After seeing this post (and corresponding image), a thought occurred to me: the problem with Wikipedia is not merely that the information contained within is any less reliable than “closed” encyclopedias* but that the process is totally transparent. It might be claimed that the methodology itself is flawed, but that seems implausible: the main difference is that traditional encyclopedias exercise editorial power before publication, whereas Wikipedia exercises it throughout the publication process (because all content is public, even content which has been removed but remains in history as proof that someone tried to publish such-and-such content). The process of editing is entirely transparent to everyone, which has resulted in some interesting observations about the politicization of the editorial process. (Is anyone really surprised?)

Granted, I don’t know that I consider Wikipedia reliable – I definitely won’t allow my future students to use it as a primary source, although I will probably tell them that it is good to consider as a compendium of information that should be verified through other means – but I think that transparency is in many ways a good thing, not merely because of the unorthodox authorship of the encyclopedia but also because it’s good for others (especially students, I think) to see the process by which information is deemed accurate and reputable (and hence, knowledge). If it’s ugly and full of complications, then all the better for our view of knowledge, not worse: we’ll start to get the idea that knowledge, like many things, is fundamentally a struggle between competing individuals. Such empirical information is invaluable to the critical mind.

*Linguistic observation: Encyclopedia is one of those odd words which has a plural ending (sing. -pedium) but which is never conjugated as a plural, as some would have us do even when words like media which often function as singulars rather than plural.


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