Is Wikipedia Trustworthy? - 16:1 Is Wikipedia Trustworthy? - 16:1

Episode 92 - Wikipedia and the Quest for a Universal Encyclopedia

September 1, 2023

Editor’s note: scroll down for episode transcript!

Education Headline Roundup

It’s been a busy week in education news as students and educators in the U.S. head back to school following summer break. Here are the headlines in this week’s edu news roundup:

  • The Biden administration is once again attempting to follow through on campaign promises to alleviate student debt. Details of the SAVE program are discussed.
  • The Boys & Girls Club of America has released a new study revealing troubling trends in levels of bullying and cyberbulling in American schools.
  • The College Board is in hot water over revelations that it sends student SAT scores and GPAs to Facebook and TikTok through tracking pixels (advertising technology).
  • The Columbia County Library in Dayton, Washington, is facing a possible dissolution vote on November 7th after a series of book challenges.
  • Governor Maura Healey of Massachusetts announced a new program that would make community college tuition-free for residents without a prior post-secondary degree.

Wikipedia and the Quest for a Universal Encyclopedia

Wikipedia is the largest and most-read reference work in history. Maintained by a large cohort of volunteer editors, the free, online encyclopedia aims to make “the sum of all human knowledge” available to the world. The project of Wikipedia sparks a number of questions of interest to the modern educator, such as: What is expertise? What events, locations, objects, people, artworks, and inventions etc. are noteworthy? What exactly is a neutral point of view? How does living contemporaneously to events of historical significance impact our ability to evaluate them accurately?

Is Wikipedia Trustworthy?

Wikipedia is a living document, an undulating sea of interconnected articles, references, policies, and end users. Though neutrality is a guiding Wikipedian philosophy, vandalism does sometimes occur, and mistakes are sometimes made. (Studies have shown, however, that Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as traditional print reference resources, such as Encyclopedia Britannica.) We’ll investigate the epistemological challenges inherent to a collaborative and ever-evolving repository of knowledge. We’ll also uncover some startling demographic statistics about Wikipedia’s editors, who aren’t as representative of the average world citizen as you might think.

The Impact of AI and Other Modern Internet Forces on Wikipedia

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is having a major impact on Wikipedia. AI can be used to generate content, summarize articles, and identify vandalism. However, AI also poses a threat to the integrity of the content of Wikipedia, as it often introduces inaccuracies, fabrications, and “hallucinations,” some of which can be extremely difficult to detect. Other modern Internet forces, such as deepfakes and misinformation, are also disrupting Wikipedia’s vast knowledge experiment.

Join us as we investigate the history and impact of one of the world’s top 10 websites.

Sources & Resources

TED Talk – The Birth of Wikipedia

The Independent – Nobody should trust Wikipedia, says man who invented Wikipedia by Mayank Aggarwal

YouTube – The White House: President Biden Announces the SAVE Plan for Student Loan Borrowers

NPR – Borrowers can now apply for new, income-based student loan repayment by Sequoia Carrillo and Cory Turner

Boys & Girls Clubs of America – Youth Right Now

Axios – Students face new school year with jump in bullying by April Rubin

Gizmodo – The College Board Tells TikTok and Facebook GPAs and Details About SAT Scores by Thomas Germain

WBUR – Community college is now free for Mass. residents 25 and older. Millions qualify by Max Larkin

KNKX NPR – Rural Washington library could be nation’s first to dissolve after book challenges by Courtney Flatt

The Book Loft – The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

Wikipedia – Wikipedia

Wikipedia – Help: Introduction to Policies and Guidelines

Wikipedia – What Wikipedia is Not

Technology Review – The Decline of Wikipedia by Tom Simonite

Duke University Press – Wikipedia’s Race and Ethnicity Gap and the Unverifiability of Whiteness by Michael Mandiberg

Aljazeera – How are Wikipedians fighting gender bias online? 

HBR – Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia? by Nicole Torres

Vice – AI Is Tearing Wikipedia Apart by Claire Woodcock

The Next Web – UK plan to police internet may be unlawful, force Wikipedia shutdown by Thomas Macaulay

UK Parliament – Online Safety Bill

The Economic Times – How accurate is Wikipedia’s content? 

Governance, Organization, and Democracy on the Internet: The Iron Law and the Evolution of Wikipedia by Piotr Konieczny



Episode Transcript:

Katie: [00:00:00] Hello. 

Chelsea: Hi! 

Katie: Hi. 

Chelsea: How have you been?

Katie: Good. How are you?

Chelsea: Good. It sounds like you’re adjusting well to your new school year.

Katie: It’s going well. 

Chelsea: Yeah. 

Katie: Can’t complain.

Got a good bunch. I got a good class load. I’m, feeling good!

Chelsea: Great. Shall we get on into our education news headlines for this week?

Katie: Yes, I’ll go first.

Chelsea: It’s been busy. There… 

Katie: there’s more than usual. 

Chelsea: There’s more to discuss…

Katie: Could you not decide?

Chelsea: No, no, there’s just a lot going on. I think it’s the back to school energy. It’s infiltrating the uh, the media.

Katie: Education is back in the news again.

Chelsea: Uh huh, uh huh, ’tis the season.

Katie: All right, here we go.

Yet another stab at student debt is being taken by the Biden administration. Last week, president Biden shared details on a newly opened income driven student loan repayment program called SAVE, S-A-V-E, w hich is available to more than 20 million borrowers. Under the save plan, borrowers make payments based on their income and family size, and interest will not accumulate on their loans as long as they make their payments. The administration is urging borrowers to apply for the SAVE plan soon, as student loan payments are set to resume in October.

