“Only through independent reporting where you’re not beholden to the interests of corporations or government are you able to really aggressively pursue the truth.” – Jeremy Scahill
What is independent media?
It’s a form of communication that’s independent of external control that biases the content in favour of an elite. Independent media is free from state control, billionaire ownership and corporate advertising. Its aim is to provide content that is a) factually accurate; b) not biased towards elite interests; and c) often not reported in the mainstream, corporate media because it’s not in the interest of the elite for the public to know it.
There’s a wide range of independent media, from co-ops, to bloggers, community platforms, opinions and analysis, reportage – but the key thing is that they’re all independent of external control.
Newspapers don’t tend to make profits any more. The Sun and the Guardian lose huge amounts of money, others just break even, and the Mail makes money, but only from a barrage of celebrity photographs online, rather than news. They’re valuable for their propaganda influence, rather than profit. Rupert Murdoch, for example, is very open about his desire to be a ‘kingmaker’.
Also, the influence of media moguls is amplified by the BBC, who constantly report ‘what the papers say’ – but only the corporate papers. As the BBC represents 70% of the TV and radio news market, the corporate media is actually setting the agenda; plus there are many ex-corporate media employees at the BBC and vice-versa. It’s difficult if not impossible to nab a top job at the BBC if you don’t support the status quo. They recruit from a small pool, and everyone understands the established order. It doesn’t help that the BBC has an appointed board that includes board members of corporations, including arms manufacturers.
The licence fee is not paid directly to the BBC, it’s paid to the government, who then pay the BBC. As a state propaganda organ, the BBC is probably the world’s best in its gravitas and subtlety, and has influenced Al-Jazeera, Russia Today and others.
The five filters involved in the operation of the corporate media.
Since the invention of the printing press, there has always been media produced by ordinary people, away from the centres of power, and this has accelerated in the age of the internet – see below. There are also organisations to support and develop independent media, like the Media Reform Coalition, who do a lot of research into ownership of the media.
The internet has given a huge boost to independent media, although of course corporations and states try to dominate it. But they can’t (yet) stop independent blogs, podcasts or websites. IndyMedia.org, famously launched after the Seattle anti-globalisation protests in 1999, became a template for citizen-produced content, but was ultimately unsuccessful because of the difficulty of sustaining an organisation based solely on volunteering. If everyone can contribute, in a free-for-all, how is quality maintained? In contrast, New Internationalist has been publishing successfully for 40 years, with paid staff. More below.
What are the benefits of independent media?
The main benefit is that independent media, unlike corporate or state media, don’t represent only the interests of the elite. They can question power, because again, unlike the corporate media, they don’t rely on a powerful elite for their existence.
This has huge implications for democracy. It’s not possible to have real democracy when most people get their information only from the powerful, in the interests of the powerful. This creates mainstream consent, so that those who dissent are then seen as ‘outsiders’. We have to have independent media that will question the powerful, or we can’t have a functioning democracy.
Peter Oborne, who was political editor and right-wing pundit at the Telegraph during the Libor scandal, resigned after being prevented by the Telegraph’s owners, the Barclay Brothers, from publishing anything about the role of HSBC, who were providing around half the Telegraph’s advertising income. Usually, journalists don’t have to be told who they can’t investigate – they know what to do if they want to keep their job (as Noam Chomsky had to explain to a young Andrew Marr – see video below).
Truth is also a casualty of the corporate media. There are various ‘filters’ that prevent you from getting the truth about the world. Ownership is perhaps the most important filter. In the UK, owners of the mainstream media are either the state, or billionaires. Another is advertising – the corporate media is funded by other corporations that have a vested interest in the media not publishing any negative stories about them.
There’s also an issue with data-mining. Data is now a very profitable tradeable commodity. Online corporate media harvest user data and sell it to businesses that will use it against those users, learning about behaviours and beliefs, playing on impulse and short-term desire to sell targeted products. We now have private ownership of information on what makes you you, in much more depth than has ever existed. If individuals want to sell their data in this way, fine – but as things stand, people’s data is being used secretively, for profit, without their consent. We need independent online media that allow users to control their data, or that don’t collect it at all.
Watch Noam Chomsky school a young and bewildered Andrew Marr in 1996 about the propaganda inherent in the mainstream media. The whole interview is entertaining, but 10.38-11.15 is a gem.
What can I do?
Choose your news sources wisely. Avoid the mainstream media, unless you’re after untrustworthy news and trivia, and don’t fall for for the few considered ‘the good guys’, like the billionaire-owned, mis-named ‘Independent’ newspaper, or the Guardian – funded by corporate advertising and owned by Scott Trust Ltd (registered in Bermuda so that they can avoid taxes, named to make people think that it’s still a trust – it isn’t) or the BBC, for the reasons outlined above.
