An Introduction



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Quality


Critics argue that non-expert editing undermines quality. Because contributors usually rewrite small portions of an entry rather than making full-length revisions, high- and low-quality content may be intermingled within an entry. Historian Roy Rosenzweig noted: "Overall, writing is the Achilles' heel of Wikipedia. Committees rarely write well, and Wikipedia entries often have a choppy quality that results from the stringing together of sentences or paragraphs written by different people."[75]

Reliability

As a consequence of the open structure, Wikipedia "makes no guarantee of validity" of its content, since no one is ultimately responsible for any claims appearing in it.[76] Concerns have been raised regarding the lack of accountability that results from users' anonymity,[77] the insertion of spurious information[78], vandalism, and similar problems.


Wikipedia has been accused of exhibiting systemic bias and inconsistency;[13] but critics argue that Wikipedia's open nature and a lack of proper sources for much of the information makes it unreliable.[79] Some commentators suggest that Wikipedia is generally reliable, but that the reliability of any given article is not always clear.[12] Editors of traditional reference works such as the Encyclopædia Britannica have questioned the project's utility and status as an encyclopedia.[80] Many university lecturers discourage students from citing any encyclopedia in academic work, preferring primary sources;[81] some specifically prohibit Wikipedia citations.[82] Co-founder Jimmy Wales stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate as primary sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative.[83]
However, an investigation reported in the journal Nature in 2005 suggested that for scientific articles Wikipedia came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of "serious errors."[17] These claims have been disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica.[84]
Andrew Lih, author of the 2009 book The Wikipedia Revolution, notes: "A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection... Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”[85] Economist Tyler Cowen writes, "If I had to guess whether Wikipedia or the median refereed journal article on economics was more likely to be true, after a not so long think I would opt for Wikipedia." He comments that many traditional sources of non-fiction suffer from systemic biases. Novel results are over-reported in journal articles, and relevant information is omitted from news reports. However, he also cautions that errors are frequently found on Internet sites, and that academics and experts must be vigilant in correcting them.[86]
In February 2007, an article in The Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that some of the professors at Harvard University include Wikipedia in their syllabus, but that there is a split in their perception of using Wikipedia.[87] In June 2007, former president of the American Library Association Michael Gorman condemned Wikipedia, along with Google,[88] stating that academics who endorse the use of Wikipedia are "the intellectual equivalent of a dietitian who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything". He also said that "a generation of intellectual sluggards incapable of moving beyond the Internet" was being produced at universities. He complains that the web-based sources are discouraging students from learning from the more rare texts which are either found only on paper or are on subscription-only web sites. In the same article Jenny Fry (a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute) commented on academics who cite Wikipedia, saying that: "You cannot say children are intellectually lazy because they are using the Internet when academics are using search engines in their research. The difference is that they have more experience of being critical about what is retrieved and whether it is authoritative. Children need to be told how to use the Internet in a critical and appropriate way."[88]

Wikipedia community

The Wikipedia community has established "a bureaucracy of sorts", including "a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control."[89][90][91] Wikipedia's community has also been described as "cult-like",[92] although not always with entirely negative connotations,[93] and criticized for failing to accommodate inexperienced users.[94] Editors in good standing in the community can run for one of many levels of volunteer stewardship; this begins with "administrator",[95][96] a group of privileged users who have the ability to delete pages, lock articles from being changed in case of vandalism or editorial disputes, and block users from editing. Despite the name, administrators do not enjoy any special privilege in decision-making; instead they are mostly limited to making edits that have project-wide effects and thus are disallowed to ordinary editors, and to ban users making disruptive edits (such as vandalism).[97][98]


Wikimania, an annual conference for users of Wikipedia and other projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation.As Wikipedia grows with an unconventional model of encyclopedia building, "Who writes Wikipedia?" has become one of the questions frequently asked on the project, often with a reference to other Web 2.0 projects such as Digg.[99] Jimmy Wales once argued that only "a community ... a dedicated group of a few hundred volunteers" makes the bulk of contributions to Wikipedia and that the project is therefore "much like any traditional organization". Wales performed a study finding that over 50% of all the edits are done by just .7% of the users (at the time: 524 people). This method of evaluating contributions was later disputed by Aaron Swartz, who noted that several articles he sampled had large portions of their content (measured by number of characters) contributed by users with low edit counts.[100] A 2007 study by researchers from Dartmouth College found that "anonymous and infrequent contributors to Wikipedia ... are as reliable a source of knowledge as those contributors who register with the site."[101] Although some contributors are authorities in their field, Wikipedia requires that even their contributions be supported by published and verifiable sources. The project's preference for consensus over credentials has been labeled "anti-elitism".[11]


In a 2003 study of Wikipedia as a community, economics Ph.D. student Andrea Ciffolilli argued that the low transaction costs of participating in wiki software create a catalyst for collaborative development, and that a "creative construction" approach encourages participation.[102] In his 2008 book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain of the Oxford Internet Institute and Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society cites Wikipedia's success as a case study in how open collaboration has fostered innovation on the web.[103] A 2008 study found that Wikipedia users were less agreeable and open, though more conscientious, than non-Wikipedia users.[104][105] A 2009 study suggested there was "evidence of growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content."[106]
The Wikipedia Signpost is the community newspaper on the English Wikipedia,[107] and was founded by Michael Snow, an administrator and the current chair of the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees.[108] It covers news and events from the site, as well as major events from sister projects, such as Wikimedia Commons.[109] Notable users of Wikipedia include film critic Roger Ebert[110][111] and University of Maryland physicist Robert L. Park.[112]

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