Weighting In On The Truth Of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an online publication which uses non-expert volunteers in weighing the edits of a various views including the minority view. As a result, Wikipedia invokes a policy known as “undue weight” which is nothing more than using a popular idea that has been used a lot in evolutionary circles in order to make claims of truth. Scholarly consensus is also being used to pass those judgments on Wikipedia.

However, students and others alike have to scrutinize just how accurate Scholarly consensus is, for example and I’m going to use this example which does necessarily pertain to any scientific discoveries but you can rest assured that this stuff can also happen in science journals as well.

In 1886, the National Labor Union passes a resolution calling for an eight-hour work day. Illinois became one of the first to enact the eight-hour law, but businesses refused to comply to the new law. Organized Labor unions continues its quest and declares its goal of having eight hours constitute a legal day of work, beginning May 1, 1886.

Mayor Harrison who is the mayor of Chicago at that time, approves an eight-hour work day for city employees with no pay cuts. Then 100,000 American workers decide to go on strike on May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour workday.  The strike day eventually ends peacefully in Chicago.  On May 3, 1886, the conflict escalated when law enforcement began attacking demonstrators with clubs.

Louis Lingg and William Seliger manufactured an estimate of 30 to 50 bombs.  They later take the bombs to Nepf’s Hall….At 7:30 PM, a rally to protest the violent attack on demonstrators at McCormicks and support the eight-hour day begins at Haymarket in Chicago.   Both August Spies and Albert Parsons arrive within 15 minutes of each other. The speech lasts for about an hour, and then leaves for Zepf’s Hall.  Samuel Fielden begins speaking about 10 PM when 20 minutes later, law enforcement demand that the Haymarket rally promptly end.  As Fielden steps down from the speaker’s wagon, a bomb is thrown into the ranks of the police, fatally injuring several.  Officer Degan is the first to die.

Timothy Messer-Kruse is an expert on the Haymarket riot and the trial of 1886 that followed the tragic event. The bomb thrown that night at the anarchist rally in Chicago sparked fear in the nation. Wikipedia’s entry is very detailed, catching they eye of Kruse.

Here is what he says about what happened next…

“A couple of years ago, on a slow day at the office, I decided to experiment with editing one particularly misleading assertion chiseled into the Wikipedia article. The description of the trial stated, “The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing. … “

“Coincidentally, that is the claim that initially hooked me on the topic. In 2001 I was teaching a labor-history course, and our textbook contained nearly the same wording that appeared on Wikipedia. One of my students raised her hand: “If the trial went on for six weeks and no evidence was presented, what did they talk about all those days?” I’ve been working to answer her question ever since.”

Kruse continues…

“In what was one of the first uses of forensic chemistry in an American courtroom, the city’s foremost chemists showed that the metallurgical profile of a bomb found in one of the anarchists’ homes was unlike any commercial metal but was similar in composition to a piece of shrapnel cut from the body of a slain police officer. So overwhelming was the evidence against one of the defendants …”

So in order to correct this error mentioned in Wikipedia, this expert did what he should have done which was...” I removed the line about there being “no evidence” and provided a full explanation in Wikipedia’s behind-the-scenes editing log. Within minutes my changes were reversed.”

What was the problem? According to the non-experts in Wikipedia, Kruse didn’t prove there was a Scholarly consensus that would warrant a change in the wording even though he quoted  documents which included verbatim the testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress! But since scholars have been publishing the same ideas over and over again about the Haymarket case for more than a century, they couldn’t accept Kruse’s correction despite he had great evidence to the contrary!

He then questioned Wikipedia’s policy who then directed him to a talk forum to debate his idea. They also informed him, “Wikipedia requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic informed me, “published books.” So in other words the secondary source outweighs the primary source (the trial itself) in Wikipedia.

“Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources.”

Poor Timothy Messer-Kruse, he tried one more time after his book was published but got scolded again for not having a Scholarly consensus! So be careful of what Wikipedia says about events and know what its policy is which overrides what really happened or how it defines a group or idea. Timothy Messer-Kruse writes about it here and the Altantic here.

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5 thoughts on “Weighting In On The Truth Of Wikipedia

  1. However, students and others alike have to scrutinize just how accurate Scholarly consensus is

    . . . . . . .

    So be careful of what Wikipedia says about events and know what its policy is….

    Michael has had an epiphany. Don’t trust a consensus view uncritically.

    The rest of of consider that insight as a given. Scientists especially criticize each others’ work. That’s one of the major purposes of publication—to offer one’s work up for criticism. Experimental results are replicated for the same reason.

