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David Whiteley
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Posted: 31 January 2007 at 10:05am | IP Logged | 1  

Jacob, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.
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Chris Hutton
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Posted: 01 February 2007 at 12:00am | IP Logged | 2  

I'd bet good money that many of the people who rely on Wikipedia for information also believe the chain emails they receive.
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David Whiteley
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Posted: 01 February 2007 at 12:05am | IP Logged | 3  

One good thing about getting a chain email is sending a snopes link back to
the originator to try and clue them in a bit.
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Chris Hutton
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Posted: 01 February 2007 at 12:37am | IP Logged | 4  

I did that to a friend-- he told me he didn't have the time to check Snopes.


It's at most an investment of a frigging minute!!!!!
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Jacob P Secrest
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Posted: 01 February 2007 at 3:40pm | IP Logged | 5  

My mom does that to my grandmother all the time.
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Matthew McCallum
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Posted: 10 February 2007 at 12:16am | IP Logged | 6  

The issue of Wikipedia real deals with a fascinating debate over the content of information provision in the current century. For much of the last century, there were a very select few -- in relation to the totality of the population -- who were the gatekeepers of information for the rest of us. Now with the internet we can all be content providers (for good or ill) which in theory should provide a much more diverse viewpoint. We're still in the early days of this process and it's interesting watching how it's all shaking out.

If you remember, IMDB (one of the most useful websites around; we really should have something like that for comics) started out as a contributor-driven effort where the information was later verified and posted. I think ultimately Wikipedia is going to have to go to a similar vetting process, likely designating editors and meta-editors who will greenlight the proposed additions before they go live. The Wiki people are also going to have to decide if they are in the encylopedia business (dealing with documented facts) or if they are an online editorial offering subjective opinions in their entries. (Actually, most of the journalists I read nowadays don't recognize the difference between objective and subjective reporting, so why should the Wiki people be any different...)

I'd like to add that the fellow who wrote earlier on this thread that he went into Wikipedia to good naturedly corrupt a page with pancake entries because he COULD and he HAD to do so because the readers of his website NEEDED entertainment, and then defended his actions as reasonable because essentially Wiki leaves the door open and lets him do it, misses an essential point of community. (I opened another tab so I could look up his name: Randy Sterger.) Randy, I see you're a new arrival, so welcome to the JBF, good to have you aboard. My friend, a good time had at someone else's expense is wrong. Vandalism, even in jest, is vandalism, just as a pie in the face delivered to an unsuspecting victim is assault. Even if you hold the whole of Wikipedia in general and that one article in particular in utter contempt, someone laboured in the creation of that work, and I would hope they put their best efforts into trying to create something of value. Intentionally corrupting another person's labours is a nasty business and not very good karma. I'd strongly urge you to invest your energies into creating something new and original that would take our breath away, rather than splattering mud on someone else's stuff. I'll put the soap box back in the closet now.



Edited by Matthew McCallum on 10 February 2007 at 12:28am
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Matthew McCallum
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Posted: 10 February 2007 at 1:07am | IP Logged | 7  

Just before running off to bed, I was reading Jacob Secrest's posts from a few days back and wanted to offer a couple of thoughts. Wikipedia has a utility and a value, but not in its current form and methodology.

In theory, the concept for Wikipedia is very clever: an open-end contributor-driven reference where you'll plug into the expertise of millions of individuals to build the site. A very fast, economical way to compile a lot of information in a very short timeframe. The Internet Movie DataBase worked that model quite successfully, although within a much more narrow field of interest and a significantly less abstract world. (Either Bob Hope was in the film or he wasn't -- not much to debate.)

In practice, however, at Wikipedia there is no filter for the bias and editorializing that inevitably arises in the composition of articles, particularly when dealing with push-button issues or the more colourful personalities. There is no provision to stop vandals from causing damage: sure, Wiki goes in and cleans up after the fact, but how many hits do they get in the interim with the bad data?

