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P.D. Magnus

Epistemology and Wikipedia

I have written a number of papers considering epistemic and epistemological problems that arise from the encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Versions available

'Epistemology and the Wikipedia' (2006), presented at the North American Computing and Philosophy conference

'Early response to false claims in Wikipedia' (2008), First Monday

'On trusting Wikipedia' (2009), Episteme


Epistemology and the Wikipedia: Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia that is written and edited entirely by visitors to its website. I argue that we are misled when we think of it in the same epistemic category with traditional general encyclopedias. An empirical assessment of its reliability reveals that it varies widely from topic to topic. So any particular claim found in it cannot be relied on based on its source. I survey some methods that we use in assessing specific claims and argue that the structure of the Wikipedia frustrates them.

Early response to false claims in Wikipedia: A number of studies have assessed the reliability of entries in Wikipedia at specific times. One important difference between Wikipedia and traditional media, however, is the dynamic nature of its entries. An entry assessed today might be substantially extended or reworked tomorrow. This study paper assesses the frequency with which small, inaccurate changes are quickly corrected.

On trusting Wikipedia: Given the fact that many people use Wikipedia, we should ask: Can we trust it? The empirical evidence suggests that Wikipedia articles are sometimes quite good but that they vary a great deal. As such, it is wrong to ask for a monolithic verdict on Wikipedia. Interacting with Wikipedia involves assessing where it is likely to be reliable and where not. I identify five strategies that we use to assess claims from other sources and argue that, to a greater of lesser degree, Wikipedia frustrates all of them. Interacting responsibly with something like Wikipedia requires new epistemic methods and strategies.


	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus},
	TITLE = {Epistemology and the {W}ikipedia},
	YEAR = {2006},
	MONTH = aug,
	NOTE = {Presented at the North American Computing and Philosophy Conference in Troy, New York.},
	URL = {http://hdl.handle.net/1951/42589}
	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus},
	TITLE = {Early response to false claims in {W}ikipedia},
	JOURNAL = {First Monday},
	YEAR = {2008},
	MONTH = sep,
	DAY = {1},
	VOLUME = {13},
	NUMBER = {9},
	URL = {http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/2115/2027}
	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus},
	TITLE = {On trusting {W}ikipedia},
	JOURNAL = {Episteme},
	YEAR = {2009},
	MONTH = feb,
	VOLUME = {6},
	NUMBER = {1},
	PAGES = {74--91},
	DOI = {10.3366/E1742360008000555}