Playing telephone with the echo chamber

Wed 01 Oct 2008 10:05 AM

There's been some blog reaction to my fibs in Wikipedia paper. That's unsurprising, since the paper is freely available on-line and addresses a topic close to some bloggers' hearts.

What surprises me a bit is that all of the reactions interpret my study as vindicating Wikipedia. My result is certainly a midpoint between despair and celebration for Wikipedia; about a third of the fibs were fixed in the studied time window, but (it follows) about two-thirds of them were not. Since there is good reason to think that the probability of being fixed falls of rapidly after the edit is made, this figure does not allow us to extrapolate a half life for fibs. Nonetheless, Jason Pannone mentions my study and says, "I'm not sure that this article will sway skeptics, but it does offer some additional empirical evidence that minor errors in Wikipedia are corrected quickly."

Kent Anderson points to my paper and briefly summarizes the result. He misinterprets it slightly, taking 1/3 of the fibs fixed to include only those cases in which the fib was removed entirely. This allows him to give the optimistic spin that "additional entries were flagged with 'need citation,' indicating that they had been caught and the time to correction was near." Blogging librarian Rhondda read about my paper in Anderson's blog and summarizes it this way: "The study showed that Wikipedia's methods for checking for small inaccuracies are validated. ... Within 48 hours, those that had not been corrected, had been flagged as needing adjustment." Some others were flagged (Anderson's error) becomes all others were flagged, so that every single fib was caught by someone. If the game of telephone continued, someone down the line might summarize my study as showing that Wikipedia fixes errors with divine inerrancy, before they occur.


from: Rhondda

Thu 02 Oct 2008 06:05 AM

By the way, you are also misconstruing/restating for the sake of your argument. If you read my earlier posts, as well as the later part of the post, I also say that all data should be obtained from several sources to check the veracity of the information. If everyone did this maybe all errors could be picked up even more quickly. My argument is that Wikipedia can be a useful tool and not dismissed outright due to the preconceptions of some for a new media. The point for me is that there are also errors in the "accepted" sources of information so none can be exempt from scrutiny.

from: P.D.

Thu 02 Oct 2008 06:06 AM

Rhondda: It's a fair cop. The last sentence is unfair hyperbole. We agree that the Wikipedia can't be dismissed outright on the basis of some a priori prejudice.

(To add to the indignity, I even misspelled your name in the original post. Fixed now.)