Chelsea: Second headline. the Boys and Girls Club of America has published a new study of participants in its programming that indicates that bullying is on the rise among America’s youth.

 The survey found that 26% of respondents reported being bullied on a school campus this year, up from 12% in 2019, and cyber bullying is also on the rise. Students are broadly performing worse in school now than they were before COVID– the COVID-19 pandemic, and learning loss and behavioral [00:01:30] issues are being investigated by many researchers as consequences of the stress and the isolation of the pandemic. Do you feel like there’s more bullying now? Are you dealing with more incidents of bullying in your school?

Katie: I would say it’s up about 12% since 2019.

Chelsea: 12%.


Chelsea: Gee, I wonder, I wonder how that figure came to be.

Katie: I think it’s probably cyber bullying that’s up, if anything.

Chelsea: Yeah.

I feel like you’ve spent a lot of time tracking down who said what mean thing to whom on Snapchat recently.

Katie: It’s mostly that. I mean, not to say that it can’t happen in class and in school and things like that. Um, it certainly does ,but I… I wonder if sometimes my students do feel that they’re being bullied, but that I don’t see it that way because I don’t always understand all the, like, social relationships at play.

Does that make sense? I think sometimes, especially this early in the school year, it’s really hard to read kids to know, like, is that a joke? Are they getting bullied? Are they on the same page? 

Chelsea: I see, I see. 

Katie: And I think that’s where it’s hard sometimes as a teacher. 

Chelsea: Okay. 

Katie: But yeah, I mean, I… I would definitely say that I think cyber bullying is probably our… our biggest issue.

Chelsea: Gotcha. Alright, next headline.

Katie: Okay. It’s about the college 

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: The college board publishes the AP courses, the SAT exam, the Accuplacer, and more. So, the college board is in hot water for claiming that it doesn’t send student SAT scores to TikTok, Facebook, and other data-hungry social media services when it in fact does send those scores in what are called tracking pixels. 

Chelsea: Yeah.


Katie: So, tracking pixels are little bits of technology that follow you all over the web, and they tell advertisers what you might be interested in buying.

Chelsea: Among other things, yeah.

Katie: The college board initially denied that it was sending students’ SAT scores and GPAs to social media sites, but there was a reporter at Gizmodo who provided screenshots showing that it was happening, and finally, they acknowledged that they had been doing so.

 The college board said that it was using tracking pixels to measure the effectiveness of its advertising, but they didn’t explain why it needed to send student SAT scores and GPAs to do so. 

Chelsea: Yeah. 

Katie: So they were using the data points and got caught and had to be like, “Well, we were, but we were just figuring out what to do with it.”

Chelsea: We were talking about this and if you’re not familiar with this technology and how it works, you might be like, how could it possibly go wrong? Like, what’s the big deal? It’s a privacy nightmare, and the one example that we came up with just offhand immediately was like, okay, what if a student happens to have a relatively lower score compared to peers in their age group or something like that? Advertisers who, for example, advertise for-profit colleges and universities, which tend to be kind of more predatory and go after a certain kind of student, um, might directly and aggressively target that particular student because they might think they have a better chance of retaining that student.

Um, we have a whole episode on for-profit colleges and universities. We’re not big fans. Among other things they just sort of tend to have predatory tuition and lending practices. But anyway, that was just one example that I could come up with that [00:04:30] would, that would for me qualify as a, as a pretty big area of concern.

Katie: I think my students would be shocked to learn that that’s happening to their information.

Chelsea: Yeah, that TikTok knows what their SAT scores and GPAs are?

Katie: I think they would be like, uh, what?

 They would be… they would be surprised.

Chelsea: Yeah. It’s not great. Uh, next headline.

 This is about the Columbia County Library in Dayton, Washington. They’re facing a possible dissolution vote on November 7th after a series of book challenges. We’ve been talking about book bans a lot on the podcast, actually. They’re happening more and more. Anyway, if the library is dissolved, it would be the first in the country to do so due to book challenges.

The challenges began in 2022 when a group of residents objected to the library’s collection of books on LGBTQIA plus topics and other materials they considered to be inappropriate. The library board has defended its collection, but the challenges have continued. In June, 2023, the library board voted to put the dissolution question on the ballot. Setting aside what I think is the willful misuse of terms like pornography and grooming and obscenity, which are the words that people use to try to get these books pulled, I think there’s like a greater trend here that we’re seeing where people think that libraries exist to house and protect only the speech with which people already agree.

You know, libraries are not repositories for one political or religious (or whatever it may be) outlook or another. They’re centers of broad learning and avenues to have narrow [00:06:00] channels of information and learning and thinking broadened to include perspectives that are very different from what we already have.

I think a personal library is where one can express one’s personal views, and a public library should be for all people. That’s my soapbox. But I… I think the other issue here is that, like, if you equate reading with indoctrination, that makes me wanna ask, okay, what have you been reading?

Katie: Mm-hmm. 

Chelsea: And how were you taught to read? Because I can’t imagine equating those two things. I can’t imagine thinking that being exposed to ideas is the same thing as automatically believing them. I just, I can’t even, yeah. I can’t even conceive of, of reading that way. I think it would make me really sad and very frustrated.

But anyway. Getting off my soapbox. Your turn!

Katie: No! Please stand on it and scream.

Chelsea: I, I, it’s my favorite pastime.

Katie: The libraries are a worthy cause.

Chelsea: Yep. Yep. 

Katie: All right. Last one. Massachusetts governor Maura Healey announced a new program called MassReconnect, which will make community college tuition free for state residents 25 years and older who do not have a prior post-secondary degree. The program is expected to cost $50 million in its first year, and it’ll be funded through a combination of state and federal dollars. Way to go, Massachusetts.

