[WikiEN-l] Citationgate: expertise and verifiability

Jesse W jessw at netwood.net
Mon Oct 2 03:55:42 UTC 2006

Delirium <delirium at ...> writes:
> David Russell wrote:

While I support the option of expert review of Wikipedia article revisions, I
think Delirium misunderstood the point of referencing. ...continued below...

> >Delirium wrote:
> >
> >>They certainly don't look the same, unless the person "reviewing" the 
> >>article utterly lacks any competence to review the article, in which 
> >>case they should kindly refrain from doing so.  Anyone who has even very 
> >>basic competence knows what is an uncontroversial statement that appears 
> >>in numerous textbooks in their field.
> >>
> >>I don't agree with the expert-centric approach Larry Sangers advocates, 
> >>but we don't have to have only people who have *no* idea what they're 
> >>doing editing our articles either.
> >
> >We are talking about /readers/ here, not Wikipedia editors. If a
> >/reader/ sees a particular unreferenced statement on Wikipedia, they do
> >not know whether the statement is unreferenced because:
> >a) Some idiot has made it up without any factual basis
> >b) It is 'widely accepted as a fact'
> >
> >Your 'people familiar with the field will recognise it as a well-known
> >fact' argument doesn't really wash in this situation. The reason a
> >person would be reading a Wikipedia article on a subject is because they
> >_don't_ know enough about the subject. What may appear as a 'widely
> >accepted fact' to someone writing a Wikipedia article on a subject may
> >be nothing of the sort to an uninformed person seeking to use Wikipedia
> >to expand his/her knowledge (which is, after all, what we're for).
> >  
> Well, that's why I think we *should* have review processes of some 
> sort.  Then if a reader sees an unreviewed article, they are indeed in 
> the situation you describe.  But if a reader sees an article that has 
> been reviewed as at least "pretty good" by people who know something 
> about the field, then they can rest assured that nothing obvious is 
> wrong about it.  For what it's worth, I do think we should have a 
> different process of reviewing than good/featured, but that's been 
> talked about at length before.
> In any case, given references doesn't solve the problem you describe 
> either, because then the reader still can't determine without some 
> background knowledge whether this is a mainstream/reliable reference, or 
> a reference to a book written by someone with a decidedly minority 
> view.
Not exactly, no.  To determine if a fact is "well known to be true" requires
subject specific knowledge; to determine if a source is mainstream requires more
general skills at judging sources *in general*; while subject familiarity is one
way to judge a source's reliability it is not the only method.  With the
exception of deductive or indutive logic, subject specific knowledge is the only
way to verify a specific fact.
  That's why I think we should help readers out by having people 
> with at least some knowledge in the area the article's about give the 
> reader some indication of how good the article is---delegating all the 
> fact-checking to every individual reader simply doesn't work. 

In any case, having expert review or not is a distraction from the purpose of
referencing.  The most important point of referencing, for our readers, is to
allow them to tell *where* our claims come from.  Even if a lay reader can't
tell if "Prof. John McManins, published in the National Dynamic Society Journal"
is a reliable source, if they tell someone who does know the subject - "X is
true because McManis said it." the knowledgable person will have something to go
on.  If they just say "X is true because Wikipedia said it." this is useless;
there's nothing further to say.  Referencing encourages our readers to pay
attention to where something comes from, not just take it on faith.  This is

References shouldn't be *required* - I think the GA and FA requirements of
references are more or less misplaced (esspecially in the case of GA), but any
amount of references should be *allowed*, and appreciated.

Jesse Weinstein

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