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Wikipedia Law:

From Flores v. Texas (Oct. 23, 2008) (unpublished memorandum):

Appellant's first three points of error relate to the trial court's exclusion of evidence requested by appellant. That is, appellant complains about the exclusion of evidence concerning (1) the "John Reid" technique that allegedly results in false confessions, (2) the "circumstances" surrounding appellant's written confession, and (3) his wife's conversations with police, which were said to be contained on a compact disc. We hold that appellant has failed to preserve these complaints for appellate review.

In order to preserve a complaint concerning the exclusion of evidence, a defendant generally must make an offer of proof or file a bill of exception to make the substance of the evidence known. See Tex. R. Evid. 103(a)(2); LaHood v. State, 171 S.W.3d 613, 621 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. ref'd). Otherwise, as here, we cannot assess whether the exclusion was erroneous or harmful. LaHood, 171 S.W.3d at 621. However, appellant failed to make an offer of proof, or file a post-trial bill of exception, to preserve his complaint to the trial court's exclusion of evidence.[3]

[Footnote 3:] Appellant suggests that we may take judicial notice of information posted on a "reliable website." We decline appellant's invitation to take judicial notice of the Wikipedia entry for the "John Reid technique." See James Glerick, Wikipedians Leave Cyberspace, Meet in Egypt, Wall St. J., Aug. 8, 2008, at W1 ("Anyone can edit [a Wikipedia] article, anonymously, hit and run. From the very beginning that has been Wikipedia's greatest strength and its greatest weakness.") (emphasis added).

An interesting and reasonable result, which supports the view that Wikipedia shouldn't be relied on for contested questions. For certain uncontroversial matters (such as that the capital of Armenia is sometimes spelled Erevan), citing Wikipedia is probably fine, given that the time of judges, staff attorneys, and law clerks is valuable and best not spent on tracking down The Perfect Source. But when the matter is subject to reasonable dispute, there should either be a hearing -- as with other facts about the details of a case -- or a more elaborate discussion (as with so-called legislative facts that a court uses to determine the meaning of statutory language, develop various common-law rules, and the like).

Thanks to BNA's Internet Law News for the pointer.

Guest101:
I would disagree that citing Wikipedia is ever appropriate. If a fact is so uncontroversial, it can surely be easily located in a more reliable publication (in fact the Wikipedia entry could probably point you to a few). If not, then as you say, a Wikipedia citation is certainly inappropriate.
11.13.2008 12:41pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Professor Volokh:

But why provide any citation for uncontroversial propositions? It seems to me that "judges, staff attorneys, and law clerks" might preserve some of their valuable time by eschewing law review-style excesses and not unnecessarily gilding the lilly in the first place.
11.13.2008 12:43pm
GV:
So, to be clear, the court thinks wikipedia is not reliable enough and cites the wall street journal as proof?
11.13.2008 12:49pm
Crunchy Frog:
But what about such well established terms as the "Bush Doctrine"? Everybody knows exactly what that means, right?

/crickets
11.13.2008 1:07pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I would just note that Randy Pauche (professor of computer science, and author of at least one World Book article) stated that World Book's quality controls weren't any better.

In general citing any sort of encyclopedia for facts which are in dispute seems to my mind a losing approach. Encyclopedias are great places to start research but lousy places to finish them :-)
11.13.2008 2:07pm
Splunge:
The only rational uses for Wikipedia are, first, as a pointer to actual authoritative references, and, second, as a memory jogger for stuff you already know or the likely accuracy of which you can personally decide.

If your personal knowledge is sufficient to decide whether or not it's plausible that the capital of Armenia is sometimes spelled Erevan, than it can be useful to read that assertion in the Wikipedia. Otherwise, you'd be an idiot to believe it.

Indeed, Professor Volt's invokation of the commonplace "uncontroversial" argument for when Wikipedia is useful obscures an important and unexamined assumption: that the reader is sufficiently informed about the topic beforehand from other sources that he can reliably decide what is, and is not, "controversial." It's worth bearing in mind that everyone not a conscious prankster who adds stuff to the Wikipedia believes that what he adds is uncontroversial, no matter how crazy or deluded it is, because, of course, part of being crazy or deluded is not knowing you're crazy or deluded.

So there really isn't any magical "controversial" property that inherently adheres to some topics, but not others, and some assertions, but not others. There's no simple rule that will tell you, all by itself, whether a given Wikipedia "fact" is controversial or not.

The only way you know whether something is "controversial" is by having enough knowledge from other sources to be able to make an independent assessment of the probability of its truth. But then, in that case, you hardly need the Wikipedia, do you? Except if you just need your memory jogged, that is.
11.13.2008 2:09pm
U.Va. Grad:
The Eighth Circuit recently ruled that Wikipedia was an unreliable source in Badasa v. Mukasey, an immigration case.

Here is a PDF.
11.13.2008 2:22pm
Splunge:
I would just note that Randy Pauche (professor of computer science, and author of at least one World Book article) stated that World Book's quality controls weren't any better.

Even if true, I suggest this is unimportant. What matters is not the quality controls but how the project motivates its contributors. What's your motivation for contributing to the World Book? Presumably, first, getting paid, and, second, through proving a reliable and accurate guide, being re-hired, acquiring influence among those who are informed on the subject, and therefore being cited in other respectable references. The motivation is strongly on the side of accuracy, even at the expense of popularity.