Chelsea: Yeah. That’s a nice piece to end on.

Katie: We love. Yeah, a little positive blip at the end.

 ([musical interlude]) 

Katie: This episode, we’re talking about my students’ favorite [00:07:30] website. 

Chelsea: Mmh.. 

Katie: Wikipedia.

Chelsea: Wikipedia. Do you have a Wikipedia account? 

Katie: I don’t. 

Chelsea: An editor account? Ooh, I do. I do. 

Katie: I don’t have that kind of time.

Chelsea: Well, I don’t either, but it’s more like when I’m, when I’m looking at Wikipedia, if I notice something that is a typo or just obviously incorrect, I’m like, oh, I’ll do my little internet citizen good deed for the day and…

Katie: See, when I see that, I project it on my board and I’m like, “Look, students! This, this is the problem.”

Chelsea: Wow. Good to know. Okay, I’m gonna put this resource in the show notes, but I wanna say that this episode was partially inspired by James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. I have talked about this book a lot, even in other episodes recently. I read it this summer. I cannot stop thinking about it.

So, read this book. But there’s a lot in that book, a lot of time spent on Wikipedia. Very interesting read. So, you and I are people who have to research things. If you’re a person who uses the internet and wants to look at anything ever, Wikipedia is pretty much unavoidable. And if you’re gonna talk about education, teaching, and learning in the 21st century, you probably shouldn’t omit at least a brief discussion of Wikipedia. 

 It’s this ever-growing, ever-changing repository of human knowledge, and it’s what we’re talking about today.

And for me, the question of how Wikipedia stands with regard to epistemology, philosophy, and theory of knowledge, it… It’s kind of like a really fun microcosm of every problem of mass media and modern social [00:09:00] technology distilled down. So, you know, we get questions like, who’s an expert?

Um, what events or locations or objects, people, artworks, inventions, everything like that… what of that is noteworthy? What is neutrality or a neutral point of view.

Katie: Mm-hmm. 

Chelsea: That one’s getting more and more difficult. 

How does living contemporaneously to events of historical significance impact our ability to evaluate them accurately? And then I just tossed this one in as a kind of bonus because I’ve heard people wonder about it before.

 Is Wikipedia a political system or a political experiment? Wikipedia itself says no. I looked up in some of their, yeah, in some of their policy documents. They’re like, we are not a democracy. We don’t vote. Any… Anyway, we’ll get there. What is Wikipedia?

Katie: Well, if you’ve listened to our podcast, then you’ve heard about my favorite Wikipedia page. 

Chelsea: Which is?

Katie: The list of inventors who were killed by their inventions.

Chelsea: Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot.

Katie: Yeah. We did a whole segment on that.

Chelsea: yeah. The one I remember is the guy… 

Katie: Blucifer! 

Chelsea: …the guy in the squirrel suit who jumped off the Eiffel Tower. That’s the one I remember most. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Katie: I’ve lost probably days of my life at this point to Wikipedia pages.

Chelsea: Oh, for sure.

Katie: Okay. So what is it? It’s the social internet’s answer to the traditional printed encyclopedia.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: So we no longer have men with brief cases coming door to door to sell us, you know, whatever.

So in order to answer this question, I did what I had to do, which is I went to [00:10:30] Wikipedia and I looked at Wikipedia.

Chelsea: You know, did you know that Wikipedia has a page, an article on Wikipedia that explains why Wikipedia is not a reliable source for information about Wikipedia?

Katie: Yeah, it goes all the way to the…, it’s like turtles all the way down.

This is what Wikipedia says about Wikipedia. 

Chelsea: Uh-huh, uh-huh. 

Katie: “Wikipedia is a free content online encyclopedia, written and maintained by a community of volunteers collectively known as Wikipedians.

Wikipedia is the largest and most read reference work in history and has consistently been one of the 10 most popular websites created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on January 15th, 2001. It is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, an American non-profit organization. Initially available only in English, versions in other languages were quickly developed.

Wikipedia’s combined editions comprise more than 61 million articles attracting around 2 billion unique device visits per month and more than 15 million edits per month (about 5.8 edits per second on average as of July, 2023).”

Chelsea: Wow.

Katie: So it’s a busy website.

Chelsea: It is very busy. Yep.

Katie: And so this basically leads us to the question of, “how are these articles created and maintained?”

Chelsea: I would love to know

Katie: Because it’s a living website. It’s like living in a way that I don’t think a lot of things are online. Does that make sense? 

Chelsea: Yeah, it…

For me, it’s like the very definition of a living document. 

Katie: So how are articles created and maintained? The Wikipedia wikipedia says this:

” through open [00:12:00] collaboration and using a wiki-based editing system called MediaWiki.”

So, their entries are created and maintained by volunteer editors. Anyone can create a new Wikipedia entry, but there are guidelines and policies that must be followed and they’re enforced by the community of users.

Chelsea: Yeah, I’ve never, I don’t think I’ve ever created one from scratch.

Katie: Oh, I have not. I know that for certain,

Chelsea: It’s so intimidating.

Katie: Their Wikipedia says that they have few strict rules… 

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: … but are founded on five fundamental principles. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute. Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility. And Wikipedia has no firm rules. It’s like the first rule of fight club. 

Chelsea: Everything about Wikipedia as I researched it felt just a little bit chaotic. 

 Which I think is actually kind of the point.

Katie: The point. That’s kind of how it works.

Chelsea: It feels like it’s held together with shoestring and paper clips and chewing gum.

