Recently I was foraging for new online images to use in a lecture, and, as so often happens, I ended up on a Wikipedia page. On this particular page, some of the information for a rather basic scientific topic was incorrect to the point of being bizarre.
Did I correct it? No, I did not. Once upon a time I would edit incorrect information that I encountered on Wikipedia science pages, but a couple of years ago I gave up because every time I deleted or altered an obviously incorrect statement from an entry, the incorrect information would reappear very quickly. Additional attempts to edit the incorrect information always met with the same result: the incorrect statements reappeared.
These unfixable entries do not concern controversial topics or even matters on which there is some reasonable uncertainty. The entries I am discussing do not even involve popular topics of interest to non-scientists (e.g. penguins, planets). I am talking about basic facts that you would have to be aggressively ignorant to believe, much less to re-assert after being corrected. I only made changes on pages that were directly related to my research specialty.
This is not an anti-wiki rant. I think the concept is excellent, and surely Wikipedia overall provides more useful (and correct) information than not. I sometimes wonder, though:
Who are these people who create incorrect science entries and refuse to let them be improved/corrected?
Surely that goes against the wiki philosophy? When I look at the list of changes for pages I have been unable to correct, I can see that there is a rather small group of people 'guarding' these entries.
Ideally, my students would be able to look at a flawed Wikipedia entry on a topic we have discussed in the course, and see the errors. I haven't done that yet as an exercise, but it might be interesting to try.
6 months ago