"The changes we make to existing pages are rarely challenged.”
August 11, 2015 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Is it really a concern that some high-level decision maker at Medicare or a hospital system might be making billion-dollar decisions based on information from Wikipedia? “Yes,” Heilman insisted. “Definitely.”
Even minor changes in wording have the potential to influence ... how millions of dollars are spent. How can a site run by volunteers inoculate itself against well-funded PR efforts?
In The Atlantic.
posted by grobstein (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
In 2006, Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia’s most public-facing board member, reportedly said that undisclosed paid editing—trying to alter the content of Wikipedia without revealing a financial conflict of interest—is “antithetical” to the site’s aims.

Wikipedia's founding libertarian philosophy is essentially that might makes right, which is incompatible with esoteric knowledge. The notion that a very knowledgeable and unbiased editor could have final say over a single piece of information is antithetical to the site's aims. And the threat isn't typically from paid editing, but from volunteered devotion to a cause or issue.
posted by Brian B. at 7:59 PM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


90% of these problems could be solved if Wikipedia editors weren't anonymous. I understand their aim of neutral point of view. But their stand on anonymity just seems to be an invitation for abuse.
posted by alms at 8:16 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


For this reason, he likes the policy—in that it has created business for him. “There are so many rules, so many guidelines, that it's made it near impossible to edit Wikipedia without having issues,” Wood says.

Perfect. There's a terrible, but entirely self-reinforcing, symbiotic relationship between this guy and the volunteer policy lawyers who repel so many unpaid good-faith contributors (including, even especially, experts). The more byzantine the policies get, the more the professional paid editors, the clandestine marketing and PR people, have the natural advantage of, by virtue of doing it for money, being in a diminishing pool of people willing to put in the ever-increasing effort required to make their edits stick.
posted by RogerB at 8:17 PM on August 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Seems like the answer to the problem doesn't lie within Wikipedia (which, as far as I'm concerned, passed the event horizon of its usefulness as anything other than the briefest of surface introductions to a given subject around when the WMF failed to implement the pending changes tool over the anguished howls of the idiot rules lawyers), it lies within training people to not, you know, use fucking Wikipedia for decision-making.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:31 PM on August 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've been in wikipedia editing battles with editors that had conflicts of interest (COI) like this and the COI editors alway lost, and now they are losing on this page too. Given enough eyeballs, well referenced edits are always going to win.
posted by bhnyc at 8:46 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you believe in the Free Market (and the Marketplace of Ideas), the absolutely fatal problem with Wikipedia is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a Monopoly. Wikia provides mini-wiki space for specialized topics (mostly Pop Culture, the Muppets Wiki is very reliable), but the most notable attempt to provide an alternative is the bad joke that is Conservapedia. The Internet is so good at building anti-competitive social structures.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:54 PM on August 11, 2015


I was doing some neurosurgery rotations when the first definitive proof of the placebo nature of vertebroplasty (and, by extension, kyphoplasty) came out. It split the NSurg dept into factions, some of whom said "I have always known this and hate doing these procedures" while others said "I have always kind of known this, but I will go on doing it because it makes people feel better". And the whole thing about the sales reps being in the OR handing out the equipment is true, and kind of weird. For me, it would be like, instead of writing a prescription, the rep was standing there literally showing me a tray of pills and asking me which one(s) I'd like to administer right now. Which would certainly speed some things up, but would introduce certain constraints.
posted by meehawl at 9:44 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of these comments seem to be using the train of thought that Wikipedia is a source of truth. That was never the intention. It was designed as an aggregator of information surrounding a concept, with links to sources.

At least, that's the gist of what their Wikipedia:Verifiability page seems to indicate.

There's also Wikipedia:Verifiability, not truth that reiterates this.

Of course, this being Wikipedia... this page also exists with this wonderful nugget of truthiness:


 "The de facto primary criterion for the inclusion of information in Wikipedia is truth, not verifiability – whether reliable sources state it to be true, not whether individual editors think they can verify it.
You may have noticed that the de jure primary criterion, as stated on Wikipedia:Verifiability, puts this the other way round: "verifiability, not truth" – whether material can be verified by reliable sources, not whether individual editors believe it is true.
It does not really matter. The distinction being made here is not really between truth and verifiability at all, but between the statements made by reliable sources (which we want to include in the encyclopedia), and the unsupported claims of Wikipedia editors (which we don't).
It's not quite as simple as that, of course, but once you know that Wikipedia is supposed to reflect what reliable sources say, not its editors' private thoughts and unsourceable personal knowledge, most of the rest is more or less common sense."


Emphasis mine.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:56 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The point, though, is the definition of 'reliable source.' POV-pushers will always argue that one. And the main problem is that people who are full of that ol' passionate intensity will always win because nobody else cares enough.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:05 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another factor is that the user base's refusal to accept simplification of the markup language ensures that Wikipedia's version of "truth" will be pushed in the direction of whatever biases are held by the most inflexible of the tech nerdrage bros.
posted by jonp72 at 10:55 AM on August 12, 2015


user base's refusal to accept simplification of the markup language

They've been rolling out a visual editor since the end of 2012.
posted by Staggering Jack at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2015


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