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How Wikipedia deals with competing factual claims

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Timothy Messer-Kruse has found out, through attempted edits to the Wikipedia page on a subject in which he is an expert, that the site does not necessarily prioritize facts in its quest to build a repository of knowledge.

via <a href="http://dl.dropbox.com/u/118445/wikithx.png">dl.dropbox.com</a>
via dl.dropbox.com

Wikipedia is a huge repository for information that millions of people constantly rely on, but its crowdsourced nature means that finding the line between fact and interpretation isn't always easy. We're not talking about kids editing the Mega Drive article to casually mention how it was totally more powerful that the Super Nintendo, but more about how the very nature of a fact can be rendered irrelevant by the site's inflexible guidelines. Take the case of Timothy Messer-Kruse — an expert on the Haymarket riots who's written two books on the subject. He found out that his edits to the Wikipedia entry were being rejected as "minority views," despite citing primary sources and research he had built up over the years. School textbooks and other sources have been repeating their take on the subject for decades, however, meaning that their information is more easily verifiable than Messer-Kruse's original research, and it turns out that's what counts on the site. As an editor patiently explained to Messer-Kruse, "Wikipedia is not truth. Wikipedia is verifiability of original sources."

At the end of the day, Wikipedia is less about experts stating facts than amateurs reporting on the best sources available — and perhaps that's not so troubling after all. As another editor put it, "As individual editors, we're not in the business of weighing claims, just reporting what reliable sources write."