Debate:Do Wikipedia's flaws endanger the project?/archive

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Putting aside all the Conservapedia nonsense, in my own surfing, I think that Wikipedia does have some serious flaws inherent to the nature of the project. I wonder if these flaws ultimately endanger the ability of Wikipedia to grow. Not grow in the literal sense, as any idiot can see that new pages are added everyday, but grow in the sense of moving from a random collection of articles on various topics to an actual educational database accepted everywhere. There are many points to discuss, and I will be happy to do so later... but I want to see what other people think first. SirChuckBLeave Death Threats Here 23:10, 25 March 2008 (EDT)


Yes, Wikipedia's flaws will bring doom upon it. Not immediately, mind you. Wikipedia will continue for some time by virtue of sheer mass and inertia. Probably for however long before Jimbo Wales decides to leave, at which point a serious constitutional crisis will occur. With no godhead to unite it, Wikipedia will finally collapse under the weight of its internal politics.

If you want to know what flaws Wikipedia suffers from in particular, chief among them are the Cult of Jimbo, reactionism, groupthink, administrative abuse of powers, the persecution complexes of many editors there, and the "doing evil is okay if it furthers Wikipedia" attitude (witness how no one on Wikipedia cared that Essjay was a fraud). And that's just the internal politics. As for encyclopedia-centric issues, they allow front-page class articles to degrade instead of locking them (the point of an encyclopedia article is to at some point be finished), they have no method for according genuine authorities on a subject special authority on the wiki, and most articles end up so massive, byzantine, and poorly written that they are practically useless. --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 23:27, 25 March 2008 (EDT)

I'm not sure I entirely agree. Wikipedia undoubtedly has problems, but I'm not sure many you mentioned are the big ones. The Cult of Jimbo doesn't seem too significant to me, and I think there is enough diversity that groupthink isn't too much of a problem yet. Jimbo has very little hands-on involvement in the running of the project, and there's basically enough of a system in place that it doesn't need him (Assfly could learn a bit from this). I agree with your analysis that the best articles tend to degrade, in fact, I think articles generally improve for a while, peak, and then, as people take the kitchen sink mentality, get worse. The fact that the best writing is never done by committee doesn't help either.
I think the biggest problems are not admin abuse so much as general abuse. I joined Wikipedia back when almost no one heard of it. I never imagined some of the stuff I was writing would someday be perhaps some of the most widely read material on the subject. And that's basically what happening to Wikipedia; it is becoming the go to place for quick information on any subject. With information becoming more and more important these days, Wikipedia actually represents some real power, and is becoming too important, with too much at stake. It's no longer just a hobby for people with too much free time on their hands, it's a prime target for people with an agenda, and it's hard to hold them off. Additionally, the articles tend to bite off more than thy can chew. Assfly's most legitimate complaint about WP is that many of the articles really could stand to be much more concise (but not Conservapedia-concise). Articles like the Kennedy assassination become such POV, rambling nightmares because they can't seem to take a brief overview approach to the assassination and the controversies and theories, but have to address very single point in detail. Articles should be more of a general overview than a shouting match between two extremes. Now that Wikipedia has something like 2.5 million articles and more editors than it knows what to do with, I think it could stand to lose some of the "wiki" in favor of the "pedia." This is unlikely to happen, however.
I also have to take issue with the statement that no one cared that Essjay was a fraud. Many did care, and demanded he relinquish all positions of authority, which he did. However, the fact remains that his edits were good, and, I believe, generally well-referenced. It actually goes to show that a interested dilletante with some good sources can contribute as positively as some "experts" (not that they always do, by any means). I'd take a first year law student with a couple textbooks over an actual "lawyer" like Andy any day of the week.
I'm not exactly sure what will happen to Wikipedia if some changes aren't made. It's not about to collapse, and even if it just froze as is, it would still be the biggest encyclopedia in the world, and a pretty accurate one, at least where it counts. Efforts to replace it, notably Citizendium, are pretty much failures. I think, as articles get worse, there will just have to be widespread reversions to older, better versions that t least will always exist in the article history. Then we might need to see largescale lockdowns. DickTurpis 00:29, 26 March 2008 (EDT)
I cede to your greater wiki-experience. My forays into Wikipedia have been only casual. Veni vidi recessi. --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 00:39, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

