[lit-ideas] Re: Wikipedia

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2006 17:38:37 -0500

Chris Bruce wrote:

Well I don't know whether I am one of the academicians that you mean, but I did recently 'cite' Wikipedia.
. . .
A recent program on the German version of Wikipedia made the same judgement that you do (looking up information on Wikipedia was compared to asking people you run into on the street - you may get useful information and you may get ...).

The one time I attempted to use Wikipedia to find information on a serious topic - the Holocaust - I noticed some rather curiously worded paragraphs with links that led me to white supremacist and neo-nazi sites. I believe that the entry has since been 'cleaned up', but ....

National Public Radio in the U.S. had an interview with the person who started Wikipedia, and it was an interesting interview. He's proposing a new operational definition of "truth:" Something is "true" if people stop making corrections to it. Until then, it's on its way, but not finished. This in some ways more accurately represents what we "know" than if it were the pronouncement of an expert, especially since experts on various sides of an issue can be involved in making corrections. What's interesting to me is that, contrary to what I expected, this does NOT always produce the lowest common denominator; often there is a real engagement back and forth, until both sides are reasonably happy with the resulting entry. I'd rather know there was a heated dispute about a topic than know an expert had come up with her or his own view that avoided the conflict. Taking your example of the Holocaust, I'm glad that there is a dispute, and I'm even more glad that the links show who is responsible for keeping the debate going; if one looks at some of the linked websites, one sees exactly what the "sides" of the debate are like, and can then make an even more informed decision about what to do with the entry. Imagine an "academic" creating the entry, and mentioning as a tiny footnote that there had been some radical groups who had challenged the whole idea of the holocaust: This would perhaps have given the proper space to this "debate," but it wouldn't have revealed the exact nature of what those "radical groups" were like, or who they really were.

The more I see Wikipedia, the more I like this definition of truth. It's almost Hegelian: There are theses, antitheses, and ongoing syntheses!

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
Lisle, IL, USA

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