[Wikipedia-l] in response to your article "Librarian: Don't use Wikipedia as source" in the Post-Standard
ropers at ropersonline.com
Sat Aug 28 04:06:12 UTC 2004
Dear Mr. Fasoldt, dear Ms. Stagnitta,
I am writing in response to your article "Librarian: Don't use
Wikipedia as source" in the Post-Standard.
I would like to strongly second what fellow Wikipedia contributor
Mathias Schindler recently wrote to you (see his email below). Mathias
observed that the Wikipedia is not alone in having a disclaimer as
regards the accuracy and validity of our content. He pointed out that
the Encyclopaedia Britannica also has a legal disclaimer. To that I
would also like to add what fellow contributor Pcb21 has found:
Practically ALL encyclopaedias have such disclaimers:
>> Columbia : http://www.bartleby.com/sv/terms.html , section 3
>> Encarta : http://privacy.msn.com/tou/ , section 9
>> Encyclopedia.com : http://www.encyclopedia.com/terms.asp, section 5
You wrote that there was no editorial review at the Wikipedia.
This is incorrect. Our articles DO undergo substantial editorial
review. However, contrary to how paper-based encyclopedias operate,
editorial review at the Wikipedia takes place AFTER publication.
Our system works as follows:
- A user makes a submission, for instance he or she edits an article or
creates a new one.
- EVERY submission (to any article) automatically causes the article in
question to be added to this machine-generated list:
- EVERY article change is tracked in the article's history.
- By clicking an article's "diff" link on the Recent changes page, it
can be seen precisely WHAT was changed.
- A large number of users regularly patrol the Recent changes page.
Considering the 24/7, worldwide nature of our encyclopedia, there is
hardly ever an article that would pass through Recent changes
unchecked. If there is a mistake, it is very likely to get spotted and
it can be changed instantly once spotted (our readers don't have to
write a letter to the publisher).
There also is a separate page for newly created articles (also
These are not the only tools we use for editorial review of our
This template (which is included in many of our procedural and
administrative pages) lists but a few:
As you can see, there are a large number of ways in which we conduct
editorial review, even if errors get past Recent changes.
You also questioned the authority of our site and whether our content
is well-researched. I am going to tell you something I am not really
If you doubt the standards of our editorial review mechanisms, go try
and introduce some decidedly un-encyclopaedic (unproven, contentious
and/or unacademic, etc.) information into an article of your choice.
Then check back and see how long your contribution will remain in the
article. My confidence is high that -- depending on how much this
contribution falls short of encyclopedic standards -- you will find
your contribution challenged on the respective article's discussion
page (where you will likely be asked to provide references for your
claims) or outright removed.
Your concerns over the quality of our content are however justified in
At any given point in time, it is possible that a mistake (or
vandalism) has just been introduced to an article you're retrieving.
Users are thus encouraged to check any article's history -- a
tremendous tool for readers and contributors alike:
As an example, let's look at the CGA article:
You will note the "history" tab. Clicking it takes you to this page:
On this page, you can see and compare every previous version of the
You can compare these versions and easily see precisely WHAT was
changed. As an example:
If someone eg. vandalizes an article, it will almost certainly be
quickly caught and reverted
Especially popular and contentious articles do regularly get
vandalized. But never for long. Look at
Note how little time typically elapses until vandalism is corrected.
Many of us believe that it is beneficial to make it as EASY as possible
to contribute to our encyclopedia.
The traditional approach to writing encyclopedias, to aggregating human
knowledge, has been to make it as DIFFICULT as possible to contribute.
You have to obtain formal certifications and undergo formal training to
be even allowed to contribute. This is done in the hope of reaching
and maintaining high standards.
Many of us believe that this however stifles progress as it excludes
all knowledge and knowledge-based skills obtained in any other way
(than formal accreditation).
We put a process in place that will accept all comers in the first
instance -- and combine and distill these collective contributions to
reach high standards.
Our daily growth and quality improvement shows that the traditional
approach -- only allowing very few select individuals to contribute --
wastes enormous talent, potential and opportunity for progress in all
fields of human knowledge. Thus, one of our core operating principles
is to lower any bars to entry as much as possible, if not to outright
abolish them. Anyone can contribute. You don't need to provide
certifications. You don't need to show ID or a credit card. You don't
need to give an email address. You don't even need to log in or create
an account. You can edit. Because you have UNIQUE knowledge skills. Dr.
Pyotr Anokhin calculated that the number of possible combinations in
the human brain was 10 to the power of 799 (seven hundred ninety nine).
In short, NO ONE on this planet will ever have the same thoughts as
you. It thus makes sense for us to be as inclusive as possible. We
would be honored to welcome your contribution to our modest but growing
record of human knowledge.
