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2008-11-01 - 19:04:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: Open: OpenKnowledge |

I regularly have the question "How can we trust wikipedia when anyone can edit it? Shouldn't we ban it from our school / college / office / newsroom?" asked of me.

And my answer, every time, is a question: why do you trust any source of information? If you read a book, a newspaper article, a story on a website, hear something said to you by a friend or on a radio report, what makes it 'valid' to you, how do you choose to judge whether what you are reading or hearing is true, likely to be true, probably false, or even a definite lie.

We all make judgements about 'knowledge' every day. Sometimes we'll decide that "It is a nationally-known broadsheet newspaper" means we should implicitly just what is written there (though maybe not on April 1st; I still recall fondly the island of San Serriffe!) or we'll recognise the particular author as someone who we've trusted in the past to get it right and we'll presume that they've got it right this time. Your friend may have 'been there and saw it for themselves' but you don't need me to remind you that from a different viewpoint the situation may have been completely at odds with what your friend believed.

In every case - and that includes the content of Wikipedia - it is a matter of judgement and deciding for ourselves whether the sources quoted are reasonable. Wikipedia, like every other encyclopaedia or reference work, is a secondary source; it takes information from a multitude of authors to present to you a summary, an overview of a topic for the interested person. It isn't the primary source of that data, indeed policy prevents original research being added to Wikipedia articles.

But the reverse is also true; Wikipedia is the ultimate in the ' Peer review' that we all seek in official journals; scientific, medical, social, geographical. The 'peers' of Wikipedia may be you and me, but will almost certainly include researchers, lecturers, students, and many others closely interested or connected with the subject.

And isn't that really more important? Each of us have our individual interests that have grown with us, whether it be transport or technology, Socrates or sociology, we should take comfort in being ' amateurs'. People who have an interest in the subject for its own sake, something that we research because we want to know more. Then we add some of these newly-learnt facts to Wikipedia so that others may benefit.

And benefit is what it is all about …

So yes, 'anyone' may edit Wikipedia and there is no team or individual that editor is responsible to. The Wikimedia Foundation operate the the servers but don't control the content. But then, that 'anyone' is more likely to be someone who knows and cares for the quality of that information than someone seeking to mislead you. With over two million articles in the English language, and over eight million over more than 250 languages, there are remarkably few serious errors or examples of long-lasting vandalism.

Wikipedia; you learn, you edit, you extend the gift of knowledge.

Now over 2.6 million
Currently well over 10 million<br /><br />
(Revised, originally published November 18, 2007 on Link to "Livejournal User"alisonw)



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