Katie: Clippy! 

Chelsea: Yeah. 

Katie: Clippy is behind the scenes just hanging on. Okay. So now there’s a Wikipedia entry on what Wikipedia is not.

Chelsea: Yes.

Katie: It is not a publisher of original thought. It is not a dictionary. It is not a newspaper. It is not a social networking service. Wikipedia is not an experiment in democracy or any other political system. Its primary though non-exclusive means of decision making in a conflict resolution is editing and discussion leading to consensus, not voting.

Chelsea: I think [00:13:30] it’s almost easier to say what it’s not than to say what it is.

Katie: Yeah. Because like I think it does work as a dictionary.

Chelsea: Well, I think… 

Katie: Like if…

Chelsea: …they won’t do things like…

Katie: …we’re looking at a dictionary for a description… n o. Okay. I’ve already talked myself out of it.

Chelsea: That was… that was quick!

Katie: Well, I was, I was going for a definition, but then I thought Wikipedia does a lot of descriptions, see?

Chelsea: What’s the definition of a definition?

Katie: What is it?

Chelsea: I don’t know.

 So, like, the last two, it said, “not a social networking service” and “not an experiment in any political system.” It definitely to me seems like it has elements of social networking and it has elements of, maybe not a political system, but organization, you know, social organization of some sort.

 Somehow there are decisions that are made that affect the entire community, but also all of those decisions are apparently subject to change. So it’s, it’s fascinating to me. But anyway, I just wanna put a few excerpts from its policy documents in here that help flesh out the idea of what its, what its purpose is and what it’s doing and how it handles disputes and other kinds of stuff like that. 

No original research. Articles may not contain any unpublished theories, data, statements, concepts, arguments or ideas, or any new interpretation, analysis, or synthesis of published data, statements, concepts, arguments, or ideas that in the words of Wikipedia’s co-founder, Jimbo Wales, would amount to, quote, “a novel narrative or [00:15:00] historical interpretation.” Okay. And then a neutral point of view, which is kind of related to that. “Everything that our readers can see, including articles, templates, categories, and portals must be written neutrally and without bias.” I would love to know… 

Katie: mm-hmm. 

Chelsea: …how….

Katie: whatever you say next, yes.

Chelsea: just, I just would love to know how there’s any evidence that that is possible or enforceable, even though I generally find Wikipedia articles to be more or less neutral-ish. Right, right.

Katie: I think neutral-ish.

Chelsea: But that doesn’t mean that what’s going on behind the scenes in Wikipedia…. yeah. Yeah. Verifiability. “Articles should cite sources whenever possible. We cannot check the accuracy of cited sources. We can check whether they have been published by reputable publication and whether independent sources have supported them on review. Any unsourced material may be challenged and removed.”

Katie: And they do note it, you know, I’ve read a lot of Wikipedia pages that have said, “need citation” or “no citation,” or something like that.

Chelsea: The citations and research that get linked in articles? That’s the main reason I use Wikipedia. It’s to go track down reputable sources of information about things… 

Katie: To then go do the legwork to… yeah. 

Chelsea: Yeah. So Wikipedia is like, well, I’ve already done some legwork for you here, but you have to… you, you definitely have to verify things… 

Katie: yeah. 

Chelsea: …especially on more controversial topics, uh, and articles, but I do find it to be pretty useful. 

Katie: It’s a good starting point.

Chelsea: And I think it’s starting [00:16:30] to become more useful as I experience an increasing degree of frustration with Google Search, for example.

I think the quality of Google search is tanking right now. I really would like to hear from, from other people whether they’re experiencing this, but I feel like the quality of Google search is just nose-diving right now, and I’m not… I don’t know if it’s because of generative AI or other changes to the search algorithm or what, but I’m having a real hard time finding high-quality search results, especially when researching even stuff for the pod.

So, next one’s civility. “Rudeness or insensitivity, whether intentional or not, can distract from and interfere with our work. Dispute resolution forums are available when civil, reasoned discussion breaks down.” And then the last one I noted was consensus. “Consensus among equals is our only tool for resolving content disputes and our main tool for resolving all other disputes.”

Katie: Nice.

Chelsea: The rule of consensus. If it were gonna be a, a political organization, maybe we would call it a…

Katie: Quorum?. 

Chelsea: … consensus-driven oligarchy? I’m, I’m not exactly sure how, how it…

Katie: I like where you’re going.

Chelsea: Yeah. 

Katie: So the big question, is it trustworthy? 

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s the question that we dealt with when I was, when I was in school and we were first learning how to use this.

Katie: I’m still dealing with it. 

Chelsea: Yeah. 

Katie: Well, if you’re interested, there’s a Wikipedia article for that, and we’ll include it in the show notes, and it’s called “Wikipedia: Why Wikipedia is Not So Great.”

Chelsea: Uhhuh.

Katie: So, an issue with Wikipedia is knowing if what you’re [00:18:00] reading is absolutely trustworthy.

 The phrase that you might read is called Wikipedia vandalism, and here’s a, a quote about it: “On Wikipedia, vandalism has a very specific meaning: editing or other behavior deliberately intended to obstruct or defeat the project’s purpose, which is to create a free encyclopedia in a variety of languages presenting the sum of all human knowledge.”

So anything going against that is vandalism.

Chelsea: Yep. Vandalism is one type of problem that makes Wikipedia potentially untrustworthy. Another thing is just human error or just putting the wrong…

Katie: Which does happen!

Chelsea: Yeah, plenty! Plenty. People just put the wrong thing in there.

