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Wikipedia's New Definition of Truth 428

Posted by kdawson
from the beware-the-man-with-the-lantern dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Simson Garfinkel has an interesting essay on MIT Technology Review in which he examines the way that Wikipedia has redefined the commonly accepted use of the word 'truth.' While many academic experts have argued that Wikipedia's articles can't be trusted because they are written and edited by volunteers who have never been vetted, studies have found that the articles are remarkably accurate. 'But wikitruth isn't based on principles such as consistency or observability. It's not even based on common sense or firsthand experience,' says Garfinkel. What makes a fact or statement fit for inclusion is verifiability — that it appeared in some other publication, but there is a problem with appealing to the authority of other people's written words: many publications don't do any fact checking at all, and many of those that do simply call up the subject of the article and ask if the writer got the facts wrong or right. Wikipedia's policy of 'No Original Research' also leads to situations like Jaron Lanier's frustrated attempts to correct his own Wikipedia entry based on firsthand knowledge of his own career. So what is Wikipedia's truth? 'Since Wikipedia is the most widely read online reference on the planet, it's the standard of truth that most people are implicitly using when they type a search term into Google or Yahoo. On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject.'"
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Wikipedia's New Definition of Truth

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  • Food for Thought (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:44PM (#25456473) Homepage Journal

    [B]ut there is a problem with appealing to the authority of other people's written words: many publications don't do any fact checking at all, and many of those that do simply call up the subject of the article and ask if the writer got the facts wrong or right.

    Which raises an interesting question that no one seems to be asking: What if the problem is not Wikipedia at all? What if Wikipedia is a symptom of a much larger problem in our culture? What if the solution isn't to berate Wikipedia for that which they cannot fix, but rather to ensure the foundations upon which the system is based are fixed?

    Failures in authority are of far greater reach than just Wikipedia. That's why academia seeks to correct itself on a regular basis. But the rigid standards of academia (standards which have weakened over time) are not applied to all fields that Wikipedia reports on. Using the case of Jaron Lanier, how is an impartial observer supposed to distinguish between a failure in authoritative reporting vs. an attempt to rewrite history for personal benefit? The only way to prove one over the other is to find evidence. In the case of Wikipedia, it must find another authortative party to dispute the original because doing detective work is beyond what is reasonable for an encyclopedia.

    • by internerdj (1319281) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:53PM (#25456623)
      That is if you are an empiricist there is no other way to provide proof other than evidence. I never took a philosophy class so I'm not sure of the term but I think there are far more people who subscribe to proof through consensus which would be wikipedia's methodology. An abundance of rigor tends to make alot of people shut down or at least slow mental processing down to where they are non-functional(admittedly probably by choice). I don't know that converting everyone to empiricism is actually a rational goal.
      • by tzhuge (1031302) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:35PM (#25457275)
        Argumentum ad populum [wikipedia.org] ... yes that's a wikipedia link; did I just blow your mind a little?
        • by bruce_garrett (657963) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @02:54PM (#25458623) Homepage
          No...what blew my mind was seeing that "This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims", disclaimer at the top of the article page. In the context of this discussion that's pretty hilarious...
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by fractalrock (662410)
          Argumentum ad populum ... yes that's a wikipedia link; did I just blow your mind a little?

          I'm not sure. Can I ask around?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Instine (963303)
          abstracted again, Hume questioned our very belief in empiricism by asking why aught expect the future to resemble the past, regardless of the amount of past evidence? There is no 'logical' a priori reason to assert this...
          "As to past experience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information of those precise objects only, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cognisance; but why this experience should be extended to future times, and to other objects, which for aught we know, m
      • Re:Food for Thought (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @02:11PM (#25457837) Homepage

        For anyone familiar with B5 there is a quote:

        "Truth is a triple-edged sword; My truth, your truth and the real truth".

        So decisively saying that there is only one truth - you may be utterly wrong. Better to be careful with what you say and make people think instead and maybe someone will look up the real truth.

        • Re:Food for Thought (Score:5, Informative)

          by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @02:23PM (#25458063)
          There is a more relevant quote that had read-world consequences. "Forty million Frenchmen can't be wrong."

          That quote refers to something called the Maginot Line; a line of heavily fortified positions on the French border prior to WWII. The "consensus truth" (a term I doubt they had heard of back then, it is so politically correct sounding) was that the Germans could NEVER break through such a heavily defended line.

          That was the French "truth". The German "truth" was that they walked past the Maginot Line (because it was fixed and could not adapt to changes in attack plans) and into Paris.

          "Consensus truth" is a waste of time and an insult to intelligent people. The summary shows why. If someone who was actually there because it was his life cannot get correct information into Wikipedia, that doesn't mean his life was different than he thought. It means that the Wikipedia "consensus truth" is balderdash. In other words, forty million Frenchmen CAN be wrong.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Yvanhoe (564877)
            And what should you have had about the Maginot line in the encyclopedias of the time ? The consensus truth was the only thing to have. In wikipedia you would have a "criticism" paragraph, in the same way that it gives some room for conspiracies theories. Some of these might be true, but the thing is, the wikipedia has no way of being smarter than the consensus. And it still is awesomely useful that way.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by cayenne8 (626475)
              "And what should you have had about the Maginot line in the encyclopedias of the time ? The consensus truth was the only thing to have."

