Saturday, April 07, 2007

The trouble with Wiki

The idea of a large, user-contributed encyclopedia is, in principle, a good one. But the implementation of the largest such effort to date, the Wikipedia, is an excellent example of how good ideas can go dreadfully wrong.

Authors of Wikipedia articles are anonymous in many cases, so expertise in the topic is not vetted for accuracy or depth. Worse, for controversial topics and for biographies of living persons, experts are specifically asked not to contribute to the articles. I discovered this when attempting to correct factual errors in the entry page on my name, and for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. I've been asked not to edit these pages, even though I am arguably the expert on me, and an expert on IONS, because it violates Wikipedia's guidelines.

The most persistent editors on Wikipedia, by the way, largely seem to be 20-something students who are riding high on arrogance, because like all kids, they're suffering under the delusion that they know everything. (I recall this state of mind quite clearly from when I was 20-something.) For you young folks out there, believe me, that grandiosity dissolves with life experience. The fact is that nothing is certain, especially what science pretends to know.

Wikipedia's absurd guidelines means that for topics of interest to many people, namely controversies, the articles are guaranteed to be of poor quality. What a ridiculous state of affairs this good idea has come to, one that very effectively does one thing well -- it perpetuates stupidity.

17 comments:

julio cesar said...

I have waged war against pseudoskeptic Andrew Skolnick (president of the CSICOP-connected CSMMH) in the entry Natasha Denkina.

The problems that you mentioned are ubiquitous and devastating. There are ways out or around then. But they are hard, frustrating, and highly annoying.

I, too, quit wikipedia editing.

Enfant Terrible said...

A study of Nature shows the Wikipedia's articles are NOT of poor quality.

http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2152666/britannica-snaps-wikipedia

I think you rise a good point about your case, but maybe you are being a little unfair in your conclusions.

Dean Radin said...

And yet on another article at this same website we find:

"Creating false entries or adding inaccurate information to an existing one is called vandalism in the wiki community, and the site’s founders ... encourages all users to report those who vandalise, and to correct entries if they feel qualified to do so."

This statement is incorrect. For controversial topics the people who actually know what they're talking about are not allowed to edit, presumably because they are biased. We're led to believe from this that skeptics writing and editing the same articles are therefore not biased? This asymmetry is ridiculous for an encyclopedia that aspires towards accuracy.

The Nature analysis is not without its own controversy. As the Brittanica rebuttal states: "As we demonstrate below,
almost everything about the journal’s investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading."

Given my experience with Wikipiedia, I strongly back Britannica's conclusions. The idea of a free for all encyclopedia seems laudable, but in practice you get what you pay for. There is no free or easy substitute for serious scholarship.

M.C. said...

In the past, I've edited your entry, Rupert Sheldrakes, and many of the psi-related entries. I haven't had time lately to follow up.

David Bailey said...

I guess Wiki is good for snippets of information - like the chemical formula of some compound - but not for in-depth discussion.

Tor said...

I followed the discussion page under Bernard Haisch when he tried to edit his own bio. That didn't go that well.. He managed to improve it, but still there where a lot of problems. You can really feel the fire in the belly when you see the power trip some of the wikipedia editors are on. It seems to me to be the perfect playground for future dictators.

I lost almost all respect I had for wikipedia after discovering this. I still use it, but only to refresh things that I already know and kan easily spot faults in.
The whole thing reminds me of a book I once read. It seemed to be a fiction story based on historical facts. But as you read the author had mixed in subtle non-facts that you didn't really question before at the end when it went totally crazy. If you want to, it is easy to do the same to wikipedia. If we read something we already know, then it's easy to discover factual errors. But if we're new to a subject, and actually believe that wikipedia is "the truth" we will get filled with misinformation.

Another example shows the more subtle side: The wikipedia pages on the interpretations of quantum mechanics.
This is a controversial topic, and the result is that the wikipedia articles not only describe the different interpretations, but recommend the many worlds interpretation as the best interpretation, one that resolve all mysteries of quantum mechanics. This is not the consensus at all.

I wonder how much of what I'm not qualified to judge is wrong.

Dean Radin said...

Tor said... the wikipedia articles not only describe the different interpretations, but recommend the many worlds interpretation as the best interpretation...

This is a very good example of how Wiki is distorted when it comes to controversial topics. The major problem, of course, is that at the edge of the known, which is where all interesting science takes place, all of it is controversial. And thus Wiki is the worse possible source of reliable information for any area of leading edge science, or for anything considered "para," which can be considered a synonym for leading edge.

Debates about controversies are exceptionally difficult to present in neutral terms because realistically you need to be an expert to have an informed opinion, and yet everyone regardless of expertise always seems ready to offer confident opinions about things they know little to nothing about.

Tor said...

I just checked the discussion page under your bio on Wikipedia.
It all seems futile..
And to be honest, some of the people there seem to be childish (in a negative way). Dean, you would be better off talking to a wall.

