Tuesday, August 02, 2005

NPOV: I like Wikipedia. I usually go there first when I need a bit of information. It has served me well--even giving me a useful timeline to let me know where a couple of fairly minor historical figures were during the months before and after the start of the Civil War, a remarkably specific fact, and incredibly useful for the script I'm currently writing.

But see, there's a seedy underbelly I wasn't really aware of until today. See, the idea behind wikis is that anyone who wants to can show up and make a change. Then, somebody else can change it another way, or change it back. So any stupid changes disappear forever, and any useful changes remain for all posterity.

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that there are a number of things we all disagree about. Pat Moynihan once said (as you can read on WikiQuote, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Well, apparently a bunch of people never heard that.

If you click on the little tab on the top that says, "Discussion," you'll find the behind-the-scenes of the article you're reading. People fighting, arguing, name-calling, and slandering each other over what actually ends up on that main page.

You see, Wikipedia has aspirations of achieving a true "Neutral Point of View," or "NPOV," for short. A noble aspiration, to be sure, but tough in practice.

A review of disputed articles includes the expected--does the existence of an article on the word "Chinglish" already make an NPOV impossible?--and the obscure--what really happened to the original ending of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game?

There's even arguments about NPOV regarding the Solar System in Astrology, and it's not the ones you think. One argument is about whether the article has too many references to a single source. Another is about whether the page should even exist, or whether the discussions should be moved to the pages about the individual planets. After all, wouldn't a true "NPOV" treat the astrological implications of Venus as seriously as they would the geological ones?

So I made a change somewhere. Then I discovered I'd thrown myself into the midst of a controversy. So I changed it back, and voiced my opinions on why it should be changed. But it's not like a forum, really. It's an encyclopedia. So when do we "decide" which is right? Who gets final say? Who knows.

So I decided to change an incorrect fact, just to put my foot down.

And now, hopefully I'll stay away from that edit button like I should have all along.

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