              I agree..kind of like the consensus of most western nations, that Saddam in Iraq had and was further pursuing WMD's. It was a shock to everyone when for the most part they couldn't be found. (I think recently some chemical weapons were found?)

              But, for the most part...the intelligence in the US, UK, France..and Russia all said he had some hidden over there. And it isn't l

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Martin Blank (154261)

                (I think recently some chemical weapons were found?)

                They were just items that had been buried during the Iran-Iraq war and were long past their shelf life even if properly stored. No one seriously used them as proof.

            • Re:Food for Thought (Score:4, Informative)

              by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:33PM (#25459349)
              And what should you have had about the Maginot line in the encyclopedias of the time ? The consensus truth was the only thing to have.

              That is untrue.

              "Consensus truth" is nothing more than a politically correct way of saying "opinion" that dresses opinion up in a fancy dress and makes it look like more than it really is. It's a way of making EVERYONE correct, while not having to point out that some people's "truth" just doesn't fit with the facts. It's good for their "self esteem" and politically correct not to think that some truths really are absolute.

              The encyclopedia of the time could easily give just the facts about the line, which is what truth ultimately is based on. Real truth, not "consensus truth" which can ignore facts in favor of rumor and innuendo. "The Maginot Line consists of X number of fortified positions spread across a line from Y to Z, intended to defend the country against German attack". Those are facts. "The Maginot Line is an invincible fortified defense system ..." is an opinion, or what would be called "consensus truth" today.

              Some of these might be true, but the thing is, the wikipedia has no way of being smarter than the consensus.

              Yes, it does. The same way anyone has of being smarter than the consensus. Look for facts and not opinions. The fact that they don't allow one of their victims to correct his own biography is demonstration that truth really isn't the goal of Wikipedia, it's popularity. Let everyone participate, even if they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

              Here's an example of how to beat "consensus truth". The "consensus truth" is that the current US tax system is unfair to the poor and lets the rich off the hook. ("Unfair" and "off the hook" are opinion words, a quick way to identify "consensus truth".) The FACTS show that the poor already pay nothing, or very close to nothing, in federal taxes. The bottom 50% of taxpayers by income pay just 3.3% of the tax revenues (and a large number of them pay 0) while earning 13% of the income, while the top 0.1% of incomes pay 17% of the revenue while earning just 9% of the income. That's the truth, and it directly contradicts the "consensus truth", which shows that the consensus truth is not.

          • Re:Food for Thought (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:00PM (#25458737) Homepage

            The "consensus truth" (a term I doubt they had heard of back then, it is so politically correct sounding) was that the Germans could NEVER break through such a heavily defended line.

            That was the French "truth". The German "truth" was that they walked past the Maginot Line (because it was fixed and could not adapt to changes in attack plans) and into Paris.

            Well, and the French were right! The Germans didn't break through the line until after they had already cut off supply lines from the rear*. In fact the whole reason the Germans decided to go around the Maginot Line was that they, too, believed that they couldn't break through directly. So the problem wasn't that the "consensus truth" wasn't true. It was, more or less. No, the problem was deeper and more insidious. It was that they failed to fully realize what that truth was telling them, and what it wasn't. "The Maginot Line is impregnable", taken as truth, should immediately raise the question "Well what about the rest of the French border?" But they didn't want to think about that truth, so suddenly France was safe against any German invasion, a decided non-truth.

            It's kinda like if you visit some witches who tell you that "None of woman born shall harm you", you shouldn't go "Woo-hoo, I'm invincible!", because that's not what the witches just said. You should instead go "Wait a minute, what was that bit about 'of woman born'? Were you just saying that to be poetic? I mean I know this is Shakespeare, but that just seems like a weird thing to say. Would, say, a C-section count as not being 'of woman born'? Cus I know a guy who was born that way and he'd be one of the first in line to try to harm me."

            So anyway, I agree, I just think there's a lesson here too about being careful about what truth is actually telling you.

            * This may not be 100% accurate. I know there were early battles where the Germans did attack the line, and that it by and large did its job as advertised and held them off, though Germany may have broken through at some spots. Maybe I should look it up on Wikipedia?

        • Re:Food for Thought (Score:5, Informative)

          by David Gerard (12369) <slashdotNO@SPAMdavidgerard.co.uk> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @02:24PM (#25458071) Homepage
          That's precisely the origin of the Wikipedia phrase "truth, not verifiability" - apparently nonsensical, but "truth" is unattainable, whereas "verifiability" is humanly manageable.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by bunratty (545641)
            You have that backwards. The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.
    • Re:Food for Thought (Score:5, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:58PM (#25456713) Homepage Journal

      To add to my point, the Nintendo DSi announcement is a perfect example. Take a gander at the Slashdot story:

      http://games.slashdot.org/games/08/10/02/2116202.shtml [slashdot.org]

      "Nintendo finally came out with a solution to the Wii's lack of storage capacity -- a 2GB SD card from which users can execute games"

      Sounds pretty cool, eh? Expect that it's wrong. Nintendo announced a solution to DOWNLOAD games to the SD Card. At no point did they confirm an executable solution. (In fact, they seemed intent on steering away from such an announcement.)

