Encyclopedia is a sum of references

Encyclopedia is not a sum of original research nor a sum of unverifiable claims nor even sum of well known truths. Encyclopedia is a sum of references.

No one statment in one encyclopedia may stay without a reference. Even a claim that Wikipedia is an Internet encyclopedia.

Even such position may look like a radical one, it is a fundamental layer below any encyclopedia which aims to be neutral and objective (in the sense of the maximum of neutrality and objectivity which humans may achieve, of course).

A digression

I like to gather informations in my head and I think that it is something which the most people like to do. Curiosity is one of the basic human characteristics (and not only human).During late 80s and early 90s I used to read newspapers (dailies, weeklies, monthlies…). Then, in 1995 I started to use Internet. Internet was much more interesting then newspapers in Milosevic’s Serbia. Then, again, in the early 2000s I started to read news. This time on the net.From time to time I was realizing that reading news is a typical neurosis: I knew that I hadn’t need all daily news, I knew that I had been wasting my time by spending maybe two hours per day (not continuously) in reading news, but I had been reading and reading.And last month, after more then five years, I enlighten my neurosis, realized that it is not so hard to quit, and I quit. I removed news from my reader and my reader is now strictly dedicated for work on free knowledge.

A typical example

Instead of news I am reading Wikipedia. Sometimes I go to some article through the Main Page, but more often I go there to get some information and then I go across a number of articles with the end on some completely unrelated article to the starting one.This time I read a Slashdot article “New Explanation For the Industrial Revolution“. At the end of article there is a term “Malthusian trap. As I read it from my RSS reader, I didn’t see the link, so I typed “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusian”. Soon after I was reading the article Malthusian catastrophe (“Malthusian trap” redirects to “Malthusian catastrophe”).Then I read Medieval demography after which I went to the list of famines. I opened maybe ten articles more, some of them I read, some of them I didn’t. But, once more, I stopped my exploring Wikipedia because I became upset.Until such sentences are common on Wikipedia — it will not be a good encyclopedia (BTW, I am not saying that I found a better encyclopedia then Wikipedia).

In three sentences of the statment: “*1959-1961 [[Great Leap Forward]] / [[Three Years of Natural Disasters]] (China); this famine is considered the greatest famine in history. It killed more people than all the victims counted in [[List of massacres]]. Estimates are in the tens of millions.” — I found three types of encyclopedic faults and four faults in total:

  1. Unreferenced statements:
    • No reference for the statement that “famine is considered the greatest famine in history”.
    • No reference for the statement that “estimates are in the tens of millions”.
  2. Encyclopedia doesn’t “thinks”, but refers to others’ thinkings. By whom “famine is considered…”?
  3. And the most original (I don’t see such mistakes on Wikipedia often) is that “It killed more people then all the victims counted in [[List of massacres]].” This is a completely newbie mistake: Encyclopedia mustn’t self-refer.

Examples like this wouldn’t be a problem if they are rare. However, I am reading Wikipedia every day and every day I am finding such examples. My approximation is that at least 10% of articles have such problems. And maybe up to 20-30% if essayist style is counted. And maybe 99% if non-existed references are counted. And maybe only German Wikipedia is better then English (if it is better, I don’t know); all other Wikipedias are much worse (maybe I am wrong for some of Wikipedias, but this is the case for Wikipedias language editions from Balkan languages, through Central-European language to French language).

POV, OR and similar things are laying on this issue. This is a huge Wikipedian problem. Of course, if our goal is to build free encyclopedia. If our goal is to play, for example, hide-and-seek, then we don’t need to load our minds with such silly stupidities.

(I thought that this post will not be very long. However, the second part of the post with the title “Possible solutions” became very big with tendency to become much bigger. Because of that, I am separating articles. Later, I’ll add here links to the other posts.)


~ by millosh on August 8, 2007.

One Response to “Encyclopedia is a sum of references”

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