IMDB had editors who reviewed the data before it went live and eventually Wiki will have to adopt a similar policy. I suspect that Wiki is already moving in that direction and at some point in the near future there will be editors and meta-editors who will have to greenlight changes before they go live. The only question remains how will these individuals be selected and what qualifications will they hold for these positions?

Like all great 1960s concepts that rely in men acting like decent creatures to work effectively, Wikipedia fails to account for the thugs who like to smash and destroy pretty things, the Merry Andrews who like to foul their nest for a lark, the mioptic shortcomings from our own narrow point of view and shallow self-interest, and the general frailties of humankind overall. In short, it's a neat idea, and would work great in utopia, just not in this world.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 10 February 2007 at 5:31am | IP Logged | 8  

Wikipedia has a utility and a value, but not in its
current form and methodology.


****

Then your statement should read "Wikipedia
could have a utility and value…"
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Landry Walker
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Posted: 10 February 2007 at 1:44pm | IP Logged | 9  

The problem I have with Wikipedia is that the information on the pages often shows up on a encyclopedia based other websites as "fact". There's no notation on these "encycolpedia" pages that the information is sourced from Wikepedia either. So there is no assumption that it's information based on a user driven project.

There's a page about a semi-famous deceased family member of mine. He died in a car accident. Yet these internet scholars have it locked into their heads that he died of a drug overdose. I love seeing this misinformation spread itself like a cancer across the internet. I know it gives his mother no end of joy as well.

Subsequently I try to maintain the integrity of that page, and a few others that I have firsthand knowledge of. But the way Wikipedia is structured, a quote from someone on the internet weighs more than a persons first hand knowledge and my edits are reverted daily.

Wikipedia is a noble failure. I salute the minds behind it in their misplaced faith in humanity. Now it should be dropped and the world should move on. Tragically, that will never happen and so I must continue my Sisyphus like activity indefinitely. 
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Matthew McCallum
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Posted: 11 February 2007 at 10:48pm | IP Logged | 10  

John Byrne wrote: Then your statement should read "Wikipedia
could have a utility and value…"

Thank you, John. In a world where we can all be content providers, we should appreciate editors all the more!

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Andrew Hess
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Posted: 12 February 2007 at 10:23am | IP Logged | 11  

My (now) 8-year-old son is doing a report for school. He wandered onto
Wikipedia for research (thru Google), and I held my tongue. In the middle
of his poking around he said "Hey, you can edit what it says on Wikipedia
. . . but I didn't do it!" (as if he was in trouble).
I said, "So what does that tell you about Wikipedia?"
"Anyone can put in things."
"Does that mean it's accurate?"
"No . . . anyone can write whatever they want!"

So, if my 8 year old gets it, why does it seem no one else does?

(And as to to Snopes/e-mail chaing thing: my sister-in-law sends out
mass e-mails every 6 months or so about some new horrible health thing
(microwaves, styrofoam, whatever), and I've gotten into the habit of
immediately checking Snopes which refutes whatever she sent. She says
"Oh I feel so gullible", but then repeats 6 months later.)
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 February 2007 at 7:36am | IP Logged | 12  

The extent of the problem is, I think, neatly underscored by the fact that, over the past few days, in virtually every instance where I have had occasion to use Google, Wikipedia has been the first thing offered in response to my search.

This is "1984" in a manner which George Orwell could never have imagined!

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Brian O'Neill
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Posted: 14 February 2007 at 3:57pm | IP Logged | 13  

Perhaps that statement would be true if Wikipedia were the only thing offered during a search. As it is, there are many options, and even wikipedia can occasionally be a valid choice. If they screw up, there's always another option. Hardly anything reminiscent of '1984' in having a choice.



Edited by Brian O'Neill on 14 February 2007 at 4:03pm
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Matthew McCallum
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Posted: 16 February 2007 at 5:59pm | IP Logged | 14  

Brian O'Neill wrote: Hardly anything reminiscent of '1984' in having a choice.

It's not exactly the same as having Encyclopedia Britannica leaping right out at you as the preferred, most trusted data source, either. Remember, what comes up first in a Google list is what you get directly when you use the “I feel lucky” button. If Wiki is number 1, then we're in "buyer beware" territory.

