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View Diary: UPDATED: Fox News Scrubbing Wikipedia Entry on $1 Mil. Donation (183 comments)

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  •  Wikipedia and reliability (20+ / 0-)

    They're a constant problem for teachers and information professionals (i.e., librarians and other people who work with information.) You can never rely on what's up front at Wikipedia without looking into the comments and history of a page to see if it's been subjected to scrubbing or other less than savory practices. But the thing has become so ubiquitous for younger people that they tend to read it uncritically and may be misled by counter-factual information or egregious spin.

    The rules of thumb I give my students about using Wikipedia:

    1. If the article is on anything even remotely controversial, it's probably best to avoid it and seek other sources.
    1. If you use it anyway, always check the comments and history pages so you know the what the edits are and why. This helps you avoid the problem of not knowing the authors and their biases and allows you to find a more balanced view.
    1. Always check provided sources very carefully and never accept any unsourced assertion of fact unless it is something well-known and non-controversial.
    1. Wikipedia is most reliable for things like pop culture and well established facts, where there is seldom controversy (or enough controversy, anyway) that can skew the information's reliability.
    1. Always be careful with very obscure topics, as their entries are likely to be written by one or (at best) a few partisan individuals who care about this topic. These kind of partisans may or may not provide accurate information, but it can be difficult to assess either way.
    1. Technical topics can be very well covered, often by experts in a field who try to provide the most accurate information, but be aware that even here controversies and biases particular to the field may skew information in ways you may not even be aware of if you are not an expert yourself.

    Those usually cover the bases for them and get them into a more skeptical mode of thinking. I won't just tell them to avoid it (I used to do that, but it just makes me look like an old Luddite, so I stopped) but I can at least give them the nudge to read it with the proper frame of mind.

    Conservito delenda est pro is deleo orbis terrarum!

    by Stwriley on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 04:51:39 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  The chemistry (6+ / 0-)

      pages in Wikipedia are very reliable.  There is a set format and a team of chemists who keep track of changes and additions.  The taxonomy pages are usually good but not as complete.  Also, the taxonomy is always changing and the lumpers and splitters are still going to be fighting.

      •  I edited (4+ / 0-)

        the Wiki page on India ink when I was in college and working in the micro lab.  I added the reference to the ink being used to stain a slide.  It has been edited several times but my general wording is still being used.

      •  I was about to mame the same comment (4+ / 0-)

        Chemistry (especially bio and organic generally) is excellent, I cannot speak for inorganic but see no reason for the case to be any different.

        Current controversial subjects are best ignored but general knowledge type stuff, e.g. history, geography, belief systems etc. it is generally good and gets a bad rap from some (who tend to overgeneralize) that is not deserved.

        Saying that I would always try to find a second, non connected confirming source but I'd tend to do that anyway.

        Wikipedia is an excellent jumping off point for most topics.

      •  Exactly my point. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kevskos, Neon Vincent

        In the chemistry pages you have that reliable technical content (to clarify, I used "technical" in a general sense there, not just as pertains to technology) and professionals that give their time to maintain the quality of the information. Most of chemistry is (I would imagine as a non-scientist) fairly non-controversial and good "settled science" as the saying goes. Taxonomy, on the other hand, while I don't doubt the equally professional quality of the work or contributors, might be more problematic for my students because it does have disputes they aren't familiar with.

        Conservito delenda est pro is deleo orbis terrarum!

        by Stwriley on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 10:57:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  They should apply those principles (7+ / 0-)

      to all media, not just wikipedia, which actually exposes contested narratives.

      •  Basic information hygiene. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pontechango

        I teach Social Studies, so it's always an exercise in critical thinking about sources. History in particular, dealing as it does with the nature of humans and our records (i.e., creatures with selective and mutable memory and a propensity to embellish) and those who chose to write about a particular topic later, provides a fine opportunity to teach teens the useful kind of skepticism, the one that always asks "how do you know that?" Sorting out bias, evidence, argument and logical inference (or lack thereof on any part) is the first step in understanding human history, politics and pretty much any other intellectual activity.

        It's like putting my students through basic training in thinking.

        Conservito delenda est pro is deleo orbis terrarum!

        by Stwriley on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 03:01:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's just about what I tell mine, too, (5+ / 0-)

      but lately I've seen a rash of students disregarding my ban and putting Wikipedia on their works cited pages anyway. Heck, last semester I even had two students (in different classes) use Weekly Reader articles as their primary support. Yes, I said Weekly Reader. WTF!

      It may be because I'm teaching online now and have less opportunity to shut this down in class, but I'm seeing a massive refusal on the part of many students to actually consider alternative points of view when constructing an argument. They go straight to the right wing talking points and stay there, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. My colleagues say it's happening in their classes, too. My guess is that it's in part a function of the current state of our political discourse.

      And then there's this study,which suggests that, in some groups, the exposure to factual information in direct contradiction to one's position actually reinforces the misconception. The effect seems to be strongest with conservatives and with those who lack confidence in their reasoning abilities.

      It explains a lot, really. I was once naive enough to believe that, if the American people were just better informed of the facts, they'd never stand for the b.s. pumped out by the right winger haters. Not anymore.

      We've got to start addressing this phenomenon early on in the educational process. My experience suggests that, by the time kids get to college, it's too damned late to do much about it. Not to go all gloomy Cassandra here, but our nation's future is at stake, and I'm not very hopeful we can save her.

      "What's dictatorship by the majority called again??? Oh yeah -- DEMOCRACY!" ---Eclectablog's friend Abby

      by deha on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 09:15:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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