      But Slashdot's reporting was not the worst. The worst was GameSpot [gamespot.com], a site that SHOULD by all rights be authoritative. Yet here they are putting words into Reggie's mouth:

      9:23] "Iwata is addressing the problem of Wii storage," he says. "Soon you will be able to download and store virtual console and WiiWare titles directly on your SD card, and play them off your SD card. This will make the Wii download experience much easier."

      I emailed a more reputable editor who was at the event and confirmed for a fact that those words were never spoken. Yet many, many people quoted GameSpot's poor journalism as proof positive that Nintendo announced a solution to execute games off of SD Cards.

      What is a site like Wikipedia supposed to do?

      Thankfully, this is a case where a mountain of solid reporting existed to counteract the poor reporting. So Wikipedia reports the correct information. But what if this was more obscure information? How would Wikipedia know who to trust? How would they be able to check again bad reporting?

      Answer: They can't. Reporters must be help accountable for the factual nature of their statements. (In the case of GameSpot, that means they should have issued a retraction.) If they cannot maintain a reasonable level of journalistic standards, the industry as a whole should start advertising them as an unreliable source.

      • by cowscows (103644) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:39PM (#25457345) Journal

        Your specific example effectively demonstra a serious limitation for Wikipedia. One of wikipedia's flaws is not that it has such limitations, but that it doesn't recognize them. Wikipedia is not well suited for the task of distilling rumors and such to predict the future. That doesn't mean that wikipedia is worthless or somehow broken, it just means that it shouldn't have entries that try and guess.

        Like you said, when operating at its fullest potential, Wikipedia is really an aggregation of well supported facts. I think everyone would be better served if Wikipedia as a general philosophy would remove topics where those sorts of facts can't be found. Keeping them around only serves to draw into question the usefulness of the entire site.

        I think the more useful solution is multiple wiki's, each geared towards a more specific category of knowledge, and having the appropriate level of requirements for an entry to be considered valid. A wiki about future trends of the video game industry is not a bad thing, but it has, inherent in its subject matter, a huge amount of uncertainty. The very idea that such information would be compiled in the same collection and through the same process as something as straight-forward as descriptions of historical medieval weaponry is sort of silly. (Of course, it's also half the fun of wikipedia, following the strange paths that you can end up taking by clicking interesting links between entries.)

        More subject specific wiki's do exist, and more are popping up every day, but they're all currently stuck in the shadow of Wikipedia. Hopefully as people become more savvy about finding information online, they'll start to look for more focused sources.

        • Re:Food for Thought (Score:5, Interesting)

          by truthsearch (249536) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:52PM (#25457557) Homepage Journal

          I think the more useful solution is multiple wiki's, each geared towards a more specific category of knowledge, and having the appropriate level of requirements for an entry to be considered valid.

          That was exactly my thinking when I launched DocForge [docforge.com]. Topics for programmers need to have a lot more information than a source like wikipedia can provide. We use some wikipedia articles as a starting point and expand from there. Sometimes opinions, especially pro / con arguments, are preferred for some articles because they provide much more insight than a flat reference. Plus we can collect subjective things like tips [docforge.com] that don't belong on wikipedia.

          I think this route of categorical wikis is very useful. But unfortunately, you're correct in that most will remain in the shadow of wikipedia for quite some time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blahplusplus (757119) *

      The problem goes deeper then that, the author comes across to me as missing the deep links between religion, gossip, and ideology -- that they trump the facts every time.

      That religious or slopping thinking is the standard for all human beings, even science is subject to the same sloppy thinking they accuse creationists and other "nonscience" disciplines, peoples and opinions of and hence the dire need for peer review, criticism, and understanding, etc.

      But the truth is, all truths people think are true are r

      • by bwalling (195998)

        But you have to realize that this is a fundamental human problem for every human being, regardless of status, class, intellect, or education, many of histories brightest minds were horribly wrong in enormous ways about other things. Look at Newton for instance and the amount he wrote concerning religion, etc.

        What makes you so sure Newton was "horribly wrong" about religion?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bcrowell (177657)

      Which raises an interesting question that no one seems to be asking: What if the problem is not Wikipedia at all? What if Wikipedia is a symptom of a much larger problem in our culture?

      In fact, I think Wikipedia has some features that make it more reliable than the culture at large.

      When I read a WP article on a controversial topic, I always make sure to take a look at the talk page as well. This allows me to see what issues are really controversial, what ideological axes people have to grind, etc. That'

    • Re:Food for Thought (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dnwq (910646) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:25PM (#25457115)
      A highly relevant note from WP:UNDUEWEIGHT [wikipedia.org]:

      NPOV says that the article should fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by a reliable source, and should do so in proportion to the prominence of each. Now an important qualification: Articles that compare views should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views, and will generally not include tiny-minority views at all. For example, the article on the Earth does not mention modern support for the Flat Earth concept, a view of a distinct minority.

      ...From Jimbo Wales, paraphrased from this post from September 2003 on the WikiEN-l mailing list:

      * If a viewpoint is in the majority, then it should be easy to substantiate it with reference to commonly accepted reference texts;
      * If a viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents;
      * If a viewpoint is held by an extremely small (or vastly limited) minority, it does not belong in Wikipedia regardless of whether it is true or not and regardless of whether you can prove it or not, except perhaps in some ancillary article.

