Home Correction letter Misunderstanding of Wikipedia and editing (letter)

Misunderstanding of Wikipedia and editing (letter)


In her article, “Wikipedia, Once Avoided, Now Adopted in the Classroom,” Susan D’Agostino and some of the professors she cites misunderstand Wikipedia, especially its fundamental limitations and errors. At the same time, just as blatantly, they confuse ‘editing’ with ‘revision’.

The title of the article surprised me: from “avoided” to “embraced”. Neither is correct. The small number of cases, mainly in 2n/a medical course, does not establish “uptake” and certainly not “trend”.

More importantly, no one tells the truth on Wikipedia: Entries are unreviewed, unsigned, or unattributed; there is no fact-checking or verification. It is what invalidates the use of Wikipedia for reputable or legitimate, academic or more general purposes.

Nothing in D’Agostino’s commentary or any of the teachers she quotes actually and factually kiss this basic fact.

Also, the exercises in class, as far as I know, are much more aimed at revise—correct, verify, authenticate, reconstruct, etc.—only editing. Should the author and his cited teachers be sent dictionaries, thesauri, or admission to a first-year rhetoric and composition course? My point, I emphasize, is not facetious.

Does “editing” by undergraduates and early med students address Wikipedia’s problems or threaten to make them worse? Are these unschooled “editors” somehow prepared to perform systematic checks, corrections and revisions? Do they possess the high level of intellectual and rhetorical guidance that these tasks require?

Finally, nothing in the described classroom exercises has anything to do with “digital literacy”.

–Harvey J. Graff
Emeritus Professor of English and History
Ohio Distinguished Scholar in Literacy Studies
Ohio State University