Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wikipedia -- the battleground for social and political views

It is probably true that no writing can be entirely objective, however, the collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is far from escaping from bias and propaganda. It is supposed that when an interest group is attacked or some cause espoused, that those in opposition will provide the corrections needed to guide Wikipedia back to a centrist position. But what happens if the centrist position is not legally or morally correct?

In a recent blog, US Political Scene, the blogger pointed out that a Wikipedia article on "Waterboarding" was inaccurate and lacking in any proper sourcing. But where are the critics of the methodology? The media has so far succeeded in educating the American people about the "Waterboarding" issue that apparently no one would think to question Wikipedia.

It is interesting that the Wikipedia Waterboarding article has a cross-reference to "toture." However, the torture article starts out with a definition of torture from the United Nations Convention Against Torture, hardly a neutral definition. Later on, in the same article on torture, there is a reference to human rights. The link takes one to the Wikipedia page on human rights. Once again, the definition of human rights is ceded to the United Nations.

Now, I am not commenting on the definition of waterboarding or he definition of torture, what I am commenting on is that the "accepted" definition of these politically and socially loaded terms is being set forth in a forum where there is an expectation that someone will move the article to something approximating a consensus. I do not think that defaulting to the United Nations' definition is necessarily engendering a consensus.

Like the blogger cited above, I too believe that these, and many other, Wikipedia articles are little more than political position papers and propaganda.

Note: As it turns out, the Wikipedia article on human rights is quite involved, but the first part of the article, establishing the tone, refers directly to only a United Nations definition.

Perhaps it is a good time to recognize that Wikipedia is not a "source." It is a commentary. You may rely on it for basic facts (or not) but it is not a reliable source of political or social information from any one's standpoint. It is apparent that Wikipedia may, in fact, be the new battleground for the hearts and souls of the people of the world?


  1. Good comments. I only really trust Wikipedia on more benign things like neuroanatomy or other relatively neutral science topics (it's generally quite good for those). The problems are with politically-charged topics or ones where there are moral ambiguities. Sometimes even then Wikipedia is quite balanced but sometimes it reads like a political convention speech.

  2. What can we expect from a contributing population of people who lack the skills of discernment, since their entire system is based on relative morals rather than absolute morals? The problem is the fluidity of definitions for politically charged topics, such as waterboarding. President Clinton stated the idea best when he said "it depends on what your definition of is is."