Mike Greenberg & Wikipedia

Earlier this morning Mike Greenberg ripped Wikipedia on his ESPN radio show. I couldn't take it, so here's my response: Subject: Wikipedia and people Greenie's problem isn't with Wikipedia, its with people, bad people. He is potentially a bad person. Wikipedia, only five years old, has potential to be one of the greatest research tools ever. It attempts to collect an incredible amount of information. And a recent article in Nature (a scientific journal) showed that wikipedia only averaged one more mistake per page than Encyclopedia Britanica. Oh, by the way, it already contains about 20 times as many entries. The problem with Wikipedia is that it is a community. And every community has troublemakers. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales admits this himself: "It takes a long time to deal with troublemakers," admits Jimmy Wales, the encyclopaedia's co-founder. "Connolley has done such amazing work and has had to deal with a fair amount of nonsense." Just as bad as troublemakers, are people who dismiss Wikipedia because it doesn't give them what they want. Wikipeida is for producers of knowledge, not just consumers. If you don't like a page, update it (and there is fact chekcing in Wikipedia, but considering Greenie can barely handle a sheet of integrity, I would think he would realize that 1,700,000 articles are tough to keep track of--especially by a non-profit organization). Conclusion: Wikipedia is a powerful tool. Wikipedia has people who abuse it. Greenie is a powerful tool. Don't be a tool, Greenie--put your nerd to work. I could have said more in my email, but that's it. God, I'm sick of people complaining about Wikipedia. Sorry people, but our communication technologies are changing. Such a change is liberating, invigorating, etc. But it also comes at a price--and that price is that we actually all have to work now. Sorry. But we are what Barthes refers to as "wreaders," not mere readers. We are all producers (I am producing write now, t might not be right, but it is a digital rite of passage), no longer mere consumers. Information changes dynamically, in real time--it is no longer [seemingly] static. Don't like Wikipedia? Do something about it (this is especially true for educators--make your students do some fact checking. Encourage them to make small changes to pages. Stop thinking that quality research has to finalize into an entirely "original" paper. ARGH.


Casey said...


I hear what you're saying, but I have a few complaints with Greenberg. You're right that wikipedia is a great quick-fact resource checker, and its "usability" is outrageously simple... accessibility is effectively determined by literacy, and that's awesome.

But many of the most important political, social, and cultural topics up for discussion these days are nightmarishly mish-mashed and disorganized on wikipedia.

Look up something like "race" for example and explain how that could possibly be used as a reliable source for anything other than political hackery. People like you, who are highly trained in reading the subtext, of course, will have no trouble wading through these heaps of sometimes-valuable scrap... but students aren't able to discern a difference between "facts" that they might read about under the wikipedia entry for "race" and facts that they might read under the entry for "Houston Astros."

Or something...

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Right, but I don't think the solution is to dismiss wikipedia outright. A better solution, it seems to me, is to teach people to approach wikipedia with the same kind of hesitancy they should approach all knowledge.

When I use it with students, I strongly maintain that wikipedia is a place to begin research. And, in the future, I hope to use it as a "home" for research. I believe it makes far more sense for 21st century students to fact check / contribute to a wikipedia entry or two than to write a comphrensive research paper. Both activities require dedicated research, but the former fits more with our "information mash-up" climate.

Michael Covarrubias said...

The other day on Language Log Mark Liberman (an exceedingly scrupulous and demanding evaluator of claims and arguments) submitted a very short post regarding the discussion of Wikipedia's value and gaps.

The bulk of his post quotes a short anecdote from Chris Potts of UMass. I'll include Pott's little story here (knowing that it proves nothing--but one can at least marvel at the possibilities).

In my large intro course yesterday, there was an unfamiliar hand in the air a lot of the time, and the student's questions and insights were the best I've had all semester. It was puzzling, because I didn't recognize him, and he seemed to know much more about syntax than one would expect. (It was our first official day on the topic.)

After class, he came to the front and introduced himself as a prospective student, just out of high school. He said linguistics was his passion in high school. I said, "What? How?" And he replied, "Wikipedia".

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is like a commune. Everyone contributes because they recognize the importance of sharing knowledge. But, the interesting thing is that a lot of the entries merely describe the accomplishments/ideas of individuals.

When are we going to make the switch to making art collaboratively without it being "trivial"?