Tyler Cowen on Wikipedia

….meanwhile at The New Republic, my colleague and friend Tyler Cowen weighs in on dissing Wikipedia…..

So, should the academic journal or the Wikipedia entry receive more respect? Should we give literary critics tenure for sparkling reviews on Amazon.com? Should The New York Times, on a given day, simply link to the best of the web?

Sadly, the final lessons here are brutal. We cannot quite embrace the wonderfully egalitarian world of knowledge on the web. Error, falsehood, sloppy untruths, and just downright lies are found all too frequently and they threaten to spread even further. That’s why we should defend institutions–such as academia and the standard canons of traditional journalism–that promise full fact-checking and tough standards of rigor. Yes those institutions are very often hypocritical. Everyone faces a deadline or a budget. Nonetheless, dropping our stated loyalties to such institutions would be like removing our thumb from the dike and letting the flood waters in.

I don’t mean this as a call to let up on vigilance. We should criticize our truth-testing institutions and try to improve their truth-tracking properties; of course, this can mean an active life in Wikipedia, Amazon.com, and the blogosphere. But in the final analysis the standards of mainstream institutions are necessary. We should use the web to strengthen, rather than weaken, those procedures.

My own sense is that the real danger with Wikipedia is that the mere knowledge that decision makers with little time to go to the library, “cheat” to it when their boss asks about X (which they’ve never heard of before) creates an opportunity for mischief.

Jim