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Wikipedia


John Simkin
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Wikipedia is one of the successful stories of the web. In less than four years it has grown to 1 million entries in 100 different languages. The current Encyclopedia Britannica has 44m words of text whereas Wikipedia has 250m words. Britannica has 75,000 entries whereas Wikipedia has 360,000.

Wikipedia has around 3,000 new entries a day (about 700 in English). The point about Wikipedia is that anyone can submit an article or can edit an existing one. For example, the entry on George Bush has had 500 edits in the last 3 months. Around 2000 people carry out over 100 edits a month.

Do you use Wikipedia. Would you recommend the site to your students?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

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Do you use Wikipedia. Would you recommend the site to your students?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

I have used it when Google throws it up as a search result. I used an article on it to produce a student friendly text for my website last year. I felt confident in the accuracy of the subject because it was something I know very well. I used the wikipedia version because it was quicker to edit theirs than to write my own from scratch.

I know my students use it, although I have never recommended it. As this thread on the student forum illustrates: http://studenteducationforum.ipbhost.com/i...p?showtopic=153

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John writes:

Wikipedia has around 3,000 new entries a day (about 700 in English). The point about Wikipedia is that anyone can submit an article or can edit an existing one.

But what about quality control? I've just checked an article on a subject in which I consider myself a specialist, and it's rubbish.

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I think Wikipedia has a great deal of potentlal. I agree that the issue of quality control bothers me as well.

However: the idea that any one source is the repository of all knowledge and wisdom is a mistake (as the government found out with its dependence on one source for the fatuous 45 minute claim). So using Wikipedia is a good idea as it will provide information on any subject but *all* sources of information need some form of verification whether this is comparison with other sources or with the reader's own experience.

"The Hitchhiker's guide although it contains much that is apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate, can at least claim that...where it is inaccurate is at least definitively inaccurate." (Douglas Adams) :cheers

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I tend to recommend sites to my students I know I can trust. Wikipedia is not one of them. However I can see situations where I might use it in the context of a "reliability of sources" lesson.

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Having worked as a consultant and an editor for many publishers over a period of more than 20 years, I put my trust in their editorial procedures rather than in a website to which just anyone can contribute. I currently work as a series editor for a series entitled Language Learning and Language Technology, which is published by a major international publisher. Every contribution is read by two evaluators and by the two series editors before it is given the OK.

However, having read the rubbish article at Wikipedia I decided to edit it. I zapped most of it and entered my own contribution - which is now up at the site under Computer Assisted Language Learning. I should add that the original article that I found there was factually inaccurate and out of date - it was not just a question of one person's opinion differing from another's. But how long will my version remain there? It's already been added to since yesterday - but the additions are OK.

I have recently written two encyclopaedia articles on the same subject for two leading international publishers, and both were scrutinised thoroughly by consultants and editors before they were accepted.

I agree with Andy. Wikipedia illustrates the problem of reliability of sources - which has become more problematic with the advent of the Web.

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I agree about reliability. One of the most interesting aspects is you can add to the links at the bottom of the page. This seems a better system than DMOZ where the editors can control directory links. They often do this for selfish reasons (they want to promote their own site - Google place great emphasis on DMOZ listing).

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One thing I have noticed about Wikipedia is that it is rife with self-promotion - often in a subtle way, e.g. dressed up as "background" or "history" of the subject area. Having looked at a few articles in my area of work, I could recognise the style of one or two people I know - and who had included links to their websites or businesses.

And, if you ran some of the stuff through a plagiarism detector such as Cerberus or Eve2, it could be interesting...

Cerberus can be downloaded from:

http://www.didascalia.be/cerberus.htm

Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

EVE2: http://www.canexus.com/eve

See also COPLINK, an authorship analysis tool:

http://ai.bpa.arizona.edu/COPLINK/authorship.htm

Yes, authorship analysis tools have proved quite effective in the past and now they are being used in the fight against terrorism. I recall such a tool being used in the 1980s to establish the authorship of an unsigned manuscript, which the experts thought had been written by a famous Russian writer. The authorship analysis programme confirmed the experts' opinion - looking at type and richness of vocab used, typical sentence beginnings and endings, length of sentences, length on paragraphs, and a variety of features that I don't even begin to understand.

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  • 4 months later...

Wikipedia is fast becoming the first port of call for students. As a result of a variety of factors Wikipedia comes up very high in any search-engine rankings. Therefore, students doing research will usually come across this site. The impression is given that its entries are objective accounts of the subject. Lets me take an example of something I know a great deal about: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. You will find the Wikipedia site here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy_assassination

On the surface it appears to be a very objective account of the case. The main conclusion is that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK but he did not do it alone. This is in fact the official view of the assassination. It was for example the conclusion of The House Select Committee on Assassinations when it published its report in 1979. The chief counsel of the HSCA, G. Robert Blakey, went on to write a book about the case, The Plot to Kill the President, where he argues that Oswald was employed by the Mafia to kill JFK. The HSCA also discovered Jack Ruby’s links to the Mafia.

This theory was Plan B. Plan A, that Oswald had done it on his own had been completely discredited by 1979 and had to be ditched. Therefore, the people behind the assassination needed a second patsy, the Mafia.

In reality, this entry is not objective at all. It is peddling disinformation. The page is linked to another page called “Conspiracy Theories”. It lists most of the theories except for the one that is correct.

Who then is responsible for writing this entry? Students cannot find out from looking on the website. The reason given by Wikipedia is that it is not written by any one individual. That it is open to anyone to edit this page. This is true. I have on several occasions tried to edit this page. However, within a few ours my contribution has been removed.

Who is doing this? The clue comes from looking at the recommended websites at the bottom of the page. Top of the list is the website owned by John McAdams, Associate Professor of History at Marquette University. When I have edited this page I always put my own website on the JFK Assassination at the top of the list of links. When my contributions are removed, McAdams website goes back to the top of the list. Therefore, I assume that it is McAdams or one of his friends who has done the editing.

In fact John McAdams plays a very important role in providing information on the JFK assassination. If McAdams has done a page about one of the characters involved in these events, it will immediately be ranked first on Google and other search-engines. Why is this? After all, his site does not have many websites linked to his, the main criteria for this ranking.

Is it possible that McAdams is getting special help? Is it possible that some powerful organization (even more powerful than Google) want McAdams to be students main source of information on the JFK assassination?

I know some people think the JFK assassination is not an important topic and that it does not matter that a disinformation agent should control this particular entry. However, what is true of this page, will also be true of other pages where the CIA hold a particular point of view. Those pages are no more likely to be objective than the one on the JFK assassination.

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I've checked out a few Wikipedia entries relating to my own area of expertise: ICT and language learning. They were almost useless, containing out-of-date and inaccurate information, as well as a strong element of self-promotion. I corrected some of the more glaring errors, but I have to say that I cannot recommend Wikipedia as a reliable source of information.

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