OU blog

Personal Blogs

Anna Greathead

Neutral Point of View

Visible to anyone in the world

The first activity of Week 10 was to do with Wikipedia. 

I love Wikipedia. I know that anyone can edit (vandalise) it, I am aware that most of its regular editors and writers are white, educated, youngish men, I would never rely on it an emergency BUT I love that the sum total of human knowledge seems to reside there! Even the plot of various books, TV shows and plays. There are long articles about fictional characters! 

A bit of directed digging this week has exposed some things about Wikipedia however. I was vaguely aware that the toxicity of 'revert wars' was akin to the nastiness of the comments section of a Daily Mail article about Brexit, however to read the environment being described as it was did alert me to the extent of the problem. I do know that I can't edit Wikipedia anymore since my teenage son went on a Wikipedia vandalizing spree and my IP address has been put on a 'naughty list' somewhere. (Which does, at least, reassure me that action is taking against deliberate vandalism and mischief). 

However - as a user I am not sure this will affect me. I wonder if it should but I don't think it will. Wikipedia not only reminds me 'where do I know that actor from?', 'is Great Gable taller than Helvellyn?, and 'where is the Sargasso sea?' (All recent Wikipedia searches) but it also acts as entry level information on academic and professional studies.

I work for a medical training company despite having no medical training! I have to proof read (for accuracy as well as spelling and grammar) questions written by doctors to test other doctors. I also write questions myself. I sit surrounded by medical text books and with NICE, Patient.co.uk and GPnotebook permanently tabbed on my screen. Sometimes I still struggle to understand though so at that point I often revert to Wikipedia. Not as a primary source - more as background reading! I learn the vocabulary and some key basics in jargon free language. I can then return to my more reliable sources with more understanding and knowledge.

In H800 I have also used Wikipedia. At the beginning terms such as 'behaviorist' were thrown about and whilst I had a vague idea of what the term meant from a sociological point of view I wasn't sure how it pertained to learning. Where did I go to catch myself up - Wikipedia! I didn't cite Wikipedia (even Wikipedia says you shouldn't do that!) but it did furnish me with some useful starter information.

The question we are now pondering is about the 'neutral point of view' which Wikipedia aims to, claims to, present. I have never seen anything which suggests there's any structural bias or systemic attempt to present a single worldview but this is not evidence that no such thing is there. Most people believe their choice of newspaper to be unbalanced and neutral whereas in reality it just matches their own worldview (including me! The Guardian is super central and moderate!)

I can see that news outlets have a ideological position. I can imagine that Wikipedia might even though I can't see it myself right now. And that got me thinking - doesn't everything get written by someone who has their own worldview? Even academic journals?

Our next activity is to do with online question sites and how much we can trust the answers that complete strangers give us, and should we trust the other complete strangers that upvote the answers. Like with Wikipedia - the question is -

How much should we trust each other?

Share post


Alex Bell

New comment

Hi Anna. I liked you blog post

"doesn't everything get written by someone who has their own worldview? Even academic journals?"

And of course Encyclopaedia Britannica has its own world view too! The Britannica bit makes me think about how the world is constructed by those in power, which of course will have historical truths but are written by the victors. Trade routes and ports and capital cities are all given emphasis on world maps. But whose trade routes and capital cities are they?

Ok vandalism isn't great but if someone has a genuine gripe about a wikipedia page then I hope that the 'editors' in charge handle this in an unbiased way.