The Wikipedia ‘debate’: time to move on

This morning’s Observer column.

Unwillingness to entertain the notion that Wikipedia might fly is a symptom of what the legal scholar James Boyle calls ‘cultural agoraphobia’ – our prevailing fear of openness. Like all phobias it’s irrational, so is immune to evidence. I’m tired of listening to brain-dead dinner-party complaints about how ‘inaccurate’ Wikipedia is. I’m bored to death by endless accounts of slurs or libels suffered by a few famous individuals at the hands of Wikipedia vandals. And if anyone ever claims again that all the entries in Wikipedia are written by clueless amateurs, I will hit them over the head with a list of experts who curate material in their specialisms. And remind them of Professor Peter Murray-Rust’s comment to a conference in Oxford: “The bit of Wikipedia that I wrote is correct.”

Of course Wikipedia has flaws, of course it has errors: show me something that doesn’t. Of course it suffers from vandalism and nutters who contribute stuff to it. But instead of complaining about errors, academics ought to be in there fixing them. Wikipedia is one of the greatest inventions we have. Isn’t it time we accepted it? Microsoft has.