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Christina's LIS Rant
Monday, August 30, 2004
  I'm not the only one rushing to defend Wikipedia
See my post below. I am, however, a bit concerned at some of the criticisms of the school library media specialist. J points to a post aggregating other posts on the original Syracuse article. J, SC, and I all went to library school so we know what's taught about evaluating the authority, etc., of resources. It's a big deal in collection development and in user education/information literacy. My point is that the school librarian should 1) not have used Wikipedia as an example of a bad resource and 2) a more nuanced, sophisticated method needs to be taught when dealing with new resources. Evaluating print materials is pretty much under control. How to evaluate wikis, blogs, and new types of electronic resources is not well taught.

I also feel that it's unethical to intentionally sabotage wiki articles for the sake of testing the reviewers. For a university professor to do that is, well, kind of crappy. The mistakes were caught, but how much time was spent fixing them when it could have been spent improving other articles on the site? In your studies, do no harm! It does matter. Plus, I won't trust any changes he makes from now on -- maybe the wikipedia editors should search his name or IP and delete all his changes.
 
Comments:
I'm sorry, but I think you are wrong here. "Do no harm" is *not* a prerequisite of social research. Limiting the amount of harm done is, as is making sure any potential harm is counterbalanced by the value of the research. Using subjects' time, as well as deceiving them, is justified when the impact is small and the potential reward is great. Were social scientists bound to the stricture "do no harm," it would also be very difficult for us to do much good.

I don't deny that I added to the workload shared by Wikipedia collaborators on Sunday. However, as I've noted on my blog, I think the value of verifying the strength of Wikipedia was well worth the small amount of potential harm or effort it caused.

I find your suggestion that wikipedia collaborators should decide the validity of the information contained on the site based on authorship (specifically my authoriship) to be a bit odd. I contributed an article just a few days ago. That it remains on the site, while intentional falsehoods do not, is a credit to a system that is capable of fact-checking. One of the advantages of Wikipedia is that it is not (like its sister project, Nupedia) dependent on the qualifications of its authors. That idea may be unusual to librarians, but it is one of the factors that makes Wikipedia work so well.

In the end, the small amount of time needed to correct these errors has provided Wikipedia with a public vindication of its quality. It's too bad that some, you included, fail to see why this might be valuable.

Finally, while I *do* think my actions were ethical, I encourage the debate that it has brought forward. I earlier criticized some amateur research (which is how I would categorize the test this weekend) based on Orkut for being unethical, and it is refreshing, and challenging, to find myself in turn criticized.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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