The Six Sins of the Wikipedia
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author was among the first contributors to Nupedia,
the Wikipedia's peer-reviewed predecessor, and
spent six years, on and off, studying the Wikipedia)
is a question of time before the Wikipedia self-destructs
and implodes. It poses such low barriers to entry
(anyone can edit any number of its articles) that
it is already attracting masses of teenagers as "contributors"
and "editors", not to mention the less savory
flotsam and jetsam of cyber-life. People who are regularly
excluded or at least moderated in every other Internet
community are welcomed, no questions asked, by this
wannabe self-styled "encyclopedia"
cardinal (and, in the long-term, deadly) sins plague
this online venture. What unites and underlies all
its deficiencies is simple: Wikipedia dissembles about
what it is and how it operates. It is a self-righteous
confabulation and its success in deceiving the many
attests not only to the gullibility of the vast majority
of Netizens but to the PR savvy of its sleek and slick
The Wikipedia is opaque and encourages recklessness
overwhelming majority of contributors to and editors
of the Wikipedia remain anonymous throughout the process.
Anyone can register and members' screen-names (handles)
mean nothing and lead nowhere. Thus, no one is forced
to take responsibility for what he or she adds to
the "encyclopedia" or subtracts from it.
This amounts to an impenetrable smokescreen: identities
can rarely be established and evading the legal consequences
of one's actions or omissions is easy.
in the Wikipedia can be and frequently is edited,
re-written and erased and this includes the talk pages
and even, to my utter amazement, the history pages!
In other words, one cannot gain an impartial view
of the editorial process by sifting through the talk
and history pages of articles (most of which are typically
monopolized by fiercely territorial "editors").
History, not unlike in certain authoritarian regimes,
is being constantly re-jigged on the Wikipedia!
The Wikipedia is anarchic, not democratic
Wikipedia is not an experiment in online democracy,
but a form of pernicious anarchy. It espouses two
misconceptions: (a) That chaos can and does lead to
the generation of artifacts with lasting value and
(b) That knowledge is an emergent, mass phenomenon.
But The Wikipedia is not conducive to the unfettered
exchange of information and opinion that is a prerequisite
to both (a) and (b). It is a war zone where many fear
to tread. the Wikipedia is a negative filter (see
the next point).
The Might is Right Editorial Principle
quality control by design, the Wikipedia rewards quantity.
The more one posts and interacts with others, the
higher one's status, both informal and official. In
the Wikipedia planet, authority is a function of the
number of edits, no matter how frivolous. The more
aggressive (even violent) a member is; the more prone
to flame, bully, and harass; the more inclined to
form coalitions with like-minded trolls; the less
of a life he or she has outside the Wikipedia, the
more they are likely to end up being administrators.
result is erratic editing. Many entries are completely
re-written (not to say vandalized) with the arrival
of new kids on the Wikipedia block. Contrary to advertently-fostered
impressions, the Wikipedia is not a cumulative process.
Its text goes through dizzyingly rapid and oft-repeated
cycles of destruction and the initial contributions
are at times far deeper and more comprehensive than
later, "edited", editions of same.
is misrepresented as an open source endeavor. Nothing
can be further from the truth. Open source efforts,
such as Linux, involve a group of last-instance decision-makers
that coordinate, vet, and cull the flow of suggestions,
improvements, criticism, and offers from the public.
Open source communities are hierarchical, not stochastic.
it is far easier to evaluate the quality of a given
snippet of software code than it is to judge the truth-content
of an edit to an article, especially if it deals with
"soft" and "fuzzy" topics, which
involve the weighing of opinions and the well-informed
exercise of value judgments.
Wikipedia is against real knowledge
Wikipedia's ethos is malignantly anti-elitist. Experts
are scorned and rebuffed, attacked, and abused with
official sanction and blessing. Since everyone is
assumed to be equally qualified to edit and contribute,
no one is entitled to a privileged position by virtue
of scholarship, academic credentials, or even life
Wikipedia is the epitome and the reification of an
ominous trend: Internet surfing came to replace research,
online eclecticism supplanted scholarship, and trivia
passes for erudition. Everyone's an instant scholar.
If you know how to use a search engine, you are an
on a discussion list dedicated to books with a largely
academic membership, I pointed out an error in one
of the Wikipedia's articles. The responses I received
were chilling. One member told me that he uses the
Wikipedia to get a rough idea about topics that are
not worth the time needed to visit the library. Whether
the rough ideas he was provided with courtesy the
Wikipedia were correct or counterfactual seemed not
to matter to him. Others expressed a mystical belief
in the veracity of "knowledge" assembled
by the masses of anonymous contributors to the Wikipedia.