As with anything worthwhile, finding reliable sources of information will take a little time, effort and maybe money (remember, if you’re not paying for it, someone else is – who doesn’t have your interests at heart). It’s too important not to really – being fed biased, untrue or selective information will mean that you’re not properly informed about the world.
Successful journalism, independent or not, requires skills and time that need to be recognised and paid for. As mentioned above, in the UK, there’s the New Internationalist, and US organisations like Democracy Now! and the Real News Network have had long-term success too.
In the UK there’s a lot of independent comment and analysis, including blogs, and also local organisations that produce news content, like the Bristol Cable, the Ferret in Scotland, Manchester’s Meteor etc. Do some research to find sources near you.
Then there are investigative organisations like Open Democracy, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Centre for Investigative Journalism; a great news source is the Byline Times, or the more tabloid-like Canary, that does a lot of reportage. Independents, because they are smaller, often provide only one type of media, so to get a full picture, you have to build a portfolio of sources. See our links page to get started.
The Media Fund has a listing of media partners, and will soon be providing a regular round-up of news from independent sources. Bywire are also producing an app to provide access to all independent media in one place. We’ll keep you informed.
Here’s a tip: make yourself a little Twitter list (I know, corporate, but we’ll get there) of independent news sources, so that you’ll have a little independent news feed each day.
Once you’ve rejected the corporate media, you’ll have to work out which independent sources are reliable. After the Leveson Inquiry, press regulations were largely re-written by Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail. The result was weaker press regulation than previously (that resulted in far fewer official complaints about the Mail, surprise surprise), and a not-very-reliable press regulator, IPSO. On the other hand, IMPRESS, fully compliant with the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, is a reliable regulator. IMPRESS is also affordable / free for the public to take complaints to, and there are now moves to register all reliable independent media with it.
It’s difficult to discern whether reporting is factually accurate. The Media Fund make sure that their partners (and a list of organisations that are not their partners) abide by the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct, and can distinguish between causality and correlation, for example. There are also fact-checking sites that the public can use, but they don’t list reliable organisations – they just check specific claims.
Billionaires control the media, and the BBC constantly broadcast their views.
Around 80% of people now get their news from social media, most of which is also owned by tax-avoiding, data-mining global corporations, beholden only to their shareholders, not their users. To maximise profit, they use algorithms that give users only what they like, which denies users the range of opinions required to understand the world, and produces tsunamis of fake news and conspiracy theories, as well as extreme political division. The business model is based on the dopamine hit of shares, likes and comments, which brings people back and satisfies advertisers and data purchasers.
Providing independent social media is hard, because the giants are so ubiquitous. They have no effective global regulation, and they are almost impossible to compete against without huge amounts of money that independents don’t have. There are alternatives, like Social.coop, but membership would have to grow significantly to compete. Solutions may involve mutualising and democratising the giant platforms, or creating effective social media that doesn’t have to sit on a particular platform – we can then all interact with each other without requiring corporations as intermediaries.
As well as consuming independent media, you can contribute to its output. To get greater insight and to gain skills, you could volunteer for an independent media organisation – either locally or nationally. Just contact them and see what they say.
The Independent Community News Network train people to become community news producers; and the Centre for Investigative Journalism provide courses too. You could also donate to these organisations, or the Media Fund, or do some research and find another organisation you like.
Thanks to Thomas Barlow of the Media Fund for information.
The specialist(s) below will respond to queries on this topic. Please comment in the box at the bottom of the page.
Thomas Barlow co-founded Real Media in 2014 with Kam Sandhu, before leaving it in June 2017 to focus fully on solving the problem of funding for independent media with The Media Fund. Before working in independent media Thomas was active in anti-racist and environmental organising, and before that was a club promoter and festival organiser.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Elizabeth Hart September 24th, 2020
A very informative article. I have long been a lazy liberal Guardian reader but am going to follow your advice and try other newsfeeds
2Andrew Rollinson September 30th, 2020
The Guardian is the worst for propaganda in my opinion. It is not mentioned here I don’t think but Wikipedia is not to be trusted either, and social media platforms like YouTube censor content.
The article is good, and the best thing anyone can do is to switch off the propaganda. I’ve not had a TV licence for a decade and getting rid of this plus not reading mainstream newspapers was one of the best things that I have done. Practise mass media distancing.
3Dave Darby September 30th, 2020
‘Mass media distancing’ is superb. I’m going to practice using ‘distancing’ after evil things from now on.
