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Will a Lack of Editors Affect Wikipedia Accuracy?

Popularity and Inaccuracy Are A Dangerous Combo

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Wikipedia is a very useful site for anyone looking to find information on any given topic. Chances are that you have used it for research at one time or another. Even if you don’t start by going directly to Wikipedia, results from the site are often at the top of search results in Google, and you’ll get there anyway.

Those Google results likely play a significant role, but Wikipedia’s popularity is as great as ever. Right now, it is cited as the fifth most popular site in the entire world. It gets 325 million monthly visitors, and the number of visitors grew 20% in the 12 months ending in September, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing data from comScore.

The WSJ also says that the number of editors Wikipedia has is dwindling. They say that Wikipedia lost over 49,000 editors in the first three months of 2009 alone. During the same period the previous year, Wikipedia lost only 4,900 (WSJ attributes these figures to Spanish researcher Felipe Ortega. His thesis on the subject can be found here [pdf]).

The accuracy of information on Wikipedia has always been something to be leery of, simply because of the open format of it. If you give the public access to things, some people will abuse it. Even if their intentions aren’t bad, they may still just post inaccurate information. Wikipedia’s has taken measures over time to try and weed out the bad, by making stricter policies for content addition. These days, altering or contributing to Wikipedia content is no easy feat.

Wikipedia

With such a drastic loss in editors, one has to wonder if accuracy of information will suffer. Will there continue to be enough people to keep Wikipedia updated with accurate information across the board?

"We need sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done," says Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia foundation is quoted as saying. "But the purpose of the project is not participation."

It is the implementation of Wikipedia’s measures for cleaning up the site that is the focus of many people’s speculation on why it is losing so many editors. Basically, it’s just become too strict. However, there are also suggestions that Wikipedia is simply getting full, content wise – there is a lack of new topics that require entries.

There’s no question that there are entries out there yet to be created, and a whole lot more that could use additional information added to them, but are the right people available to add that information? Are the right people granted access to do so?

Let’s hope that Wikipedia is able to maintain the highest level of accuracy possible, moving into the future. It needs to continue to improve, not get worse. It’s a useful resource, despite its flaws, and the world knows it – hence the site’s enormous popularity. If accuracy becomes more of a problem, it could have a harmful impact on what is perceived to be knowledge in general. People taking inaccurate information for fact can be a dangerous thing.
 

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There are 14 Comments. Add Yours.
  1. Christina

    Thanks for this informative piece – I’ve used Wikipedia alot, and am very grateful for it. Seeing requests to improve/check accuracy, I’ve felt mild twinges of guilt that I’m not offering to help…

    Often, though, there is such a wealth of information in the referenced sources, in many of the articles I’ve read. A person can check them out, to verify info, if there is concern as to validity of facts.

  2. Roger Simon

    I am writing a book that will have a chapter devoted to Wikipedia. I have spent hundreds of hours doing research on the accuracy and NPV (neutral point of view) policy that Wikipedia states is a requirement of their articles. The results of my research make me very concerned that students at all levels use Wikipedia to research any number of topics. Thousands of their articles give up factual information in favor of politically and socially biased information.

    As I wrote in one article about Wikipedia, it is easy to see the inherent political bias that permeates Wikipedia. Compare articles about Barack Obama and George W Bush. The Bush article has a negative tone and points out any shortcomings or alleged controversies of his administration. The reader comes away with a decidedly negative impression. Contrast this with the article about Obama. That article glances over or ignores any controversial subjects or arrives at the conclusion that they are unfounded.

    You will find the same results with articles about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich or any other political figure. The conservatives and Republicans always have a negative tone and draw negative conclusions while the Democratic and liberal subjects are always heroes and can do no wrong. This is the message that kids get from Wikipedia along with anyone who mistakes this as a source of the facts; it isn’t.

    The same results can be found when researching social issues. The facts are tossed out the window when the subject would include a liberal and conservative viewpoint. On topics like welfare or abortion, the conclusions always favor the liberal point of view. Any notion that a neutral point of view exists on Wikipedia is a myth. It is biased from start to finish.

    I would invite all readers, regardless of ideology to put my assertions to the test. The proof is in the pudding.

    • Guest

      “The conservatives and Republicans always have a negative tone and draw negative conclusions while the Democratic and liberal subjects are always heroes and can do no wrong.”

      Maybe it is the truth?… Have you considered that? Or are you maybe not objective? :)

      The truth does not exist, only facts and opinions do exist.

  3. Guest

    If you expect Wikipedia to reflect a Christian Right viewpoint, you’re going to be disappointed. If a Christian Right angle is your idea of neutrality, you might want to try Conservapedia, where Obama is not a natural-born US citizen, evolution is a lie, and Jesus rode on dinosaurs.

    • Guest

      Surely Conservapedia must be a spoof not to be takes seriously :)
      What’s next? Alien abductions are real?

  4. Roger Simon

    What does an unbiased website that is supposed to function like an encyclopedia have to do with a ‘Christian-right’ viewpoint? I think you are making my point. I am talking about the need for a neutral viewpoint. People who have any bias (much like the commenter), should not be authoring information that others rely on for facts.

    I never stated that I was a Christian or a right-winger. Wikipedia should represent factual, un-biased, opinion-neutral information that can be relied upon to be the go-to site for information that it is.

