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Experts Rate Wikipedia Higher Than Non-Experts

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the they-know-what-they're-talking-about dept.

Education 204

Grooves writes "A new Wikipedia study suggests that when experts and non-experts look to assess Wikipedia for accuracy, the non-experts are harder on the free encyclopedia than the experts. The researcher had 55 graduate students and research assistants examine one Wikipedia article apiece for accuracy, some in fields they were familiar with and some not. Those in the expert group ranked their articles as generally credible, higher than those evaluated by the non-experts. One researcher said 'It may be the case that non-experts are more cynical about information outside of their field and the difference comes from a natural reaction to rate unfamiliar articles as being less credible.'" That's the problem people face when 'everyone who disagrees with you is a moron'.

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A Possible Reason (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019862)

Whatever the reason for the results, they will cheer defenders of Wikipedia's accuracy, though Chesney urges caution in extrapolating too generally from his study. For one thing, the sample size was small. For another, 13 percent of those in the "experts" group reported finding mistakes in their assigned articles.
If I may speculate why this happened, I often encounter non-experts having a higher opinion on a topic than an expert. Part of being an 'expert' (in my opinion) is the ability to see all major sides of an issue that they are experts on. Case in point, I've found while watching the History channel that I judge a historian's greatness on whether he tells me what to think about history or whether he tries to cover as many of the major angles as possible in as little time as possible. Example on Nazis:

Historian A: "The Nazis were horrible awful people who killed and murdered millions of people during World War II. They created nothing but pain and suffering while seeking out total fascist control of the entire world."
Historian B: "Nazism is not a precise, theoretically grounded ideology. It consists of a loose collection of ideas and positions: extreme nationalism, racism, eugenics, totalitarianism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and limits to freedom of religion."

Now the reason I put those two up there is because your average person (I'm American so I may be biased on 'average') would probably favor historian A's perspective as opposed to historian B. Historian B is actually an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] . It's more encyclopedic as it's not opinion oriented. I'm not saying Wikipedia is free of opinions but what I'm proposing is that non-experts have an opinion and often when they read something that doesn't align with that opinion, they consider it to be incorrect.

The (on average high) neutrality of Wikipedia is most likely what causes non-experts to rate it as more erroneous than experts. Since the sample set was so low (as the report notes) then it is perhaps more likely that this happened.

I think that this is what the "Everyone who disagrees with you is a moron" article is getting at. I'm guessing experts are training not to suffer from that disease.

Re:A Possible Reason (3, Insightful)

PieSquared (867490) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020144)

While that may be the case, it could also be a matter of sample size, as the researcher himself said. 55 just isn't that big.

Re:A Possible Reason (2, Insightful)

rblancarte (213492) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020458)

I was going to say just the same thing. We are not really looking at a) a good sample size, or b) a really good sampling variety to really hit some pages that could be vandelized, etc. What would have been good would be to have these experts each hit 10, or 20 pages, then really see what they think.

I think another issue with this is that neither the ArsTechnica NOR the actual write up actually say what pages were viewed. I think that these are VERY important questions that should be asked about this "study." I mean, for the sake of accuracy, I think you are dealing with a far different instance when you talk about an article of a computer protocol (like say SPI or PCI) or metabolites vs say the wiki page of Jesus Christ, Britney Spears or Teletubbies, which I am sure get much more traffic.

Just my $.02.

RonB

Re:A Possible Reason (5, Funny)

gigne (990887) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020196)

Of all of the historical things you could used as an example, you choose Nazism. If you didn't have such a good point I might have called Godwin's law [wikipedia.org] on you.

off-by-one error invokes thread exception (3, Funny)

maddogsparky (202296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021322)

It appears that Goodwin's law is not invoked for the first comment in a discussion. This come logically from the requirement that Goodwin's law apply to a discussion that involves the Nazi/Hitler example as a means to refute another comment.

Being the first comment, an off-by-one exception occurs, resulting in an aborted termination of the thread.

