Wikipedia, Climate Change, and the Danger of Crowdsourcing

The Climategate controversery continues as the Wall Street Journal reports that Wikipedia has admitted British blogger William Connolley has been using his authority as an “administrator” to re-write the site’s global warming articles.  Last week, Wikipedia stripped Mr. Connolley from admin status and he’s been banned from the topic completely.  The global warming folks already suffered an embarrassing episode last year when it was discovered how much their scientists had demonized and censored other viewpoints in scientific journals and online.  Whatever you believe about the controversy, this is a clear example of how “crowdsourcing” has it’s limitations.  310 million unique visitors were fed the Connolly perspective, as he literally re-wrote other people’s
articles and deleted entries with opposing viewpoints.  There’s little doubt that millions of students, researchers, and other readers were consistently fed the wrong information on the subject of climate change.

The concept of Wikipedia as a global encyclopedia that millions contribute to, is a noble concept.   I have friends who contribute, and I can tell you there are plenty of internal safeguards to help assure the entries are as accurate as possible. 

But foolproof?  I think this story indicates that you should double check crowd-contributed sources before you use it to back up your viewpoint on anything.

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  1. One also needs to be careful of even “credible” sources. In high school I had several advanced courses, most requiring many research papers throughout the school year. We were told only to use “credible” sources, such as encyclopedias, government reports, and information from universities. The problem with these sources, is that for good or bad, everyone has a bias. Encyclopedias are written by commities which are made up of people who may easily have their own agenda to foward, government data is rountily schewed/completly innaccurate, and most of the papers which I’ve seen on university websites, are research papers from grad students, and thesis papers from people working to a PhD. As these sort of papers typically involve a person trying to prove their own hypothesis on an event, or a mathmatical or scientific problem, there is definetly going to be a lot of bias in what is published out there in cyberspace. Even the Climategate scandal aside, many of the climatology “research” which I have seen, has been from research papers and theoretical models, instead of hard scientific data.

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