One of Wikipedia's main problems is its NPOV, COI, no original research, and reliable sources policies, which taken together cause a bias toward the popular media as sources. Actual experts in a given field who have their facts straight are discouraged from writing on Wikipedia because to do so would constitute "original research", citation to "self-published works", or a "conflict of interest"; meanwhile, the New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, MSNBC, etc. are acceptable as sources even though their articles are based on third-hand knowledge of the subject and distilled into dumbed-down soundbites for the masses. Big Problem #2 with Wikipedia is it is simply bloated beyond repair with trivia and cruft. Why should every minor Star Wars character or Simpsons episode get a 10,000-word article? Why does it have 20 or 30 different articles at last count on different aspects of neo-Nazi occultism when the subject barely rates one brief overview as a subsection of the Nazism article? But as to the question of whether they will sink the project, I really don't know. The future of wikis may well be projects like RW that are specialized in scope and make no pretenses toward being "NPOV" - see how political blogs evolved for a good comparison. If that happens Wikipedia's role may well be reduced to being the fancruft and Internet fad 'pedia. Then again Wikipedia could continue much as it is right now. What I don't see is Wikipedia ever becoming a serious encyclopedia. Secret Squirrel 07:41, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

Bottom line, I go to straight to WP when I want a quick, reasonably accurate explanation of almost anything. As an editor, I find the bias against "original research" personally frustrating, but wonder if it does keep the site honest, judging by how incredibly useful it is. TGFWP. Rational Ed5 or 6 edits 08:26, 26 March 2008 (EDT)
The original research rule is needed if for nothing else than to keep things like "professor values" out. Often people try, with some success, to extend WP beyond an encyclopedia. I certainly agree with the statements about cruft and trivia, but there is something to be said for the fact that the existence of 20,000 Star Wars articles does not make the articles on history, politics, science, art, etc, any worse. More than half of WP is probably useless crap, but the remainder is still the largest encyclopedia in the world by far. That being said, I do wonder if it's time to retire the random page button. It's utterly useless.
The idea that it relies on the mainstream media too much is a valid criticism for articles on contemporary subjects, while articles on historical subjects tend to rely more on books (when was the last time anyone saw a newspaper article on Napoleon III?). That WP concentrates too much on the contemporary can be an issue; while John Roberts was still a nominee, his article was already longer than John Marshall's. You may notice that the coverage of subjects covering the years 2005 to the present is several orders of magnitude greater than pre-2000 subjects. Anyway, the bottom line is that WP combines the two laziest research tools: the encyclopedia and the internet, so it's never going to be a scholarly research tool, nor is it really meant to be. DickTurpis 09:40, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

<-- I agree with Dick that the "cruft" does not take away from the "encyclopedic". In fact, it is kind of cool to be able to research some band or TV show one knows little about and get "up to speed". I have read hundreds of really good articles on many random topics. The grain of salt to keep in mind to is "know" when a topic may be controversial and also read the talk page to see how controversy was handled (if at all). humanUser talk:Human 15:25, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

You all have good points about the cruft - there is no reason to read it unless interested and it doesn't affect other topics. I doubt it will endanger Wikipedia unless it becomes a bandwidth issue which is doubtful. On a different level though is whether Wikipedia is really all that reliable as a resource. It is not a scholarly source by any means but for many Internet users it has become the starting and ending point for learning about a topic, making any bias in the articles an area for concern, as well as the constantly shifting content depending on whose bias currently rules the day in a given article. People go to Wikipedia because a Google search on any topic nowadays turns up 200 commercial spam hits and useless linkfarms, and the Wikipedia article.
Regarding Citizendium, that project was DOA from the start for a reason: they require editors to edit under their real name. It has all the elements in place to be a reliable source - if it were a paper encyclopedia - but in the context of the Internet this is a fatal barrier to entry. Controversial topics on which somebody wanting to add anything substantial wouldn't dare do so under their real name will come out looking like this. Secret Squirrel 20:27, 26 March 2008 (EDT)
Good point on CZ, Squirrel. I thought the real name thing was a good idea, but you're right. In a paper encyclopedia, the real names aren't attached to every edit of every paragraph of every article. humanUser talk:Human 21:54, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

