Why Wikipedia sucks badly

Posted by Arkham on October 15th, 2008

Neutral point of view
Articles, including reader-facing templates, categories and portals, should be written from a Neutral Point of View.

Now, I don’t know how it is possible to have a neutral point of view, for me it’s like asking you to look without with your eyes. It could also explain why Wikipedia is so damn good in science-related topics, while it sucks pretty badly in anything that involves any kind of interpretation. Just look at the articles talking about paintings, books or lps, most of them barely have a slight hint about what these art pieces mean; they just tell you how high, long or big they are, who made ’em, when they were made and that’s it. I can agree that this kind of approach is safer, since we can not argue about those “facts”, but let’s think at what an encyclopedia should be (quoting from Wikipedia):

An encyclopedia is a comprehensive written compendium that contains information on either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge.

So, it contains knowledge.
But knowledge about “Guernica” means to know how long and tall it is, but also what that painting could mean to us, since each interpretation of it add more “knowledge” to the object; when we look at it we will never be able to see it from an “objective/neutral” point of view again, and we will see it through all the opaque, distorting and multicolor walls of the previous interpretations.
This brings me to Gadamer and hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics may be described as the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts. It is more broadly used in contemporary philosophy to denote the study of theories and methods of the interpretation of all texts and systems of meaning. The concept of “text” is here extended beyond written documents to any number of objects subject to interpretation, such as experiences.

Gadamer’s most famous book, “Truth and Method”:

Even from its historical beginnings, the problem of hermeneutics goes beyond the limits of the concept of method as set by modern science.The understanding and the interpretation of texts is not merely a concern of science, but obviously belongs to human experience of the world in general. The hermeneutic phenomenon is basically not a problem of method at all. It is not concerned with a method of understanding by means of which texts are subjected to scientific investigation like all other objects of experience. It is not concerned primarily with amassing verified knowledge, such as would satisfy the methodological ideal of science, yet it too is concerned with knowledge and with truth. In understanding tradition not only are texts understood, but insights are acquired and truths known. But what kind of knowledge and what kind of truth?

What distinguished Gadamer from other authors like Schleiermacher and Dilthey is that the latter believed that correctly interpreting a text meant to recover the original intention of the author who wrote it. Gadamer argued instead that people have a ‘historically effected consciousness’ and that they are embedded in the particular history and culture that shaped them. Thus interpreting a text involves a “fusion of horizons” where the scholar finds the ways that the text’s history articulates with their own background.

Person A and person B exchange their ideas and opinions within a conversation. People come from different places have different opinions and this difference in background creates a set of prejudice and bias which provides various intrinsic values and meanings while the conversation are carrying on. By receiving the information from person A, a fusion of person B’s vision limitation are taking place and consequently, it broadens person B’s range of horizon. In other words, the totality of all that can be realized or thought about by a person at a given time in history and in a particular culture widens and enriches.

What can I say, Wikipedia FTL.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 12:50 and is filed under psychology, thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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7 Responses to “Why Wikipedia sucks badly”

  1. Nihiltres Says:

    Nonsense. While it uses more subtle distinctions, there is an easy way to include interpretive information while maintaining the neutral point of view: quoting. For example, suppose that I think that the best colour is blue (as it is my favourite). Other people may not agree with me that the best colour is blue (and perhaps suggest green or red as alternatives), but they will certainly agree that *I’ve said* that the best colour is blue.

    I find the hermeneutics argument unconvincing: there is enough common ground across cultures to explain most general concepts. Within the context of a general encyclopedia, those general concepts will span most topics. Within particular subfields, perhaps limits will be enoucountered: advanced scientific topics, for example, require a certain grounding in science to be understood. In these subfields, it is regardless meaningless to suggest non-neutrality because, *within the context of science*, which is an implicit context for those topics, the articles may be neutral even when using that scientific basis. (Oh, and by the way, the reason science articles on Wikipedia are generally better is that more people work on the science-related articles, not because they’re inherently easy to write about.)

    In any event, it should be understood that Wikipedia is not perfect: it merely continually seeks to perfect itself through incremental improvement.

  2. Arkham Says:

    >there is an easy way to include interpretive information while maintaining
    >the neutral point of view: quoting.