    It is an epiphany for Michael only because he uncritically swallows anything that supports his beliefs as—shall we say it?—gospel. Welcome to the world, Michael. Perhaps you should start scrutinizing a few other things as well.

  2. Hey good article Michael, I have always preffered to research direct from original sources if time permits , rather than trust others secondary opinions. You have proved that would be more accurate in this article. The internet is an amazing resource for info, why stop at a reference third party work when facts are limited to “secondary source consensus” we have minds to think for ourselves and sift out the chaff. Any theory should stand or fall on it’s own facts, if they are falsified by a logical and constructive criticism, a theory falls apart as it’s most basic evidences are removed by a more direct source. Wikipedia as you have shown is attempting to be a first source type of truth bearer rather than an unbiased information resource. Your constructive criticism of evolution’s icons in past articles prove as well until a theory is critically examined a blatant error or presupposition may go undetected. When I read your comments it becomes apparent to me that most never respond in a cogent manner without insulting you as a person, this is an expose of the heart of an angry evolutionist. As brutish as the theory itself. But at the same time by allowing it you do what those who control Wikipedia refuse to allow, the critics voice. I encourage you to keep it up, hopefully they will eventually see the truth exhibited by your Christ like tolerance. You have proved to me by your actions that creationism and the Bible you get it from is the other side, the True side.

  3. What was the problem? According to the non-experts in Wikipedia, Kruse didn’t prove there was a Scholarly consensus that would warrant a change in the wording even though he quoted documents which included verbatim the testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress! But since scholars have been publishing the same ideas over and over again about the Haymarket case for more than a century, they couldn’t accept Kruse’s correction despite he had great evidence to the contrary!

    Michael–and Dr. Messe-Kruse’s—problem is that they misunderstand the purpose of Wikipedia. As the editors stated,, it is a network of reliable sources. It is not a peer-reviewed journal for presenting the results of original research.

    Wikipedia favors consensus views with references to commonly accepted sources. These sources lead back to original research, which is in turn supported by evidence. A reader can follow this trail as far as he wishes, to find out where the consensus view came from.

    It could happen that one of the links in this chain is oversimplified, or misinterpretive, or just plain incorrect. The remedy is not to self-edit the Wikipedia entry. What Messe-Kruse should have done is to present a paper to a scholarly journal, where his sources and analysis could be peer-reviewed and offered to other historians for criticism. This is called the publication process, and it is fundamental to scientific investigations of all kinds. Then, IF MJesse-Kruse’s analysis of his primary sources is vindicated by those in the field, the text books need to be rewritten, and the Wikipedia entry corrected.

    Short-circuiting this process by entering new—and unverified—primary evidence into an on-,line encyclopedia of general circulation is entirely inappropriate. n other words, the policy is correct for the type of publication that Wikipedia is.

    Michael’s high dudgeon is misplaced. He should not assume to rely on Wikipedia for revealed truth. This is what I said in my first comment. Michael’s problem is an inability to judge appropriate sources and to take into account their purposes and limits.

    But then we should not be surprised. Creationists do this all the time—because their approach is apologetic, rather than scientific. They do not read a source for its knowledge, but rather for its confirmation of their beliefs.

  4. When I read your comments it becomes apparent to me that most never respond in a cogent manner without insulting you as a person, this is an expose of the heart of an angry evolutionist.

    Scientists do often come across as angry when dealing with creationists. This happens because creationists decide scientific matters with faith rather than with evidence. They believe what pleases them, without any positive evidence whatever, and disbelieve out-of-hand that which contradicts their faith by merely denying the evidence.

    You claim to consult primary sources. Yet you swallow Werner Gitt whole, even though he offers no evidence for his assumptions. Did your “primary sources” approach fail here? Or did time not permit looking up the definition of “information” to see how he equivocates it? You could have easily noted that some of his “theorems” were inconsistent with each other, and that his basic premise is a patent example circular reasoning.

    Unfortunately, Richard gave away any claim to objectivity with this statement—

    You have proved to me by your actions that creationism and the Bible you get it from is the other side, the True side.

    Only in theology is that truth of a source bound up in the nature of a doctrine’s source. In science, this matters ne a whit. Stanley Pons is one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. Richard would tell us that this proves that cold fusion is true after all.

  5. You make some good points. Normally what I do when I use wikipedia is look at the footnotes. They often include first hand research and analysis in the form of actual books or scholarly articles. Thus, wikipedia is not to be considered purposefully misleading. It is merely a distributor of information, information that may not always be reliable. But that’s where personal skepticism and good research come into play as you mentioned.

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