Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth

October 24, 2008 by Thad McIlroy

In the November/December issue of the marvelous MIT Technology Review is a very fine article by the respected author and professor of computer science, Simson Garfinkel on the ever-controversial subject of what can we expect and trust from Wikipedia.

The topic has been a challenge for some time, mainly pitting the Encyclopedia Britannica, that most respected source, authored by experts in their respective fields, against Wikipedia, the most anarchic of resources, but which with some 7 million contributors manages as Mr. Garfinkel points out to be “remarkably accurate.”

What makes this article a special pleasure is that Garfinkel acknowledges Wikipedia’s success, but delves below the surface and notes that “with little notice from the outside world, the community-written encyclopedia Wikipedia has redefined the commonly accepted use of the word ‘truth’.” The topic is an important one.

The article is fascinating for many other reasons, but here’s a tidbit:

“Wikipedia considers the ‘most reliable sources’ to be ‘peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses,’ followed by ‘university-level textbooks,’ then magazines, journals, ‘books published by respected publishing houses,’ and finally ‘mainstream newspapers’ (but not the opinion pages of newspapers).”

Do you think these are the best sources to verify information? They certainly conform to standard publishing beliefs, but do they conform to this new medium?

The article is worth careful reading.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.