Everyone professed to prefer the content proffered
by the Wikipedia to the information afforded by the
Britannica Encyclopedia or by established experts!
members attempted to disproved my assertion (regarding
the error in the Wikipedia) by pointing to a haphazard
selection of links to a variety of Internet sources.
Not one of them referred to a reputable authority
on the subject, yet, based largely on the Wikipedia
and a sporadic trip in cyberspace, they felt sufficiently
confident to challenge my observation (which is supported
by virtually all the leading luminaries in the field).
gut reactions mirror the Wikipedia's "editorial"
process. To the best of my knowledge, none of my respondents
was qualified to comment. None of them holds a relevant
academic degree. Neither do I. But I strove to stand
on the shoulders of giants when I spotted the error
while my respondents explicitly and proudly refused
to do so as a matter of principle!
may reflect the difference in academic traditions
between the United States and the rest of the world.
Members of individualistic, self-reliant and narcissistic
societies inevitably rebel against authority and tend
to believe in their own omnipotence and omniscience.
Conversely, the denizens of more collectivist and
consensus-seeking cultures, are less sanguine and
grandiose and more willing to accept teachings ex-cathedra.
So said Theodore Millon, a great scholar and an undisputed
authority on personality disorders.
Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia
in advertising is not the Wikipedia's strong suit.
It presents itself, egregiously, as an encyclopedia.
Yet, at best it is a community of users who exchange
eclectic "information" on a regular and
semi-structured basis. This deliberate misrepresentation
snags most occasional visitors who are not acquainted
with the arcane ways of the Wikipedia and trust it
implicitly and explicitly to deliver facts and well-founded
opinions. There is a lot the Wikipedia can do to dispel
such dangerous misconceptions (for instance, it could
post disclaimers on all its articles and not only
on a few selected pages). That it chooses to propagate
the deception is telling and renders it the equivalent
of an intellectual scam, a colossal act of con-artistry.
Wikipedia thus retards genuine learning by serving
as the path of least resistance and as a substitute
to the real thing: edited, peer-reviewed works of
reference. High school and university students now
make the Wikipedia not only their first but their
exclusive "research" destination.
could have been different.
for instance the online and free Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy. Each entry is written by an expert
but is frequently revised based on input from members
of the public. It combines the best elements of the
Wikipedia (feedback-driven evolution) with none of
The Wikipedia is rife with libel and violations of
recent events clearly demonstrate, the Wikipedia is
a hotbed of slander and libel. It is regularly manipulated
by interns, political staffers, public relations consultants,
marketing personnel, special interest groups, political
parties, business firms, brand managers, and others
with an axe to grind. It serves as a platform for
settling personal accounts, defaming, distorting the
truth, and re-writing history.
known is the fact that the Wikipedia is the greatest
single repository of copyright infringements. Books
- from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual down
to my own, far humbler, tomes - are regularly ripped
off and posted in various articles, with and without
Wikipedia does not provide any mechanism to redress
wrongs, address problems, and remedy libel and copyright
infringements. Editing the offending articles is useless
as these are often "reverted" (restored)
by the offenders themselves. My personal experience
is that correspondence with and complaints to Wikimedia
and to Jimmy Wales go unanswered.
Wikipedia has been legally shielded from effective
litigation because, hitherto, it enjoyed the same
status that Bulletin Boards Services (BBS) and other,
free for all, communities have. In short: where no
editorial oversight is exerted, no legal liability
arises to the host even in cases of proven libel and
breaches of copyright.
the Wikipedia has been treading a thin line here as
well. Anyone who ever tried to contribute to this
"encyclopedia" discovered soon enough that
it is micromanaged by a cabal of c. 1000 administrators
(not to mention the Wikimedia's full-time staff, fuelled
by 2 million US dollars in public donations). These
senior editors regularly interfere in the contents
of articles. They do so often without any rhyme or
reason and on a whim (hence the anarchy) - but edit
fact and recent statements by Wales to the effect
that the Wikipedia is actually regularly edited may
provoke victims of the Wikipedia into considering
class action lawsuits against the Wikimedia, Jimmy
Wales personally, and their Web hosting company.
Wikipedia is an edited publication. The New-York Times
is responsible for anything it publishes in its op-ed
section. Radio stations pay fines for airing obscenities
in call-in shows. Why treat the Wikipedia any differently?
Perhaps, hit in the wallet, it will develop the minimal
norms of responsibility and truthfulness that are
routinely expected of less presumptuous and more inconspicuous
undertakings on the Internet.
Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com
) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism
Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the
East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician,
Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and
eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior
Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health
and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory
Until recently, he served as the Economic
Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
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