The Curse of Wikipedia

I’ve not finished reading the Leveson report yet – Lord Justice Leveson is not a man to use one word when fifteen will do, and I have two volumes still to go. I was amused to read that the report has been led astray by Wikipedia, treating it as a reliable source without any attribution. This is the sort of thing I tell my students off about. The names of the founders of the Independent had been tampered with by someone from California, and Leveson used the adulterated list.

I contributed to Wikipedia myself a few years ago, adding to articles on the welfare state, social security, the Poor Law and such like, but I haven’t touched it for some time. The sticking point was the article on “Socialism”, which took it for granted that socialism was equivalent to Marxism. I put in five alternative definitions of socialism, with appropriate academic references; it was all deleted. (There is a short version of this on my website.) So I put it up again, puzzled, and it was deleted again, by people who were not prepared to accept that anything apart from their belief should be included. Then I put up a flag to say “this article is disputed”, and that was taken down too. There was no effective system for moderation, and I gave up. Wikipedia’s article on socialism is still desperately misleading. I have no idea whether this happens very widely, but it says something about ‘the wisdom of crowds’ – and the reliability of Wikipedia as a source.

For what it’s worth, the alternative definitions of the ‘welfare state’ have been taken down, too. US contributors find it difficult to understand that in much of Europe, the “welfare state” is not simply run by government.

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