With Orwell and mighty EB in mind, I suppose the more conspiratorial amongst you could suggest that the learned few who control Britannica no longer hold us under their informational thumb and Wikipedia is the sledgehammer wielding runner from the Macintosh computer commercials lo those many ago.

No longer must we be constrained by the biases of the scholarly elite and their narrow interpretation of events restricted by documented facts and the rigours of logic. Now we are free to wallow in hearsay, innuendo, fabrication, gossip, unsubstantiated rumour and treat it all as coin of the realm. It’s in print, on my computer screen, inches from my face. It MUST be true because there it is!

(I do not wish to insult anyone's intelligence and I'm loathe to include an emocon, but the above is obviously meant to be read in jest. The only reason I'm adding this tag is I've been flamed so many times before by those who don't appreciate Swiftian humour that I've got scorch marks and burn scars!)

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Michael Roberts
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Posted: 16 February 2007 at 6:40pm | IP Logged | 15  

The problem is that too many people rely on the first set of information they
come across, which online is often Wikipedia. It doesn't help that other
"online encyclopedias" often populate their entries from Wikipedia, giving
the appearance of corroborating information.

Poster above mention Snopes, which is a great resource, but even the people
who run Snopes make the point that you shouldn't rely on a single source
for information. A point they try to get across with this page:

http://www.snopes.com/lost/mistered.asp
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John OConnor
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 7:06am | IP Logged | 16  


February 21, 2007 @NY TIMES.COM

A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source

By NOAM COHEN

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”

With the move, Middlebury, in Vermont, jumped into a growing debate within journalism, the law and academia over what respect, if any, to give Wikipedia articles, written by hundreds of volunteers and subject to mistakes and sometimes deliberate falsehoods. Wikipedia itself has restricted the editing of some subjects, mostly because of repeated vandalism or disputes over what should be said.

Although Middlebury’s history department has banned Wikipedia in citations, it has not banned its use. Don Wyatt, the chairman of the department, said a total ban on Wikipedia would have been impractical, not to mention close-minded, because Wikipedia is simply too handy to expect students never to consult it.

At Middlebury, a discussion about the new policy is scheduled on campus on Monday, with speakers poised to defend and criticize using the site in research.

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and chairman emeritus of its foundation, said of the Middlebury policy, “I don’t consider it as a negative thing at all.”

He continued: “Basically, they are recommending exactly what we suggested — students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias. I would hope they wouldn’t be citing Encyclopaedia Britannica, either.

“If they had put out a statement not to read Wikipedia at all, I would be laughing. They might as well say don’t listen to rock ’n’ roll either.”

Indeed, the English-language version of the site had an estimated 38 million users in the United States in December, and can be hard to avoid while on the Internet. Google searches on such diverse subjects as historical figures like Confucius and concepts like torture give the Wikipedia entry the first listing.

In some colleges, it has become common for professors to assign students to create work that appears on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia’s list of school and university projects, this spring the University of East Anglia in England and Oberlin College in Ohio will have students edit articles on topics being taught in courses on the Middle East and ancient Rome.

In December 2005, a Columbia professor, Henry Smith, had the graduate students in his seminar create a Japanese bibliography project, posted on Wikipedia, to describe and analyze resources like libraries, reference books and newspapers. With 16 contributors, including the professor, the project comprises dozens of articles, including 13 on different Japanese dictionaries and encyclopedias.

In evaluations after the class, the students said that creating an encyclopedia taught them discipline in writing and put them in contact with experts who improved their work and whom, in some cases, they were later able to interview.

“Most were positive about the experience, especially the training in writing encyclopedia articles, which all of them came to realize is not an easy matter,” Professor Smith wrote in an e-mail message. “Many also retained their initial ambivalence about Wikipedia itself.”

The discussion raised by the Middlebury policy has been covered by student newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts, among others. The Middlebury Campus, the student weekly, included an opinion article last week by Chandler Koglmeier that accused the history department of introducing “the beginnings of censorship.”

