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Why I Don't Trust Wikipedia

Wikipedia Fails in Women's History and Related Topics


I've noticed -- have you? -- that many of the topics having to do with women's history -- including such topics as women's history itself, feminism, and women's rights -- are portrayed poorly in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia where just about anyone can post. Here's what Wikipedia says about women's history -- it's ungrammatical, incorrect, simplistic, and misleading, all in one short excerpt:

"Women's history is a term that refers to information about the past in regard to the female human being. When used as the name of a field of study within women's studies, "women's history" refers to the study and interpretation of wome'ns suffrage. The history of women in the United States dates back to colonial era and condition for women varied greatly. In other countries, women have had varying power in society." (Wikipedia article on Women's History)

Sure, I could correct that. But who knows how long the correction will last? I corrected a couple of spelling errors recently in the article on Feminism, which has some great information but a lot of the article is filled with idiosyncratic takes on hot button issues. There's no proportionality or consistency.

For example, how do you evaluate a statement like this, when just below the editing box Wikipedia says that information "must be verifiable": "A large portion of the sayings of Muhammed are taken from his wife Aisha, whom men often consulted on religious matters." At best, it's worded poorly. Perhaps the author meant to say that Aisha attested to many of the Sayings of Muhammed (a collection of the words of the final prophet of Islam). As it stands, it could easily be read as alleging that Aisha's own words are attributed to Muhammed. If that's what's meant, it is clearly a matter of interpretation, subject to question, and it is not neutrally-presented fact.

Similarly, the statement in the women's history entry about the term "herstory" does acknowledge that the term is usually "ironic" but the statement is worded so it sounds like most feminists use the term as a substitute for the term "history." That's simply an exaggeration and misrepresentation.

Another part of the entry seems to imply that there's a major disagreement between socialist feminists, who want more state involvement in child care, and "others" who want men to take more responsibility for child care. This is a misleading and false dichotomy. Many socialist feminists also want men to share family responsibilities, and many non-socialist feminists wannt more public funding for child care resources. And most feminists would not call child care an "onus" which carries the connotation that child care is always disagreeable. What is an onus, to many feminists, is the assumption that child care should fall exclusively on women, coupled with the assumption that women have no other legitimate role in society.

Enough examples from me. Wikipedia has some good information, but a lot of the entries related to women's history and women's studies include misleading or inaccurate information, opinion masquerading as fact, and too many spelling and grammar errors. Wikipedia's own criteria says "Wikipedia content is intended to be factual, notable, verifiable with external sources, and neutrally presented, with external sources cited. It is a collation of knowledge." I say, take anything in Wikipedia with a grain of salt.

Ronald Reagan said, about nuclear weapon treaties, "Trust but verify." About women's history entries in Wikipedia, I'd say it differently: "Trust only after you verify."

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