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Checking in on Wikipedia's Patriot Act Entry:
Last October, I blogged a bit about the remarkably bad entry for the USA Patriot Act on the free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. Since then, I've checked in on the entry occasionally to see how it is morphing over time. The Wikipedia folks ended up marking the entry as one that needed rewriting, and in recent months the entry has been substantially reworked. I've read the new entry, and it is, well, still remarkably bad.

  Here is the current overview section of the Patriot Act entry, which should give you a feel for the (poor) quality of the entry as a whole:
  Enacted by the U.S. Congress after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, the act enhances the authority of U.S. law enforcement for the purported intention of investigating and preempting potential terrorism. Because the USA PATRIOT Act is a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), this enhanced legal authority is also used to detect and prosecute other alleged potential crimes. Expanding on FISA, the USA Act defines terrorism as an activity that meets all of the following three criteria:

  1. It intimidates or coerces the government or civil population
  2. It breaks criminal laws
  3. It endangers human life.

This definition is adopted in the USA PATRIOT Act. Critics claim the Act is unnecessary and enables U.S. law enforcement to infringe upon free-speech, freedom of the press, human rights, and right to privacy. It is most controversial among critics for its section 216, which allows judges to grant government investigators ex parte orders to look into personal phone and internet records on the basis of being "relevant for an on going investigation", rather than probable cause as outlined in the fourth amendment.
  Almost every sentence in this description is inaccurate or doesn't make sense. Some of the sentences have only minor errors, but others are way off. To pick just a few examples, the Patriot Act is not a revision of FISA; it contains revisions of FISA, to be sure, but the FISA revisions are only about 5 percent of the act. Second, the definion of "domestic terrorism" (not just "terrorism") in the Patriot Act is not an important part of the Patriot Act, as I explained in depth in a post you can access here. Third, I haven't heard criticism of Section 216 of the Patriot Act in years. It used to be controversial because early critics simply misunderstood what it did, but as I detailed in this law review article, Section 216 was actually pretty friendly to civil liberties concerns. And keep in mind, this is just the overview.

  Of course, the fact that Wikipedia's Patriot Act entry is so bad doesn't mean that everything on Wikipedia is bad. I have found Wikipedia entries to be quite helpful when the topic is something esoteric. It seems that when fewer people care about a topic, the better the entry tends to be. When lots of people care about something, lots of people think they know something about it — or at least more people feel strongly enough that they want to get their 2 cents worth into the entry. When lots of people have strong opinions about a topic, even uninformed ones, the Wikipedia entry for that topic ends up being something like Tradesports betting odds on who Bush would pick to replace Justice O'Connor. It's an echo chamber for the common wisdom of the subset of people who use the site more than anything else. And if the views in the echo chamber happen to be way off, then so is the entry.

  Anyway, when I blogged on this topic last fall, I received a bunch of e-mails from the Wikipedia faithful explaining that universal law mandated that all Wikipedia entries were on an inevitable path to encyclopedic perfection. Now that we're enabling comments, I hope the faithful will offer some thoughts in the comment section on why perfection seems to be taking an unusually long time in the case of the Patriot Act entry.
cka3n (mail) (www):
Must we mean what we say?
7.27.2005 1:36pm
Bill (mail):
I hardly think your complaints with that Wikipedia entry justify calling it "remarkably bad". Your complaints:

(1) it says "is a revision" instead of "includes a revision". not a huge deal in my opinion

(2) the definition of "domestic terrorism" is not important. This is a matter of opinion. Lots and lots of people think that its way too broad. (You said you think its at least a little too broad.) Either way, it seems to me that how our country defines "domestic terrorism" is a matter of considerable public concern.

(3) section 216 doesn't deserve emphasis. Again, its a question of emphasis. Maybe Congress's endorsement of sneek and peak warrents are a bigger deal? Still not the stuff of "remarkably bad".

If you are very confident that your views on the PATRIOT Act are more accurate/well prioritized, couldn't you edit the entry?
7.27.2005 1:47pm
OrinKerr:
Bill,

Thanks for your response. To be clear, I was only picking a few of the errors in that excerpt; there are many more. Unfortunately, I don't have time to go line by line through the entry to show how so many of the statements are misleading or wrong. My apologies. On the other hand, if you are familiar with the Patriot Act, the many errors are pretty easy to spot. (And as to point 2, the definition may be broad in the abstract but doesn't do very much in the law itself; it seems quite odd that it should be presented as a key principle of the Act, doesn't it?)

