Why Wikipedia’s errors aren’t a problem
While reading the section of the post which covers the question of Wikipedia’s accuracy, something crystallized in my mind which had been lying nascent for a long time, and I wrote it as a comment on the post. You can read it at this link, but I thought I’d reproduce the relevant portion here:
I believe that the concerns about Wikipedia’s accuracy are excessive, for a reason I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned anywhere (not that I’ve searched). I trust well-written articles and distrust poorly written ones, and I believe this to be a very common habit. It’s a good strategy because writers who are careful about things like clear phrasing tend to be the same people who are careful about accuracy. And it’s a very easy strategy to use, because it’s obvious how well written a particular article is (or portion of an article): I don’t have to think. So as I read an entry I’m automatically rating it for accuracy — despite having no direct evidence. Consequently the many bad articles in Wikipedia don’t mislead me.
Note this implication: that many Wikipedia articles are badly written is a *good* thing. If the people who couldn’t get their facts correct were able to write well, I might end up believing a lot of nonsense. People *do* tend to believe what they read — but fortunately many or most of us have a built-in alarm bell for bad writing, which serves as an excellent indicator of poor accuracy.
Ian responded in agreement, and pointed out two additional things:
It also identifies articles that are contentious, since they will be the ones that have had hundreds of substantial edits, almost certainly leading to some stylistic inconsistency and ‘stammering’.
I guess the ‘difficulty’ would be people who can’t distinguish good writing from bad. Maybe, they’d be a lot safer paying the [Encyclopedia Brittanica] for a subscription.