Wikipedia Is Bullshit

Politics & Current Events

Okay, that title is a little harsh. Wikipedia is not exclusively bullshit. Wikipedia represents an astounding amount of work, much of it by well-informed people, on a dizzying array of topics. It provides almost almost unlimited free entertainment, and is often an effective starting point for an inquiry on a subject. And recently for some reason I've spent many hours wandering around the pages about prehistoric civilizations.

But you'd be a damn fool to rely on it for anything remotely controversial. Patterico has a jaw-dropping post about how Wikipedia — largely under the authority of one editor, it would seem — memory-holed the entire post about convicted bomber Brett Kimberlin.

I'm a firm believer in reading a wide array of sources and adjusting one's skepticism and bias-detection level accordingly. But it's hard to adjust for bias when a resource decides to handle a controversy by avoiding mention of it entirely.

Wikipedia's defense, perhaps a fair one, is probably this: "all right, smart-ass, compared to what?"

Last 5 posts by Ken White

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Andrew  •  May 29, 2012 @8:45 am

    "But you'd be a damn fool to rely on it for anything remotely controversial." I think that you can clarify by broadening: "you'd be a damn fool to rely on it for anything."

  2. TJIC  •  May 29, 2012 @8:45 am

    In the Patterico post you link to a Wikipedia editor is quoted as saying:

    > it served as an attack page. It was sourced, but was also unduly negative

    This is why the Hitler page was deleted back in '07, I think.

    I really hate to sound like a black-helicopter-and-chemtrails-obsessed loon, but Wikipedia is utterly unreliable on political topics. Like the MSM and marches on DC, it is dominated by leftists, and the memory-holing is blatant and continuous.

    I say this despite being a huge fan of wikipedia in most other ways, and a frequent editor http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Contributions/Tjic&offset=&limit=500&target=Tjic

  3. Maggie McNeill  •  May 29, 2012 @8:47 am

    Take a look at the "Prostitution" article sometime; it contains so much anti-sex rhetoric as to be virtually useless, but there's a dedicated cadre of radical feminists who undo any changes designed to make it more factually accurate. It got so bad the Wikipedia locked the article for a long time…with the anti-whore propaganda intact, of course.

    So yeah, I think your litmus test is a good one: Wikipedia is great for non-controversial topics, but for controversial ones it's worse than useless.

  4. A leap at the wheel  •  May 29, 2012 @9:01 am

    I find wikipedia to be accurate and I use it all the time.

    For technical material.

  5. SPQR  •  May 29, 2012 @9:12 am

    Wikipedia is not reliable for controversial subjects and all subjects are controversial on Wikipedia.

  6. Grifter  •  May 29, 2012 @9:29 am

    Can someone explain why he's such a blind spot for the Left? I mean, he's a terrorist who hurt people. What has he done that makes them want to ignore that?

  7. Windypundit  •  May 29, 2012 @9:38 am

    "you'd be a damn fool to rely on it for anything."

    Actually, the science and technology bits are pretty accurate, well-written, and a good place to start.

  8. Joe Pullen  •  May 29, 2012 @9:45 am

    It's baaaccckk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Kimberlin Check it out before it disappears again. Who knows, perhaps the 946,000 hits that come back on Google when using Brett Kimberlin as search criteria or the blog about Kimberlin day changed their mind.

  9. Ken  •  May 29, 2012 @9:46 am

    @Grifter, remember what FDR supposedly said about Somoza the Elder in '39? (The remarks are characterized in many sources as apocryphal: whether that's because they really are of doubtful provenance, or to rehabilitate the Somoza family, or to rehabilitate FDR's reputation, I dunno.)

    Also, it's not impossible that they're afraid that if they stop, the shadow of the wood will fall on their doors next: "It is wild, and wayward, and does not love Men."

  10. Robert  •  May 29, 2012 @9:56 am

    Wikipedia has some outrageous bias. It's trustworthy for Simpsons Televison Episode Summaries, or the pinouts for RJ-11 connectors, but not for history or current events.

  11. JC  •  May 29, 2012 @10:37 am

    The more you know about a topic the less helpful (and reliable) you will find wikipaedia

  12. Mercury  •  May 29, 2012 @11:10 am

    For starters Wikipedia should adopt the Encyclopedia Britannica policy (still?) of not publishing articles about persons still living.

  13. W. Ian Blanton  •  May 29, 2012 @11:24 am

    I dunno, I don't find myself quite so torn on Wikipedia. Any reference source has biases, and at least there's visible discussion on Wikipedia.

    Trust it? I trust it as implicitly as anything else.

    Oh, that's actually not that much. :) Like ANY collated, combined, reference – it's a good jumping off point.

  14. Grifter  •  May 29, 2012 @1:52 pm

    It's funny; prior to this whole thing I didn't know who Kimberlin was, really, and with the article down I had no idea in what way he was "the liberals' son of a bitch" to paraphrase the apocryphal FDR quote Ken referenced. All I had was the bombings and douchery, thus accomplishing the exact opposite of the intent of the censorship. Now that it's back up, I can see it's probably related to his public complaints about the electronic voting and his $100,000 reward for proof of Bush election fraud?

  15. Rich Rostrom  •  May 29, 2012 @5:50 pm

    "Compared to what?"

    Exactly. I've seen serious errors in lots of "respectable" references and texts. Like Michael Bellesiles. With Wikipedia, at least, I can correct them.

    Furthermore, Wikipedia's writers are "on the record" (even anonymous IPs can be traced).

    Yes, Wiki can be bent or influenced. Hedge fund billionaire Bruce McMahan bullied Wiki into deleting his article. (He avoids all publicity since his incestuous affair with an adult daughter was revealed.)

    Similar pressure could be applied to any other publisher.

    95% of what is on Wikipedia is non-controversial, and even controversial subjects are not always (or even usually, in my experience) censored/bent.

  16. strech  •  May 29, 2012 @8:06 pm

    Can someone explain why he's such a blind spot for the Left? I mean, he's a terrorist who hurt people. What has he done that makes them want to ignore that?

    I don't think 99% of the Left knew who Brett Kimberlin was, before this started.

    The Wikipedia issue isn't some conspiracy; it's an issue with Wikipedia's policies – the aggressive NPOV policies, the policies around single-issue editors, and so on – that make writing about a number of subjects, such as living whackjobs, rather difficult. Not that it would be much easier without those policies.

  17. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 9, 2012 @5:00 pm

    Wikipedia has an article on the Speedway Bombings now, with references linking to a number of contemporaneous articles:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speedway_Bomber