What’s the problem with Wikipedia?
4Andrew Rollinson September 30th, 2020
Wikipedia is open to abuse and there are cases where it is used by people to discredit others and to promote vested interests. Dr Vernon Coleman is one case.
It is not to be trusted for any academic research studies for the same reasons. It doesn’t give a true picture, for example, in my field, the ‘pyrolysis’ page on Waste Management is laughable.
I’ve tried to find some support, and this explains it a little: https://en.ejo.ch/public-relations/manipulation-wikipedia
5Dave Darby September 30th, 2020
Andrew – I’m very keen on wikis as a way of developing the information / knowledge commons. Yes, Wikipedia can be manipulated, but with such a huge community of contributors, I don’t see how manipulation can remain for long. And politically sensitive articles have more stringent editorial policies. I’ve edited Wikipedia a couple of times (only tiny changes – one was a spelling error, the other the date was wrong), but some of the debates on the back end are huge, and really controversial topics usually end in compromise, or with both views being represented – things don’t just ‘slip through’, unless they’re trivial. Why don’t you edit the pyrolysis article, or why hasn’t someone else?
Yes, corporations with big pockets can pay people to edit pages to their benefit, and I’m sure they do, but it’s risky. If they’re found out, it can rebound badly. In the article you linked to it mentions a company that tried to delete a section about the fact that they produced agent orange. But the fact that it was mentioned means that it was discovered, and reported, advertising the fact that they produced agent orange even more widely than Wikipedia – plus that they’re crooked in trying to delete it. Quite a lot of bad publicity.
I didn’t find that article very convincing, to be honest. There was only one reference, and it was only about German Wikipedia, and of course the examples she quotes mean that they’ve been discovered, and so I guess they’ve been changed now. The rest is just ‘can’, ‘could’ or ‘try to’ etc, rather than concrete examples. Plus the report includes suggestions for tightening up procedures to prevent manipulation, so the author clearly hasn’t given up on Wikipedia.
On the other hand, in this Wikipedia article about its own reliability – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia – it describes itself as a ‘starting point’, which is fair enough, in that it will lead to more in-depth research. But it quotes quite a lot of impressive sources, including peer-reviewed journals, that have found that Wikipedia compares well to Britannica, Encarta etc. in terms of accuracy.
I had to look up Vernon Coleman, and I found this gem on his website – ‘it takes more energy to make a windmill than the windmill will ever produce’ – with no reference, obviously. Some of his other stuff I agreed with, actually, but he’s clearly capable of nonsensical stuff too. Not sure what you meant about him though.
6Andrew Rollinson October 2nd, 2020
It is made clear to all university students that they must not cite Wikipedia because it is untrustworthy. In wider professional works it is also shunned for the same reason. The fact is widely known, and even Wikipedia has a page about it [titled Academic Use], Interestingly, this page puts a positive slant on why it is considered untrustworthy, and the many benefits of it.
In my comment #4 above I referred to a section of the pyrolysis page because it evidences clearly that something is chronically wrong. The sub-section cites two nondescript Chinese studies at the end which state over-inflated claims about the technology’s capabilities in very narrow conditions. Such studies are two from many thousand that exist. They do not adequately describe the status nor limitations of the technology and so the reader gets an unrepresentative, limited and indeed spurious perspective.
As the ‘Wikipedia:Academic Use’ page states: errors can be left for weeks, months, or even years.
One then has to ask, why did these two studies (out of many thousands just as irrelevant) get appended to Wikipedia, and who put them there? I understand that the author cannot do it (correct me if I am wrong about how Wikipedia functions). But it certainly gives kudos to the authors. Chinese academics are on performance-related pay specific to how many publications and citations they get – but that may be nothing to do with it (?).
Then one has to ask, why are they not taken down? Well, how is this done? What if someone objects? Who is reviewing it? I honestly don’t know, but clearly they are not taken down. Maybe because in people’s busy lives, fighting and competing with each other, this is just one more fight that they can do without, and a team of people representing the authors would re-instate them or object? I just don’t know. But the fact is that they are currently there.
It seems to me that there are more people who have vested interests in manipulating media for their benefit than people who want to see impartiality , objectivity and truth to fight them? This to me is the failing of the otherwise seemingly well-intentioned Wikipeadia. It poses a dangerous hazard to truth, learning and human knowledge.