Or people put, sometimes this is more malicious and more like vandalism, but they’ll just make stuff up. I’ve heard of completely fabricated Wikipedia pages, so, yeah. It feels a little bit like particle physics. When, like how when you… 

Katie: Does it? 

Chelsea: …observe…

It does! 

Katie: Does it? 

Chelsea: It does! 

Like when you observe something…


Katie: Can I just say, I’ve never thought, “Hmm. This is just like particle physics!”

Chelsea: Wikipedia is like particle physics!

Katie: What is that thing? Oh, yes. Particle physics.

Chelsea: W ikipedia is, is kind of like an inverse particle physics, I suppose, but it’s, it is basically like a, the truthiness of an article…. 

Katie: Ok…

Chelsea: No, I’m back to how it’s not in it. It’s, it’s directly like it. Okay. Wikipedia is like particle physics in that…

Katie: This… this is… You’re writing your TED talk in real-time. 

Chelsea: I am, I’m…. I’m revising. Gimme a minute here. It’s like particle physics in that when you observe [00:19:30] it, you’re kind of taking a snapshot of it in a particular state. And even if you were to come back to it 30 seconds later…

Katie: Could be different!

Chelsea: Yeah, it could be. 

Katie: I understand particle physics. Is that all it is?


Chelsea: No.

Katie: Oh. So it’s nothing like particle physics.

Chelsea: It’s like indeterminacy. Anyway. Okay. because anybody can edit it at any time. You never know if what you have right now in this moment is closer to or farther away from the truth. 

Katie: Piggybacking off of particle physics…

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: I would like to also mention: another thing to consider with Wikipedia are the people who are editing it, and this is difficult at times because people use pseudonyms to do so.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: And this is from a link in the show notes, it’s called, ” Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia?” and it’s from the Harvard Business Review.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: This article said that in 2008, a survey found that less than 13% of Wikipedia contributors worldwide were women. A follow-up survey and 2011 found similar results: globally, 9% of contributors were women, and in the US it was 15%, but meanwhile, there appeared to be no significant gender difference, uh, in readership rates. That’s just something to consider as you’re reading who are the editors? What is their goal? Right. And I know we’re like trying to go for neutral, but anyways. 

Chelsea: Forgive the intrusion here briefly, but I thought this was so interesting. This is from an Al Jazeera article, and we’ll also link to that in the show notes, but it’s another statistic about [00:21:00] gender disparities on Wikipedia, and it said a 2021 study found that 41% of Wikipedia biographies nominated for deletion are about women. That figure seems staggering, given that only 19% of published Wikipedia biographies are about women according to the Wiki project Women in Red. 

Katie: Wow.

Chelsea: Yeah. So just to kind of bolster that idea that bias can impact content in many different and unexpected ways. 

Katie: Oh man. That really bums me out. I’m like doing that math in my head and it’s just not mathin’.

Chelsea: Uhhuh.

Katie: One other thing worth mentioning is that I could only find very recent evidence of anyone trying to study the racial makeup of Wikipedia editors, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot out there right now.

Chelsea: Yeah. So the whole problem with pseudonymous users and everything, it’s basically self-reported data that gets, that gets shared anyway, so all of this is a little sketchy and hard to track down… 

Katie: It’s a little, uh, muddy…, 

Chelsea: We should ask, yeah, maybe we should ask for some more transparency from Wikipedia on these fronts, but anyway, just think about that when you’re perusing, that the content there is largely shaped by a certain sort of looking person on average. 

Katie: Yeah, so a couple things just about the use of Wikipedia in school and, and, and what it looks like, especially I guess for me as a, as a high school English teacher: I discuss Wikipedia basically exactly like we have. It’s a great launching [00:22:30] point into learning. And I mostly tell my students, okay, especially my seniors with research projects or research essays, I’ll say, let’s find your topic and then start going through the notes and finding sources and picking and choosing from there, and making sure we’re going straight to the source to accurately pull a direct quote or purpose or whatever.

Now, there are plenty of times that I’m using Wikipedia for things that I would consider mostly safe as far as knowledge goes, just to use it as a reference, but I think what I’m always trying to teach my students is that it can be anyone who does this and edits this. And I’ve seen this happen because my very first year, I assigned my students a project on Charles Dickens, and later that day, one of my students had changed the information about Charles Dickens on Wikipedia, and it appeared briefly, and then it went away. And so we were learning in real time that day. It was like we refreshed and it was there and we refreshed and it was gone.

Chelsea: Did they change it to be something ridiculous? 

Katie: Yeah. 

Chelsea: Yeah. I think that’s more likely to happen. So like the, the higher traffic articles of more historical significance? That will happen way more quickly.

Katie: Yes. 

Chelsea: Because there are a lot of people who monitor those. 

Katie: Yes. 

Chelsea: Um, not so much for lesser- known, lesser- trafficked Wikipedia entries.

Katie: Right. and it happened in real time in front of us, and kids were like, well, I wrote this down. And other kids were like, well, I wrote this down. so we learned a valuable lesson. I use those types of things to show my students that this is a, a living, breathing document, much like our Google docs are. Right? Because that’s always how I de… I describe a Google Doc as well. It’s a living, breathing thing. But [00:24:00] I am definitely much more in the mindset of, let’s start here, get a little bit of general knowledge about something and then start really deep diving into trustworthy sources from here. So I don’t tell my students to avoid it, I guess what I’m mostly doing is teaching them to be hesitant and to be cautious and to fact check.

Chelsea: I kind of think of it like the internet equivalent of talking to a stranger in an elevator. Like you get on the elevator, stranger’s like, hi, how you doing? You know nothing about this person.

Katie: Yeah. 

