I read this Onion article and it pretty much said it all for me:
Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence
Founding Fathers, Patriots, Mr. T. Honored
I’ve read numerous accounts of people and organizations having to "aggressively pursue" the correction of entries made about them or on their organization’s behalf because of vindictive individuals looking to libel an individual without their knowledge.
THE ONLY WIKIPEDIA CONSTANT: OPINION WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE
Recently, there was a statement made on a rather popular board that CO2 couldn’t exist in a liquid state – that in fact, Carbon Dioxide was only available in solid or gas states of matter. The individuals stating this used Wikipedia as their point of reference. Chemists from around the Internet simultaneously balked: CO2 is very much available in a liquid state – just not at pressures existing at sea level.
Then one added, "Try reading a book sometime instead of taking wikipedia at face value."
And this is the problem I have and will continue to have with Wikipedia. The concept is an idealistic claptrap. When there is no consequence for inaccuracy, accuracy is never the objective: Opinion is. A given entry is completely based on the determination and the available time of the editing user.
Take for example, this comic from Penny Arcade.
It’s funny but it’s also 100% true. Skeletor can write anything they damned well want about He-Man and have millions of netizens read this opinion and take it for the truth because, hey – it’s on the web right? The claim that "people don’t have to use Wikipedia" doesn’t fly because no individual should have go back to a web page and watch it like a hawk just because someone… anyone… can libel them – i.e. outright lie about them – on a publicly acknowledged reference.
And the irony is that even with a broadly acknowledged lack of credibility, Wikipedia continues to chug along as a the primary reference of choice for millions of kids, adolescents, and moronic adults worldwide. Take this incident regarding the next generation console wars between Nintendo, Xbox, and Sony:
Wikipedia closes Wii, PS3, Sony entries
Virtual vandalism the latest weapon in the next-generation console wars.
THE LAZY MAN’S REFERENCE
And the thing that makes all of this possible is that if there are any constants in human nature, it’s that people are greedy & lazy. In this case, they crave information – no matter what it’s accuracy is like – and they are willing to take any shortcut to get it – i.e. use Wikipedia.
And it’s not like the majority of these people verify anythign they read in Wikipedia. To the contrary, students in school have the <ahem> tendency to straight cut & paste out of the damned thing.
I think Dave Taylor from the Intuitive Life Business Blog said it best in his essay on the lack of credibility of Wikipedia. (Taken From "What Wikipedia Lost: Credibility" – by Dave Taylor, Intuitive.com)
It really hit me [the problem with Wikipedia] as I was editing the student papers and reading passages like this:
"Twenty-five years ago, all computer usage, including the use of Microsoft applications, was accomplished from manual entries at the command line prompt. In addition to the mainframe operating systems there was Digital Research’s CP/M-80 for the 8080 / 8085 / Z-80 CPUs and MS-DOS (or PC-DOS when supplied by IBM) which was based originally on CP/M-80, among others [Wikipedia, 2005]. The ubiquitous commercial off-the-shelf software of today was not to become available for another fifteen to twenty years…"
Now, if you don’t know what’s wrong with the above quote and you’re not willing to go out and find out why… you’re precisely the type of person that shouldn’t be using Wikipedia as a reference. Why? Well… the same reason that bloggers like myself are NOT journalists: Fact checking. As a blogger, I’m just a guy with an opinion and I ultimately have no accountability, whereas a Journalist has a lot to lose by not doing his/her fact checking. Again, here’s another great article by Dave Taylor on the topic of the difference between Journalists vs Bloggers:
Journalists versus bloggers: The Difference is Fact Checking
…one of the distinct differentiators is that real journalists do fact checking.
"LET’S ALL JOIN HANDS FOR THE EMBETTERMENT OF MANKIND"
I’ve heard this naive and ignorant claim about Wikipedia being the "collective" of human kind’s knowledge… about how it creates democracy in how history is documented… about how it binds together the aggregate knowledge of the world… how it makes us all warm and fuzzy and allows us to sing kumbaya.
Let’s get this straight: If everyone were concerned about the world, if everyone participated in the world affairs fairly with a good conscience, if everyone treated the fellow man like an equal… communism would have worked, crime wouldn’t exist, and Dick Cheney’s machiavellian tactics would have been supplanted by others a long time ago.
But that’s not reality. Without accountability & consequence, you can’t have accuracy and without that, you can’t have credibility.
Wikipedia in my mind has no credibility.