Regarding Dr Vernon Coleman, I wasn’t very clear as to what I meant. Sorry. I like him, though I don’t agree with everything he believes. More to the point, have a look at his Wikipedia page for it epitomises how Wikipedia has been used to discredit a person. Look at the language used, and the bias towards negativity that it contains. This is what I meant when I referred to him. Dr Vernon comments on this here (which I recommend that you read): http://www.vernoncoleman.com/blakemorewiki.htm
7Dave Darby October 5th, 2020
Hi Andrew – yes, I guess that it’s not permissible as an academic source because it’s not peer-reviewed. That Academic Use page was interesting – and it did say that any encyclopedia is just a starting point for research, not an end point.
The pyrolysis page – I’d still have to ask why somebody doesn’t change it. I think that we should aim to improve Wikipedia rather than dismiss it. It’s refreshing in that it’s delivering free information, most of it very good (as I said, there are studies that rate its accuracy highly overall), as a commons, without extracting money from us, harvesting our data or shoving corporate advertising at us. The differences between Wikipedia and Facebook, for example, are telling.
At least with Wikipedia, we can all get stuck in and change things.
We’ve got a Wikis topic – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/wikis/ – that explains how to edit wikis, including Wikipedia. Often there are debates in the background that involve hundreds of people. Vested interests tend to get blocked.
I looked at Vernon Coleman’s Wikipedia page. He has a large following and is saying, in public, that climate change is a hoax and that wind turbines take more energy to build than they’ll ever generate, so it didn’t seem too harsh to me. He’s doing an enormous amount of damage. He said some things about pharmaceutical companies that I agree with, but on balance, I think it would be better if he’d said nothing at all. The fact that he’s writing nonsense about climate change and wind turbines will bring the rest of his work into disrepute, in a way that could actually be beneficial to the pharmaceutucal industry (David Icke was the same – he said some sensible things about the influence of wealthy vested interests, then brought all that into disrepute by talkiing about lizards).
8asimong October 5th, 2020
The page cited — http://www.vernoncoleman.com/blakemorewiki.htm — doesn’t seem to say why the various items of information about him were deleted. People who have anything more than a very brief experience of being Wikipedia editors know that the main reason why points of information are deleted are that they constitute “original research” — i.e., they are primary, rather than secondary or tertiary sources — or more generally that there is no “reliable” source backing up a claim that people have seen, or could see, as controversial. Wikipedia strives — most often successfully, though not 100% of the time — to live up to the value of being an encyclopedic reference work, not a place where people can put unsupported views, no matter how true they may be. My guess — it is only a guess, but we could check — is that the other interested wikipedians have seen claims that are not supported by reliable sources, and have therefore deleted those claims. I would recommend engaging with Wikipedia as an editor, reading the policies, and participating in implementing them. It takes some time, effort and dedication. Wikipedians are not to be discredited en masse. No encyclopedia is perfect, but the impression I have gathered over the years is that on the whole it is as least as good as any published encyclopedia.
9Dave Darby October 5th, 2020
Andrew – notice I didn’t argue about the Graun – bit of a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ going on there I think.
10asimong October 5th, 2020
Oh, and https://xkcd.com/285/ ?
11Andrew Rollinson October 7th, 2020
The statement ‘‘it takes more energy to make a windmill than the windmill will ever produce’ may be correct. I’d like to see proof to refute it.
I’ll probably be installing a small wind turbine on my croft. Whether it can generate more energy than the embodied energy that it contains, is something that I am not convinced on. It is a quality machine, but still it will need sending back to the manufacturer every five years to get the bearings replaced.
Onshore in north Scotland there are now massive grid-tied wind farms owned by multi-national corporations. There are many larger ones off-shore, one in particular owned by the Chinese for which boats are constantly going out to repair and service, and which one local described as like ‘painting the Forth Bridge’. But worse is that to support these wind farms the nation needs to run its power stations at a less efficient status AND burn more natural gas, due to their intermittency and the need for rapid start up. I often say to people. “if you invest in grid-tied wind, then you are supporting fracking’, for this is why gas is now the major large-scale electricity generator and why shale gas was promoted in the UK. People don’t understand this, because they are not told the bigger picture.
I recommend that you, and anyone interested in the truth, read The Wind Farm Scam, by Dr John Etherington.The government is prostituting the landscape by leasing it long term to foreign corporations. They are selling a marketplace and the dangling carrot is a nation of consumers. I’d never recommend that anyone invest in grid-tied wind if they are interested in sustainability.
So, if Dr Coleman could be right about wind, that just leaves his opinions on climate change. I believe the consensus here and so think that Dr Coleman is wrong. But, in comparison to all his other accolades and good works, that does not in my opinion justify the character assassination that currently is his Wikipedia page. The evidence is there for all to see, so people can decide for themselves whether they trust the site. I don’t. But maybe some good soul will come and correct the vandalism as you say should happen and maybe the vandals will not re-attack it, etc?
