Seigenthaler and Wikipedia
A Case Study on the Veracity of the "Wiki" concept
Esquire “wikifies” story. Esquire editor-at-large A.J. Jacobs tested the Wikipedia method of editing by uploading a version of an article he was writing about the encyclopedia. Jacobs’s original version was packed with roughly 15 intentional errors. After it was posted, it remained opened to modifications for three days. During that time it was edited by 76 users for a total of 576 changes.
Jacobs wrote that the Wikipedia volunteer editors left only one mistake uncorrected – the number of entries in the 2005 Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has 65,000 entries, not 120,000. The original version and the edited version ran side by side in the December 2005 issue of the magazine.
In an interview conducted for this case study Jacobs said the experience was fascinating to him -- his editors did better than he expected -- and believes wikis will continue to be of use online.
Speaking about the Seigenthaler controversy, Jacobs said it underscored the fact that Wikipedia can’t be a final source for journalists. Jacobs said that he would never quote Wikipedia in an article as a source, but that he doesn’t mind using the encyclopedia to orient himself while researching.
Jacobs said he does feel comfortable quoting Encyclopaedia Britannica, which he read cover to cover and lived to tell the tale in the book“The Know-It-All.”
The LA Times “Wikitorial”. The Los Angeles Times tried to use wikis in a free-form editorial experiment in June 2005. The paper wanted its readers to interact with an editorial by changing it in whichever way they saw fit.
“Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry?” the paper asked in its introduction of ‘War and consequences,’ an editorial on the Iraq war. “Well, what are you going to do about it? You could send us an e-mail (or even write us a letter, if you can find a stamp). But today you have a new option: Rewrite the editorial yourself.”
The Times also said in the introduction that it understood it might be setting itself up for failure. “Plenty of skeptics are predicting embarrassment; like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip.”
Over the first day and a half, hundreds of people worked on the editorial. The New York Times reported that there was some use of profanity, but it was promptly removed. Michael Newman, deputy editorial page editor of the Los Angeles paper, told the New York Times that after the experiment was publicized on Slashdot.org, a tech-oriented site, people flocked to the editorial, with some readers repeatedly posting obscene photos. The Times removed the editorial soon after, replacing it with a short explanation and a line thanking the “thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit.”
Nature looks for mistakes. The journal Nature decided to conduct an “expert-led investigation” to compare Wikipedia with Encyclopaedia Britannica. The idea was, “if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica?”
The publication picked the same 50 science entries from both sources and asked experts in those fields to review them (the source of each was not disclosed). The result showed that the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average entry in the user-edited Wikipedia contained four inaccuracies; Britannica had about three.
Reviewers, Jim Giles wrote in Nature, “also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.”