Also, I have tried editing the entry, and have also left a number of comments in the discussion section. I've watched the entry over time, and my sense is that its accuracy ebbs and flows depending on who wants to fiddle with it. I have made comments that led to corrections, but the entry seems to revert back roughly to its pre-corrected state over time. That's my best sense of it, anyway.
7.27.2005 1:59pm
htom (mail):
... why perfection is taking so long ...

Because you're complaining about the errors rather than editing the errors into correctness?

If nothing else, you could add links to your complaints and elaborations, which someone else could then incorporate into the entry, either as links or correctness.

Oh! Your previous post has already been linked as an "other" resource.
7.27.2005 2:01pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Bill, first off, if Eugene says it's "remarkably bad" I'm inclined to take his opinion over yours, unless you can present some notion of credentials to compete with his. He also made some citations that you don't adress.

But in any case, you're missing his point: it's not just that the Wikipedia entry is bad, but that it appears that the Wikipedia process converges vey slowly for subjects that are at all controversial. In this case, after several months, it's gone from really really really bad, to really really bad. This doesn't suggest that the entry will actually be relieable for quite a long while.
7.27.2005 2:02pm
htom (mail):
The reversions are one of the great problems of the Wikipedia. Sorry that your corrections have not "taken".

Crossposting is -so- embarrasing.
7.27.2005 2:04pm
Carl B. Bridges (mail):
Wikipedia articles are vulnerable to hostile edits. The conservative Christian college where I teach has a plain vanilla stub entry on Wikipedia, to which someone added the words "ultraconservative" and "oppressive." My guess is that the edits came from a student who missed curfew, but it does point out how vulnerable these articles are to tendentious writers. We have to look at our entry now and then to see if the same person, or another, has changed it.
7.27.2005 2:19pm
Larry (mail) (www):
Orin, Just like public debates about tort reform will be ill-informed, so will debates about the Patriot Act. Just accept it.
7.27.2005 2:23pm
Steve:
It's the nature of the beast that controversial subtopics will get more press than noncontroversial subtopics.

If the Patriot Act is 100 pages, but only 1 of those pages is the focus of widespread media attention, then someone is bound to write something about that page. Some of Prof. Kerr's concerns have more to do with misplaced emphasis than with substantive errors in content; the Wiki process doesn't really care about putting the emphasis where it belongs. If someone wants to write a few pages about some of the definitions that ARE important, they can do so, but there's probably a reason it hasn't happened yet.
7.27.2005 2:36pm
Scipio (mail) (www):
It's a combination of malice, passion, and pooled ignorance.
7.27.2005 2:39pm
42USC1983 (mail):
It's really unfair of you to expect someone to read something before writing a Wikipedia entry. Even law professors are refusing to read (or worse, comprehend) the D.C. french fry case before writing about it under their own names. Plus, they're getting away with it! What can you expect from an anonymous writer?

I read the PATRIOT Act, but it took a lot of time and was pretty boring - and was much harder than watching Friends. I wish everyone could just be like the people on that show, since if we were, there would be no need for the Patriot Act because there would be no terrorism.

Anyhow, all people (including a surprisingly large amount of lawyers) want to hear is a) Patriot Act = good or b) Patriot Act = evil. I can't count the number of times people have said, "Oh, and another thing, man the Patriot Act is effed up [necessary and proper]!" Before allowing me to talk about it, they give me a big-eyed look that says, "You agree, right?" What can I do but say: "Sure, let's get another round."

Resistance is futile.
7.27.2005 3:03pm
Paul.H (mail):
The Wikipedia entry on Judge John Roberts is another example where intense interest and the partisan echo chamber conspire to reduce quality. Anyone who would like to help is welcome to join in.
7.27.2005 3:20pm
Challenge:
Orin, why don't you write up an entry for them =)
7.27.2005 3:23pm
David Newton:
"Last October, I blogged a bit about the remarkably bad entry for the USA Patriot Act on the free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. Since then, I've checked in on the entry occasionally to see how it is morphing over time. The Wikipedia folks ended up marking the entry as one that needed rewriting, and in recent months the entry has been substantially reworked. I've read the new entry, and it is, well, still remarkably bad."

