“Listen to me, I know more!” Screams Man from Tower

As the title suggests, I find the whole academia vs Wikipedia argument rather pretentious.  We have what is basically the classic esteemed scholar vs layman, with the scholars screaming “stay off my lawn” into the void of the internet (and being offended when the internet doesn’t just take their word for it).  Many of the arguments offered along these lines seem rather ridiculous when looked at in the light of what Wikipedia is meant to be.  Wikipedia is not meant to be an esteemed scholarly journal.  In fact, it isn’t even constructed with scholars in mind, something that seems to really irk the academic community.  It seems that many academic experts cannot handle being left out, as we heard about in the NPR reading for this week.

The most common argument against Wikipedia is always accuracy.  The idea is that Wikipedia is a mine field of inaccuracies and lies.  A bit of fear-mongering if you will.  Wikis are written by the masses, surely they cannot have an adequate understanding of complex issues and current events. As Rozenweig shows us, though, this seems to largely be an inaccuracy itself.  Wikipedia’s accuracy seems to be fairly on par with other “established” encyclopedias.

The other big argument we see against Wikipedia in our readings is about the majority-view rule that governs Wikipedia.  Timothy Messer-Kruse argues in his interview that, since he is an expert, he should be able to edit entries as he sees fit.  But, the book he has written that he is referencing, is described on the book’s flap as “controversial and groundbreaking new history.”  This is problematic in many ways.  Just because an academic has a new or “groundbreaking” argument, that doesn’t mean they are correct.  The very use of the word “controversial” in the book’s description suggests that there will be disagreement within the academic community.  The majority-view rule, while it does slow down the website, prevents articles from falling down the rabbit hole with every new avenue of “groundbreaking” research.

And, is the slowness of Wikipedia even a problem?  The argument seems to be that one could be spreading wrong information because they do not have access to “bleeding-edge” narratives.  Wikipedia wasn’t created for the academic, it was created by and for the public.  Where is the public going to get this “bleeding-edge” research?  From Journals that most people have to wait seven years to even read (if they even have access to a subscription)?  You can’t hide your research behind a seven year paywall and then complain that a public encyclopedia is slow to pick up new research.  Wikipedia isn’t meant to be a scholarly journal.  It’s meant to be a “good enough” reference for the general public to grab quick snippets of information from during their daily lives.  It has its problems, sure, from uneven representation to overzealous editors.  But, for the most part, it works.  And don’t even get me started on the “the prose is bad” argument.


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