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Truth Isn’t Black and White: 3 Requirements Every Fact Should Meet | Katherine Maher

The chances are good that you’ve used Wikipedia to define or discover something in the last week, if not 24 hours. It’s currently the 5th most-visited website in the world. The English-language Wikipedia averages 800 new articles per day — but 1,000 articles are deleted per day, the site’s own statistics page reports. That fluctuation is probably partly the result of mischievous users, but it is also an important demonstration of Wikipedia’s quest for knowledge in motion. “As the world’s consensus changes about what is reliable, verifiable information, the information for us will change too,” says Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Maher is careful to delineate between truth and knowledge. Wikipedia isn’t a jury for truth, it’s a repository for information that must be three things: neutral, verifiable, and determined with consensus. So how do we know what information to trust, in an age that is flooded with access, data, and breaking news? Through explaining how Wikipedia editors work and the painstaking detail and debate that goes into building an article, Maher offers a guide to separating fiction from fact, which can be applied more broadly to help us assess the quality of information in other forums.

Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/katherine-maher-fact-vs-fiction-how-facts-are-made-and-who-decides-whats-true

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Was it Moynihan who said you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts?

The thing that Wikipedia focuses on is not truth nor facts, it’s reliable verifiable information. And what we would say is that as the world’s consensus changes about what is reliable verifiable information the information for us will change too.

So the example I like to use (because it seems a bit difficult to dispute at this point in time) is helio- versus geocentrism. If Wikipedia had been around a couple hundred years ago we probably would have had an article that says that the sun revolves around the Earth because that was what we understood to be true.

We no longer understand that to be true thanks to advances in science and physics, but if tomorrow we were to wake up and learn that in fact time being relative really does upend the way that we think about the world Wikipedia would have to evolve in order to describe that.

So we’re not really in the business of truth or facts, we’re in the business of what is known, and what has been determined through consensus—scientific consensus or otherwise. And I think that that actually provides some clarity on how to understand what information you’re looking at.

One thing that I think is really unique about Wikipedia is there’s only one version for the whole public. There’s no feed that’s curated for you or for me. We all are looking at the same version of the article. And I think that’s actually a strength, because it forces editors and it forces contributors to come to some sort of common understanding of what the narrative of a story, what the narrative of history, what the facts actually are.

And then the last is no original research. So while new knowledge is being created every single day, until it has actually gone through a process of shaping consensus review it doesn’t belong on Wikipedia. We are not a place to break news, in the sense of new information. We are a place to provide an overview of what is understood and accepted, and the work has been done in other forums.

And what was fascinating to me was reading what we call with Wikipedia a “talk page.” Every article has a talk page. One way of thinking about it is it’s a newsroom for Wikipedia articles. It’s where editors can contest information, can challenge each other, can propose alternate phrasing for the article, can highlight things that are missing, and can engage in debate what goes on the cutting room floor and what makes it into the public article.

So in this particular article about the U.S. strike on the Syria, I was looking at the way they titled it. And the conversation was: “Is it an airstrike? Well no, because it didn’t come from planes; It was sea to surface, so it’s not an airstrike, it’s a strike. Is it a raid? No, because there weren’t troops on the ground, so we wouldn’t call it a raid.”
And these are the conversations that Wikipedians have as they hammer out the specifics of almost every sentence that goes into an article.

I don’t know if the articles about say Pokémon are quite as contested, but then again I don’t know much about Pokémon, so perhaps they are.

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