"UDPATE: A few readers write in to ask, "If the entry for the Patriot Act is so bad, why don't you just correct it?" The main reason is that I suspect that as soon as I correct it, someone else will come along and "correct it back."

If I understand accurately how Wikipedia works — a big "if," I should point out-- my views of what is in the Patriot Act are no more and no less valued by Wikipedia than the views of any other Internet user. Given the widespread misperceptions about what is in the Patriot Act, some one else is likely to come across my corrected entry and think, "What idiot wrote this? This is totally wrong!" They will then erase my entry and re-enter all the mistakes that I corrected. The "genius" of Wikipedia is that no one is there to resolve the disagreement: the loudest voice eventually wins. Unless I am willing to monitor Wikipedia's Patriot Act entry on a regular basis, there isn't much that can be done to correct the errors over the long term."

Those two quotes from this article and the previous one in October 2004 sum up a fundamental misapprehension of the Wikipedia. The article may well be bad, and it may well be making very slow progress to being better. Bitching and moaning about it, then DOING something about it, is one thing. Bitching and moaning about it, then doing NOTHING about it is another.

It is not true that all edits are made equal in the eyes of the Wikipedia community. Edits by long-established users are likely to be viewed with far less suspicion that those by anonymous IPs. Edits that come from newly registered users would be looked at more carefully than those from established users. However, if an edit is made by a user who footnotes it well and writes clearly and authoritatively, then it is likely to be looked on very much favourably. If User:Orin Kerr comes in and does a substantial re-write of the Patriot Act page, and also says who they are on their user page then that actually be viewed as a very, very good thing for Wikipedia.

I know that if a law professor who is an expert on intellectual property law came and reviewed and possibly re-wrote the article that I have done on British copyright law I would be most interested. Copyright law is in some ways a less contentious area than the Patriot Act, but the same principles apply to writing an article about it.

So, as others have said, if you think there is something wrong with the Wikipedia article on a subject, or none exists, then come in and correct an article or create an article. It is, after all, the raison d'etre of the whole project!
7.27.2005 3:25pm
=?=:
Colorado Charlie:

Bill, first off, if Eugene says it's "remarkably bad" I'm inclined to take his opinion over yours, unless you can present some notion of credentials to compete with his. He also made some citations that you don't adress.

If your citation checking is anything to go by, I hope you're not an attorney...
7.27.2005 3:32pm
OrinKerr:
David,

Thanks for your comments. As I noted above, however, I have tried to correct the Wikipedia entry, and have left a number of comments about the entry as well in the discussion section (all using my own name and title). As noted above, however, my sense is that the entry seems to revert back to something akin to the prior version over time.

I suppose you could say that the Patriot Act entry is bad because I have only spend a few hours trying to correct it over the last few months. If I checked it every day instead of every few weeks, for example, it might be a lot better. But how is that relevant to the merits of Wikipedia?

Orin Kerr
7.27.2005 3:35pm
Cheburashka (mail):
I'm very disappointed by a lot of the wiki stuff. Check out the absurd entry for "heteronormativity".

Sadly, it appears that the wiki administrator population has been substantially taken over by college lefties.

I guess that's who has time to play that much with their computers.
7.27.2005 3:48pm
Jake (mail):
Wikipedia in general seems to be run by a bunch of well-meaning liberals. Generally smart, fair people (the engineering/science stuff is usually pretty solid), but subject to biases just like anybody else. Take a look at the Swift Boat Vets page for one example...
7.27.2005 4:17pm
fling93 (www):
I'm beginning to think that wikis are an example of too much democracy. After all, we don't live in a direct democracy, and nobody really wants us to do so. And this is clearly a case where people aren't deferring to experts in the way the wiki creators envisioned.

At the same time, there are many times I'd like to fix a typo or broken link in somebody else's blog post, and sending them an e-mail to let them know is clunky to the point that most people won't bother.

Maybe a better model might be something in between, where only registered users are allowed to submit changes, and they have to be approved/moderated by someone. Perhaps have users build reputations and trust levels over time using a mechanism like Slashdot's comment rating/moderation system?

Just throwing some ideas out there.
7.27.2005 4:21pm
Ron (mail):
Seems to me that the problem with wikipedia is that you have to be an expert (or well-versed) in a subject to know if the wiki article is correct. As a layman, I might accept the wiki on the PATRIOT Act as accurate. You, on the other hand, see it as biased and incorrect on any number of specifics.