By the way, I realised that I now read Dr Coleman’s webpage publications (which come out every Wednesday and Sunday) as a way of getting independent news. So I’m not totally straying off-topic in responding to you.
12Dave Darby October 8th, 2020
Here’s some proof to refute it.
Research to show that well-positioned turbines can pay for themselves in energy terms in less than a year – https://www.inderscienceonline.com/doi/abs/10.1504/IJSM.2014.062496
Meta-analysis of 119 turbines that found on average, they generated 20x the energy required to build them – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096014810900055X
Also, here’s a Snopes article about how the original author of that meme was misquoted and taken out of context – https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/wind-idiot-power/
I’d like to know where Coleman got his figures.
Plus, fossil-fuel-fired power stations, nuclear and big hydro need maintenance too, and conventional power stations need huge amounts of energy and resources to extract and deliver fossil fuels to them, constantly.
Ownership of the resource is another subject, on which we’d completely agree, but that wasn’t what he was saying.
But yes, Lowimpact is much more about small-scale, community- or individually-owned renewables that can use the energy generated locally.
We’ll have to agree to disagree about Coleman. He might be saying some useful things, but that’s massively outweighed for me by his position on climate change, which is extremely dangerous when we’re facing such an existential threat.
13Andrew Rollinson October 9th, 2020
The studies appear to show that you are correct, though I cannot open the full papers without paying for access. I wanted to check the details, in particular whether they include the fact that nuclear and coal would have to run at lower (less efficient) capacity and the extra CO2 emissions produced as a consequence.
May we leave it there please, as we are both are very busy with other things? I think Dr Coleman does get onto a sticky wicket when he ventures into Climate change issues, but I’ll still go on watching him every Sunday and Wednesday for ‘independent news’
14Dave Darby October 10th, 2020
Andrew – sure – how large wind would affect the efficiency / emissions from nuclear and fossil-fuelled power stations would be opening a can of worms that would probably require full-time work for a while. So – agreed!
15Andrew Rollinson October 23rd, 2020
By chance I came across this article (hyperlink below) by Larry Sanger – one of the founders of Wikipedia. He describes how the site is ‘badly biased’. I like this quote: ‘Only those who want to force the minds of others can be opposed to neutrality’.
What he is saying, and he uses some quantified examples, is what I was attempting to explain when I used the example of Dr Vernon Coleman’s wikipedia page.
For anyone who still has doubts that Wikipedia is a tool for social manipulation, please read the article and the character assassination that is Dr Vernon Coleman’s wikipedia page.
16Dave Darby October 23rd, 2020
Andrew – that looks like a fascinating article. I’ll read it properly later, but I think that Larry Sanger’s article is likely to be a lot more biased than Wikipedia. From Larry: “With my increasing distance from the project, and as it grew in the public eye, however, some of those associated with the project have found it convenient to downplay and even deny my crucial, formative involvement.”
But let’s leave Vernon Coleman – we’ve covered that already. I don’t think it’s ‘character assassination’ to point out that a climate change denier who claims that wind turbines don’t generate the power required to build them is prone to talking nonsense.
17Andrew Rollinson October 23rd, 2020
Dave – sure – we’ll Vernon Coleman. However, I do not think that we even scratched the surface of it – we covered only the worth of his claims about wind turbines, of which I still maintain that he could be right, but granted it was I who asked if we could move on. Maybe he was using poetic licence to describe the fact that their ‘sustainability’ credentials are over-rated and that in the long term they lock society in to more oil and gas combustion. It gets the message across, and on this I absolutely agree with him. Okay, if you wish we can keep discussing this, but perhaps it is better in a separate blog?
The main issue, is that Dr Coleman’s wikipedia page is clearly biased. I used it only as one example (and by the way, it doesn’t mention anything about wind turbines or climate change – the real reasons for the vandalism are more sinister). It is a character assassination which (to quote him) was done one night when all the good parts were removed. It portrays only the negatives of his life in comparison to his decades of accolades and good works. The phenomenon is explained by Larry Sanger as being widespread.
I didn’t want to make this retort earlier, but surely your argument is not: ‘people who say things which are dangerous should be censored’? This is what you appear to be saying in quote 12?
We live in bizarre times, with youtube, facebook and other mainstream media censoring content, Amazon and Ebay banning books, and dignified German doctors getting arrested from Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner. Open debate is being censored, and there is strong evidence that Wikipedia is being manipulated to that end. This is therefore most relevant to the Topic Introduction to Independent Media.
