Sunday 20 January 2013

Reasons Not To Trust Wikipedia #254

It's one of the first world's rules of life that Wikipedia should be avoided for anything but the most general of information. Those who advise as such - including, admirably, the little Ps' teachers - are certainly not wrong, it seems.

Courtesy of a fellow jewel robber via e-mail, the talk section of Wikipedia's plain cigarette packaging page shows signs of it being distinctly one-sided.
I have added new information to this page, on the evidence and arguments for and against plain packaging, and a link to a Cancer Research UK campaign site that contains more information. A disclosure - I work for Cancer Research UK, who are actively lobbying for plain packaging. However, I hope the information I have added to this page will be seen as an attempt to enhance its usefulness, and I welcome constructive criticism about how this can be improved. I don't want to get into a fight over this! :) HenryScow (talk) 12:51, 2 May 2012 (UTC)
Hmm, that would surely be kicked out on Wikipedia's principle of neutrality, wouldn't it? Apparently not, no.
Thanks for improving the article, Henry: it's definitely relevant to have info about anti- and pro- plain packaging campaigns in the UK, including that of a major national charity such as CRUK.
So Henry had another go in July, just after the consultation - which his employer was deeply involved in, and beginning to realise was foundering somewhat - was extended.
I have replaced the text that stated:
Because it hasn't been implemented anywhere yet, all the evidence available to date is anecdotal and based on statements of intentions or surveys.
With a paragraph stating:
Direct, concrete evidence of plain packaging’s effectiveness is unavailable as it has not yet been rolled out in any country. However evidence from quantitative studies, qualitative research and the internal documents of the tobacco industry consistently identify packaging as an important part of tobacco promotion.
Well, if it really is that easy to publish political campaigning literature on a site which prides itself on impartiality, perhaps those evil tobacco companies and their all-pervasive buckets of cash might have done so earlier, eh? After all, the moderator has specifically stated that info on anti-plain packaging arguments would be equally welcomed.

It's not like there isn't a huge amount of evidence showing that the pro-plain packs campaign - including Cancer Research UK - is corrupt, fuelled by state funds, and peddling biased untruths, is it?

Anyone good with Wikipedia?


Carl V Phillips said...

Wikipedia has always been good for what other encyclopedias are good for (factiods and information that is not in flux or controversial) and just as bad as any other simplistic source for topics that are in play. My research group once tried to fix clearly incorrect politicized entries on tobacco harm reduction and smokeless tobacco, only to have the changes reversed by the self-appointed editors.

But it is not just blatant politicized junk science. The same thing happened when I tried to correct conventional wisdom about the inevitable persistence of untreated Helicobacter pylori infection that research I was involved in showed to be wrong.

People want there to be a simple authoritative answer to unsettled scientific questions. But whether they choose to blindly trust the government, big charities, corporations, or the kids who write Wikipedia, they stand a good chance of getting bad information, and are pretty much guaranteed to get overcertaintainty.

Sam Duncan said...

Good points. It's not as if traditional popular sources didn't tend towards conventional wisdom themselves. I'd bet there wasn't much about the big bang theory in a 1940s Brittanica, or plate tectonics in a 1920s edition.

As long as you're aware of the likely biases, Wikipedia isn't really much worse than any other source. And let's be fair, it really is excellent on uncontroversial subjects.

moonrakin said...

From what I've seen there's an assortment of "hedge wars" running on Wikipedia and the New Puritans busy themselves a-plenty there...

There are a number of activist groups perverting away - the utterly toxic clots at leap straight to mind.

It's a slam dunk that some of Anna Gilmore's goons at The University of Bath busy themselves with tweaking away at Wikipedia.

I think you can find out who's changed what - that should be interesting :-)

Tony said...

Wiki is a terrible tool for furthering the agenda, I don't trust it at all for impartiality. It is about as impartial as the BBC.

Lou said...

Stumbled upon one. An entire nation slagged off using articles by Otanez, Mamudu & STANTON GLANTZ as just basis for so doing.

Ivan D said...

I am inclined to agree Tony but I think that you are taking things a bit too far with the BBC comparison.

Tony said...

Really? I would say that I didn't go far enough. The BBC is terribly biased, especially towards anti-smokers, the global warming scam, Israel, alcohol, the official fairy tale of 9/11 and Bin Ladens "death" among many things. The BBC is one of the single most dangerous organizations out there because of it's popularity and reach, but is gone from it's early roots of a good media organization to nothing more than a propaganda machine.

JonathanBagley said...

It's not always good for uncontroversial subjects. The page about "almost sure covergence", a concept in probability, is a menace. I tell my students not to use WP. The idea is that mistakes will be swiftly corrected. This doesn't work. There are tens of thousands of people in the world who would know how bad the page is. One problem is, that people who have some expertise are usually busy and don't feel inclined to contribute to WP.
A few years ago I tried to edit the passive smoking page, as did several others. It is controlled by about half a dozen anonymous anti tobacco fanatics and eventually, everyone else gives up. I even went so far as to look up the person to whom appeals could be made. Among her interests she listed smoking cessation. At this point I realised all resistance is futile..

Ivan D said...

I meant that you were being a bit unfair on Wiki.

Tony said...

Ah sorry mate! Misunderstood you!