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GlobalSecurity.org vs Wikipedia

If GlobalSecurity.org and Jane's are a bit pricey for your tastes, there is always Wikipedia. It is free, and you get what you pay for. "Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles... What is contributed is more important than the expertise or qualifications of the contributor. What will remain depends upon whether it fits within Wikipedia's policies, including being verifiable against a published reliable source, thereby excluding editors' opinions and beliefs and unreviewed research..."

In 2005 Nature compared Wikipedia and Britannica science articles and sent them to experts in the field. The number of "factual errors, critical omissions and misleading statements" were recorded. " Britannica content had an average of just under 3 errors per article whilst Wikipedia had an average of just under 4 errors — not as much difference, perhaps, as most people would expect." And Wikipedia provides an inventory of Errors in Britannica Almost all of these instances are nit-picking fact-checker errors, mainly wrong dates in biographies.

Britannica responded that "Almost everything about the journal's investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading .... Dozens of inaccuracies attributed to the Britannica were not inaccuracies at all, and a number of the articles Nature examined were not even in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit."

Wikipedia is an example of crowd-sourcing, utilizing (labor, information, etc.) contributed by the general public to a project, without compensation. Wiki is an example of Creative Commons licensing, such as is used with open source software. The critical difference, however, is that developers of open source software can monetize their knowledge of the software through consulting or even a day job, while there is no such possibility evident with Wiki.

Another analogy may relate to monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare. There are actually slight variations of this analogy, changing the number of monkeys and the amount of time, but one typical version goes like this: A million monkeys hammering a million typewriters for a million years will eventually write the entire works of Shakespeare. That is, Wikipedia presumes that if enough contributors edit an article, that over time error will purged and only fact will remain. But as with the monkeys, there is no self-evident figure of merit for how many editors would be required over what period of time for any given article to converge on facticity, and indeed these numbers must vary from article to article.

Such crowd-sourcing is similar but not the same as the Delphi Effect (DE). Studied at the RAND Corporation during the Cold War, the Delphi Effect it has been leveraged in a methodology by the same name and has been (and continues to be) used extensively in prediction and forecast models in a wide variety of settings. According to one account, "The central idea is that a group of subject experts, when using each other’s knowledge and expertise, is able to forecast future developments. In a Delphi study the group members’ expertise is often heterogeneous, i.e. they are experts on different aspects of the research problem. If the main question is 'What will be the price of a barrel of Brent oil in 2030?’ then geologists, economists, engineers and environmental experts can all contribute to the eventual group prediction. During a Delphi study, experts remain anonymous; they exchange their views and argumentations through the researcher/monitor. The approach is an iterative one: experts react on the statements or questions put to them by the researcher; in consecutive rounds the response of all experts is redistributed to each of them, and experts are then asked to react again. In a classic Delphi study, the objective is to reach consensus, hence leading to broadly consensual group forecasts."

Evidently one critical difference between Wiki's crowd-sourcing, Open Source software and Delphi is that Open Source software and Delphi entail inputs from subject matter experts, and Wiki does not. Indeed, since Wiki contributors receive no compensation, subject matter experts would tend not to cast their pearls into Wiki, but rather to find some place where they could get paid for their hard earned knowledge. The Olympic movement began with an aristocratic ideal of amateur competition, with the intent of excluding the lower classes who actually worked for living, but that was long ago and far away in a world that no longer exists.

In addition, even when subject matter do get involved they often find themselves hampered by the circuitous maze of user-defined and ever changing rules that Wiki has governing its content. Wiki states very clearly that "original research" is unwelcome and that content for inclusion must pass the community standards for notability. None of this should not be mistaken for a well codified style guide or taxonomy. The rules are themselves up for almost constant debate and are subject largely to individual interpretation. The issue with original content is especially pernicious. Multiple examples have been found where Wiki continues to present information proven false as fact. The requirement for a source for almost everything that anyone might disagree on means that if the correct information is not readily citable its liable to be removed.

And disagreement is a hallmark of much of Wiki's corpus. Decisions to delete are determined by a simple majority vote with no quorum requirements. Anyone can start a motion to delete a page and anyone can vote in any debate for deletion regardless of their expertise. The Wiki entry on GlobalSecurity.org's director John Pike was removed in 2008 for not being notable. The page on GlobalSecurity.org was similarly removed in 2012. In the case of the GlobalSecurity.org entry, one of the two votes that led to the decision to delete the page stated as the reason that "Sources [listed on the page] do not establish notability." There were not enough "sources" to establish the notability of an organization that has been regularly referenced in domestic and international news since its establishment.

Some of the Wikipedia articles that overlap in subject areas with GlobalSecurity.org are actually rather good, but more often than not, they verge on dreadful. The fundamental problem is that in many cases they are written by people who do not understand what they are writing about, and many contain fundamental errors [traceable to a footnoted source that was completely misunderstood]. And in other cases, they are written by partisans and patriots who depict their homeland as they wish it could be, rather than as it was or is.