December 7, 2009
When You Need to Cite to the "Wisdom of the Crowd" Turn to Wikipedia
When should one cite to Wikipedia for authority? Check out Hannah Murray and Jason Miller's interesting contribution to this debate: Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate [SSRN]. Here's the abstract:
Practitioners and courts are relying more and more on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Hundreds of court opinions, including at least one from every federal circuit court, and thousands of law review articles cite Wikipedia. Some opinions have relied on Wikipedia for technical information, although others only turned to the consensus website for background information on minor points.
This practice has generated controversy, with newspapers, professors, practitioners, and judges weighing in. Wikipedia in Court examines the controversy and the history of Wikipedia in court opinions before proposing a framework to determine when it is appropriate and inappropriate to rely on Wikipedia for authority in legal writing. Given the inconsistency in the legal community's use of Wikipedia, courts and practitioners will benefit from this framework.
I love Wikipedia as a resource but since anyone can edit the content, I'm always careful about citing. On several occasions I've come across articles that are out-of-date or just plain wrong.
Posted by: AndresB | Dec 7, 2009 1:13:51 PM
Exactly how this paper is different from Peoples' 'The citation of Wikipedia in judicial opiions' (Yale Journal of Law & Technology, 12) - or for that matter, Wagner's 'Wikipedia made law' (John Marshall Journal of Computer and Information Law, 26) is thoroughly unclear.
Though what strikes me the most about all three is how blissfully they ignore the significant amount of critical writing and research on Wikipedia that has appeared in the LIS literature over the last five years, and how cheerfully these papers refuse to ask the really tough questions such as what is the benefit of citing to Wikipedia over citing to other reference sources, why are some topics represented on Wikipedia far better than others, and, ultimately, what is it that makes judicial decisions so open to citing Wikipedia, especially as compared to the practice of published scholarly research.
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Dec 7, 2009 10:03:29 AM
Wikipedia in judicial opinions looks to be the hot article topic this year - beyond this paper, I can think of at least two others ('The Citation of Wikipedia in Judicial Opinions', Yale Journal of Law & Technology, 12, and 'Wikipedia Made Law? The Federal Judicial Citation of Wikipedia', John Marshall Journal of Computer & Information Law).
...and in my mind, all three articles are remarkable for how they ignore the LIS literature on Wikipedia, and for cheerfully they refuse to ask the really hard question, such as:
- Why are judges fine with citing to Wikipedia, but scholars (outside the legal field) generally are not.
- Why do Wikipedia articles have the form and shape they do, and what are the factors driving Wikipedia's content coverage
- What, if any, is the actual advantage of citing to Wikipedia over citing to other, more established works. How unique is Wikipedia's coverage (in my own experience, it is never actually unique, and if it claims to be, the claim will most likely be refuted.)
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Dec 7, 2009 9:38:26 AM