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Why to use Wikipedia: answer for Eye on DNA

Hsien-Hsien Lei knows perfectly how much I admire and respect her work (first at Genetics and Health, now at Eye on DNA), but this time, I have to disagree with her post on why not to use Wikipedia. I would like to answer all of her points, and try to give a clear overview of this serious question. (She said, I say)

  • The information is biased.

Doesn’t matter. I don’t care about who writes an article, I just want to see as many references as possible. If a professor writes something in a Wikipedia or in a Nature article without proper references, then someone should trust it? I don’t think so. The only job of Wikipedians these days is to fill the articles with proper references.

  • Edits are futile.

Yes, it’s always hard to work in a community. If you put something in an article that shouldn’t be there, then it’s going to be removed. If you put something good and someone removes it, then you have dozens of possibilities how to revert it. A whole process was made to help editors who have problems like you’ve mentioned (a possible enemy for example). Sometimes it takes time and energy, it happens.

  • The Wikipedia community is exclusionary.

Self-promotion is a serious problem. A medical Wikipedia entry mustn’t contain links to blogs or other homepages (except official ones) as you can’t consider those reliable sources of information. Wikipedians don’t have a hobby to remove any self-promotional link, just try to make the articles objective and reliable. We have clear guidelines about what self-promotion means.

  • Wikipedians are defensive and always on the attack.

I think you had a bad experience, that’s why you said that. When you have to handle really thousands of vandals, then it becomes harder to assume good faith. Wikipedia can’t gather only exceptional and perfectly cultured people. Wikipedia is like a country, it consists of various persons. If you have a problem with an editor, you still have at least a dozen of chances how to prove your point.

  • Wikipedia isn’t the only source of information.

Of course! But Wikipedia is not created for experts, it’s the encyclopaedia of laypeople. Of course, other, well-illustrated and useful scientific sites are much better than Wikipedia. But do all of those sites provide total explanations of genetic diseases, or definitions of gene, DNA or PCR reaction? I’m pretty sure that you can find relevant information about these expressions somewhere around the internet, but Wikipedia tries to give it to you in one place. And what is the most important thing; and please, never forget it: Wikipedia is a work in progress

Hsien, you must know that we’re on the same side. Our goals are the same, believe me. The only difference is that I’m a Wikipedia admin and that’s why I tried to answer your questions, concerns. I just want to have a universal database of knowledge accessible for everyone. If it is called Wikipedia, then let it be. I hope you rethink some of your points. If not, at least, we had an interesting blogflame. :)

Further reading:

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow. I didn’t know you were so involved in Wikipedia, Berci!

    In response to your points:

    @ proper references – You sure that’s what’s being included in Wikipedia entries? I’m not convinced. Quantity does not equal quality.

    @ time and energy to fight for my edits – As I’ve said elsewhere, if I were convinced that Wikipedia should be the authoritative resource of the world, I would put in more effort. As it is, I think my time is better spent elsewhere. And I suspect that much of the back and forth that goes on in the edit history of the entries are pretty futile.

    @ self-promotion – I’m sure some, or many, cases are clear cut but I still think there are many sites with valuable information that are being excluded simply because they are not “official agencies.” From my observations, Wikipedians with a long history inside have a much better chance of having their edits kept than anonymous or new Wikipedia contributors.

    @ Wikipedia being a one stop source – I’m not saying that Wikipedia isn’t a truly amazing accomplishment. I’m only trying to remind people that just because Wikipedia turns up in the top 5 search results for many terms doesn’t mean it should be their last stop resource. First stop, ok. But definitely not last stop.

    As for flame war, nobody’s flaming here. I’ve still got my flame-proof suit on, although I think Thomas has got it a lot worse over at Epidemix.org. :)

    May 14, 2007
  2. Here’s one of the problems I have observed with Wikipedia, and since you provided such a thoughtful critique of the above criticisms, I though I’d solicit your views on this.

    Essentially, the question is this: How do you know an article represents the most commonly held consensus view, unless it is allows to rapid and continuous editing?

    Everybody knows that the more popular an article is, the more edits it gets, and the closer the article comes to resemble the state of common knowledge. However, this means that it’s problem of kinetics – there’s a balance of rightness and wrongness in every article, and in order for the article to most closely resemble the state of common knowledge, edits have to be rapid, continuous, and from a large number of individuals so that the equilibrium is established.

    So for the majority of the infrequently edited articles, and also for the articles that are defended against changes, how do you know it represents consensus?

    May 14, 2007
  3. You’re absolutely right. Wikipedia works (in my opinion) like natural selection. In most of the cases, the more edits an article gets, the better it will be. And the mass is the keypoint here. We need much much more people to at least try to ensure that the articles represent the most commonly held consensus view.

    And I still don’t say that Wikipedia is a perfect resource, I just say that it’s improving in the right way and it’s still under construction.

    Look, if you show an encyclopaedia of better quality, from tomorrow, I’m going to spend my time and energy to improve that one.

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by. :)

    May 14, 2007
  4. davidgerard #

    From my observations, Wikipedians with a long history inside have a much better chance of having their edits kept than anonymous or new Wikipedia contributors.”

    Well, uh, yeah. That’s why account names exist. Editors accumulate reputation within the project. That’s a feature.

    May 15, 2007

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Eye on DNA Links - May 16, 2007 — Eye on DNA
  2. Seeking health information online: does Wikipedia matter? « ScienceRoll

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