Wikipedia and authority

Ernest Miller has a great summary of ”The
Great Wikipedia Authority Debate”
. Essentially, this started when
an unnamed librarian claimed that Wikipedia was not suitable as a
information source, because it can be edited by anyone and therefore
must lack authority. This is not an uncommon assumption, and while I
have often wondered about how much I can trust a given wikipedia
article, I think that it’s wrong, for much of the same reasons that I
trust open source software (which also have recieved similar critisism).

Joi Ito states
that since anyone can edit any page means that ”Any comments that are
extreme or not true just do not survive on Wikipedia”, and that’s
where Wikipedia’s authority is derived from, which is more or less
exactly what I think, but better put. I would liken it to a free
marketplace of facts, where the clear and undisputed facts survive,
while the badly formulated or false facts die and disputed[1] facts are
marked as such.

Just yesterday, while studying history, I came across a nice
illustration about why wikipedia’s authority may be greater than that
of any random expert author. The main book that I’m using, Människan
genom tiderna
, stated that the Fashoda
Incident
occurred in 1892, while Wikipedia stated that it occurred
in 1898 (and the rest of the Internet backs
it up
).

Not a really big deal, but the earlier date confuses the order of
events, and such an error shouldn’t be in a history book. But the
error wasn’t caught, and now hundreds of thousands of books with this
incorrect fact have been put in the hands of swedish students, most of
which will never catch the error. A similar error on wikipedia wouldn’t have lasted more than a few hours. So, with this empirical evidence, which source is the most authoritatve?

[1] As defined by the majority, ”the market”, if you will.