Other students call the move unnecessary. Keith Williams, a senior majoring in economics, said students “understand that Wikipedia is not a responsible source, that it hasn’t been thoroughly vetted.” Yet he said, “I personally use it all the time.”

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”

For his course “Media Technology and Cultural Change,” which began this month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and produce a blog for the course.

Another Middlebury professor, Thomas Beyer, of the Russian department, said, “I guess I am not terribly impressed by anyone citing an encyclopedia as a reference point, but I am not against using it as a starting point.”

And yes, back at Wikipedia, the Jesuits are still credited as supporting the Shimabara Rebellion.

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Neil Lindholm
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 7:15am | IP Logged | 17  

I'm confused. Student's shouldn't cite encyclopedias? What else do you site when you are in high school? I always assumed the Britannica was a valid source. Does "Jimbo" Wales say it is not?
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Jacob P Secrest
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 10:42am | IP Logged | 18  

Going back as long as I remember I haven't been allowed to use
encyclopedias, it's not that they're invalid sources, it's that when doing
research, you should research, no encyclopedia is really research, it's just
opening up a book and flipping to a page, not research.

At my school you have to go down to the library, find book, and check
them out, sometimes newspaper articles.

You know, like actual work.

Encyclopedias can be a good jumping off point, but they should not be an
end all.
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David Whiteley
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 10:44am | IP Logged | 19  

In high schools we could use encyclopedias. University, no, we head to use
essays and books.
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Randy Sterger
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 9:19pm | IP Logged | 20  

Information is information - I don't understand what invalidates an encyclopedia.
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David Whiteley
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Posted: 21 February 2007 at 9:21pm | IP Logged | 21  

I agree. As Jacob said, "Encyclopedias can be a good jumping off point, but
they should not be an end all."
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Roberto Melendrez
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Posted: 22 February 2007 at 3:06pm | IP Logged | 22  

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/
0222071fuzzy1.html

Just posted on the Smoking Gun!

Here is the article (I can't post the actual court papers - so
check out the link for detailed documents):

Golfer Sues Over Vandalized Wikipedia Page
Profile described Fuzzy Zoeller as abuser of family, booze, pills

FEBRUARY 22--Pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller has filed a lawsuit
over the vandalizing of his Wikipedia page, which recently
described him as a former wife and child abuser who was
hooked on alcohol and prescription drugs. According to
Zoeller, 55, his Wikipedia profile was altered in late December
from a computer with an IP address that tracked back to Josef
Silny & Associates, a Miami law firm. In a Florida Circuit Court
complaint filed last week, Zoeller (who is identified as "John
Doe") notes that his Wikipedia page was altered to include his
alleged admission to "polishing off a fifth of Jack (Daniels) after
popping a handful of Vicodin pills." The page went on to claim
that Zoeller had also acknowledged "the violent nature of his
disease" and how he had beaten his wife and four children
"while under the influence of alcohol and drugs." In his lawsuit
against the Silny firm, a copy of which you'll find below, Zoeller,
a former Masters and U.S. Open winner, contends that the false
and defamatory statements have damaged his reputation and
caused "mental anguish" and loss of income. Zoeller sought to
use the "Doe" alias to minimize further invasion of privacy, but
since his complaint quotes at length from the vandalized
Wikipedia page, an Internet search easily identifies the subject
of the since-revised online profile. In fact, a mirrored version of
the vandalized Wikipedia page can still be found on the web
site Answers.com (7 pages)

I wish he would have sued Wiki too!

Please discuss!

Edited by Roberto Melendrez on 22 February 2007 at 3:11pm
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Sam Karns
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Posted: 22 February 2007 at 4:41pm | IP Logged | 23  

Well, JB, said that it would happen... it was a matter of time.
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Jacob P Secrest
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Posted: 22 February 2007 at 4:46pm | IP Logged | 24  

He should sue Wikipedia as well.
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Sam Karns
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Posted: 22 February 2007 at 4:48pm | IP Logged | 25  

If it's even worth his time.
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