How am I to trust ANY wiki article?
7.27.2005 4:29pm
Larry (mail):
Is the meaning of Heteronormativity wrong? Or do you just not like the fact that people use the term ?
7.27.2005 5:18pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Bill, Orin, mea culpa, and I swear I even looked. But Bill, unless you're going to assert that Orin isn't an authoritative source, what you've got there is a fun little snark but the actual point stands unchallenged.
7.27.2005 5:23pm
big dirigible (mail) (www):
It's a strange idea that just anybody can contribute usefully to an encyclopedia. I don't keep my ninth, eleventh, twelfth, early and late fourteenths, and early fifteenth Britannicas because I can't think of anything better to do with all those shelves. Ditto for my Americanas, first through fifth Columbias, my New International Cyclopedia, etc. People who know their encyclopedias know why I'd rescue those if my house was on fire. People who don't know their encyclopedias think Encarta or Wikipedia are just as good as my oldies.

The important concept is "authoritative" - some encyclopedias are, most encyclopedias ain't. Check out the authors of some of the articles in the 1929 (first year of the fourteenth) Britannica - "space-time" is signed by Albert Einstein, "guerilla warfare" is signed by T.E.Lawrence. In contrast, Wikipedia is the realm of amateurs.

To be fair, I've found Wikipedia to be useful for some items in linguistics, and astronomical aspects of calendars. It's probably good for a few other topics as well. Not on anything too current or too controversial, though. The wiki concept has obvious application in those cases where distributed experience can contribute, but distributed spurious opinion is not particularly valuable.
7.27.2005 5:24pm
LArry (mail) (www):
General rule: Wikipedia is good for arcane subjects where there are but a few experts whose disagreements are minor.

Ron, I have to admit that I don't really think that non-lawyers should think about or comment upon the Patriot Act. While I used to think that a non-lawyer could, given enough time, read it, no non-lawyer I know has made a serious effort. They are biologically incapable. They are better suited to talking about reality TV. This seems fair.
7.27.2005 5:34pm
Ron (mail):
Larry, The arcane subjects point is well made. I hope you were speaking tongue in cheek with your comment on non-lawyers. Heaven forbid that I, as a non-lawyer should have opinions or comment on laws under which I have to live. That's why I appreciate blos such as this that take the time to analyze the laws from several viewpoints - so that I can have an informed opinion. Legal elitism should have no place in public or political discourse.
7.27.2005 5:47pm
Hattio (mail):
Even assuming all the criticisms of Wikipedia are correct (I've never checked it out, so have no opinion) doesn't it seem that it would still be useful to give the popular impression of any particular subject. Specifically it would seem to be useful where the popular definition of a word is used in a way that doesn't quite fit the dictionary or specialist definition. I'm thinking particularly of something like "activist judge" which I think in the popular definition means liberal, whereas lawyers think of judges who over-rule the executive branch (among other lawyer definitions).
7.27.2005 7:24pm
Shane Huang (mail) (www):
Wikipedia entries will not asymptotically approach an unbiased, accurate truth. Anyone who believes that all entries approach perfection over time must consider the following examples:

Take the QWERTY keyboard. It is pretty much assumed that the QWERTY keyboard will be the dominant layout until the keyboard becomes obselete, despite the existence of more efficient layouts, such as the Dvorak layout. The world has gotten stuck on the QWERTY layout and is unwilling to pay the initial costs of switching, even if it will easily pay off in the long run.

Another example would be if someone attempted to climb a mountain by following only the following instruction - whenever possible, take a step in a direction where the elevation is higher or equal to that where you are standing. The climber could possibly reach the summit, but is far more likely to get stuck at a relative peak, where it is no longer possible to step upward, and he would be forced to stop.

I had been reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett, and these two examples he uses (to describe certain evolutionary phenomena) seemed applicable to the Wikipedia discussion.
7.27.2005 7:40pm
grahamc (mail):
Orin's comments are spot on. The problem is that Wikipedia is a democracry. Democracy is not the best system, but the least worst. Yes, Wikipedia will produce bad articles where a lot of people feel strongly about something, but overall it produces high quality - witness all the comments about how in esoteric areas things are very good.