      So, despite TFA, verifiability is not the only criterion. I daresay NPOV comes into play more often: WP policy is only ever important when an issue is fought over by differing editors, after all; and it is trivial to find sources for all sorts of contradictory viewpoints.

      Note that even the UNDUEWEIGHT policy is not strictly followed in Wikipedia - e.g., creationism has a lot of adherents at a popular level. It's also trivial to find cited sources and endless lines of arguments and counter-arguments. Despite this, Wikipedia is usually sceptical of creationism - statements on evolution are usually phrased "it is the case that x" whereas creationist statements are carefully bracketed as "many people believe that x".

      ...but who seriously thinks that this is a bad thing? WP:IAR [wikipedia.org] is probably the best guideline here. Common sense, indeed...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gnick (1211984)

        Despite this, Wikipedia is usually sceptical of creationism - statements on evolution are usually phrased "it is the case that x" whereas creationist statements are carefully bracketed as "many people believe that x".

        I jumped over to wikipedia so that I could correct you and point out that they only describe the evolutionary process as fact while leaving ambiguity about whether or not it's actually how we arrived with our current selection of species. I can't - Your example is dead on. From here: [wikipedia.org]

        All organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool. Current species are a stage in the process of evolution, with their diversity the product of a long series of speciation and extinction events.

    • Re:Food for Thought (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tom (822) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:25PM (#25457121) Homepage Journal

      Which raises an interesting question that no one seems to be asking: What if the problem is not Wikipedia at all? What if Wikipedia is a symptom of a much larger problem in our culture? What if the solution isn't to berate Wikipedia for that which they cannot fix, but rather to ensure the foundations upon which the system is based are fixed?

      WP might not be "the" problem, but a part of the problem, I agree on that.

      However, the aggregation and the claims that WP makes about itself contribute to the problem. Most people with some critical thinking don't trust everything they read on the Internet, and have a clue about how reliable certain publications usually are. Most of us know which newspapers have good reporting and which ones don't.

      WP merges everything. That means loss of differentiation. Someone decides which version is "true", maybe because he doesn't know the others.

      More simply put: If you read it in a magazine, you're more likely to check at least one other source. If you read it in an encyclopedia, you aren't. For the most part, the encyclopedia is the most authoritative source a normal human will check.

  • by genner (694963) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:46PM (#25456489)
    Don't you worry about Wikipedia we'll change it when we get home. We'll change a lot of things.
  • 2+2 (Score:3, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:47PM (#25456527)
    "Even 2+2 is 4 only if everyone agrees". Sum like that.
    • Two and two is two.
    • by saibot834 (1061528) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:19PM (#25457033) Homepage

      Wikipedia doesn't say that A is true because reference X says so. Wikipedia says that reference X tells us that A is true. There is a fundamental difference:
      In the first (incorrect) version, Wikipedia cites X and adds something to this, specifically that X is trustworthy and makes correct statements about A.
      In the second, correct version, Wikipedia doesn't claim that A is true or false. It just claims that X claims that A is true. Wikipedia doesn't add anything, it simply accumulates facts and let the reader choose whether A is true or not, and whether X is trustworthy or not.

      Nothing is true just because you can verify that someone else thinks it is true. That idea is stupid and so is this story.

  • by Deag (250823) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:48PM (#25456537)

    That slashdot isn't considered some other publication.

  • by drquoz (1199407) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:48PM (#25456541)
    Simson Garfinkel? You mean that singing duo?
  • Wiki BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by conner_bw (120497) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:50PM (#25456571) Homepage Journal

    The claim that "it appeared in some other publication" is in stark contrast with it's own "WP:SPAM" zealots who won't accept any external publication, strongly favoring [[self-references]] instead.

    Wikipedia is more like early north american land grabs. First to put down the stake wins. Any additional, equally valid info, is spam and must be defended against.

  • Truth... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gambit3 (463693) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:50PM (#25456573) Homepage Journal

    Wikipedia: Where consistent opinions are correct opinions.

  • by writerjosh (862522) * on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:50PM (#25456581) Homepage
    I think we shouldn't look at Wikipedia as being absolute truth, or not truth, but "a reasonable aggregate of truth." I know that's why I look to Wikipedia when I'm curious about something: not as a source of final truth on a subject, but a starting point. Wikipedia does a great job at collecting relevant information and presenting it in an easy to read fashion, but it should only be used as one tool in research.

    As the article author suggests, Wikipedia, when compared to magazine articles or books, is still only the best opinions of other humans. True, magazine articles and books typically have more fact-checking involved - because the author has a reputation to protect - but it's still opinion - just like Wikipedia. The only way a reader can assess ultimate truth is to view Wikipedia in comparison to as many other publications as possible - online or offline. This is the scholastic method and should be the method for every Wikipedia reader. I know this isn't always the case, but this isn't always the case for your average book reader or magazine reader either: they read an opinion that jives with them, and it becomes truth - no different than a Wiki entry.
    • by Surt (22457) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:57PM (#25456703) Homepage Journal

      Perhaps we should just consider Wikipedia a reasonable aggregation of information. Some true, some false.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bishop Rook (1281208)

        Quite so. People are looking at Wikipedia the wrong way. It's not meant to replace people actually seeking truth the old-fashioned way. It's meant as an aggregation of mostly-correct information about a broad variety of topics that people can use as a starting point to inform themselves.

