slofstra wrote:Believe me, Wikipedia editors do not follow their own guidelines, and the concerns I express are shared by others. Just search the Wall Street Journal or other newspaper on 'wikipedia'. They are supposed to be a tertiary source, and use only reliable sources, but in actual fact, anything goes in the more obscure areas of knowledge, especially when it comes to politics and religion. Sure, they're good when you want to read about Beethoven or Christopher Columbus. That's because they just crib information out of existing reliable sources for those articles. But when it comes to new areas of knowledge and the controversial areas I mentioned there is no peer review, no editorial oversight based on experience, it's mainly a free-for-all. If you're really interested I can dig up a number of examples, but I'm not sure what difference it would make.
Well, yes, Wikipedia is literally a free-for-all.
It is also literally a work in progress, and at any given time you can find articles that are skimpy, or poorly documented, or (as in your examples) a battlefield on controversial subjects. We have to decide for ourselves, then, whether what Wikipedia offers is reliable, or at least better than nothing. As we should with anything and everything that we read.
All encyclopedias and reference works always "just crib information out of existing reliable sources," if you choose to put it that way, though of course not word for word without quotation marks. Do you imagine that the Encyclopaedia Britannica and New Grove are a medium for original thinking and research? Their reliability depends on the reliability of their sources.
No question but that Wikipedia's staff is too small to resolve every issue that every user chooses to bring up. However, I do see box comments in articles saying that facts are undocumented or in dispute. Having been warned, we can decide for ourselves whether the article is nonetheless reliable, or if we can't, then disregard it altogether. No other encyclopedia I know of puts its own lacunae up front like that.
Now to your examples. For the pro-Islamic slant, I checked out the "Thousand and One Nights" situation, and found that the sentence objected to, that this work was the first to use a particular stylistic device, is no longer in the Wikipedia article. To me, this is an example of how the Wikipedia system works to purge inaccuracy.
As for Naturopathy, the Wikipedia article includes 94, yes, 94 source footnotes, and the dispute seems to be over the reliability of some of the sources. I have no interest at all in the subject, but note that in the first paragraph, the article makes clear that "Naturopathy comprises many different treatment modalities of varying degrees of acceptance by the medical community; these treatments range from standard evidence-based diet and lifestyle advice, to homeopathy and other practices often characterized as pseudoscience or quackery." For me that is sufficient warning that this is a controversial subject and much that is said about it is likely to be disputed and may well be wrong. If I were to read on, which I have no interest in doing, my guard would be up. Meanwhile, the issue has been brought to Wikipedia's attention and a vigorous if perhaps not resolvable debate is going on. This encourages me.
As for conflict of interest, I'm in the process of writing a Wikipedia article about my father to replace the stub that's there now. He was an important and distinguished scholar in an important field, computerized linguistics, and nobody but me (and my brother) has the resources and the incentive to do his career justice. So I'm arguably the
expert on the subject. If anyone claims that nothing I write about my father's work can be properly objective because of my relationship to him, I say that's just not true, and my piece will stand any scrutiny that anybody might want to bring to it.
Conflicts of interest only matter when the writer actually distorts the facts to serve his/her/their private purposes. With a readership of millions, many with their own axes to grind, I should think such distorted writing is more likely to be outed and corrected than if it appeared in the pages of a conventional encyclopedia. Your examples suggest that it is, at least sometimes.
One reason I've given Wikipedia my dime is to help it become even better than it is. You say you use Wikipedia all the time and find it quite useful. Well, how about it?