The motivation of the Wikipedia contributor is quite different, since it's a democratic institution and your success is defined by the popularity of your contribution. Just as in politics, the motivation becomes fame and popular influence, i.e. with those uninformed on the subject. That strongly lends itself to the promulgation of the popular myth over annoyingly ambiguous reality.

The essential Wikipedia error is the arrogant belief that the enduring nature of popular misconception is the result of a historical lack of communication bandwidth. That if only people were merely exposed to the minority that know the truth, the truth would become widespread. Human nature and experience suggest something quite different, that the enduring nature of popular misconception is entirely due to its popularity. Making it easier to spread delusional memes does exactly squat to shorten their lifespan, for the same reason international air travel hasn't reduced the amount of communicable disease in the world.
11.13.2008 2:28pm
Andrew Hyman (mail) (www):
The Wikipedia article on Yerevan does not even meet the standards of Wikipedia. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerevan None of the alternate spelling of "Yerevan" are supported by any citation or footnote. I just went over there, and inserted a "cn" tag, which stands for "citation needed".
11.13.2008 2:59pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I wasn't sure who to believe here, so I looked up the reliability of wikipedia on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_reliability

It turns out its much better than most of the commentators would have us believe.
11.13.2008 4:44pm
Chem_geek:
Duffy Pratt: Isn't doing that dangerous? One could get trapped in a loop, citing to Wikipedia on the question of Wikipedia's reliability...
11.13.2008 6:26pm
Don't Panic:
Chem_geek: While Duffy Pratt's conclusions could lead to a logical loop, a more interesting question would be -- What if you cite to the sources listed in the Wikipedia entry on Wikipedia reliability that show Wikipedia to be reliable....
11.13.2008 7:18pm
whit:
and now were back to godel, escher and back again.

infinite loops and all...

actually, VC and the internet in general is such a loop.

the same arguments rehashed over and over. just different details.
11.13.2008 8:10pm
almondwine (mail):
I'm still trying to figure out why someone would cite Wikipedia to argue that the Reid technique produces false confessions. It's not like there's a broad corpus of evidence as to that fact, published in many articles and even demonstrated in the up to 15% of DNA exonerees who falsely confessed... Oh wait, there is. N/M.
11.13.2008 11:29pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Splunge, I have had my own research projects sent down wrong directions enough from respectable encyclopedias to suggest that they are all to be treated as inherently unreliable.

I think the bigger issue is that a lot of articles in conventional encyclopedias are written by "experts" with an axe to grind (I put "experts" in quotes because sometimes occasionally one is an "expert" by being on the forefront of an academic fad). For example, for a while Encyclopedia Brittanica had an article on witchcraft based entirely on Margeret Murray's works (which were revolutionary in their day and wrongly so). Nobody would say "Well you quoted Encyclopedia Brittanica, so you must be correct...."

The better way to use Wikipedia and other encyclopedias is as a starting point of research, a place to get some ideas of further resources, but in the end, for anything that really matters (and the law matters), you really have to follow up the resources yourself
11.14.2008 1:47am
Happyshooter:
It should not be relied on for any reason.

My hometown has a gentleman's club (old meaning, club for businessmen) that has been around since the 1800s.

The wiki page for the town always confused the name of the club with a nearby community college site. I kept fixing it, and a super user would cancel whatever I did. I finally posted the club's long history as well as the college's.

She canceled it and flagged me. Turns out she is mega gay and hates anything to do with men's clubs, so she messes up the pages on purpose.
11.14.2008 9:56am
New Pseudonym:

Turns out she is mega gay


What does this mean? She has experiences with thousands at a time?

Randy R., where are you when I can agree with you?
11.14.2008 7:15pm
ahendo10 (mail) (www):
Happyshooter:

Sure, you've got an anecdote, but even if we take your story at face value (and there's no reason not to), there are some major problems with your conclusion, that we should throw Wikipedia under the bus.

First of all, Wikipedia provides internal avenues for reporting this kind of behavior. And even if there is the odd super user who has gone mad with his or her moderate amount of power, does that necessarily mean that this is widespread enough to disregard the incredible resource that Wikipedia is?
11.14.2008 7:56pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I'm with New Pseudonym. I checked "mega gay" on wikipedia and came up with no results at all.
11.14.2008 10:12pm
Happyshooter:
Gay means a person enjoys romance with persons of the same gender.

Mega-gay means that the person's whole entire life is all about being as openly publicly hella gay as they can be. A good day is a day where they took it past annoying and ran the glory of all that is gay right into the ground in front of people who at one time were okay with gay and now don't want to hear another word about it, ever.
11.17.2008 10:19am
CatCube:
Wikipedia is fun to page through, but definitely shouldn't be used for anything important. The best illustration I know of is the page for Bagram Airfield, which is listed as Bagram Air Base in WP.

People who know better (N.B., not me) pointed out that the proper name of the place is "Bagram Airfield," since any aerodrome run by the US Army is called an "Airfield," while "Air Base" is for those run by the US Air Force. (Bagram is run by the 101st Airborne Division, an Army unit.)

The "community consensus" was that because "air base" sounds more meaningful, and "airfield" makes people who don't know the difference think of a small dirt strip, the page title shouldn't be changed to correct the error--i.e., enshrining a misconception precisely because it's popular.

It makes me chuckle when I see a page tagged "needs expert attention," since even if they get expert attention they might willfully disregard it in favor of what's "popular" or "common knowledge".

Of course, my example is really a tiny detail. However, my non-lawyer's impression is that tiny details can have a big impact in legal opinions, so a place that doesn't sweat the details might not be a good legal resource.
11.17.2008 12:08pm