If you have any remaining doubts about our potential to deliver the the
most comprehensive, comprehensible and correct encyclopedia on the
planet, please refer to:
The irony of course is that you will probably now find yourself doing
the exact same thing we do all of the time:
Review and correct your Post-Standard article AFTER publication. That
doesn't necessarily make your publication a worse information source --
as long as you DO correct inaccuracies where found.
-- Jens Ropers
PS: Oh, and as for "accredited scientists", "academics" and
"intellectuals"? We're "building it" -- and they are coming.
> Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 10:14:24 +0200
> From: Mathias Schindler <neubau at presroi.de>
> Subject: [WikiEN-l] another supposedly authoritative web sites
> To: technology at syracuse.com
> Cc: wikien-l at wikipedia.org, wikipedia-l at wikimedia.org,
> sue_stagnitta at liverpool.k12.ny.us
> Message-ID: <412D9BE0.6010902 at presroi.de>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed
> Dear Mr. Fasoldt, Dear Ms Stagnitta,
> I read your article in the Post-Standard "Librarian: Don't use
> as source" at
> where you wrote:
> I was amazed at how little I knew about Wikipedia.
> If you know of other supposedly authoritative Web
> sites that are untrustworthy, send a note to
> technology at syracuse.com and let me know about them.
> Have you visited britannica.com?
>> Disclaimer of Warranties
>> Neither Britannica, its affiliates, nor any third-party content
>> providers or licensors makes any warranty whatsoever, including
>> without limitation: that the operation of the Site will be
>> uninterrupted or error-free; that defects will be corrected; that
>> this Site, including the server that makes it available, is free of
>> infection, viruses, worms, Trojan Horses, or other harmful components
>> or other code that manifest contaminating or destructive properties;
>> as to the results that may be obtained from use of the materials on
>> the Site; or as to the accuracy, reliability, availability,
>> suitability, quality, or operation of any information, software, or
>> service provided on or accessible from the Site or as to any
>> information, products, or services on the Internet in any way. In
>> addition, Britannica does not assume any responsibility or risk for
>> your use of the Internet.
>> THE SITE AND ALL INFORMATION, PRODUCTS, AND OTHER CONTENT (INCLUDING
>> THIRD-PARTY INFORMATION, PRODUCTS, AND CONTENT) INCLUDED IN OR
>> ACCESSIBLE FROM THIS SITE ARE PROVIDED "AS IS" AND WITHOUT WARRANTIES
>> OF ANY KIND (EXPRESS, IMPLIED, AND STATUTORY, INCLUDING BUT NOT
>> LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF TITLE AND NONINFRINGEMENT AND THE
>> IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR
>> PURPOSE), ALL OF WHICH BRITANNICA EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS TO THE FULLEST
>> EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. YOUR USE OF BRITANNICA.COM IS AT YOUR SOLE
> Information at britannica.com can be edited by anyone who was given
> permission from the company. It might be a PhD who hasn't done anything
> else than writing about this specific topic. It might be someone else
> who feels competent. You never know.
> Just compare
> http://www.britannica.com/eb/dailycontent?eu=422756#e%0Avent " Haile
> Selassie" with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haile_Selassie
> At wikipedia, you can see a) who wrote b) when c) which part of the
> text, who changed it, who altered the order who removed parts.
> The authors, such as David Parker can be emailed or asked for
> clearification in doubt.
> You and Susan Stagnitta are perfectly right to advise people never to
> "trust" unreliable sources but I can't see a difference in this case
> between a "black box" company and a group of academics and skilled
> laymen who make the process of encyclopedic writing transparent.
> Several wikipedians have created a document called "Making fun of
> Britannica" http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Making_fun_of_Britannica,
> which contains a list of "errors" (in a broader sense). This does not
> change the level of trust towards Britannica.
> If you spot a mistake in Britannica, what are the consequences? If it
> was in a book, there is no chance to correct it and the risk might be
> that a student relies on wrong information. She/He will not be able to
> get a refund from Britannica or even a discount on the new and
> (hopefully) corrected version.
> Ms. Stagnitta said "Anyone can change the content of an article in the
> Wikipedia, and there is no editorial review of the content." Even if
> first part of that sentence is correct, the second part does not
> describe the reality.
> Just have a look at the procedures at
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Featured_article_candidates. It
> might be hard to get used to the fact that editorial review might be
> ad-hoc or it might be a constant effort. If an article was found fit
> being a "Featured article", the process of improving that article does
> not stop.
> I would like you to encourage you to ask Britannica if they feel that
> their content is "authoritative" in a sense that they will guarantee
> given fact in their Encyclopedia. Ask them if they are able to
> every sense to a specific author who can be contacted. Ask them if they
> will make their decision transparent, which lemma does get into the EB
> and which lemma does not get into it.
> Mathias Schindler
> neubau at presroi.de
> 60385 Frankfurt am Main
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