia in a legal document. There probably are appropriate uses of Wikipedia in legal writing, and in fact, there is a Wikipedia article about courts that cite to Wikipedia. Most courts that do so use Wikipedia for illustrative purposes, such as this recent copyright case that cites to Wikipedia’s entry about fantasy football as a means of illuminating the context out of which the case arises. Using Wikipedia to establish anything of significance, however, can be troublesome ..."
Wikipedia compared to Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game
Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)
An academic paper titled "From Castalia to Wikipedia: openness and closure in knowledge communities" explores parallels and differences between Wikipedia and the fictional academic world depicted in the 1943 novel The Glass Bead Game (which earned its author Hermann Hesse a Nobel Prize in literature), regarding "knowledge, decision-making and social organization". (E-Learning and Digital Media, Volume 8 Number 1 2011, paywalled, abstract; by Peter Roberts and Michael A. Peters, professors of education at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/US, respectively.)
The authors assert that "of the novels that might be considered when addressing the idea of openness, particularly as this applies to knowledge communities, none is more helpful" than The Glass Bead Game. Hesse's book is set in the twenty-third century and centers around an intellectual system (whose "rules" are never laid out in detail) that evolved from a literal game involving actual glass beads into a kind of universal language encompassing and connecting all of the arts, sciences and religion and "emerged as the supreme form of cultural engagement. Castalia, a dedicated knowledge community, grew from the ruins of the twentieth century and became the home of the Game", as the paper says in its first part, a summary of the novel. It continues with a one page overview of Wikipedia, mentioning the Wikimedia Foundation and the Five Pillars.
The comparative analysis in the third part starts with differences: "Castalia is premised on the principle of intellectual and cultural elitism, with a privileged community of scholars and only the very best making it through to the most advanced schools; Wikipedia, on the other hand, is built on the notion of popular participation ... Far from being separated from the rest of the world, Wikipedia is the world. People who read and edit Wikipedia come from all corners of the earth", but that there still exist "definite patterns of participation, with a small group of dedicated contributors dominating the editing process" and moreover that there is "a clear hierarchy in Wikipedia, just as there is in Castalia, although in the case of the former this is more fluid and less formal." As the second common property, the authors identify the fact that "Neither Castalia nor Wikipedia focuses on the creation of new knowledge. Castalians assume that the ‘manuals, pedals and stops’ of the Glass Bead Game are now fixed, with nothing further to add to the vast stock of human knowledge on which exponents of the Game play", while Wikipedia has its Verifiability and No Original Research policies. "The ambitions that underpin Wikipedia as an enterprise bear a resemblance to the conceptual architecture of the Glass Bead Game. The Glass Bead is, the narrator informs us, capable of reproducing the entire intellectual content of the universe. The aim of Wikipedia [actually, the Wikimedia Foundation] is no less than ‘a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge’. The authors also find common traits in the attitudes towards individuality and collectivism: "In both Castalia and Wikipedia there is, as an ideal, a sense of participating in a process that transcends the thoughts, feelings and ideas of any individual – a commitment to working with knowledge in a certain way. Unlike the academic world, with its ‘star’ researchers, in both Castalia and Wikipedia the rewards are meant to be more intrinsic."
Returning to differences, it is noted that in the centuries-old Castalia, changes are occuring slowly, and it is "self-consciously conservative in its social organisation", while Wikipedia is characterized by rapid reactions to events, and promotes boldness. Both try to ensure quality by self-regulation, but in different ways – in Castalia "through a process of elite selection (with only the most able students making it to the top schools in the pedagogical province)", in Wikipedia by "a more populist form of collective monitoring and adjustment". Finally, the authors claim that Hesse's book, through its main character Josef Knecht, "problematises universalist constructs of truth", while Wikipedia "is explicitly wedded to an ideal of truth emerging through consensus. There is a faint echo, in the Wikipedia pages, of the Habermasian notion of dialogue through consensual communication between rational subjects".
- Company sues IP editors for defamation: As reported by the Denver Post ("Upscale Façonnable sues over Web posts saying it has ties to Hezbollah"), fashion company Façonnable has filed a John Doe lawsuit against anonymous (IP) editors who inserted what it says are false claims alleging ties of the company with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization into the Wikipedia article about Façonnable. (The newspaper notes that the company is owned by the conglomerate M1 Group, which "was co-founded by Najib Mikati, a billionaire and politician who was recently made prime minister of Lebanon. Mikati had the support of Hezbollah, a significant political force in Lebanon, in his election. But in numerous interviews with Western media outlets, Mikati has described himself as a centrist who is not a part of or beholden to the organization.") The lawsuit was filed after the users' Internet provider, Skybeam Inc, had rejected the request to provide their names to Façonnable, stating that this would need "a summons delivered by a local law enforcement agency".
- Wikipedia found to be heavily consulted on cancer topics: Following the collaboration between Cancer Research UK and Wikimedia UK, the Experian Hitwise blog found that Wikipedia was consistently found towards the top of Google search results on cancer and specifically breast cancer.
- Wikipedia accused of having "wacky" information in political debate: In an opinion article criticizing Zimbabwean politician Nelson Chamisa, the Zimbabwe Telegraph mocked the claim that "Chamisa is considered to be one of the greatest orators of his generation", asserting it had come from Wikipedia which "has wacky information mingled with facts" (however, the Wikipedia article does not seem to have contained these words since at least 2010, although it does call Chamisa "an articulate orator in his own right" whose "charismatic speeches and eloquence" saw him rise to his current political position).
- Deleting one's account on Wikipedia: The website Smashing Magazine published an overview explaining "How To Permanently Delete Your Account on Popular Websites". About Wikipedia, it was noted that it "is one of the few websites out there that doesn’t allow you to delete your account. That’s right, once you have a Wikipedia account, you have it forever." (However, the article did point out the possibility of having one's account renamed and the user page deleted). Smashing Magazine explained that "Wikipedia’s reasoning behind this is that all contributions have to be assigned to someone. They can’t have anonymous or orphaned contributions, or it would potentially ruin the crowdsourced and open nature of the site."
- Wikipedia lauded for obscure basketball game entry: an editorial in SB Nation expressed surprise at the existence of an article on Wikipedia for Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball, a 1991 "futuristic full-contact basketball video game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System" where all the players are robots except for the now-retired Detroit Pistons player Bill Laimbeer.
- "Malayalam loves Wikimedia": An article in The Hindu reported about successes of the "Malayalam loves Wikimedia" project which aimed to enrich the Malayalam Wikipedia with free photos and maps. The paper notes that the project "also found a mention in the international Wikimedia signpost" (see last week's "News and notes").
- Entire Wikipedia boiled down to "concept matrix": Lexalytics, a publisher of a technology that produces automated document summaries, has announced that the new release of its software "will be better able to understand concepts and relationships between concepts, thanks to a close reading of the entire content of Wikipedia", as reported in InformationWeek. Lexalytics' CEO Jeff Catlin says that the way Wikipedia is put together by human editors shows the way humans think about information, and how people think bits of information are related to each other. He points out the size of the computing task necessary to generate this "concept matrix" from Wikipedia content: "We basically did boil the ocean, so this required a lot of hardware behind the scenes and a lot of Amazon computing time," InformationWeek remarks that "because of the open source nature of the Web encyclopedia, Lexalytics was able to index it freely. A footnote to the press release cautions that no endorsement by the Wikimedia Foundation is implied."