        It's not meant to replace Encyclopedia Britannica, scientific journals, textbooks, or investigative reporting. It's meant to replace, "Well I heard from my Uncle Joe who got it from his neighbor that her daughter said sh

    • Exactly Wikipedia is great for just knowing a little about something that you have no idea about. I recently had a sandwich with capers on it. I wanted to know what those capers are that I am eating. So I did a quick Wikipedia look up on Capers then I found that it is a flower... Because the capers that I was eating were so heavily pickled and served with fish I originally assumed that it was a form of sea-weed, but I was wrong and now I know. And Knowing is half the battle (G.I. Joeeee)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tom (822)

      "a reasonable aggregate of truth."

      Many years ago, someone coined the term "consensus reality". I think that is more than appropriate here. What Wikipedia does is create "consensus truth", where things are true if there is a consensus that they are. That's independent of fact, although there is a fairly strong correlation. However, there is no causation. There's quite a bit on WP that's verifiably false - but the falsifications never make it because they violate some WP policy. Lanier is a good example, I know a couple more like that.

      WP is a

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by owlnation (858981)

        I think that is more than appropriate here. What Wikipedia does is create "consensus truth", where things are true if there is a consensus that they are.

        Occasionally that may be true. However, pressure groups, cabals and wikipedia admins enforce their version of truth without consensus. Until all admins and cabals are removed from the site it can never be trusted.

    • What the Internet should have taught everyone is, that you can't trust anything just because it is written on a piece of paper or on a computer screen. You, the user, always have to judge for yourself if you wish to trust the information you are getting, or not.

      I am a Wikipedian myself and I say, that there is much wrong information in our encyclopedia - just like in every encyclopedia or any non-trivial text. Read articles, perhaps take a look at the talk page and the version history and ask yourself wheth

  • Not true (Score:3, Insightful)

    by philspear (1142299) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:50PM (#25456585)

    I notice the only thing supporting the idea that wiki defines true comes from wiki, which is not an outside-wiki source. Therefore it can't be verified (without RTFA at least) and is not true.

  • If you wikipedia the word truth you will see the most popular perceptions of what truth is and how it has changed with different governments and civilizations. I think you will find that the Concensus Theory serves as an "abstract" truth in which less ambigious definitions of truth serve as components and tools of concensus. Wikipedia has not redefined the common perception of truth, it merely extended Nicholas Rescher's philosophy and it has been successfull because of its scalability and abstract nature.
  • And of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ab8ten (551673) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:52PM (#25456607)
    there is the danger of the self-refferential wiki-loop, where an unverified statement on wikipedia gets used in a reputable newspaper, which is then used to 'verify' the original statement.

    The Register loves this sort of thing: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/17/wikipedia_and_the_mirror/ [theregister.co.uk] is a minor example, but who knows what else has been elevated to truth by circular reasoning? (smart alec answers to *that* question are welcome :))
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      The Register loves this sort of thing: is a minor example, but who knows what else has been elevated to truth by circular reasoning?

      Plenty!!!

      • The belief that Iraq was trying to buy Yellow Cake, had an active WMD program, and that we were somehow liberating Iraq and that they'd be our friends afterwards and pay us back for our troubles and expense.
      • A lot of the anti-climate change stuff uses similar tactics -- a couple of dissenting voices are used to support the idea that there is "widespread disagreement" o
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MacDork (560499)

        A lot of the anti-climate change stuff uses similar tactics -- a couple of dissenting voices are used to support the idea that there is "widespread disagreement" on the topic.

        On Wikipedia? Hardly. It has been my observation that Wiki is an echo chamber for the pro-climate change stuff. I had an article [nationalpost.com] to reference, but it's gone. Apparently censored. It did exist on archive.org, but apparently it has been purged there too. Hmm, I wonder why. You can find a digg reference to it here, [digg.com] but again, no article text. I did finally manage to dig up some of the copy here... [wordpress.com] The cult of climate change has much more effective censors than the scientologists do apparently... For

  • the crticism offered in the story summary is accurate, but pointless. the idea would be to find some sort of impossibly noble source of information for which the criticism leveled at wikipedia does not also apply. since all sources of media suffer from the same sort of suspect appeal to authority or questionable fact checking, then the criticism leveled against wikipedia is not valid in the sense that it makes wikipedia any different from any other media source you can find

    all media is suspect, anywhere. you go through life with a good bullshit meter, or you don't go through life at all. there is no such thing, nor will there ever be, a perfectly verifiable and 100% trustworthy media, anywhere on this planet. media is a human endeavour, and as such, it is as flawed as we are. it is not a question of purposeful intent or partisan manipulation, it is a question of the unattainability of true impartiality

    it is impossible for you to discover a media source that does not also suffer from the same criticism leveled at wikipedia. so continue using wikipedia, with a healthy functioning bullshit meter, teh same bullshit meter you should have on when reading any other media soruce. the criticism is useless

    learn to accept the fundamental limitations of media in your world, and stop expecting the impossible out of media. it is biased, and always will be

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Surt (22457)

      all media is suspect, anywhere. you go through life with a good bullshit meter, or you don't go through life at all.