  5. John

    Maybe Wikipedia should go in some kind of partnership or sponsorship with universities, and get let’s say the university of Ireland to safeguard the accuracy of articles about Irish stuff, as in a checking or overseer role. Good for Wikipedia and good for students’s ability to learn “proper” research to ensure that what is entered into WP is correct or qualified. Good for universities’ credibility (and marketing) if done right, good for all of us since we could trust articles a bit better that have a tick by some university.

  6. Michael

    I is unlikely to affect it’s accuracy but it certainly will affect the volume of content being supplied.

    Accuracy is not dependent upon volume of writers but upon the quality of writing. Wikipedia is trying to address the problem of accuracy by tightening the requirements and demanding more citations or, substantiation if you will, of the content provided.

    But to become really accurate and so reliable it woudl have to adapt the same quality of writers and degree of accuracy maintained by the encyclopedia industry and that, then, would start to involve more costs. Salaried positions of researchers and writers and so forth.

    Then the only way that could be paid for is if Wiki charged and I think that is outside the scope of the mission of Wikipedia right now.

  7. Roger Simon

    Other endeavors on the Internet have involved the participation of universities. That kind of partnership may be a good idea. It would take a major university or the participation of several capable universities, but that idea could include a set of standards that would require peer review and editing for facts. The university(s) would have their reputation on the line, so they would have a vested interest in providing well-researched, unbiased information.

  8. Kratom capsules

    The fact that anyone can edit makes things difficult to manage.

  9. NewsBlaze

    Yes, it is true about negativity being added to Bush.
    I remember looking at his entry some time ago, about the $15billion for AIDS in Africa.
    Incidentally, that was many times more than anyone else had ever committed to Africa.

    Now something has been added to the end:
    “Unfortunately, some of Bush’s humanitarian efforts failed to address larger picture items, such as with his AIDS fight, stressed only abstinence.”

    This is actually a lie. from research I did earlier this year, they actually sent more condoms to Africa, than had ever been sent before. – His point man on AIDS was a, openly gay physician, who was booted out by Obama, a week before he took office, after agreeing to keep him on.

    Bush’s entry isn’t all negative though, it appears (right now) to be fairly factual, with just a little bit of opinion added – but that little bit is too much.

    I think there is a lie in the Obama entry.
    He did not lead the racial profiling legislation. In fact, as far as I can tell, he had nothing to do with it until right up to the end, when his name was attached to it as sponsor and the man who had championed it for years, was bumped out of the way so Obama could have his name on it. Obama’s sponsor was Emil Jones, Jr., the Illinois Senate Majority Leader, who arranged that and many other things because he wanted to give Obama a stellar voting record. The Senator who did all the work on that legislation was Rickey Hendon – and he wasn’t happy, after doing all the legwork.

    NewsBlaze does a lot of straight reporting, but when you do straight reporting, you miss a lot of stuff like this. When adding investigation and insight, it is then difficult to keep opinion and bias out of such a story, but we have to try to do it. The main thing needed is to ask lots of questions and follow lots of trails, do a lot of reading and listening. So what I am saying is the Obama entries seem to be straight reports, but several of the Bush entries contain opinion and common rumors.

    I hope wikipedia can get its act into gear because it could be a great resource – but it has to be impartial and truthful. I do use it as a good resource, but you have to be careful and kids generally don’t know how to do that.

  10. agency collection

    They have a lot of information on the internet. I have used them for years. I think for the most part their information is correct. Like anything else you may find a few errors but its still a very trusted site with great information

  11. Alden Loveshade

    Back in the ancient times of the early 1990s, when I did research I often started with an encyclopedia. That would give me a basic start and idea of a subject and, perhaps even more importantly, give me a listing of sources used. Those sources would in turn have their own bibliographies which would list other sources. When I noticed that one or two sources were listed over and over again, I knew those were very likely something I wanted to work with.

    Now, I essentially do the same thing, except Wikipedia is often my start-up encyclopedia, and I go from there. I don’t consider it to be terribly reliable and almost never list it as a source for anything I write, but it works well enough as a starting point.

  12. Charles Douglas Wehner

    Wikipedia is RUBBISH.

    It is wide open to the public to “update”. Anybody can masquerade as a “doctor” or “professor” to pull rank, and then write rubbish in its pages, or “edit” the truth out of the work of other, more serious, contributors.

    Consider our cities. The walls are plastered with graffitti. The Wikipedia is a “tabula rasa” – a blank page, just waiting to be scrawled upon by imbeciles.

    Added to that comes the political side – the battle for hearts and minds. For centuries, the Press has been used as a vehicle for “politically correct” lies. For a brief time, the Internet gave a voice to those who know the truth. Now, however, the agents of corrupt governments are moving in to eliminate opposition.

    A main issue is the oil wars. There are Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. All relate to oil-theft by our “beloved leaders”. However, agents of the corrupt governments involved use the Wikipedia to spread the DISinformation that they are fighting for “democracy”.

    Another issue is “global warming”. Peter Sissons – a well-known newscaster and journalist – resigned from the BBC because of bias. Similarly, the Wikipedia is used to promulgate similar lies. Give money to fight global warming (it goes into the war chest).

    “New Scientist” condemned both the Wikipedia and Britannica for their inaccuracy.

    Charles Douglas Wehner