With the recent news that the wikipedia entry for podcasting has been rewritten to exaggerate one participant’s role, what does this say about the accuracy of the rest of the archive? Is this the end of wikipedia, the great exemplar of a community created knowledge archive? Has our naivety finally caught up with us so that we are now destined to never trust anything else ever again?
Well actually I think quite the opposite. In fact I am reassured that an incident such as this has come to light and is getting so much media attention because we now know that the system works. Large scale unregulated social collaboration projects such as wikipedia can effectively police themselves. The very fact that the podcasting entry was found to have been altered and that the alterations were at best a distortion and at worst, false, is a great example of peer review in action. The anonymous editor allegedly giving himself a more prominent role in the history of podcasting has been shown to be inaccurate by those who also possess knowledge in this area.
Peer review, trust in your fellow (wo)man to collectively verify what you individually know or purport to be true is the only way wikipdia and other shared knowledge archives can grow. There’s a valid comparison I think with the published scientific literature. The scientific community validates and verifies observations by repeating and building upon previously reported work. Occasionally bogus or fabricated data are discovered and individuals are discredited, all because the community polices itself. In the case of wikipedia, what would have been far more disturbing and indeed undermining to the overall veracity of the whole archive would be if we didn’t know the podcasting rewrite had happened, or if we knew no better than the claims that were being made.
Ok, so how do you know that which by definition you do not know? A conundrum indeed but I trust that someone out there knows. That’s the beauty of peer review!