Wikipedia in the News

Many news outlets picked up with apparent glee a story that (gasp!) Wikipedia had a number of facts wrong about Ken Lay’s death. Most accounts had a fingerwagging tone, (see! Wikipedia is not to be trusted!) but reader comments pointed out correctly that news networks often make similar mistakes and take longer to correct them.

For a more in-depth examination of Wikipedia, Rory Litwin of Library Juice points to this article by Roy Rosenzweig, Professor of History and New Media at George Mason. Rosenzweig’s piece discusses the differences between professional historians and amateur wikipedists, Wikipedia’s obsession with Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and compares Wikipedia to Microsoft’s Encarta and the American National Biography Online. Rosenzweig points out that it’s not only accuracy that is problematic for Wikipedia (a problem for all encyclopedias), but poor writing and lack of scholarly subtlety and nuance. Yet he also points out the strengths of Wikipedia–it’s free and available to everyone, unlike the subscription products in our libraries. He raises the good question, why aren’t scholarly projects like American National Biography Online freely available? He’s amazed that Wikipedia can get so many volunteers to work on entries, and contends contributors have varied motivations for doing so, including self-education and self-improvement.

He asks if professional historians should be more involved in Wikipedia to improve its accuracy and writing quality and concludes that they should be, without being naive about questions about how such activity would count for tenure and promotion. What about librarians? Should we get more involved in improving the quality of Wikipedia?

3 thoughts on “Wikipedia in the News

  1. I don’t think there was anything false in Wikipedia. The account of the different entries seems to correspond with what was known at the time. It is hardly fair to expect Wikipedia to report correctly on events that have not yet taken place.

    In the meantime, I am not aware of any other encyclopedia that has an entry on Kenneth Lay, let alone any currently reporting that he is dead. So when compared to all other encyclopedias, Wikipedia comes out way ahead. Given this, I think a few moments’ uncertainty is understandable.

    It is also worth noting that Reuters doesn’t have any forum allowing readers to clarify the article and offer a more accurate perspective on Wikipedia.

    All of that said, I agree, why aren’t scholarly projects like American National Biography Online freely available? And why can’t we help write them?

  2. I’m not sure if the information about Ken Lay in Wikipedia is correct or not. However, many mainstream news service like the New York Times and the Washington Post publish misinformation. I’m not sure if they do it on purpose, or if they just can’t get the facts straight. It’s probably a combination of both. They also plagiarize and editorialize news stories.

  3. Examination of Wikipedia, Rory Lit win of Library Juice points to this article by Roy Rosenzweig, Professor of History and New Media at George Mason Rosenzweig’s piece discusses the differences between professional historians and amateur Wikipedia, Wikipedia’s obsession with Neutral Point of View and compares Wikipedia to Microsoft’s Encarta and the American National Biography Online.Many news outlets picked up with apparent glee a story that (gasp!) Wikipedia had a number of facts wrong about Ken Lay’s death.professional historians should be more involved in Wikipedia to improve its accuracy and writing quality and concludes that they should be, without being naive about questions about how such activity would count for tenure and promotion.thanks for this great advice and i appreciate to your efforts.

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