      Or you go through life anyway, and vote republican.

  • by jdgeorge (18767) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:53PM (#25456615)

    Wikipedia provides the new standard of "truth"?

    We all know that nothing is "true" until it has been posted on Slashdot. Jimbo Wales is fit to polish Commander Taco's sneakers.

  • What makes a fact or statement fit for inclusion is verifiability -- that it appeared in some other publication,

    I finally figured out what bugs me about this; it means that Wikipedia is only a repository of Media-knowledge: what publication owners want us to know (or believe). Where is the line drawn for a publication? Would the Federalist Papers have made the cut?

  • Useful Vs. Official (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:57PM (#25456697) Journal

    Wikipedia has errored on the side of being "cited" over being "useful". Opinions that may be subjective or not cite-able can still be very useful information.

    What is needed is a kind of competitor that *does* allow "unofficial" info. One can use wikipedia when they want cite-able stuff and the less formal one for less formal tidbits. (And maybe link them somehow.)

    For example, in my opinion one of the most striking things about the original video game "Asteroids" that set it apart was the brightness of the phaser torpedoes, due to its use of vector screen scanning instead of raster scanning. I put a note about this on wikipedia, but the "citation police" kept deleting it. This despite the fact that most of the existing article was not cited either. (Cut-off time rules?) It was a frustrating experience. Subjective opinions about why people liked (or thought others liked) X is useful info to many of us. Personal experience from an arcade owner about customers' first reactions would be interesting also, even if not citable.

    There's a niche to be tapped. I even considered starting "casualpedia.org" to serve it, but don't want to manage/rent the fat server farms needed. (I've filled my quota on personal dot-bombs already.)

  • Perhaps some sort of points system might work, like a democracy of truth. People could "vote" on how accurate they believe a page to be (hopefully in an informed way) and a "How likely is this article to be accurate" index shown on each page.

  • Multiple sources (Score:5, Informative)

    by interiot (50685) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:58PM (#25456723) Homepage

    but there is a problem ... many publications don't do any fact checking at all

    That's why multiple sources are the best. Whenever sources disagree, the more reliable [wikipedia.org] sources are trusted over less reliable sources.

    Verifiability is really an appeal to authority--not the authority of truth, but the authority of other publications. Any other publication, really.

    That's just not true. Many talk pages are filled with disputes over "my source X is more reliable than your source Y because ...". That's ultimately a very healthy discussion. And WP:RS [wikipedia.org] does say that some sources aren't reliable enough to be worth including at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Big Jojo (50231)

      That's why multiple sources are the best. Whenever sources disagree, the more reliable sources are trusted over less reliable sources.

      Not really. They don't like primary sources in regards to current Technology, for one example ... where the hierarchy tends to go (1) specifications are the primary sources; (2) comments from people involved in the specification development are secondary sources, and may have some biases but may also provide useful explanation that's not immediately clear; (3) trade rags p

  • by One Louder (595430) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @12:59PM (#25456743)
    So, if somebody creates a Wikipedia article called "Everything on Wikipedia is a Lie ", will it start arguing with itself, then explode?
    • by owlnation (858981)

      So, if somebody creates a Wikipedia article called "Everything on Wikipedia is a Lie ", will it start arguing with itself, then explode?

      Hopefully! It's certainly worth a try.

  • Notability is King (Score:5, Informative)

    by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:00PM (#25456757)
    There's also the accepted rule that "Celebrity equals Existance." Don't believe me? Try and write a highly detailed wiki entry about a webcomic that has been consistently updating for years but won no awards, or a music band who has been steadily working on the independant scene but went largely unnoticed by the major labels. Your hard work is sure to be rewarded by a "lack of notability" deletion notice. Does this mean that I don't exist until I get the cover page of People magazine? Wikipedia seems to think so...
  • by snarfies (115214) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:02PM (#25456773) Homepage

    There is a real attempt at changing some of Wikipedia's guidelines going on at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability/RFC:compromise [wikipedia.org]

    Please have a look, and please chime in. Please strike a blow AGAINST deletionism.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Onaga (1369777)

      Please strike a blow AGAINST deletionism.

      I prefer to think of it as Intelligent Editing.

  • Irrelevant (Score:4, Funny)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:06PM (#25456855) Homepage Journal

    We all know that the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.

    So, unless Wikipedia adds a huge DON'T PANIC header to their website, I won't be using it.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:08PM (#25456873) Homepage

    > Wikipedia's policy of 'No Original Research' also leads to situations like Jaron
    > Lanier's frustrated attempts to correct his own Wikipedia entry based on firsthand
    > knowledge of his own career.

    Has he offered documentation?

  • Truth is dangerous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:08PM (#25456879) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that people require truth, rather than observation, as well as an over dependence on facts. Some articles are fact based. William Shatner portrayed Captain Jame Tiberius Kirk in 79 episodes of the ST:TOS. These are widely known, verifiable facts, and anyone who disputes them is likely delusional.