Trying to appoint editorial committees has its risks. Autocracies of one sort or another end up with big problems because of the lack of control over them, and so risk compromising the quality of the whole. Democracy, with a smattering of necessary anarchism, overall works well. You have to stand back and look at the bigger picture to see this.

It of course a process that causes enormous frustration to many who attempt to contribute, which ends up driving a lot of them away. This loss represents a big cost to the project, but as I said, democracy is the least worst, not the best.

The bottom line is that on any given topic, there is no guarantee that it won't be rubbish. On all topics taken as a set, it arguably meets or exceeds the standard of other encyclopedias, and certainly exceeds the wildest dreams of anyone who looked at it around 2001 or so.
7.27.2005 8:30pm
Atty in Chicago:
I've spent some time "trying" to revise the Patriot Act article on Wikipedia over the past year partly because of Orin's previous post. The 40-50 facts I've tried to correct were usually "reverted" with people saying my edits were "not a neutral point of view" or saying I'm a biased Bush lover or working for the CIA. The place is dominated by US and foreign Cynthia McKinney conspiracy types. It's sad.
7.27.2005 9:42pm
Stephen Lindholm (www):
Shane Huang:

Your quip about Dvorak keyboards being superior and the imperfection of the Wikipedia is ironic -- if you read the Wikipedia article on "QWERTY" you would have seen there is little evidence to support the alleged superiority of the Dvorak keyboard. There was an amusing comment in a linked article, which said "For some reason, economists seem to adopt bogus anecdotal histories and then get locked in."

Generally, I don't see why the Wikipedia should be criticized wholesale for the flaws Orin Kerr pointed out. Clearly the articles on abortion, the patriot act, and so on are going to inflame passions and the articles there are not going to be perfect. On the other hand, the kind of person who knows nothing at all would probably learn something by reading the articles.

His preference for a single giant to write each article is something I wouldn't prefer. It's been a few thousand years since god has given us stone tablets engraved with the truth. Who would write the articles? A DuPont chemist, for example, might write a great article about the chemical properties of Teflon but would probably gloss over the various health controversies.
7.27.2005 10:47pm
Cornellian:
I'd be happy to take a shot at writing an entry if the WiKi people would let me. I've only glanced through the Patriot Act a couple of times, but I'm sure if I spent a few hours going through it I could write something better than they have now. Even I know there's a lot more to it than amending FISA.
7.28.2005 12:56am
Judson:
We will absolutely let people edit the article, please do so.

Many wikipedia articles are written and edited by generous people that are not constant editors of the encyclopedia but who have somewhat uncommon context specific knowledge and graciously write an article for a freely licensed encyclopedia.

If you see an article in wikipedia that you know is incorrect, the appropriate response is to decide whether you support a project to help write and distribute a free encyclopedia. If you do support the project then please correct it. If you don't think this is a valid pursuit then that's fine of course, and no one would expect you to contribute your time to something you don't value. Writing articles about how you wish someone else would correct a specific article, however, when editing an article is one click away seems lazy in the extreme, especially if you have uncommon knowledge regarding the topic and are all all interested in education.
7.28.2005 2:06am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I ran into this problem with the Plame case, and then with Yellowcake with wikipedia. In both cases, the entries were slanted. I agee with the poster who suggested that it is almost like a democracy. But I would suggest that it comes closer to an online poll, esp. since Wikipedia entries are suspectable to self-selection and political campaigns.

I address this a little more here.
7.28.2005 2:12am
Larry (mail) (www):
Ron, No. I was not speaking tongue-in-cheek about non-lawyers. Ever since I have limited my relations with non-lawyers life has been so much richer. Non-lawyers generally don't have the patience to actually decide whether they know about something before talking. Maybe I would meet interesting people if I spoke to lay people, but it isn't worth the risk of having to listen to some guy talk about the Patriot Act without reading it. My family disowns people for doing things like that, and it makes for much more rigorous dinner table conversation.
7.28.2005 7:09am
panthan (mail):
Ron, Larry is completely correct. Certainly as a simple professor of Aerospace Engineering I cannot lay claim to the intellectual rigor and logical ability so amply displayed by all members of the legal profession. And it would be unbearably arrogant of me to assume that with the help of a few commentaries by such as Orin Kerr I might gain sufficient insight to have an opinion on a piece of legislation. No, he is correct that we should not think about the rules under which we live, nor question their intent or application.

