The Wikipedia-ization of Knowledge

With all the discussion we have around here about bias in the MSM, an article in the Times Online today poses some interesting questions about the current trend in the democratization of information.

In some ways, what blogs are to the mainstream media, Wikipedia is to encyclopedic sources of knowledge or history texts. Is Wikipedia a “wonder of the internet” and a “repository of knowledge” with the potential to enlighten all, or “a haven for volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects”? The latter is the description of the founder of USA Today who was libelled in a Wikipedia article about having a role in the assassination of JFK.

Despite this potential for intellectual sabotage offered by an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit or add to, a study performed by the scientific journal Nature concluded that “Wikipedia is actually no more unreliable than the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica – the standard to which the website aspires.

All in all, I think that Wikipedia is a step in the right direction. How could it be a negative development when it “now carries more than 2,500,000 articles and has 80 ‘live’ language versions – from Asturian to Waloon, via Scots, ‘Simple English’ and Telugu – with another 100 already in the pipeline“?



  1. I should also note immediately that I wouldn’t advocate surrendering all tranmission of knowledge or information to such “democratic” movements. I am a firm believer in the elitism of the specialization of knowledge that is gained through higher education and focused study.The goal would be to bring the results of the latter into the reach of the masses, and “democratize” knowledge in that way. I think this is the potential of Wikipedia and what Wikipedia is already achieving to some extent.


  2. I think Wikipedia is great, but you have to get it through to people (especially if you teach) that it is a first, not last resort. Peer review is not dead yet!


  3. Yeah, I go to the Wiki often when I’m looking for strange stuff. I figure that in most cases, people who are big fans of the arcane– say, the history of an obscure comib book hero– are more likely to correctly write up an article than some prankster is likely to write up an incorrect article.


  4. Ronan, I agree and add that it is unlikely to die. Wikipedia will never replace true scholarship. Professors and teachers should be aware, though, of the existence of Wikipedia and other sources like it and look for plagiarism from those sources in the work of their students. As a law review editor, I occasionally found sections of plagiarism in articles that had been submitted to us by simply googling sentences.


  5. Alhena– my better half– did the same thing with some students’ papers. The Internet is a powerful tool which is too often plagairized, but it is just as powerful a tool to <>catch<> such things!


Comments are closed.