Chelsea: And then they start telling you some cool thing about their special interests.

And you’re like, oh, neat. And…

Katie: …and then you look up that special interest. Yeah.

Chelsea: Yeah. But like generally speaking, this person is not an expert, but they just care about this thing a lot, and they’re trying to share… 

Katie: They don’t mean, they don’t mean harm in discussing whatever their thing is…

Chelsea: They’re trying to share with you, but they’re colored by their own limited perspective on the world and all of these things. And they also might get something wrong every once in a while just because maybe somebody told them the incorrect information, whatever it may be. That’s sort of how I think of Wikipedia. And I also think of it as just like you said, this vast jumping off point for falling down rabbit holes of learning.

 But yeah, I always sort of treat what I read there as like provisionally true.

Katie: Well, and I’ve even seen assignments completed where a teacher will assign a Wikipedia page and they’ll be like, okay, what are the facts listed on this Wikipedia page?

And then it will have the student do deep dive on the research. It’s kind of like, oh, this pre… is presented with context now. And [00:25:30] so it’s like, well, what they meant to say was, and then they like add the depth to the thing.

Chelsea: Mhh-hmm. 

Katie: So at the very surface level, like, yes, this is factually true, but it’s missing the context. And I think that’s an okay way to teach it. I don’t think there’s any point in telling people to never use it and be afraid of it and never trust it. Because I think the purpose of it is to inform people of how to wisely use the Internet. And by avoiding sites like Wikipedia and not knowing how to check for factual information, we’re only hurting ourselves. So.

Chelsea: Yeah, you can teach people to verify own online learning. 

Katie: So that’s how I handle it in the classroom. Obviously my seniors are not allowed to cite it as a, a source, but they’re welcome to use it as a, as a jumping point.

Chelsea: Here’s one juxtaposition that I would love to get your take on. Student A uses Wikipedia to look up some stuff and unfortunately makes a mistake of citing it as an original source, okay?

Katie: Mm-hmm. 

Chelsea: Student two also is writing a paper on this thing and uses ChatGPT.

Which one of them …

Katie: mm-hmm.

Chelsea: is in more trouble? Uhhuh.

Katie: More intense reaction to the ChadGPT. 

Chelsea: That’s good, because those answers… 

Katie: Than I would to a student who cited Wikipedia.

Chelsea: Uhhuh. That’s, that’s a good thing. Because those answers might be just completely made up.

Katie: Absolutely bonkers, yeah. 

Chelsea: Just made up. Fabricated. Here’s the thing we were…

Katie: I think I would deduct that one much more. 

Chelsea: But Wikipedia could equally be fabricated.

Katie: Well, I have taught my students how to [00:27:00] wisely use Wikipedia. I have not taught my students how to wisely use ChatGPT.

Chelsea: Well, I think that’s the harder thing to try to teach because among other things, it obscures its sources. 

Katie: That’s just where my head is. It’s gonna be a, a much greater intervention with the ChatGPT student than the Wikipedia student. Mm-hmm. Because a Wikipedia student, it could be as simple as being like, “Hey, this was good information. Did you find it in a source that was listed?”

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: You know? 

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: Like, go find that source and use that next time. Because there are quotes in Wikipedia, right, that are directly attributed to the source. 

Chelsea: ChatGPT will do that every once in a while too.

Katie: Yes, but we have no proof that what ChatGPT is linking to is actually real. Whereas if my student was to click on the link on Wikipedia, they could use their little noggins to discern.

Chelsea: But, I mean, you could use your little noggin… for example, lawyers used ChatGPT to write arguments and it cited non-existent case law. So in that case, you can still verify that that case law does not in fact exist. Those lawyers were just too lazy to do it.

Katie: Yeah. 

Chelsea: So I guess what I’m trying to say is how do we…

Katie: Yeah, there’s a gray area.

Chelsea: It feels more trustworthy to be like, there’s a community of human editors who care about this… 

Katie: who are working…

Chelsea: …who are curating it, who are edit…, blah, blah, blah… For some reason, it feels more trustworthy to do that than it does to turn over gathering and synthesizing to an algorithm. 

Katie: I agree. 

Chelsea: I guess my question is, is the reason for that because the algorithm quote unquote hallucinates? Because I, I too am more inclined to trust Wikipedia than I am to trust generative [00:28:30] AI. But I don’t, I don’t know if I can make a very nuanced argument for why that is yet.

Katie: Maybe I can’t,

Chelsea: It’s tough to think about.

Katie: I mean, if a student used ChatGPT and it was given a source and they went to, and it was fake, isn’t that different than going to a source on Wikipedia and finding the direct quote and the support for the thing? Like, that’s what I’m trying to say, I guess.

Chelsea: It is, but that’s comparing apples to oranges. The equivalent would be: somebody threw in a statement of fact into a Wikipedia article. It was either no source or incorrect source, or made up source. You can make up a source for Wikipedia, just like you can make up a source for… but hypothetically, Wikipedia has standards that helps it suss out reputable sources and stuff like that.

Katie: Yeah. I think I would have an easier time working through a student with Wikipedia’s essay to find the truth.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. Interesting. Wikipedia itself doesn’t purport to be a, a guardian of truth. 

Katie: No, it doesn’t. 

Chelsea: But rather just information. 

Katie: Yeah. I, I think I could just work through it easier in my head.

 You’re talking to somebody who has caught all of her ChatGPT cheaters because they copy and pasted the lead-in.

Chelsea: The “was this helpful?”

Katie: It’s like the prompt. It’s like type your whatever here! 

Chelsea: Oh.