18asimong October 24th, 2020
Andrew — I notice that you never replied to my comment about the Vernon Coleman page on Wikipedia. Your statement “The main issue, is that Dr Coleman’s wikipedia page is clearly biased.” is, I might point out, prone to being seen as biased. If “biased” means “doesn’t agree with me” then I’m afraid we — and everyone in this knowledge commons business — is in a deep mess. May I ask you to consider more precisely what you mean by “biased”, and what evidence you would take to be either a confirmation or a refutation of the allegation that something is biased?
I imagine you might say that “bias” is stating one point of view but not the opposite one, or devoting more words to one point of view than another one. I can see the surface plausibility of this, but I’m afraid it doesn’t stand up to any careful scrutiny. What Wikipedia does is to introduce the bar of “reliability” in terms of supporting references. Now of course you may dispute what should be held as “reliable”, and I’m sure many people in the Wikipedia community have done just that. Maybe if you (or someone) were to define a different standard of “reliability” than the one Wikipedia uses, you (or Larry Sanger) could use that as the basis of a more reliable web encyclopedia? Maybe that’s what Larry Sanger tried to do; but I’m afraid that is own article from earlier this year that you cited does not fill me with any confidence that his idea of reliability is better than Wikipedia’s.
Just to make the point as clear as possible, the matter of “bias” in the Vernon Coleman page can be seen in terms of the reliable sources that either back up or refute his positions. If, indeed, there are many more reliable sources that refute his claims (as Dave pointed out in one case, and you accepted) then it is not biased (in Wikipedia’s terms) that the refuting sources take more space in the Wikipedia article than the supporting ones.
Now if there were evidence that Wikipedia editors had selectively removed references from equally reliable sources, then you, Vernon, and Larry would have a good point and a credible claim to bias. Do you believe this to have happened? It would be interesting to note.
But ultimately, I suspect this comes down to the question, “what is a reliable source?” In our polarised and bubble filled world, unbiased answers to this are hard to come by!
19Andrew Rollinson October 26th, 2020
I didn’t reply to your earlier message because I didn’t understand it. And I’m not entirely clear about what you are saying in the above comment either.
The first sentence of Vernon Coleman’s webpage calls him ‘discredited’. It has no citation appended to it. Is this what you mean by Wikipedia needing reliable sources?
The matter is beyond debate:
On the one side we have every academic institution in the world saying that Wikipedia should not be trusted. This has been the case since I taught to students at a Russell Group University in 2008, and thereafter. It has been the case since in every piece of work that I have been involved in and every workplace; it was even the case when I studied for my degree decades ago. So, out there in the world we have millions of people who graduate each year knowing that Wikipedia is not to be trusted, and so with this cumulative total we have many tens of millions – in fact the whole professional world – who do not cite Wikipedia lest they be instantly discredited. If that were not enough, Wikipedia says that it is untrustworthy (although paradoxically – and indicating why it should not be trusted – it puts a positive slant on this). Wikipedia’s co-founder also says that it is ‘badly biased’.
But, on the other side we have a person behind the pseudonym ‘asimong’ and Dave Darby’s website explaining how wikipedia SHOULD work.
Then we have evidence. The scientific method was devised hundreds of years ago to see through such matters. Knowledge is accepted based on observation. Sanger provides and quantifies that evidence. Also, after a brief ten minute search I provided evidence too, re: Coleman and Pyrolysis, and a German academic article. Neither of these have you satisfactorily answered. All you can say (unfortunately/hypoctritically without evidence!) is that Sanger’s evidence “does not fill me [you] with any confidence that his idea of reliability is better than Wikipedia’s.” That is not enough.
It is important, and it would help, if you would frame yours (and Dave’s website’s) arguement here. Are you saying that all the above people are wrong and that in fact wikipedia is credible and trustworthy? Or is the discussion to be one of how far it has become corrupted and is corruptive in the social manipulation sense?
20Dave Darby October 26th, 2020
Wikipedia references aren’t allowed in academia because the pages aren’t peer-reviewed, that’s all. But on the back end ‘talk’ pages there are millions of discussions going on all the time between the hundreds of thousands of volunteers all over the world who edit Wikipedia, about the tiniest of edits, and citations are required. You, or anyone else, can join these discussions if you think something is wrong. If you can get enough people to agree with you, it will be changed. What ‘bias’ could there be? Certainly not the sort of bias you get in the corporate press, because the content is provided and checked by ordinary people, not overseen by press barons. The only bias it could reflect is the from the opinions of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. There’s no underlying agenda.
