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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here's How Wikipedia's Checks And Balances Work


Today, I was looking up the ridiculous senator James Inhofe on Wikipedia.  I noticed, and commented to a friend, that the article was flagged...  Then I got curious.

Some people look at Wikipedia's self sufficiency as a fatal flaw.  In actuality, its system of self-regulation is quite robust.

There are plenty of online news sources that I don't trust one bit.  These I normally read for a laugh, or for insight on current strategies for the pushing of a specific pseudoscience.  The usefulness of a questionable information source, even to super-skeptics, really depends on what topic of information you're looking up, how you're going to use this information, and if you'll be researching the topic further.

Fake facts, false fibs CAN show up in Wikipedia.
However, there are plenty of measures in place to keep erroneous content in check.   

Combined, these mechanisms in place provide a good overall picture of the content management involved with Wikipedia.

Here's how it works:

Senator Inhofe's page is flagged, yet evolution is not?  This is partly because of the citations used and credibility of the information driving the content.  The system is more complex than just that.
If this confuses you, there are a number of good links a few paragraphs down (on Content Criteria) that ought to help you on your way. 

The Wikipedia page on evolution is "semi protected," a state invented for topics with frequent instances of tomfoolery.

Semi-protection enacts extra qualifications.
"Semi-protection prevents edits from unregistered users (IP addresses), as well as edits from any account that is not autoconfirmed (is at least four days old and has at least ten edits to Wikipedia) or confirmed."

Contributors could just be mistaken! 
Not all bad information comes from trickery or malice.  The best way to fight against honest incorrect contributions is to provide some up front crash course education for new editors.  There aren't any prerequisites.  By following the guidelines provided, a new contributor can gain a number of very important skills.  For example, being able to identify credible sources is a valuable skill unknown to a large percentage of the population. Before the need to regulate arises, content criteria is defined through a clear (and thorough) guide for any new editor. 

Content Criteria

  1. Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not, which summarizes what belongs in Wikipedia and what does not;
  2. Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, which describes Wikipedia's mandatory core approach to neutral, unbiased article-writing;
  3. Wikipedia:No original research, which prohibits the use of Wikipedia to publish personal views and original research of editors and defines Wikipedia's role as an encyclopedia of existing recognized knowledge;
  4. Wikipedia:Verifiability, which explains that it must be possible for readers to verify all content against credible external sources (following the guidance in the Wikipedia:Risk disclaimer that is linked-to at the bottom of every article);
  5. Wikipedia:Reliable sources, which explains what factors determine whether a source is acceptable;
  6. Wikipedia:Citing sources, which describes the manner of citing sources so that readers can verify content for themselves; and
  7. Wikipedia:Manual of Style, which offers a style guide—in general editors tend to acquire knowledge of appropriate writing styles and detailed formatting over time.

Fringe Theories

Provided here is a very nice guide for teaching editors how to spot and deal with fringe theories.  Furthermore, I'd say that this is a pretty damn good guide on fringe for the public in general.

When a conflict does arise:
Here is a chart of links for managing each of a huge variety of conflict types:

On Alerts:
"However, realize the tag is only a request. Instead, if only 1 SAVE is made (by pre-combining all changes), then other editors will only be alerted to check that page when your entire edit is done."

Lets work this out.

This is one of the behind the scenes sections.  It's a place for editors to iron out what's going to be published on a given page:

Before today, I had a very vague idea of how this was handled.  It's really quite impressive.  The rules themselves got (and get) modified, approved, and enforced all through the same basic style of regulation. (neat!)  They call these backbone pages "pillar articles"

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