Katie: Yeah. So, that’s what I’m saying, like, my chances of survival are pretty good still.

Okay. Um, until they get better about like, learning how to copy paste with control shift.

Chelsea: No formatting?

Katie: Yeah, like, until they get that shortcut, do you see what I mean though? I, I feel Okay. I feel safe still. And now it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be considering these things…

Chelsea: You’ve got [00:30:00] maybe not bigger but different fish to fry.

Katie: Yeah. I, my, I love my kids and, and they’re brilliant, but they’re not smart enough for this.

You know. 

Chelsea: Okay. And then just the last couple of issues here. I wanted to just talk a little bit more about the impact of AI on Wikipedia.

There’s an interesting Vice article that I found called “AI is Tearing Wikipedia Apart.” Let me just read a quote from that ’cause it’s kind of interesting. It said, “during a recent community call, it became apparent that there is a community split over whether or not to use large language models to generate content. While some people express that tools like Open AI’s ChatGPT could help with generating and summarizing articles, others remained wary. The concern is that machine generated content has to be balanced with a lot of human review and would overwhelm lesser-known Wikis with bad content. While AI generators are useful for writing believable human-like text, they are also prone to including erroneous information and even citing sources and academic papers, which don’t exist. This often results in text summaries, which seem accurate, but on closer inspection are revealed to be completely fabricated.” End quote. 

I’m trying to do a lot of research on this stuff, and especially as they’re evolving rapidly. I remember saying this on the pod even when, when these large language models first started becoming publicly available. I was like, oh, I’m asking it coding questions and it’s generally giving me correct results. As I’ve used it more, I have discovered more and more how it produces bad or inaccurate guidance. And the other day I was asking Bard to [00:31:30] generate a timeline of events having to do with some topic I was researching because I wanted to know how accurate it was in, in creating just a simple timeline. I think 70 or 80 percent of the results that it put into the timeline were just factually incorrect. Either the dates were wrong or the events were wrong, or whatever it was. And I was just like, oh man, people are using this as a search engine replacement already. And it is just making all this stuff up! 

Katie: It is just wrong. 

Chelsea: It is just wrong. And, and you would never know because it seems so much like it’s right, but all of it, I, I had to verify all of it. Obviously. I was trying to kind of see if it could function like Wikipedia. 

Katie: Sure. 

Chelsea: It, it really can’t…

Katie: can’t do it on its own.

Chelsea: …really can’t. It’s interesting to hear that Wikipedia, the community is also dealing with these questions. I hope that they continue to be hesitant to embrace large language models, at least how they’re working right now. Because they seem to be getting dumber.

Katie: They do.

Chelsea: And then the last question I had in here, and I have no idea, I couldn’t find any information about it, but I really was really curious to know how deepfakes and other kinds of fabricated misinformation or whatever are gonna impact the Wikipedia community. ‘Cause what if somebody is like, oh yeah, here’s this, this news address and they link to like a YouTube video of a well-known politician. And what if it’s an AI-generated deepfake?

So like, how does the, you know, how does a community verify… 

Katie: What is real?

Chelsea: …That stuff? Yeah. [00:33:00] What is real? Gonna be big challenges down the road for Wikipedia and many other people who work in online media spaces. Yeah. Okay. Any thoughts from you? That about wraps up the Wikipedia segment.

Katie: Yeah, no thoughts at all. I’m just fine. The best part about this is that tomorrow morning I’m doing an entire, like I’m listening to an entire APA presentation from my librarian at school.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: To my seniors.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: My librarian is very diligent and obviously as an English teacher, this is important to me, but it’s the thing that’s always just looming, you know, like you turn around, it’s like the grim reaper in the corner and it’s just like ChatGPT on his forehead

Chelsea: Mm. Mm-hmm. 

Katie: Or deep fakes or whatever. In my heart of hearts, I like hope that with this evolving technology also comes the ability to discern it, to identify it. That’s how I feel about ai, that’s how I feel about ChatGPT and these types of things. It’s how I feel about even Wikipedia in the case of helping to teach my students what’s real 

Chelsea: How spot 

misinformation. Yeah. Yeah. 

Katie: Like that’s my hope. And that’s true when they turn on the tv or when they scroll Twitter, or when they scroll Facebook or anything, you know? So in my head, it’s not just Wikipedia, it’s all of those things, you know?

Chelsea: And I also think that we, we should make sure that even students coming through who have to deal with these questions of original sources and all that, you know, how, how is this verifiable? That kind of stuff with Wikipedia? I hope we also teach them about stuff Like the gender gap of Wikipedia editors and gender and racial gaps of Wikipedia editors and how many, you know, how that community has decided that women are [00:34:30] generally less important than men.

 So you have to not only draw attention to what is there staring at you at the… in the face, but also what’s not there, because the absence of something is also, an editorial decision. And it’s the same thing that people have concerns about with regard to AI technologies. It’s like the training data is biased in, in very similar ways. There it’s even more obscure. But yeah. Interesting challenges for the modern educator. There’s an, there’s more and more call for tools that can help discern the origin of information that we read and also whether or not it’s verifiable, like in the case of AI, whether it’s just completely made up or whether the thing that the student has handed in for, their homework is generated by it.

I’m hoping we get a new set of tools that, that helps us tackle those questions and more. Mm-hmm.


This is fill in the blank. It’s just a little trivia segment. If you know the answer, go ahead and write into us:, all spelled out. We would love to hear from you. If you write in the correct answer, we will send you some stickers, or even if you don’t write in the correct answer, we will probably still send you some stickers.

Mm-hmm. So, uh, Last week. Yeah. Last episode’s question.