Re:A Possible Reason (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022744)

If you hadn't just linked but also read your source, you'd know that Godwin's law just states that
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
Specifically it does not say that it is never appropriate to mention or compare to Nazism, and it says nothing about ending the thread. There are some corollaries that state that the thread is over when a comparison to Nazism is made, but even those have logical bounds: obviously valid comparisons exist.

Peer reviewed (4, Interesting)

maddogsparky (202296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020244)

Isn't this the same criteria used for "well-respected, peer-reviewed journals"? You can abuse any such journal, just as wikipedia sometimes is.

However, wikipedia is different from such journals because it is a commons which is shared by people with differing viewpoints. It doesn't get the same bias that some journals may get where submitters and readers gravitate towards one of several different publications with slightly different biases (e.g. some journals favor publishing articles related to global warming as a concequence of human activities while others favor articles about it being a more natural phenomonon).

Debate is healthy, as long as it is reasoned. Wikipedia's nature enforces reason on debates about its contents. If a wikipedia entry gets edited by a person with a bias, a person with an opposing bias deals with it directly by editing the _same_ article, instead of proposing an alternate view somewhere else where it may not be seen by readers of the article. This beats the status quo , where oposing sides tend to just keep shouting their message without having any true debate.

Re:A Possible Reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020312)


"Historian B: "Nazism is not a precise, theoretically grounded ideology. It consists of a loose collection of ideas and positions: extreme nationalism, racism, eugenics, totalitarianism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and limits to freedom of religion." "

Is there a grounding for this in Mein Kampf or in speeches Hitler has made?

Because if not, would it not be the exact equivalent of (often called misguided) criticism against Islam, that the _ideology_ is blamed for something and seen as equivalent to what the _followers_ do? And would this be a 'loose collection' of ideas precisely because the divergent actions of the followers are associated with the ideology?

Re:A Possible Reason (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021016)

NAZI!!!

Re:A Possible Reason (1)

IWannaBeAnAC (653701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021334)

You would be right, except for: nationalism, racism, eugenics, and possibly anti-communism. So about 50% ;-)

Re:A Possible Reason (2, Informative)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022974)

Is there a grounding for this in Mein Kampf or in speeches Hitler has made?

Hitler is by far not the only source of Nazi ideology. Other main contributors were Alfred Rosenberg, Gottfried Feder, Carl Schmitt, Karl Haushofer, Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and many others. In general, "National Socialism" was far more complicated and ingrained into (not only) German thinking of the times than seems to be taught in US schools today (which does not make the ideology and its deeds less horrific of course.)

Re:A Possible Reason (1, Flamebait)

HappySqurriel (1010623) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020332)

People are spoonfed by the media to believe what the media wants them to belileve ...

If you argue that evidence of Global Warming only proves a short term warming trend and that it is inconclusive whether it is influence by man or if it represents a long term climate change people will call you delusional even though you are correct ...

Re:A Possible Reason (3, Interesting)

sheldon (2322) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020548)

If you argue that evidence of Global Warming only proves a short term warming trend and that it is inconclusive whether it is influence by man or if it represents a long term climate change people will call you delusional even though you are correct ...


I'm pretty agnostic on the whole Global Warming debate, but it bothers me that the people who are so opposed to it argue on what they believe to be true, rather than what they think to be true. That is what you have done here. You've offered no substantial evidence to support your conclusions, rather you simply imply that all those opposed to your belief are morons.

So why are you so surprised when you are called delusional? You certainly don't offer anything to counter that impression.

Re:A Possible Reason (2, Insightful)

udderly (890305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022526)

Like you, I consider myself agnostic on the global warming. But I'm a little confused at your response to the parent post. How does one offer "substantial evidence" when one feels that the evidence is inconclusive? What type of evidence would he offer?

The whole subject of global warming being caused by people would seem to me to fall under the heading of an "inferred best explanation," which suggests a strong probability, but falls short of being proof according to the Scientific Method [wikipedia.org] .

