Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can You Trust Wikipedia?

At 16 Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology 857 (2014), Professor Jodi L. Wilson offers an in-depth analysis of the reliability of Wikipedia as a source of authority: Proceed With Extreme Caution: Citation to Wikipedia in Light of Contributor Demographics and Content Policies.  With a growing number of citations to Wikipedia by courts and advocates, we can no longer dismiss Wikipedia or rely on it. The citing party has to use discrimination. Here is the abstract:

Courts and advocates have shown an increasing willingness to cite to Wikipedia. This trend has piqued the attention of scholars, who have considered the permanency concerns raised by citations to Wikipedia and critiqued how courts and advocates have used Wikipedia. This Article adds to the growing scholarship on the Wikipedia citation trend by examining the contours of the Wikipedia contributor crowd and the principles underlying Wikipedia’s content in order to better inform the evaluation of Wikipedia as a potential authoritative source. Part I provides an overview of the Wikipedia citation trend in cases and federal appellate briefs. Part II describes the ongoing judicial and scholarly debate about citation to Wikipedia. Part III first examines the size and demographics of the Wikipedia contributor crowd by using systems data and published surveys. Part III then examines Wikipedia’s editorial and content policies, which guide the Wikipedia contributor crowd in creating content. Finally, Part IV considers the Wikipedia contributor crowd and the editorial and content policies discussed in Part III in the context of traditional evaluative criteria. This evaluation calls into question some of the assumptions underlying the justifications for relying on Wikipedia. Thus, despite the trend, legal writers should proceed with extreme caution when considering reliance on Wikipedia.

Here is the article’s concluding passage:

With respect to Wikipedia in particular, a cursory understanding of Wikipedia as an online collaborative encyclopedia that anyone can edit merely scratches the surface. Before a legal writer embraces Wikipedia as an authoritative source, she must understand, at a minimum, who the contributors are and what the contributions represent. Moreover, based on that knowledge, she must critically assess whether she can reasonably conclude that the Wikipedia article is authoritative for the purpose for which she intends to cite it. As demonstrated in this Article, the contours of the Wikipedia contributor crowd and the content and editorial policies controlling Wikipedia's content call into question some of the assumptions underlying the common justifications for reliance on Wikipedia. Accordingly, the legal writer should proceed with extreme caution when it comes to relying on Wikipedia.


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