Katie: Louisa Mae Alcott is one of the most famous young adult authors of all time, known for having written Little Women. During the Civil War, Alcott served as a union nurse until she contracted typhoid fever. Louisa Mae Alcott started her career in writing using a pen name.

[00:36:00] What was that pen name? And it was A.M. Barnard.

Did you know that?

Chelsea: I did not.

Katie: Did you know she had a pen name?

Chelsea: I did not.

Katie: Ok, yeah. She did.

Whatcha got this show? What’s our fill in the blank? 

Chelsea: Well, this is about Wikipedia.

What were the first words written on Wikipedia?

They were written by Jimmy Wales, who was a co-founder. 

Katie: Okay. 

Chelsea: And records of the edit (to me, hilariously) do not exist, uh, on the current archive, just for technical reasons. 

Katie: Really? 

Chelsea: Yeah. He used to go in and like manually delete files off the server.

Katie: To free it up?

Chelsea: Yeah, and it… Some people speculate that the first, the first words might’ve even been on like a testing

Katie: Oh yeah?

Chelsea: Wiki. 

Katie: Sure, like a holding… 

Chelsea: Yeah, we do have, a record of sorts of what the first words were.

Katie: I just wondered if he like just said in an interview what the first thing he wrote was.

Chelsea: Yes, yes. That’s source of truth on this…

Katie: that’s the only…

Chelsea: … it’s Jimmy Wales’ brain. 

Katie: That’s he’s just recalling what he did.

Chelsea: Yeah, so what were the first words written on Wikipedia? Would you like to talk about what you learned in the past couple of weeks?

Katie: Sure! 

Chelsea: Okay.

Katie: I have been learning and reading about more intensely the Bishop Sycamore High School scandal.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: Are you familiar with this? 

Chelsea: This is an Ohio story. 

Katie: This is an Ohio story, but it did make ESPN News. I think it was national news last year. 

Chelsea: I definitely have heard of this, yes. 

Katie: So, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna give away a bunch ’cause there’s a bunch of stuff coming out about it still. But Bishop Sycamore, they were a high school football team who were featured on ESPN and lost to [00:37:30] a really famous IMG Academy in a football game (televised).

Okay. So a big deal to be on an ESPN high school game. They got torn to shreds. They looked like awful. They looked like a peewee team out there. So people started investigating this school, and it turned out that for like the three years prior, they’d had no graduates. And so people were like, “Hmm, this is… this is odd.”

It was located in Columbus and it led to a huge investigation. It implicated a church as part of the process. It is very, very messy, but the reason I was recently reading about it is because HBO just released a special on it. And so it was kind of brought back up into, you know, the current world of sports.

But it made huge news last year when it was discovered that this entire football team in Columbus was made up of non-high school football players and were disguised as a football team. 

Chelsea: Mm-hmm. 

Katie: And were just out there like living it up on ESPN. 

Chelsea: Disguised as a school.

Katie: Yeah. And, uh, so yeah, there’s like, this religious element of this church trying to create what seemed to be a well-intentioned opportunity and then kind of, um, how that just ran completely amuck by the coach and his program. And they got to play like… this big game was at the Hall of Fame stadium in Canton, which is like the holy grail, basically.

And they lost 58 to nothing.

Chelsea: Oof. 

Katie: And like I said, it was, it was supposed to be this, this huge deal. 

Chelsea: Yeah, I’d like to watch the documentary. I really wanna know how they [00:39:00] got to the point of that ESPN, televised event with nobody bothering to, to verify along the way.

Katie: Well, and like the Columbus dispatch was involved… 

Chelsea: The newspaper?

Katie: …yeah, like our, the big Columbus newspaper. And then like, even like Mike DeWine, our governor held like press conferences about this school. Like, it, it was truly a whole mess.

 So anyways, that’s what I’ve been reading about. ‘Cause they’re just… it’s, it’s the best kind of dumpster fire.

Chelsea: Okay. 

Katie: What did you, did you learn about a fake high school too?

Chelsea: Uh, no. No. I… this kind of follows on to the Wikipedia topic. So there’s this bill in the UK parliament called the Online Safety Bill. I’ve been hearing about this bill in other contexts just because it’s about technology generally. But, they’re in the midst of considering this legislation. It would require online platforms to remove harmful content such as child sexual abuse material within 24 hours of being notified of it.

Wikipedia is owned by a nonprofit foundation. It’s not, you know, staff members– there are very few of them, but it’s community-driven and community-generated content, right? So I think we said, what, 61 million articles exist on Wikipedia right now. It is not possible with that much user-generated content to moderate all of the content that is posted on Wikipedia. So basically, if this, if this bill makes it through the UK Parliament, I think it would require Wikipedia to be shut down within, within the confines of the UK at least. 

[00:40:30] They could be fined up to like 18 million pounds or something like that. 

Katie: Does that, is that enough for Wikipedia to care?

Chelsea: Uh, yeah. I, I, I think so.

Katie: You know what I mean? 

Chelsea: It relies on donations and other things like that. So, anyway, the last I checked the bill is in its third reading in the House of Lords. 

Katie: Okay. 

Chelsea: Whatever that in UK Parliament speak. We’ll see how that turns out. I’ve seen a lot of people in the UK super concerned about this bill for both privacy and freedom of speech reasons.

Katie: Hmm. Interesting. 

Chelsea: Yep. 

Katie: Always learning.

Chelsea: Always learning. I think that about wraps it up for me for the week. Anything else from you? 

Sounds good. Enjoy your school years and we’ll talk to you in two weeks.

Katie: See ya.

Chelsea: Bye. 


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