Larry Sanger seems to think there’s an anti-conservative bias, but where could that come from? I think it might be something to do with the fact that ‘cultural creative’ types – i.e. the type of people who’s leisure time involves editing Wikipedia rather than going to ‘monster truck’ rallies – tend to lean to the left more than to the right. It’s up to the right to get their troops out and engage in battle on the back end of Wikipedia.
There are right-wing alternatives now, like Conservapedia, that explicitly say that – that Wikipedia has a ‘liberal and atheist’ bias. Liberal might be because of the cultural creatives, and atheism because of the impossibility of providing sources for the existence of God. (But it appears that the administrators of these right-wing Wikipedia alternatives close down debates if they don’t like them, but allow things like ‘homosexuality is a mental disorder’ etc.). This has created spin-offs like Rational Wiki – ex-Conservapedia folks who now spend a lot of time attacking (and vandalising) Conservapedia.
The reason I think Wikipedia is more reliable than Sanger’s article is that there are no talk pages or back end involving lots of people for his article, and he revealed that he’s bitter towards Wikipedia for not recognising his contribution. Bearing that in mind, I’d be naturally expecting bias.
I might have linked to this before – https://www.livescience.com/32950-how-accurate-is-wikipedia.html – but a ‘Nature’ study decalred a tie between Wikipedia and Britannica in terms of accuracy (in scientific topics at least).
I see so much benefit from Wikipedia – increasing media savvy / as a gateway to more detailed information / increasing understanding of reliable citations etc. And as a quick reference, I use it all the time, have contributed words and money to it. Nothing’s perfect, but Wikipedia is a very good thing, imho.
I can’t see anything in comment no. 12 that suggests I’m in favour of censorship. Vernon Coleman can say what he likes – I’m just not wasting any time listening to him. He’s a climate change denier, and I really, really don’t have any time for climate change deniers. If other people want to listen to them, that’s fine by me. Even if (and maybe especially if) everything else he says is spot on, it will either then be tainted by climate change denial, and/or he may even convince others (and I’m sure he has) that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real. As I say, no censorship (ever, of anyone not advocating violence), but equally, no compulsion to read their words or to promote what they’re saying (which I might be inadvertently doing here!)
21Andrew Rollinson October 26th, 2020
Your arguement is flimsy at best, very worrying and most dangerous.
Taking only your first paragraph:
1. How do you know that academic institutions and professional publications avoid Wikipedia only because it is peer reviewed? This is absolutely not true.
2. Your other comments in paragraph 1 indicate the errors in the system:
a) “If you can get enough people to agree with you, it will be changed”. So en masse a group of people can change the content? Hmmm…Okay, one can see there is trouble ahead here.
b) “…and citations are required”. Vernon Coleman is described as “discredited” without a reference. So, by your opinion this shouldn’t be there, but it is.
c) You keep just repeating ‘how could it be biased?’ rather than addressing the evidence that I have put to you, from me, Sanger, and the fact that the whole site has been deemed untrustworthy by the whole academic and professional communities across the world for decades..
Supporting your contributors is one thing, blinkered stubborness is bad enough, but this obstinacy is too much for me. I will not debate this matter further with you and your website.
22Andrew Rollinson October 26th, 2020
Should be “…because it s NOT peer reviewed”.
23Dave Darby October 26th, 2020
I know you’re not going to debate, but just for the record:
1. ‘Biased’ – towards what? For the benefit of whom? Why? To what end? I know how the corporate press is biased – in favour of the owners of the corporate press, and the status quo that made them billionaires; but there are hundreds of thousands of people editing Wikipedia, from all points of the political compass – so again, biased towards what, apart from trying to get to the truth (in which they might fail, but apart from that, how and why ‘biased’)?
2. There may be other reasons that academic institutions avoid Wikipedia, but it’s absoutely common knowledge that the content is compiled by the general public, without peer-review. There may be other reasons, but that alone prevents Wikipedia from being a source for academics.
3. Once you understand that Wikipedia is not-peer reviewed, but you also understand the processes involved, and that the results of the ‘Nature’ survey that put it on a par with Britannica for accuracy (which is very far from “deemed untrustworthy by the whole academic and professional communities across the world for decades”), then it’s fine to use, as long as you keep in mind that it’s not the be-all and end-all. If it’s up there with Britannica, what’s it worse than, apart from peer-reviewed articles? It’s certainly way, way better than an article by someone with an obvious axe to grind, and no-one to debate the content with. Why the hostility towards Wikipedia, when there are far worse / more biased sources of info?
