Wikipedia and Science

In response to a fellow classmate’s post regarding relevance of evidence of fraud (such as the Hwang Woo-suk stem cell fraud) is not just a concern of Wikipedia, I posted the following:

I have been covering the Hwang Woo-suk stem cell issue for the past two years and I agree that is does relate to Wikipedia in a way. The journal Science, for instance, is peer-reviewed, but most of the things that get published are based on evidence that the researcher himself produces, which others naturally assume on ground-base, are “real” ones. When a scientist, however, breaks those ground rules and starts fabricating material, it’s very difficult to get anything done at all.

In the case of Hwang, it all started with some people who were staring at Hwang’s journal months after it was published, and found that some of the photos of stem cell lines were exactly the same. Now these people were part of an online community (allegedly, most of them are people who have finished grad school but haven’t found a job yet and that’s why they have so much time to spend on the Web, looking at other people’s stuff) so in a sense, Hwang did get his peer-review in the end. But he was lucky, or unlucky, in a sense, because not all the information out there can be peer-reviewed.

However, the difference between Wikipedia and Science is that at least Science peer-reviews every content before deciding to publish it, and it has its own ethical guidelines which people are supposed to follow. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is perhaps better in the sense that it can continuously be revised, but not every content that is published on Wikipedia receives scrutiny of the same level, leaving so much more room for manipulation.

In the end, I believe it is up to reader to decide what is credible. For me, Wikipedia is the first place I go to get a general synopsis – from there I usually go back and reconfirm the facts. Each media serves its own purpose! (In the meantime, in the trial of Seoul Prosecutors vs Hwang, the defense began trial on Sept.19. Hwang takes the stand next month. We shall see what he has to say.)

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