    Some facts are less widely known, like what Shatner was doing last week at tea time, or what motivated someone to jack a car. One might be tempted to ask Shanter or the car jacker, and that would certainly give a credible version of the truth. But what if 10 people saw Shatner at the time on the state day, or what if the car jacker just had a discussion with someone prior the incident describing what he or she was feeling. And what if the first hand and observed description of the 'truth' did not match? Do we accept the personal accounts or first hand observations? Do we accept the car jackers claim that he had been offered the car as a gift when 10 people saw the car being taken at gunpoint? The problem with truth is that we are forced to accept a single version, even though, at least sometimes, both can be seen as reasonable in certain contexts.

    Which is why there is no issue here. Wikipedia deals with facts, figures, and personal statements. This is a commonly accepted fact. This is what I saw, and many people agree with me. This is the gestalt consensus of the truth at this moment. Confusing this with anything other than fallible observation causes nothing but problems.

    OTOH academic observation often talks about validity. Starting with this data, and using these methods, this is what a reasonable person would conclude. Is the data good? You be judge. Are the methods appropriate? You be the judge. Do you trust that the procedures are carried out properly? That is also a judgement call. There is no truth, just observation and valid conclusions. Wiki cannot handle this because it usually just include out of context 'facts', with little context. No way to know why these 'facts' are more valid that those reported last week. It is this exact thing that makes people so confused about health and nutrition issues. People tend to believe what they are told, even though there is no reason to believe it.

  • the phrase "tyranny of the majority" doesn't it?
  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:10PM (#25456901) Homepage Journal
    I found the idea that "real" encyclopedias were considered to be somehow more accurate to be questionable at best. Does Wikipedia contain multiple errors? You bet it does. Does the Encyclopedia Britannica contain multiple errors? Yup. The real difference is that while the "professional" compilations don't tell you how they collect or evaluate the material they present as absolute truth. Wikipedia doesn't hide where the information comes from or how it is evaluated - this provides valuable information that the others choose to hide.

    The real danger is in assuming that any other source of information is significantly more accurate, complete or truthful than Wikipedia. You'd be better served by assuming that any / all of these references are not completely reliable.

  • > On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject.

    There are three kinds of truth: direct personal experience, consensus truth, and "faith" (which is really a form of consensus truth).

  • ...to teh internets. Post a factoid in various places around the interweb enough times and it becomes true.

  • by gr3y (549124) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:14PM (#25456975)

    Wikipedia is not authoritative.

    1. Wikipedia is not a primary source.
    2. Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

      Wikipedia's content is generated by pseudo-anonymous individuals who incorrectly assert the public Internet is a reliable source of information. The public Internet is not a reliable source of information, therefore wikipedia is not a reliable source.

    3. Wikipedia is not an objective source.

      Wikipedia's editors break the rules governing their behavior and the behavior of others if it will benefit them. As a result, wikipedia advances the subjective views and beliefs of its editors.

    4. Wikipedia is not a representative source.

      Contributing factors to this delusion include the competing concepts "notability" and "neutrality", as advanced by wikipedia. Lacking from that discussion, of course, is the question: notable or neutral, to who? Rather than host disputed versions of articles, representing the majority opinion and any significant minority opinions, wikipedia prefers a version advancing assertions, but not facts, which are easily disputed by any minority.

    And I frankly despise the appearance of wikipedia in search results, or having some article on wikipedia quoted in a discussion online, as if it provides information of value, in lieu of the reliable primary sources wikipedia references, as if wikipedia itself is the source of that information, and not merely a link farm with some content wrapped around it.

    But then, I make a living because of the difference between assertions and facts, and I'm apt to notice such things. Wikipedia is long on assertions, and short on facts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by owlnation (858981)
      Excellent post! Please mod up.

      It's further clouded by the fact that some pages that have many references are in fact linked to sources which are also dubious. You see references and can be fooled into thinking they are true, but they just link to random webpages -- probably written by the author of the wp article.

      Most wikipedia pages on commercial products, companies, and bands(especially) use a fansite or the official site of the product as their primary sources. Hence, large sections of wikipedia ar
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Andr T. (1006215)

      Wikipedia is not a primary source.

      It never wanted to be. I don't think this is a problem.

      Wikipedia's content is generated by pseudo-anonymous individuals who incorrectly assert the public Internet is a reliable source of information. The public Internet is not a reliable source of information, therefore wikipedia is not a reliable source.

      Not quite right. I think no one believes that the public internet is a reliable source of information, and neither Wikipedia. Wikipedia works based in the work of a community guided by a strict set of rules. This community would verify, correct and, if necessary, delete the content provided by any misguided person.

      Wikipedia's editors break the rules governing their behavior and the behavior of others if it will benefit them. As a result, wikipedia advances the subjective views and beliefs of its editors.

      I have to ask you some evidence for that claim. And, still, editors can be wrong as individuals. What can't happen is that a majority of edit

  • by Tipa (881911) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:20PM (#25457057) Homepage

    Here's the million-dollar idea. Make Rebuttal-pedia, a place where Jason Lanier and people like him can post their side of the story, and it can then be used a source for Wikipedia articles.

  • At least it's easy if you accept that anything worth referencing off of it is cited in the article. In this way you'll have what is normally a more credible source to cite instead of simply going off of Wiki's word.