The main problem with global warming isn't that there isn't some empirical data--it's that the inference isn't completely testable. Computer modeling of a chaotic system, no matter how good, is merely an approximation and will always fail to account properly for some number of factors. It's not that it's not valid, it's just not proof.

The tricky part is figuring out what our response to all of this should be.

Re:A Possible Reason (1)

plalonde2 (527372) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020664)

For two points, define "correct". You're using that word the same way people use "common sense". There's an awful lot of assumption behind both these usages. I dare say you might be succumbing to your own hubris.

MOD PARENT DOWN (-1, Flamebait)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020814)

Pretty much the definition of flamebait, right there.

Re:MOD PARENT DOWN (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021524)

Pretty much the definition of flamebait, right there.

Indeed, circumspect assessments of such one-track religious issues to so many Slashdotters as Global Warming is baiting flamage.

Rule of Thumb on Using Wikipedia (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020942)

Wikipedia is a great resource for exploring a subject if the following two stipulations are observed.

1. You have a small inkling of the subject, and you are using the Wikipedia article to enhance your understanding.

2. You verify all statements in the Wikipedia article by reading all the primary source references. If the article has no references, discard it as a claptrap of lies.

#1 will enable you to spot the obvious (possibly deliberate) inaccuracies. #2 is to ensure the validity of the information. The article should be considered a secondary source, but its references (which every article should have) should be considered the primary source.

Re:A Possible Reason (2, Funny)

Jon_E (148226) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021398)

I think that this is what the "Everyone who disagrees with you is a moron" article is getting at. I'm guessing experts are training not to suffer from that disease.


That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, you moron ..

Experts qualify (2, Insightful)

Martin S. (98249) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021602)

Experts understand the subtle nuances of a subject and therefore qualify their position with lots of 'if' or 'buts'. An informed observer appreciates these nuances. An uninformed observer does not, it appears less precise and less clear.

The less competent see fewer nuances and therefore make more straight forward assertions, they qualify their position less, therefore it looks clearer to an uninformed observer.

Re:A Possible Reason (2, Funny)

iocat (572367) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022418)

One example talks about nazis, the other about nazi-ism. Both statements can be true! And, IMHO, both are true: The nazis were a bunch of assholes who didn't even have a totally coherent ideology. Historian B's description is a pretty precise definition of an asshole, anyway.

Re:A Possible Reason (1)

xero314 (722674) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022872)

I don't see how the above example illustrates anything since Both Historian A and B in the above example are at best highly incomplete and at worst significantly wrong.

Experts?? (1)

Eric Damron (553630) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022954)

May I be so bold as to suggest that the term "expert" is rather subjective?

Maybe Experts are just as biased (2, Insightful)

gelfling (6534) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019872)

As everyone else but they know a little bit more about the process through which their own expertise derives. One need only read professional historians to understand that they have as much an agenda as anyone else for example.

Propoganda? (2, Interesting)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020122)

Why is it when Microsoft/oil company/tobacco company is torched whenever they release a study saying Windows/gasoline/smoking is good because they are paid off blow-hards serving their masters but a Wikipedia study saying their articles are accurate (and make no mistake, that is what they are saying) doesn't raise an eyebrow?

Simple (2, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020220)

Because corporate-sponsored studies aren't editable by the public. People do raise an eyebrow with regards to Wikipedia, but any person with true knowledge can have a say in the content of an article. Plus there is clear public debate. No one can publicly debate or dispute a corporate study before it's published. Anyone can criticize it afterwards, but those disagreements never become an addendum to the study.

Re:Simple (2, Funny)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020412)

For a change I tried to RTFA but all I got was "Server Error in '/' Application."

I didn't realize the study was editable prior to it being released.

