Sunday, September 19, 2004

Cites and Insights (October 2004). Walt Crawford has a new issue up of his well done newsletter. In it, he has an article which has many good ideas on the pros and cons of the Web (and user created) encyclopedia Wikipedia. This is a good article and I e-mailed Mr. Crawford my thoughts on an additional problem area for Wikipedia.

I wrote -

Mr. Crawford:

I enjoyed reading your article on Wikipedia. There is one additional area though that you might want to address in a future look at Wikipedia.

Authors at Wikipedia are encouraged to copy public domain sources to create articles. The problem that this causes is that many of the Wikipedia articles are based on US Federal publications as all of these are in the public domain. While the government sources are generally good, they also have pro-American and other biases. For example, compare the History of Andorra article at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Andorra) with the State Departments Background notes on Andorra (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3164.htm).
(Scroll down to history and compare.) There are many other national histories which are almost word for word copies of the US State Department Background Notes history data. Other articles were originally based on State Department writing as well but have been modified. Another example is in education. Compare the ERIC Digest Transformative Learning in Adulthood (http://www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed423426.html) with the Wikipedia article Transformative Learning ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformative_learning).

Another problem is the extensive use of old public domain information. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannia is used heavily in many history articles. While this data is not bad, it is dated and the last century of scholarship is ignored. For example, see the article at Wikipedia on the Roman Emperor Maxentius (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxentius) compared with the 1911 encyclopedia article.

I still like Wikipedia but this continued reliance on old or governmentally produced information in an encyclopedia is clearly a problem.

Best wishes,

Michael Lorenzen
Head of Reference Services
Central Michigan University

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