Why I think that Wikipedia is imperfect, and why the need
for a place like Wikipedia Review:
All information is biased, all books are biased, all
history is biased. But historians have been able to
account for this bias, and to establish more and more
accurate texts. It is a difficult job and we are always
changing our mind as to what is the established truth,
even for centuries-old history (for example the ancient
Romans - if you know anything about history, you know
about the lies that the ancient Romans created about
history, which was discovered centuries later).
Now, we can, to some extent, account for these biases,
even the outright lies. Compared to other texts, the lies
become increasingly obvious. For example that it was the
Greeks, not the Romans, that created the Olympic Games -
this was easily provable once enough information was
known. The biases can also be taken care of by knowing a
bit about who had written the text and where they stood.
Once encyclopaedias, and texts written by groups of people
with conflicting interests came about, accounting for lies
and biases became more difficult. I can account for
biases written by someone who is a member of Al-Qaeda
quite easily, but how can I account for a bias in an
encyclopaedia? In theory there are no biases, but of
course we all know that there are. Thankfully, however,
encyclopaedias print who the people who are involved in
the collaborations are, and we can research them, and try
to discover their slants. All published encyclopaedias
have been researched to determine their slants. Whether
their slants are nationalistic, political, or simply a
combination of the individual biases of the people
concerned, if you study it well enough we can account for
When Wikipedia first came about, one of its first rules
was the issue of NPOV (neutral point of view), something
created by Larry Sanger. Now, I don't know why he decided
to create this rule, but I for one significantly object to
it. Nobody is ever actually neutral, and the problem with
aiming for neutrality is that you remove obvious bias and
instead create hidden bias.
Now, truth that is biased is still very useful. If I read
something written by Osama bin Laden, I know the bias, and
I can account for it, but it is still very useful.
Similarly if I read something written by George W. Bush,
I know its bias. Just because something is biased doesn't
make it untruthful, or useless. Indeed, even outright
lies can be useful, as beneath the lie can be an important
The big problem with Wikipedia is that, because of the aim
for NPOV, they create hidden bias. An individual article
may be written by hundreds of people. Anyone reading the
article has no idea who these people are, what biases they
have, and what kinds of slants and untruths they have
added in. We don't know how to take it. We don't know
how we can trust it.
Analysis of Wikipedia's articles demonstrates this problem
on a higher level - you can separate articles by type, and
generally by the degree of accuracy and reliability.
The most accurate types of articles on Wikipedia, in a
general sense, are fan-fiction type articles. Spongebob
Squarepants, Simpsons, South Park and the like are better
sources of information than anywhere else on the internet.
There are few fights, and everyone is keen to dig deeper
for more information. Whilst articles about various
actors and singers may occasionally have minor
controversy, generally these are of the highest degrees of
The next most accurate types of articles on Wikipedia are
purely factual articles. Scientific, medical,
mathematical and the like generally have few arguments,
and people try very hard to be completely 100% accurate
about them all. The issue of bias is hardly relevant as
they can be neutral very easily. So long as you accept
that 1+1=2 you are fine. These articles are as good as
what exists anywhere on the internet.
The third most accurate types of articles on Wikipedia are
on long-established historical truths. Whilst in the past
we did have problems with lies by Ancient Romans and the
like, we have now fairly reasonably established truths
about such things, and we can all pretty much agree. If
we can't, most of us aren't knowledgeable enough about
them to argue anyway, so all is fine. These articles are
of a reasonable level of accuracy. If only we had more
historians on Wikipedia, they would be better. They are
not quite as good as established encyclopaedias, but they
are good enough.
The fourth most accurate types of articles on Wikipedia
are on current events, recent history, politics, and
living people. Such things as George W. Bush, someone who
recently died, anything happening in Iraq, 9/11 and the
like, have many problems. With these kinds of articles
there are multiple valid viewpoints, and the problem with
Wikipedia's NPOV is that it only allows 1 article on it.
You can't have "9/11 according to Republicans" and "9/11
according to Democrats" and "9/11 according to people in
Iraq" etc. You just need one article. And these points
of views aren't necessarily lies, but the problem is that
Wikipedia has to at some point make judgement calls. Do
they allow merely one point of view, or do they talk about
all of them, but about one mainly? The problem with all
of this is that by having multiple authors, they cannot
ever have an accurate article on this kind of thing. The
articles end up being ridiculously long, overly
complicated, ever changing, and nobody can account for the
biases, as one paragraph might be written from one point
of view, the next from another, and so forth, until it all
ends up looking like complete and utter hogwash. In spite
of being one of the most viewed articles on Wikipedia, the
article on George W. Bush has been analysed as one of its
least accurate articles. And this is not something that
can be fixed by having more people edit it. It can be
fixed by having less people edit it. This is where Fred
Bauder's idea of Sympathetic Point of View, which he
created on his Wikinfo site, is very useful. There we can
have 10 lots of George W. Bush articles. Unfortunately,
Wikinfo never really hit off, but it is a great idea.
The fifth, and worst type of article, are highly
controversial topics. These can include well known recent
murders, political lies (weapons of mass destruction,
children overboard), mysteries, and so forth. On these
kinds of articles, there is no established truth. It
isn't so much a matter of biases, it is a matter of truth.
A number of legal cases have suppression orders over
them, about what can be said. And there are groups of
people who work to try to uncover the truth, to
investigate things, and so forth. Now, when Wikipedia
comes to write articles on these types of articles, they
fail abysmally. Wikipedia as a general rule completely
ignores all investigations, and instead decides to focus
on the tiny amount of information that is officially
released. Then they have a point of view on it. The end
result of all of this is that Wikipedia's articles on
these kinds of topics are primarily full of invented
facts, absolute lies, and things which have no relevance
to anything. And herein lies the problem - on a number of
these topics, thanks to suppression orders, Wikipedia
remains the only comprehensive coverage of these topics.
This means that then news reports often are forced to use
Wikipedia as a source. The Wikipedia article can then use
these news reports as proof for their article, hence
justifying a lie. Now, this has happened in the Port
Arthur massacre article. I believe it has happened on
many other articles, including the Pan Am Flight 103
article, although I don't have sufficient knowledge of the
topic to know for sure.
Now, if everyone out there knew how accurate Wikipedia
was, there would be no problem. We could all use
Wikipedia as a resource, as a first step, as about as
useful as a Google search, then check our facts, and so
forth, then everything would be fine. If people used it
factually on the types of articles which it is most
accurate with, then everything would be fine. It wouldn't
The problem is that Wikipedia is taken far too seriously,
when it really shouldn't be.
This is where places like Wikipedia Review come in.
As one person, I am only really knowledgeable about a
handful of topics. I can comment on these, but I know
very little about others. So others can collaborate, and
sort out what are the danger areas of Wikipedia.
There is no reason at all that a place like Wikipedia
Review cannot in some way work in collaboration with
Wikipedia. The aim of Wikipedia Review isn't to destroy
Wikipedia, it is to fix it, and to educate people about
how to use it effectively.
The greatest fear that I have is that if we end up
trusting Wikipedia too much, all paper encyclopaedias will
be thrown out, and all books, other than fiction books
like Harry Potter, will be thrown out too, and we will be
left with one central pool of knowledge.
This is all fine and good if Wikipedia is 100% accurate.
But can anyone honestly say that it is?
I don't think that any serious critic ever worries about
vandalism as a problem, by the way. Vandalism is not the
problem - it can be fixed in seconds. The problem is
established lies and unaccounted biases.