Wikipedia is, like A Storehouse of Knowledge, an open editing online encyclopædia. It is one of the most popular websites on the Internet, and Google searches will turn up the Wikipedia page as the top entry on many search terms. The word "Wikipedia" is a combination of "wiki", which means "quick" in the Hawaiian language, and "encyclopedia".
Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, although controversy exists over whether Sanger, who has since left the project, should be credited as a co-founder. Versions of Wikipedia have been created in over 270 languages. The English Wikipedia contains (as of May 2015) well over 4 million articles. Collectively, they attract around 80 million visitors per month. There are nearly 14 million registered users, and the English language version alone has nearly 1800 administrators.
Wikipedia is built on five fundamental principles which it terms its "five pillars". These are:
- Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia.
- The gist of this principle is mostly explained by what it is not, which is that it is not a newspaper, dictionary, directory, etc.
- Wikipedia has a neutral point of view.
- This is also one of Wikipedia's three core policies, explained below.
- Wikipedia is free content.
- All content is licensed to the public, so anyone can reuse it (as long as they abide by the licence).
- Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner.
- Their Civility policy seems directed at encouraging contributors to be civil towards other contributors. It says little if anything specifically about being civil towards non-contributors (apart from its separate policy about what articles say about living persons). This contrasts with A Storehouse of Knowledge which says that contributors must be equally as civil towards groups and individuals who are not contributors.
- Wikipedia does not have firm rules.
- This policy says that contributors can ignore any rules that prevents them from improving or maintaining Wikipedia. This policy seems to be contradicted by its "Neutral point of view" policy which says that it "must" be followed by all editors.
Wikipedia has three core policies, its "Neutral Point of View", "Verifiability", and "No Original Research" policies.
Neutral point of vew
The "Neutral point of view" policy, frequently referred to as "NPOV", is a "fundamental principle of Wikipedia and of other Wikimedia projects.". It adds that "[t]his policy is non-negotiable and all editors and articles must follow it." It admits that it relies on the good intentions of the editors to achieve this, however. In order to achieve this, it offers the following principles:
- Avoid stating opinions as facts.
- Avoid stating seriously contested assertions as facts.
- Prefer non-judgmental language.
- Accurately indicate the relative prominence of opposing views.
The "Neutral point of view" policy is one of Wikipedia's oldest policies.
The "Verifiability" policy says that "[t]he threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth; that is, whether readers can check that material in Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether editors think it is true." The stated reason for this is to show that content is not original research.
A significant part of this policy is what is considered a "reliable source", and many editors consider, for example, that creationist sources are, by dint of being creationist, not reliable.
No original research
The "No original research" policy simply says that "Wikipedia does not publish original research." It does point out that research that involves collecting and organising material from other sources is obviously an exception to this policy.
The degree of accuracy of Wikipedia articles has been much discussed and compared to that of traditional encyclopedias. In an often-cited study, the journal Nature described the level of accuracy in scientific articles in Wikipedia to be close to that in Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica rejected the methodology of the study and the results, and considered that the claim of being "close" was inaccurate, instead wording it that Wikipedia had "a third more inaccuracies than Britannica". Nature defended its study. Few people, however, claim that Wikipedia is a definitive source of information. Rather it is seen as a useful starting point for further research.
The most candid defenders of the encyclopedia today confess that it cannot be trusted to impart correct information but can serve as a starting-point for research. By this they seem to mean that it supplies some links and some useful search terms to plug into Google. This is not much. It is a great shame that some excellent work and there is some is rendered suspect both by the ideologically required openness of the process and by association with much distinctly not excellent work that is accorded equal standing by that same ideology.
Bias and balance
In the context of Wikipedia, "balance" refers to the amount of space devoted to various sides of an issue, while "bias" is the question of whether those sides are presented fairly. The two issues are intertwined.Wikipedia policy has this to say on the issue of balance.
Neutrality weights viewpoints in proportion to their prominence. However, when reputable sources contradict one another and are relatively equal in prominence, describe both approaches and work for balance. This involves describing the opposing views clearly, drawing on secondary or tertiary sources that describe the disagreement from a disinterested viewpoint.
Because Wikipedia (like other open encyclopædias) is edited by volunteers, the content tends to reflect their interests. For example, the average Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia is from a majority-Christian country, so the Christian view of an issue is presented more often than the Hindu or Buddhist views.
The Wikipedia community has acknowledged the existence of many types of imbalance and bias in its content and has adopted a variety of measures seeking to counteract what it terms systemic bias. Some Wikipedia users have begun a project to counter this, known as the WikiProject Countering systemic bias. This project "aims to control and (possibly) eliminate the cultural perspective gaps" that arise from "its contributors' demographic groups" The project seems mostly concerned with cultural bias, that is, an American or European slant to the articles, rather than ideological or religious bias.
Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica, concluded in a 2006 essay,
One simple fact that must be accepted as the basis for any intellectual work is that truth – whatever definition of that word you may subscribe to – is not democratically determined. And another is that talent, whether for soccer or for exposition, is not equally distributed across the population, while a robust confidence is one's own views apparently is. If there is a systemic bias in Wikipedia, it is to have ignored so far these inescapable facts.
Christians, especially creationists, feel that atheists and anti-Christians, in violation of Wikipedia's formal rules, are able to present their view of the issues as fact, while the Christian and creationist views are inaccurately represented or are indicated as being objectively wrong. For example, evolution is presented as fact throughout the encyclopædia, whilst creation is presented merely as a belief of creationists. Another example, since removed, was in the article about the Mission Aviation Fellowship, an organisation that provides transport and other services in remote areas. The article included the comment in its introduction that "Medical work is sometimes used as a front for evangelism and conversion efforts in non-Christian areas". Creationists who nonetheless persist in editing articles, especially those related to evolution, in ways they see as more neutral, complain that they are harassed, persecuted, and eventually banned from Wikipedia editing.
- McHenry, Robert, The real bias in Wikipedia: a response to David Shariatmadari, 6 July 2006 (or 7 June 2006)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Wikipedia:about
- ↑ Five pillars page, Wikipedia.
- ↑ What Wikipedia is not policy, Wikipedia.
- ↑ A Storehouse of Knowledge's civility policy.
- ↑ Ignore all rules policy, Wikipedia.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Neutral point of view policy, Wikipedia.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Wikipedia NPOV policy, Explanation of the neutral point of view section.
- ↑ Wikipedia NPOV policy, History of NPOV section.
- ↑ Verifiability policy, Wikipedia.
- ↑ No original research policy, Wikipedia.
- ↑ Jim Giles, Internet encyclopedias go head to head. Nature, Vol. 438, pp. 900—901. 15 December 2005
- ↑ "Wikipedia survives research test". BBC News. 15 December 2005.
- ↑ Fatally Flawed: Refuting the recent study on encyclopedic accuracy by the journal Nature, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., March 2006. (Emphasis theirs)
- ↑ Response by Nature to Encyclopædia Britannica.
- ↑ McHenry, 2006.
- ↑ WikiProject Countering systemic bias
- ↑ McHenry, 2006
- ↑ Mission Aviation Fellowship on Wikipedia in April 2009.