Re:Propoganda? (4, Insightful)

bigpat (158134) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020668)

Why is it when Microsoft/oil company/tobacco company is torched whenever they release a study saying Windows/gasoline/smoking is good because they are paid off blow-hards serving their masters but a Wikipedia study saying their articles are accurate (and make no mistake, that is what they are saying) doesn't raise an eyebrow?

Probably because wikipedia is a charitable non profit registered 501(c)(3) educational foundation [wikipedia.org] which means that it is legally obligated by both the US government and State of Florida to serve a public purpose, in this case education. While those companies that you speak of are for profit multi billion dollar corporations trying to people their products and sevices and are often lobbying the government to pass laws to make it easier to sell their stuff.

Sure anything that adds to wikipedia's reputation for accuracy will make donors feel more comfortable about donating to wikipedia. But the simple fact is that every page view on wikipedia is an expense for the Foundation, they make no money directly from their content. The best way to judge a non profit is to look at the number of people getting paid by them. And so far, the Wikimedia Foundation still seams pretty lean compared to other foundations and they are keeping their other overhead expenses reasonably low as far as I can tell.

So, yes it is good to question all studies which promote one product over another, but this simply confirms something that we might have thought anyway. That if you know more about something than others, then you are in a better position to judge the accuracy of what was written about that something.

Re:Maybe Experts are just as biased (1, Troll)

netruner (588721) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020192)

I think that the experts may be biased because when they read an article, they know enough to disregard small defects, the average user does not.

In short, I'm asserting that an expert requires less accuracy in their documents than nonexperts because their own expertise can fill in the spaces.

wigaypedia is for homos (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019898)

'nuff said.

Commonly used in IP field for prior art (5, Interesting)

maddogsparky (202296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019918)

Wikipedia is used all the time in the IP lawfirm where I work. If we need a definition or a quick rundown on a field before filing a patent, it's a good, well linked source.

Re:Commonly used in IP field for prior art (-1, Troll)

buffer-overflowed (588867) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020772)

I hear the population of elephants has tripled in the past 6 months.

Holy Fuck. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019938)

There are some serious retards posting on that Dilbert blog.

Good to Know (4, Funny)

huckda (398277) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019950)

that just by being a grad-student or a research assistant you become labeled an expert!

Re:Good to Know (1)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020242)

Among the people who don't have jobs and enough free time to read Wikipedia articles all day, yes the GS/RA do qualify as experts. The alternative was the crowd being let out of the Jerry Springer Show and frankly, they scared us.

Re:Good to Know (3, Funny)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020294)

They were reviewing the articles on Ramen and sleep deprivation.

Re:Good to Know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021430)

The reason these students agreed with the articles is that they learned it from wikipedia in the first place.

Experts outside their area of expertise (0, Flamebait)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019956)

Um, I don't think being a Biology Ph.D. candidate makes one an expert at astronomy. If you try to pull that stunt in court as an expert witness, the judge won't like it.

A better description would be "smart, educated people" easier on Wikipedia than less smart, less educated people.

Even then I'd say "further study is needed."

Re:Experts outside their area of expertise (1)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020376)

I think you missed the point of the study. 55 grad students reviewed articles. Some Biology Ph.D. candidates reviewed biology articles ( expert reviewing something in their field) while other Biology Ph.D. candidates reviewed astronomy articles (someone not an expert in the article's domain).

All people in the study are presumable smart and well educated.

Ah, you are correct, I did misread it (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020490)

Not enough coffee.

Read more carefully... (2, Informative)

no reason to be here (218628) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020502)

Um, I don't think being a Biology Ph.D. candidate makes one an expert at astronomy. If you try to pull that stunt in court as an expert witness, the judge won't like it.

They're not saying that, and that's not the "stunt" they "[tried] to pull". They're saying that the biology Ph.D candidate is an expert in biology, and he, as an expert in biology, rated biology articles rather high as far as accuracy goes. He then rated astronomy articles (a field in which he isn't an expert) lower. Now, move on to the guy who is a Ph.D candidate in astronomy, and you end up with opposite results (biology articles rated lower than astronomy articles). They weren't testing grad students against non-grad students, they were testing grad-students of different disciplines against each other.