4. I don’t know if you know how the back end of Wikipedia works, but you have to state your evidence for / reasoning behind any changes, and you have to convince the other users / editors of the soundness of your evidence / reasoning. And even then it can be revisited at any time, or if new evidence arises. You can’t just steam-roll your opinions through. There are millions of arguments going on on the back end of thousands of topics every day. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good compared to a lot of other sources; plus it’s collaborative and it’s free.
5. Why is there no reference for V Coleman being discredited? I don’t know. But absolutely anyone can go into the back end and ask that very question / add ‘citation required’ / delete the phrase and be prepared to debate it. You can’t do that on blogs / in the press / anywhere else. For me, Coleman is discredited due to his climate change denial. That’s my view, and it can’t be challenged in the way that it can on Wikipedia. As I said, I think it’s a great invention, and I’ll certainly continue to use it, but there are plenty of other sources of information that I’ll use as well.
24Simon Grant October 26th, 2020
Sorry that my full name doesn’t automatically come through. I’m Simon Grant — as can be found by anyone searching for “asimong”. I don’t exactly hide!
There’s a world of difference between saying that Wikipedia should not be used as a reference for an academic paper, and that Wikipedia should not be trusted. If a student of mine (in the past when I was a university lecturer) cited Wikipedia the obvious answer would be, don’t cite Wikipedia, go to the original sources and cite them! After all, Wikipedians do not allow primary research there. Why on earth would you want to cite Wikipedia? It’s just as naff as citing any other encyclopedia. Just goes to show that you’ve been slacking and not reading the actual academic papers.
The question is not whether Wikipedia is reliable in itself. That depends on how well individual Wikipedians have done in finding reliable sources from different viewpoints and composing them to represent a neutral point of view. Rather the question seems to me about whether it is useful. And here I give a resounding, unequivocal, YES! And because of its coverage and recency, much much more useful than any printed encyclopedia.
If you want Wikipedia to be the ultimate authority on disputed matters, of course you will be disappointed. If an article is written well, it will on the other hand give you different viewpoints, provided just that those viewpoints are represented in reliable sources. Of course Wikipedia (or any other sane repository of information) doesn’t want to represent an opinion just because someone sounded off once in a blog post. That would be madness and chaos. And hence the eternal question of where you draw the line. To me, Wikipedia provides a good enough (though not perfect) answer to where to draw that line. That is why it is useful, and that is why so many people voluntarily give up their time to keep it useful.
25Dave Darby August 11th, 2023
Having recently read this: https://larrysanger.org/2023/07/the-encyclosphere-is-greater-than-wikipedia/, and bearing in mind that this is a public platform, I'd like to retract my previous responses and reserve judgement on Wikipedia's bias.
However, promoting the wiki concept is very different - not the same as promoting wikipedia, any more than supporting football and explaining that Arsenal is an example of a football team is the same as supporting Arsenal.
26Simon Grant August 11th, 2023
Sigh. I don't get it why people who haven't engaged with Wikipedia think they are qualified to comment on it? Dave, I'm happy to have dialogue which I hope will persuade you back to what I sensed as your very reasonable position earlier.
However, Wikipedia is not beyond criticism, naturally. What seems to me a most interesting and plausible line of critique would be to me look at what counts as a reliable source. My sense is that there is the heart of genuine difference of opinion
27Dave Darby August 12th, 2023
Happy to talk. Drop me an email. But also, would be good to have the discussion in public, here, too.
"people who haven't engaged with Wikipedia"
Who? me? Larry Sanger is definitely qualified to comment.
"What seems to me a most interesting and plausible line of critique would be to me look at what counts as a reliable source. My sense is that there is the heart of genuine difference of opinion"
Well exactly - that's sort of it. One person's obvious corruption is another person's conspiracy theory. And if subscribers to one position vastly outnumber the other, there's going to be bias, and that might not be totally about what's true or false, it might be ideological (and nothing to do with Wikipedia per se, actually). If we subscribe to that ideology, it's much easier to ignore / justify than if we don't, but I think that's dangerous, and can come back to bite us in the bum.
A/c to, ahem, wikipedia, Sanger seems v pro-freedom but anti-wikileaks. So complicated, but he makes some good points.
28Dave Darby August 12th, 2023
ps can't, with hand on heart, say that I agree with all my points above, after reading some of Sanger's stuff. But still a fan of wikis.
29Simon Grant August 13th, 2023
Not you, Dave, but I don't see Larry Sanger as having engaged constructively with Wikipedia. What evidence do you count? Anyway, let's not continue here on this very limited bandwidth, but you would be most welcome to a session where we can really go into Sanger in detail and get a closer evaluation; and as a by-product see where our assumptions or views or methods differ.
30Dave Darby August 14th, 2023
Simon - sure, great. Drop me an email?