May 6, 2007


Because my job requires me to work with information and research, I find myself dealing with the issue of Wikipedia on a regular basis. It seems to be an ongoing debate among those within the education community: Of what value is Wikipedia in legitimate research?

...Some of my colleagues share my view that it’s not a legitimate academic resource, citing its history of entries that have not only been inaccurate, but legally libelous. Other colleagues take the opposite position and view it as being the best thing since sliced bread. What I’ve come to notice is that the sides involved have vastly different ways of defending their positions.

...Those of us who look at Wikipedia as being a pop culture Website for pseudo-scholars almost always point out the incidents which have left us with a sour taste in our mouths, namely the number of libelous entries, the questionable credentials of the “writers,” and the ease of creating the libelous entries. (In defense of Wikipedia, it’s been said that they’re making attempts to alleviate the third problem.)

...Fans of Wikipedia, however, appear to take the approach that has been used by those who defended alcohol prohibition during the 1920s and currently defend the war on drugs: The intentions are good, so let’s run with it. The outcome might be undesirable, but the concept is for the public good, so that trumps reality.

...Some go even further and question the accusations of inaccuracy (I highlighted the inaccuracies—which went far beyond basic errors and fell into the realm of libel, which is a crime—in this post, so I feel confident in my stance). A recent blog entry by Wesley Fryer on is a good example. In it, he states, “Many people falsely perceive that WikiPedia is usually factually inaccurate.” Granted, the use of the word “usually” can suggest that, as a percentage, most of the time Wikipedia is accurate. Unfortunately, that could run from 51 percent to 99 percent; that’s too wide a range for a so-called legitimate research resource, in my humble opinion.

...Fryer also states: “To address and remedy these misconceptions, I know of no better approach than listing [sic] to Jimmy Wales, the founder of WikiPedia, discuss these and other issues in an April 2006 speech available on”

...Aside from this being akin to telling critics of the Bush Administration that their misconceptions of Bush and Cheney can be remedied by listening to Karl Rove, the site offers evidence of my assertion, via a description by The Long Now Foundation, that Wikipedia’s concept is the most important aspect of its existence.

The free licensing of Wikipedia content means that it is free to copy, free to modify, free to redistribute, and free to redistribute in modified forms, with attribution links. This is in service to the Wikipedia vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.” One byproduct is that Wikipedia’s success is helping shift the terms of the copyright debate, in a public-good direction[.]

...Shifting the terms of the copyright debate in a public-good direction? I’d venture to say that it’s not a good direction for those who actually took the time to do the research.

...Indeed, such a comment not only solidifies the view that intentions are key, but it goes one step further and makes me question the intentions altogether. Shifting the terms of the copyright debate will no doubt make those who oppose intellectual property rights salivate, but when the advancement of an ideology becomes a point of contention for defending a “research” resource, how legitimate can that resource be? Shouldn’t an encyclopedia be agenda-free?

...Moreover, the promotion of theft isn’t something that I’ll be supporting anytime soon; I’m not afraid to say that I support intellectual property rights. I like seeing credit given to those who create things, from books to movies to music to photographs to academic dissertations to news stories. If I use a story or image, I give full credit for it. Why? It’s because someone took the time and had the imagination to create it.

...There’s no doubt that this debate will be an ongoing one. My concern is how vastly different the three sides of the debate seem to be. One faction is critical of Wikipedia and cites examples of gross negligence (read: incidents of libel) as evidence. Yes, other encyclopedias have had errors, but they haven’t been illegal, such as accusing people of having played roles in assassinations or being drug addicts and wife beaters when no evidence exists to support the accusation.

...The second faction is supportive and likes the idea of the community coming together in the name of information as being the most important aspect of the site. Errors are to be expected and victims of libelous entries appear to be viewed as nothing more than collateral damage.

...The third faction is supportive but seems to be more radical than the second group, viewing the site as being an implement to wage war on intellectual property rights within the world of academia. Essentially, what’s yours is mine if I want to take it and use it however I see fit.

...You have my permission to adopt the viewpoints in this post and call them your own.