One of the things I have personally observed on Wikipedia (as opposed to just heard about, which was what much of my previous post was based on) is that groups of dedicated editors can sway an article or series of articles. This is bad in ways I don't need to elaborate on—I remember a medical blog I came across complaining that one of the alternative medicine articles was way too positive. But it can also be good. For example, several of the articles on autism are largely controlled by autistic editors ("Autism rights", anyone?), which helps keep out much of the woo on the subject (and, last I checked, the vaccines-and-autism-related articles were also under their sway, but that may have changed). Defeat NPOV it may, but editor-article bias can be a mixed bag. --Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 20:47, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

several of the articles on autism are largely controlled by autistic editors - this can be good or bad IMO..it keeps the anti-vaccination woo largely in check but allows woo of a different sort to flourish, the identity-politics-run-amok sort ("it would be immoral to find a cure for autism because it is part of what we are"). Don't know which is worse... Secret Squirrel 21:04, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

I think that the vast majority of you here have no idea what wikipedia really is. You take a very warped view of it, only recognizing those "deranged right wingers" and "woo pushers" as problems. Wikipedia is a global project, it is actually meant to be an ENCYCLOPEDIA, not a medical dictionary or a political guidebook. This is the main criticism of cp that I have, it is no longer an growing as an encyclopedia. Most articles are "Liberal this" and "Liberal that". Encyclopedias cover much more than just science and (American) politics. But no, I don't think that wikipedias flaws endanger the project at all. Its main flaws are not a biased YEC article, or too much criticism of Obama. Its main flaw is too many wiki-lawyers who don't care at all about writing an encyclopedia. POV pushers cause stress, but can be dealt with. I don't think it is danger at all. TmtamesP 21:24, 26 March 2008 (EDT)

Interesting. I'm noticing that Andy's "Wikipedia is evil" dogma does not seem to be rubbing off on his minions as much as he'd like. What you just wrote I'm sure is not the anti-Wikipedia diatribe Andy expects from Conservapedians, and Ed has actually said publicly on CP that he "loves" Wikipedia (of course, he's practically a co-founder; he was editing back in 1987). I basically agree. WP's biggest problems are not right-wing bias (if anything WP is overall probably a bit more liberal than conservative, but not nearly the the extent Andy would have us believe). The tug-of-war between the far right and the far left on many political articles is a bigger problem; that approach is not conducive to quality. I think it's biggest problem is that it's gotten too big to police effectively. There are thousands upon thousands of awful, useless articles that need to be deleted or completely overhauled. Most are probably never seen by anyone, but they are still there. Many editors have taken up the idea that any fact that can be backed up by anything, anywhere should be mentioned in WP, and this it's been losing its sense of scope and scale.
Reliability is, of course, a problem, but that is the nature of the internet. Any online encyclopedia has to balance three conflicting attributes: accuracy, completeness, and cost. WP has the second two down: it's huge and free. Britannica does well with the first (but even it is not perfect), pretty good with the second (nowhere near WP, though) and not so good with the third (as it costs money). Nupedia and Citizendium do well with the first and third, but their completeness is awful (Nupedia only ever had about two dozen articles, none on subjects people may actually be expected to look up, whereas Citizendium only has a few more "approved" articles). Conservapedia is godawful in all of them but the third, and even Bodhan admits it's not an encyclopedia. The problem becomes greatest when people rely heavily on Wikipedia. It's great for a casual introduction to an unfamiliar topic, but should not be used as the start and the end for serious knowledge on a subject. It is quite good on some subjects, such as scientific views of scientific subjects (you won't learn much about kangaroos fresh off Noah's arc floating around on a pack of seaweed), as most uninformed half-wits stay away from those articles. One should always read Wikiepdia (and just about anything) with a skeptical eye. If something seems amiss, it very well might be, and one should check the sources. DickTurpis 12:00, 27 March 2008 (EDT)
This article from The Economist deals with some of the issues. Jollyfish.gifGenghis Marauding 12:24, 27 March 2008 (EDT)
Interesting article, though as a deletionist I thought it was a bit pro-inclusionist. What I found most telling was that in order to find an area where WP was deficient, they went to the Solidarity movement in Poland (not exactly the area that most encyclopedias cover with a multitude if articles). And, contrary to what the article states, it appears there are quite a few articles on members of Solidarity. Certainly not as many as Pokemon. The Pokemon situation has been quite an issue at WP for years. I think it's improved, in that there used to be a separate article on each of the Pokemans (let me show you them) there is now one page for every twenty (see wp:Squirtle, wp:Piloswine, wp:Donphan), with individual articles only for some of the major ones. My hat's off to whomever managed to turn back the tide there and accomplish this. I'm sure it was not easy. DickTurpis 10:06, 28 March 2008 (EDT)