Wikipedia, Making the World Dumber

There’s a fine article over at The Cutting Edge that nicely summarizes the reality of Wikipedia’s ‘impact’ (with thanks to CB out in Dallas for the heads up).

A growing community of the informed believes that Wikipedia, the constantly-changing knowledge base created by a global free-for-all of anonymous users, now stands as the leading force for the dumbing down of world knowledge. If Wikipedia’s almost unstoppable momentum continues, critics say, it threatens to quickly reverse centuries of progress in the sharing of verifiable knowledge with its highest aspiration being genuine fact. In its place would be a constant cacophony of fact and falsity that Wikipedia’s critics call a “law of the jungle.”

True words.

Truer still-

Wikipedia’s 2.3 million-plus unvetted entries are contributed by anonymous users known only by colorful and sometimes bizarre and shadowy pseudonyms, often in a sort of “anything goes” perpetual intellectual wrestling match. In the 2008–2009 period, an estimated 132 million edits were logged and viewed by 342 million unique visitors worldwide. A pillar of Wikipedia doublespeak establishes this rule: “Wikipedia has no firm rules.” But actually, there are rules—and many of them. Original research is forbidden. For example, the world’s leading experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, sea turtles or methanol could not contribute their knowledge based on their peer-reviewed findings. But anyone with an ax to grind on either topic could.

And truer still yet-

In its purest optimal state, Wikipedia is often quite a correct, accurate and reliable compendium on arcane subjects of historical or scientific fact, such as the history of railroads, high-energy particle physics, or the biology of bees—that is, until degraded by mistaken individuals, those with an agenda, or outright intellectual frauds. One never knows and those who consult the source for a fact in our split-second world generally only consult it once, and cannot be expected to check back again and again to see the evolved text. Journalists and scholars have learned to tediously edit over and over again before publication to get it right. Wikipedia believes there is no use waiting—every edit and version is immediately public.

And more to the point as to the utter dilettantism of the project-

The notorious case of “Essjay,” a senior Wikipedia administrator, faking his credentials was brought to light by The New Yorker magazine in February 2007. “Essjay,” who claimed he spent some 14 hours per day on Wikipedia editing articles and settling disputes, had originally boasted he was “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.” Originally, The New Yorker, in its July 31, 2006 feature, wrote glowingly about “Essjay”. Indeed, “Essjay” had been recommended to The New Yorker by Wikipedia management because he had actually been hired as a “community manager,” and was a sterling example of an informed Wikipedia administrator. Later, The New Yorker published an admission that “Essjay” was actually Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old “community college drop out.” Wikipedia cofounder and current chieftain, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, commented on the affair to The New Yorker, “I don’t really have a problem with it,” although he is said to have retracted that nonchalance later.


Academic frauds are one thing. But numerous entries are vandalized by deliberate propagandists, graffiti pranksters, those with pure bias and, in some cases, group hatred.


For example, after Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, his Wikipedia biography page was modified to claim he was a homosexual. His official vandalized entry opened with the phrase: “John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is the homosexual Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.” The entry was quickly removed by other Wikipedians. But they can’t get everything. Often, they jump in too late to avoid serious damage.

I could go on and on. The essay does a brilliant job of it though so I commend it to your attention. Especially you supporters of the wiki idea.

9 thoughts on “Wikipedia, Making the World Dumber

  1. bobcargill

    true, it has its problems. but the technology is powerful.
    if only it could be harnessed for the academy… 😉

    (funny that they specifically mentioned the dss…)


  2. Geoff

    Wikpedia is good for reading up on the history of comic book characters as well as on their powers and various feats. For instance is cites the time that the Incredible Hulk jumped over 1,000 miles, a rare gem of knowledge indeed.


  3. asiabible

    As a true dilettante Wikipedia user, I only read your first paragraph or two. You see the first quoted paragraph above would not last on Wikipedia being entirely undocumented opinion. Of course those who are not Wikipedia-loving dilettanti do not need the trammels of bothering to seek to ensure that what they write is factual!


    1. Jim Post author

      first paragraphs are normally summaries. documentation follows. true wiki users always overlook the facts.


  4. Tim Bulkeley

    The succeeding paragraphs you quote confirmed my fears, long on assertions, short on evidence. Is it the article you are quoting that is short of evidence, or are you just picking the “juicy bits”?


  5. Tim Bulkeley

    Ah, it was Firefox that put it, the last one I was logged onto when I commented, it’s my book on God as mother, the format allows comments on paragraphs, but each page is a section of a chapter. The hope is that over the next few months as I finish writing it people will come along and discuss the ideas.

    But I’m wondering if I need a print version to get people started 😉 I plan to post about it on Sansblogue soon, it’s on my todo list, along with much else 😦


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