    Then why there are almost none in most of the art related articles? I would love to see all the paintings pages like this :)
    On the other hand, you can quote other people’s opinion, but you can’t write yours? Isn’t’t that contradictory? Or is it ipse dixit? I personally don’t need to know who said something to decide if it is a good or a bad idea.

    >there is enough common ground across cultures to explain most general

    I quoted the person A and person B example just to show what a fusion of horizons can be.
    When talking about art, my idea is that we cannot separate the object from its interpretations; when I read the Divine Comedy, is my interpretation the same of Dante’s one? I honestly don’t think so.. My idea of the Divine Comedy gets its origins from the book and from centuries of interpretations of the book. When I am thinking of nowadays problems, I use some prejudices too: I know that they are pre-judices because I don’t have to ask myself why I believe them, I just do; now, can I take a step out of myself, my prejudices and all the past prejudices/interpretations to look at the object in a neutral way?
    What is the worst situation that you can imagine if an user writes a personal interpretation of a painting? Another user that comes and writes another interpretation of it? And another and another? Supposing that the users are nice and clever people and not maliciously writing fancy stories (even if word association psychological games wouldn’t agree on the last point), I think that the painting’s page could only take advantage from this, showing how tall and long the painting is, but also what people think it means.
    I’m not saying that Wikipedia is not good at explaining general concepts, I love to use it for those general concepts and for technical arguments, but I feel that this kind of “be neutral” policy can lock out some really interesting discussions/interpretations.

    >In any event, it should be understood that Wikipedia is not perfect: it merely
    >continually seeks to perfect itself through incremental improvement.

    I don’t believe in perfect, eternal or omnipotent things.
    And I don’t either seek for perfection, I seek for things i like and I like to write my thoughts ;)

  3. red randt Says:

    No, it’s not contradictory, Arkham, it’s just uninformed. The point is that the Encyclopedia isn’t a forum for your opinion, and that there ARE facts about these things. The wikipedia is essentially rewriting reality on the bias of the kids who like editing it. The same dynamic exists in any other large free online forum. Who shouts loudest speaks the truth.

  4. Arkham Says:

    >The point is that the Encyclopedia isn’t a forum for your opinion, and that >there ARE facts about these things.

    What is the fact about a piece of art could be hard to decide though. And personally I don’t believe neither in facts nor in history, since I prefer to think at them as tales, with no whatsoever necessity to be factual.

    >The same dynamic exists in any other large free online forum. Who shouts >loudest speaks the truth.

    “The greatest events are not our noisiest but our stillest.”
    Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra.

  5. stoperror Says:

    1: Wikipedia wants to be a primary resource. Encyclopedias are not primary resources. Please, Jim, get that through your head.
    2: The “mods” are power thirsty 30+ year old dweebs that still live with mom and dad. If they don’t agree with what you write, it’s deleted in the name of “vandalism”.
    3: The screenshots of software on there are “not free. Please replace.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure Microsoft and Apple wanna sue Wikipedia because some guy uploaded a pic of tweaked GNOME desktop that looks like OS X. Yep. Microsoft doesn’t need to develop Windows 7.
    4: [Citation Needed]. ‘Nuff said.

    Other than that I actually like Wikipedia.

  6. Serenia Says:

    Hmm, very cognitive post.
    Is this theme good unough for the Digg?

  7. Frank Lane Says:

    Wikipedia is becoming really sad. I’ve made a number of technical contributions and image contributions in my area of expertise, and I am not one of those people who tries to impress others by being unintelligible. My contributions have been thrown out by subsequent editors who don’t immediately grasp what is written and have no desire to do so. Sometimes, after days of discussion, I can repair the damage. Sometimes not. Unless you are willing to organize a team of like minded editors and patrol every page you have ever written on a weekly basis, that page will revert to, and never rise above the intellectual level of some unemployed power hungry couch potato sitting in his mother’s basement. Even worse are the image police. These are people who generally cannot contribute, but delight in deleting other peoples images on the thinnest of pretexts. Unless the image is your own creation, or you and a team of like minded editors can relentlessly do battle with them, your image will be gleefully deleted, usually with a few mocking comments to boot. Wikipedia is turning into an RP video game and the goal is to see who rulz, dude.