He is certainly correct that it is not sufficient to worry about single sentences in the act, such as that weakening the provisos for use of foreign intelligence information by amending certain provisos "of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ... by striking `the purpose' and inserting `a significant purpose'." Rather, the entire Act must be read, the FISA must be read, case history must be consulted, and so forth. Because the meaning of 'significant' will then, one assumes, be clear. (As I recall, this was one of the lines that bothered some commentators when the law was passed.)

About Wikipedia: I have found it to be an interesting source, but as there are inaccuracies in many of the articles in my own field, I find I can't trust any of the articles. So I verify any information before using it. There are often useful links and ideas there, so that it is worthwhile. But I could not call it authoritative.
7.28.2005 9:10am
Larry88 (mail):
Panthan, I don't talk about Aerospace Engineering, because I don't consider myself an expert in it. But, I don't see what this has to do with anything.

In my family there is a proud tradition of sending kids to bed without supper if they talk about something without researching it. (If this keeps up, they are disowned.)

Professor Kerr is indeed smart, but it stupid to think that you can rely on him for anything as he might have biases and vested interests (some of which he may not be aware of.) It is arrogant to think that someone who doesn't make the basic minimal intellectual commitment to understanding the law (e.g. going to law school, passing the bar, and reading the darn thing) can really discuss it with the likes of Professor Kerr.

Anyway, real Americans, of course, will do more than just read the text, and they will cross-reference any parts that they don't know off the top of their heads, so, of course, we will have at least a passing familiarly with the FISA.
7.28.2005 9:22am
LiquidLatex (mail):
The only way to get it changed for the better would be to start a campaign on the talk page laying out your views on the article and get involved on the irc chat/etc. Hit it dead on, make sure to establish your edits as superior by the law as we know it.

Or push for either a "Legalities of the Patriot Act" entry or a nice brief paragraph with your best quotes on the Act.
7.28.2005 11:26am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Judson,

The problem is not that Prof. Kerr didn't try to fix what he sees as obvious inaccuracies in the Wikipedia entry, but rather that he did so, on apparently more than one occasion, and the page was very quicky changed back.

His analogy is tradespots. Mine is online polling. Wikipedia entries on disputed topics invariably evolve to the views of those who update them the most often, not those who have the best information.
7.28.2005 12:22pm
Larry (mail) (www):
Well, I always have the best information on anything my clients need to take a position on. Indeed, most of my information and legal views are absolute truth. Only opposing counsel sees it differently, but they are full of lies. Any judge who disagrees with me is a judicial activist. Pretty simple? Eh?
7.28.2005 12:56pm
Bill (mail):
It's not so much about who's an authority (Orin is certainly more than I since he's published articles about the Act). It's more about what is A MATTER of authority, i.e. where authority is relevant.

Orin, for example, points out that the article confuses a definition of 'terrorism' with that of 'domestic terrorism'. That's an obvious error on Wikipedia and if people are reverting to the error, that's obvious obfuscating on their part.

But as to the question of whether a definition of "domestic terrorism" is one of the most important parts of the Act, that's more a matter of opinion. Orin says roughly: "Why should we care about that definition since it has so little role in U.S. law (as it currently stands)." Others can reasonably say: "That definition is a hot topic in American politics. What the law says is our point of reference and our national understanding of what 'domestic terrorism' means is central to the debate on what to do about it."

This disagreement turns on the role of statutory definitions (and law more broadly) in political discussions. That's the sort of issue where Wikimajorityrule is much more appropriate.

And, for my part, I think that as the article (and discussion) stands the disagreements where the authority of the legally educated should prevail are dwarfed by disagreements to which legal expertise is irrelevant.
7.29.2005 1:51am
Ken Arromdee:
I think that whether the entries are being reverted or not, "if you don't like it, fix it yourself" is almost always besides the point.

Nobody who points out errors like this is claiming that Wikipedia just contains one error. Rather they're pointing out systematic problems of which the one error is an example. The complainer can fix the one error, but he can't fix the systematic problem that underlies it, so "fix it yourself" doesn't really address the criticism.

Another problem with the "fix it yourself" reply is that you can only fix errors you recognize. But the subjects you don't know about probably contain errors at similar rates to subjects you do know about. If the Patriot Act article is useless because of errors, it's likely a lot of other articles are useless because of similar errors, and you can't fix them yourself because you don't know what they are.
8.2.2005 11:34am