Professional students are liberal biased hippies (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019964)

Wikipedia spews liberal biased hippy bullshit.

Therefore, I am not surprised at the outcome of this study.

You can look up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020000)

Well... (1)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020004)

That's because there's an article about experts [wikipedia.org] , but none for non-experts. If I weren't an expert about everything, I'd be pissed too!

Weirdly, it does (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020388)

From the wikipedia article on experts: "The opposite of an expert is generally known as a layperson." And defines layperson as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layperson [wikipedia.org] (until someone corrects it). Which seems to imply that only clergy are experts.

Re:Weirdly, it does (2, Funny)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020574)

Actually the opposite of an expert pretty much covers most of Wikipedia.

Re:Weirdly, it does (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020832)

Did you click on the link for layperson? Check out where wikipedia redirects you. Pretty funny, eh?

Being skeptical isn't a bad thing. (0)

gt_mattex (1016103) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020014)

These articles could have been written by anybody. It only seems appropriate that I would be skeptical about a topic written by a less than credible source about a t0pic I know little about.

Re:Being skeptical isn't a bad thing. (2, Interesting)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020190)

These articles could have been written by anybody. It only seems appropriate that I would be skeptical about a topic written by a less than credible source about a t0pic I know little about.

The same is true for reference books, articles, television programs, etc. That's what the references are for. I agree you should be skeptical of wikipedia articles, I'm just not sure you should be more skeptical than you are of other sources of info.

Ah, but (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020328)

Reference books and articles (in my industry at least) are peer-reviewed, if you are getting them from the major outlets. You know they are credible, or at least validated by several other PhD's in the field.

Re:Ah, but (2, Interesting)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020656)

Reference books and articles (in my industry at least) are peer-reviewed, if you are getting them from the major outlets. You know they are credible, or at least validated by several other PhD's in the field.

Or maybe they are corporate funded propaganda. You don't know until you check the references and see who has peer reviewed them. The exact same thing goes for Wikipedia articles. Maybe articles in some given publication are always reviewed by certain parties and you can build up a level of trust, but said publications change and are sometimes purchased outright. You can't rely upon blind trust in a publication be it wikipedia or anything else. Look at the references and read critiques if you are a scientist. If, on the other hand, you just want someone to tell you what to think, you can ignore them. I just don't think wikipedia is all that less trustworthy that a random encyclopedia or book from the store and statistically that seems to be the case from the studies I've read.

Ignorance breeds fear? (3, Insightful)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020060)

Could this just be a case of someone saying, "That can't be right!" only because they don't know if it really is?

Why hate wikipedia? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020198)

I don't understand the people who attack Wikipedia....

It is free, a lot of people have put a lot of effort into it, and it is incomparable to any other repository of knowledge known to man.

Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021260)

Because it's a flawed premise? Because it's desperate for legitimacy? Because if enough people agreed that the world was going to end in 30 days, it would be posted as absolute fact on wikipedia?

Wikipedia is alright for cursory information, but it's not and never will be a legitimate, citable source unless it's methodology changes and it and it's supporters need to stop fucking trying to make it seem like it can be.

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (1)

Aidski (875851) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022148)

I think its purpose is for individual learning and cursory information. You're right, it won't be a "legitimate, citable source", but who cares? It gets you started in the right direction.

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021324)

- People can be pretty jealous
- People can and always have their own agendas
- People sometimes fret upon anything "free"
- Knowledge is power

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (2, Interesting)

oGMo (379) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021622)

I don't understand the people who attack Wikipedia....

Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.

It has to do with why the "people who disagree are morons" article is wrong: if everyone could suddenly identify who the geniuses were, the not-so-geniuses would immediately kill them all out of fear, or jealously, or whatever.