    I wonder how many people ever look at the references section to do further research.
  • by Stephen (20676) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:21PM (#25457067) Homepage
    Wikipedia hasn't redefined truth. It is very explicit that doesn't claim to report truth, only verifiability. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability [wikipedia.org] :

    The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.

    If readers sometimes look to it for truth, well, they're misusing it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nine-times (778537)

      The Wikipedia is about the search for verifiable fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall.

  • by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:23PM (#25457101)
    As a WP user myself, I have to say that the editing process inculcates editors with a "truth has been established"ãmindset. I've never seen the ideal of a "search for truth"ãso subtly yanked out of the toolset of a group of intellectuals so fast as has happened at WP. When "Citation Needed" is used as a weapon much more often than an honest inquiry, you know that you're standing in the midst of hypocrites.

    Oh, and I *am* a hypocrite too. But I'm trying to get better at defining what lengths I will or will not go to in an intellectual argument. It's really easy to pull the carpet right out from beneath your own education by attempting to bring down others' viewpoints for the sake of ego.
  • While absolute Truth may be questioned on Wikipedia, its Truthiness [wikipedia.org] is usually pretty good -- as I circularly reference:

    Colbert later ascribed truthiness to other institutions and organizations, such as Wikipedia.[9]

  • A couple of times I've had someone "correct" me pointing to Wikipedia, where the article that they're pointing to is one I'd contributed to. Sometimes the article has become self-contradictory under the influence of multiple editors, other times the article is being more actively edited by someone who he happens to agree with. Either way, I "know" at least as much about the subject as Wikipedia does.

    You really can't tell what a Wikipedia entry really means without reading the discussion page. In fact, that's often more informative than the article itself.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What really gets me about wikipedia is stuff like Heavy Metal (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) [wikipedia.org]. The guy loses the Afd and so what does he do? Merges every episode, save that one, into List of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episodes [wikipedia.org]. You see - this user knows he couldn't get consensus by an AfD so he engages in backroom deals to gain support.

    Of course, that doesn't top Torchic [wikipedia.org]. A front page featured article with 20 paragraphs and 46 citations now reduced to redirecting to a list of pokemon

  • {{Citation Needed}}
  • The gold standard for any useful definition of truth is, "What is most likely given the information available. Incorporate the uncertainty into your answer."

    In this light, the Wikipedia standard is almost as good as it could possibly be.

  • Wikipedia, as I had to learn the hard way bevor I gave up working on it, does not actually require real verifiablity of the facts presented, but solely on the verifiability of the sources presented. You are not required to actually show that A+B=C, citing a source arguing that A+B=C often suffices.

    So if I can source any kind of bullshit properly, regardles of any truthfullness of the actual content, it gets in. All you can do against it is find a competing source and cram it also in. If you cant, tough luck

  • by gobbo (567674) <[wrewrite] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @01:43PM (#25457403) Journal

    When I was growing up, I read hypertext years before the 'web: encyclopedias. All the related articles listed at the end of each article were links to contextual aspects of the subject.

    Wikipedia takes it further. I read an article that I intend to take seriously by also looking at the discussion page, and the history of edits. It is the saving grace of WP.

    Good WP articles have two new dimensions available to the reader: TIME, and DEBATE. This is an astoundingly more efficient way to stimulate critical thinking about the topic than a simple article with references. Each article has multiple exposed viewpoints, and its growth pattern is part of its verifiability.

    I can't stress this enough. It is a new kind of reading, something that will eventually become crucial to knowledge repositories.

  • by xant (99438) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @02:20PM (#25457987) Homepage

    Perhaps what you really want to know is how Wiktionary defines truth [wiktionary.org].

  • by TimeZone (658837) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:20PM (#25459061)
    I have the Power! [penny-arcade.com]
    TZ
  • by pfafrich (647460) <richNO@SPAMsingsurf.org> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:25PM (#25459153) Homepage
    Its worth remembering why verifiability was introduced in the first place: to discourage things people just made up. If something has no references at all it is very likely to be made up, or someone's pet theory, or some gossip. So verifiability is step one on the path to truth and it has proved to be a most effective tool in eliminating hokum.

    That said verifiability can sometimes make things hard especially for subjects which have a oral tradition. Martial art is a case in point, where the body of knowledge is passed orally and not written down and that which is written is of a low standard. I've seen cases where every practioner of the art knows some specific details but there no written sources in existence.

  • by Britz (170620) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:49PM (#25461297) Homepage

    One article covers some events I was part of. While I would say that those were highly debated events and I probabely should not write about it myself, because I was involved, I still think it is very, very one-sided. I tried to argue my case on the discussion pages, but to no avail. For some reason the other side (radical liberals) thinks that their view must be the neutral one. And they have some more people.

    They even got into an edit war with some Wikipedia-people, because actually those events are not even relvant enough to be part of that article.

    And they still won. So now when someone reads about those events and wants to find out more he might, at some point, look at Wikipedia too check out what those events were all about. And as I am saying. What is in that article is complete bs.

    And all the time I am thinking if I should get more involved because of the significance of Wikipedia. I guess I should.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @10:13PM (#25463907)

    On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject.

    Pretty similar to any true democratic process, when you get right down to it. In other words, the popular will is often an idiot.

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