What’s Wikipedia Worth?

There have been some recent discussions and disagreements between scholars in my field about the usefulness or otherwise of Wikipedia. Two recent articles (here and here) show what anyone would have expected – that those with vested interests actively engage in biased editing of its pages. This is no surprise, and anyone who doesn’t understand this facet of all Wiki sources should not be using them. For educators, this means we need to ensure that our students understand the nature of these sources. [Visit this page to use the actual web software that tracks which big companies and agencies are editing Wikipedia]

But of course, the same technology that allows corporations, for instance, to edit out information detrimental to their image also allows those who are disgruntled to edit it back in. Certainly one can imagine a large corporation being able to afford to pay a significant number of workers to edit these pages. But unless they do something about the issue itself, they will have growing numbers of disgruntled customers, including some who will take an interest in making their views and experiences known in Wiki forums also. And then there will be the general users interested in impartiality. All of this, in theory, ought to allow these sources to continue to be useful, provided (once again) that users understand their character and their limitations. Of course, in my own field of Biblical studies, this is one of the hardest to maintain serious scholarly information on Wikipedia in the face of the general ignorance in the general public and among churchgoers, many of whom would gladly remove anything that casts doubt on the Bible’s historicity, for example. And since so many people use Wikipedia, if scholars are genuinely concerned about what the general public, including our students, read about, then we cannot ignore Wikipedia and other sources like it.

Technology always gives power and takes it away at the same time. Should we then, like Job, respond to this by saying “blessed be the name of technology”?

[Since I first posted this, other blogs have addressed the topic: New Testament Gateway and Agapeseis, as well as Ben Witherington's]


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