Peer Review on Wikipedia – The Collaborative Web

The Stereotype behind Wikipedia seems to be that most pages are unreliable because there is no way to track fact from fiction when everybody is constantly editing things. I can see where people are coming from with this sentiment. When you have a website that allows anyone to edit anything, how can that possibly result in accurate information? What people often don’t talk about is the actual logs that people post when editing information. Just as there is a wiki page for everything, there is a historiographical log of each page, dubbed the “talk” page. Here are a couple examples of “talk” pages and what some might look like. Each page is related to World War 1 just to keep things consistent.

This is the general wiki talk page for all of World War 1. As you can see, there are several posts discussing general changes made to the original wiki, ranging from added bits of information to discussions on grammar and general editing. the astonishing thing is that pretty much every post is productive, informed, and cites additional information. Everyone posting, no matter who or where they are, all has the same plan: to improve the wiki page about World War 1. If the stereotype of constant, inaccurate changes was true, there would be thousands upon thousands more posts that would be muddying the history.

This other link goes to the talk page for the wiki for World War I battles. This first thing you read is not only an informative and helpful editor, but someone who is applauding the work of those that came before him. This kind of respect for Historiography is surprising for a platform that is supposedly open to all.

This wiki talk page about military production shows even more. Not only do people post about information they found, but curious scholars have also posted looking for answers to their questions regarding part of the wiki. Other posts talk about whether or not they should post information they found, and ask that people help fact check for them. This kind of crowd sourcing could never happen at a peer-reviewed history journal, as it defeats the whole purpose of what a “peer” is supposed to mean.

So the question now becomes less about how accurate or inaccurate a particular wiki page is, and more about how Wikipedia and its users combat the inaccuracies that do exist. Even if some communities are very reliable in their information, what is to stop a troll account or spam bot from wiping information or doctoring controversial topics? Well, every single edit is logged on Wikipedia’s servers, so if entire sections disappear, it’s an easy fix to simply revert the page back. Smaller wording changes are a lot more difficult to catch, and potentially a lot more sinister. These kinds of edits have a higher chance of not getting detected by algorithms designed to find spam editors, so some do make it on Wikipedia for a good long while.

At the end of the day, Wikipedia will never be as reliable as peer-reviewed, well researched theses, but it definitely does a good job of providing mostly reliable and quick general information that is available to all.


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