I hope somebody sues Wikipedia soon (which would be hard since no one is responsible). It's starting to become a pain in the ...

Rob said...

In the past, most of the psi-related articles at Wikipedia were dominated by the views of a number of Randi followers, and there was little room for negotiation beyond their narrow world-view.

In the last few months, however, things have seemed to be improving a bit, although only with rigorous citing. I remain hopeful, particularly as Dr. Radin's works become better known, and the reality of psi phenomena becomes more accepted by the mainstream.

I must say that I am very grateful to Wikipedia for one thing - the link to this site! I was not aware of it until today. A new favorite!

SenorDee said...

I too have witnessed the obvious materialist bias had by the folks at wikipedia and have spoken out against it. Hopefully the new Encyclopedia of Earth (http://www.eoearth.org/), which is written exclusively by experts, will gain momentum with the public and supersede other online encyclopedias which only take serious certain points of view.

M.C. said...

I agree with Dean Radin about the importance of psi phenomena, but disagree about wikipedia.

Certainly the encyclopedia has its problems, but it is also an invaluable resource of information that must also be combined with other sources of information.

I've edited quite a few controversial topics there, and generally was able to come to an agreeable compromise even with the inveterate pseudo-skeptics.

Dean Radin said...

Copied note from an expert on the history of the state of Virginia:

"I hate to sound dogmatic, but I never use Wikipedia for anything but rock-star bios. It's a giant trash heap. I have looked at entries relating to TJ (Thomas Jefferson), GW (George Washington), the Rev War, Civil War -- things I know something about -- and errors are everywhere. Putting on my editor's hat, I once tried to correct a simple, totally non-controversial factual mistake in the TJ entry--I had at hand the latest, gold-standard research from the top expert at Monticello--and some idiot kept restoring the wrong info. I gave up. It's all amateurs over there, playing around."

Tom Butler said...

I agree with Dr. Radin. I also mad an effort to remove misinformation in the Electronic Voice Phenomena article, but finally gave up. Since the subject is important to me, I felt forced to appeal to the public and began a "concerns with Wikipedia" campaign. See http://etheric-studies.aaevp.com/articles/articles_wikipedia.htm

The concept is a good one and I hope that evolved efforts such as the Encyclopedia of Earth and Citizendium http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Main_Page can push Wikipedia off of the search engines.

Tom Butler
AA-EVP Director

Tor said...

I just had a quick look at the qigong article at wikipedia. There is so much misinformation there that it is painful to look at.

david hill said...

Up to 9 months ago we financially contributed funds to Wikipedia but no more, for we thought that it was a good idea and where its thinking was in unison with our own at that time - using knowledge for the good of humankind. When we as novices tried to place our Swiss charity within Wikipedia we were absolutely savaged by the editors. They in fact blocked our right of reply, which is documented by themselves.
Thereafter we even sent our registration documents via email to the then executive director of Wikimedia, the holding organization, to prove that our international group was registered as a Swiss charity. He did nothing at all. A few months later he resigned with another top Wikimedia executive, 'Jimbo's second in command. The greatest problem with Wikipedia that we now find is that they are highly selective in who should place information and where therefore they will never really have a web-based encyclopaedia that is unbiased and totally factual. It is ultimately at the whims of the few enlightened ones who control what should be a great reference. Unfortunately we now see that it is not.

For anyone interested further on how Wikipedia editors work, the full account including all emails will be part of our next web newsletter 'Scientific Discovery'. It will be on-line by the end of July 2007. Overall, it is time we feel that Wikipedia looked internally at itself and that they concluded that they have major problems with the way they treat new entrants. This analysis should especially be directed towards the attitude of their editors, who remove the right of reply and delete super-quick for reasons not based on evidence but only hearsay. By the way also, the Wikipedian Editor Zoe who first blocked us and the initial instigator of all the basic trouble, fell out with 'Jimbo' and where she as well left a few months later. Apparently she had made a vendetta against a certain professor according to 'Jimbo's' opinion. Thereafter she took her bat and ball home and has never been seen since. I believe she also threatened the embattled professor at the time - the web link is http://72.14.209.104/search?q=cache:dUfUXyA24wwJ:www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Zoe+zoe+wikipedia+professor+change+wikipedia&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=uk.


Dr. David Hill
Chief Executive
World Innovation Foundation Charity (reg. no. CH-035.7.035.277-9 - 11th July 2005)
Bern, Switzerland

peter "the sheriff" yoon said...

I hate being equicoval but, nonetheless, for the sake of exactitude - the subject of the post after all - I must offer the following note. In the main statement it is said, "nothing is certain." If in fact that's true, then, of course, it couldn't be true because that statement is based on certainty. If nothing can be certain neither can that statement. Please see Godel for further clarification.

Dean Radin said...

Quite right! Okay, how about "some things are probably less than completely certain."