Over at more than 95 theses they have been discussing Wikipedia. We’ve all been given reasons not to trust WP, most notably the so-called “vanity edits” made by staffers on capital hill.I’ve been troubled by the entries on covenant theology and most recently by the entry on the English/New England Puritan, John Cotton, and theonomy. Several times in the entry s.v. “John Cotton” it is claimed that he drafted a “theonomic” legal code and that New England had a theonomic system. Such claims are highly disputable and tendentious yet there is no recognition in WP of this fact. What to do? I clicked on the “edit page” function and immediately one is threatened that unless one logs in one’s “IP Address” will be visible to the world. I guess this is a bad thing so I logged in. Now what? How to challenge these claims? As they point out at MT95T one has to decode the WP code. I couldn’t or didn’t want to spend the time, so I gave up. I made the mistake of clicking on the link to “theonomy” which was evidently written by someone at the Chalcedon Foundation. There is a fairly comprehensive bibliography of published sources but the electronic bibliography seemed to be overwhelmed by pro-theonomy authors. In short it virtually pure propaganda and worthless as any sort of fair-minded starting place for research. A group of dedicated, intelligent propagandists, arguably a roughly accurate account of the rhetorical and publishing strategy of the theonomic/reconstructionist movement that has promised, Kruschev-like, to bury any critic. Search for the spelling of Kruschev and the WP entry is the first entry! This gives WP and lot of power as many will not bother to go beyond WP.
The strength of WP is that it is not controlled by “elites.” The weakness of WP is that it is not controlled by “elites.” What I mean is that, on the one hand, the possibility exists for “everyman” to participate in the system of knowledge collection, analysis, and dissemination. On the other hand, there seem to be virtually no barriers to propaganda. I realize that there pages where folks argue over entries and many entries are marked as disputed, but the discussion seems to be relegated to technocratic elites who care to master the WP code in order to participate. I don’t have time to learn to speak WP. So, elites are unavoidable, in the nature of the case. We’ve traded one set of elites for another: scholars for nerds. In the case of an encyclopedia, I doubt this is a good thing.
[This post first appeared in 2007 on the HB]