Blog Post

The Highs and Lows of Collaboration: Wikipedia

The Highs and Lows of Collaboration: Wikipedia

     This practicum on editing and citing on Wikipedia made me realize just how easy it is to change the information presented. Growing up, every teacher from the fourth grade on warns about the potential misinformation one could receive on Wikipedia, but the information available usually appears to be fairly reliable. I think that the site closely monitors editing activity on many of the most popular pages, which is why the site appears relatively accurate. After being able to successfully contribute to the information provided on the site, I think it is clear that the lesser-frequented pages are not thoroughly vetted (for example, I ran into an "alternative fact" when seeking a citation through Citation Hunt). While this seems intuitive, it never really occurred to me. 

     The citation I was tasked with finding was on the Beaver Meadow Golf Course in New Hampshire. A previous author claimed that the golf course is the oldest in New Hampshire, and the site requested a citation for that fact. However, when I tried to track down a source, I found out that the course is only one of the oldest golf courses in New England. In terms of New Hampshire, Waumbek Golf Club (1895) and Exeter Country Club (1895) predate Beaver Meadow (1897) by two years. Once I tracked down a source that supported the finding that Beaver Meadow is one of the oldest in New England, I edited the source for accuracy and inserted a supporting citation. This part of the exercise is what really spurred my shift in perspective on Wikipedia.,_New_Hampshire#Sites_of_interest

     After that, I decided to edit and contribute to the Wikipedia page on Policy Debate (I am on Dartmouth's team). In the activity, the team negating the resolution can respond to the team affirming with a variety of arguments that are distinct in form. I rewrote a section explaining the core components of one my favorite types of argument. The section previously contained false and slanted information. The description of the argument type was inaccurate and expressed personal bias. Cognizant of my own biases, I attempted to rewrite the section to be more "objective" (objectivity is obviously impossible, but I tried to rewrite the passage such that it was unclear what the author of the section's views on the argument were). I chose to edit this page because many young adults entering Policy Debate in high school seek out information about the activity online. Thus, I thought it was critical to have as clear and neutral of an entry as possible.

     Even though I have a newfound skepticism about the accuracy of information on Wikipedia, I am overall glad that people all over the world collectively contribute to an educational project like Wikipedia. It seems like Wikipedia is the original example of the collaborative process that  digital humanists champion with regards to information dissemination. 


1 comment

Pirzada, I think you're right that pages are editorially "policed" with varying degrees of interest and diligence depending on their ranking. I wonder where you can find the rankings that dictate which pages will be under the spot light and more hotly debated, therefore more closely monitored editorially? Once upon a time, I taught a class in which my students changed some key information on an academic institution's website. The change was detected very quickly and re-corrected, to their astonishment (with a mix of relief). Somehow I doubt that you will be the new watchdog for the Beaver Meadow Golf Course page, but you never know ;) As far as working on the "policy debate" page, bravo. And you discovered just how difficult it is to try to write outside of our own biases (some say this is impossible). I suppose you're leading me to ask: what role do our expertise play in our biases, or vice versa? Clearly you found information that needed fixing and you knew how to correct it. Must we accept that with expertise, or perceived expertise, comes bias? And can we express one without the other? I think that one aspect of Wikipedia editing that could balance the bias (or part of it) is our recognition of responsibility to write for such a large audience. That has the potential to situate us in a new relationship to what we know, or what we feel we know. You've got me thinking ... and mostly I'm simply agreeing with you. (Great post!)