Wikipedia is just a repository for information and who is informed on various subjects (whether the information is right or wrong, agreeable or disagreeable). There may be good reasons to hate it, but they're not the real reasons.

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (2, Insightful)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021672)

Why the fuck would anyone want to piss on it? Don't like it? Shut up and go to a library.

Or get yourself an Encyclopedia Britannica [amazon.com] . Only $1,100.00 new from a reseller.

Re:Why hate wikipedia? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17022086)

The problem being when people use it as an encyclopedic source and find out later that that foreign word they used is actually an insult placed through vandalism [blender.org] .

I agree with you, but playing Devil's Advocate, it must be recognised that it is sometimes simply wrong.

I hope they didn't act on it. (3, Funny)

rdmiller3 (29465) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020210)

A new Wikipedia study suggests that when experts and non-experts look to assess Wikipedia for accuracy, the non-experts are harder on the free encyclopedia than the experts.

I just hope that those non-experts didn't feel the urge to "fix" anything.

The problem with this is... (4, Interesting)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020230)

... that when it comes to academic articles (e.g. physics) the only people who know enough math/jargon to get it close to right are the academics. So, the acuracy is of course going to be fairly high.

BUT, when it comes to policitically charged articles (or other non-academic articles), b/c of people's "MY true is reality no matter what the facts say" mentality nowadays, the acuracy plumits.

Basically, this study is nothing but a false positive in favor of wikipedia.

Re:The problem with this is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021396)

If you've ever seen a math article after Xah Lee has edited it, you would realize that the bar is not high enough. :)

This study is too small to be all that interesting. I would rate most articles that aren't fan cruft on Wikipedia to be superficial at best, and often times littered with errors, when not overtly biased. Take a look at the article on nutrition (admittedly not my field of expertise, which would be a small area of algebra) which is clearly sporting some pro-vegetarian stance while praising the virtues of dieticians. It fails to note that the highest mean lifespan was held by the groups of Japanese that ate a diet that contained fish, while focusing on the sparse consumption of animal products by the Chinese (whose leading cause of death is stroke, and suicide among its younger populations) and the relative absence of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in their populations. (If it makes them feel any better, I am sure that the hunter-gatherers that predate agriculture with a mean lifespan of 30 years did not die from chronic heart disease and cancer at the same rates of peoples whose most non-chronic lethal ailments are curable by means of seeking medical attention). Of course if you want to look at the causes of diabetes in the West it is most-likely due to the overconsumption of starches causing insulin tolerance in conjunction with sedantry lifestyles, but again being a non-expert I guess my questioning the framing of that entire article must be indicative of my own failures. Perhaps despite not eating a diet rich in meats I am pro-meat, and I'm not just picking a random topic which I recall being labeled as an example of Wikipedia's high standards that was obviously challenged in intellectual rigor.

In other news, Wikipedia is really more accurate than everyone that isn't an expert thinks. Or at least that's the impression a statistically insignificant study summarized with simplistic headlines here and on Digg, that will be what the majority of people actually read, will leave with.

Re:The problem with this is... (2, Informative)

lahvak (69490) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021638)

I agree with your first assertion. I am an expert in some areas of higher mathematics, and in my area of expertise, articles on Wikipedia are generally very accurate. there is very little noise, very few mistakes (almost all of them typos, that get quickly corrected), and occasional controversy is nearly exclusively limited to questions of notation and terminology. People who contribute to these articles generally know very well what they are talking about, and any mistakes and inaccuracies are easy to spot and easy to fix.

I think there is more to the results of this study, though. It raises good point about the nature of Wikipedia, IMHO. If I see an article in my own area of expertise, I can personally verify its correctness and accuracy. That's why I am perfectly willing to quote such articles, refer to them in discussions, and point people to them if they want to learn something about the topic.

If I, OTOH, see an article say on organic chemistry, I have no way to judge how good it is. It may very well be an excellent, completely accurate, article, however, I will never know, without actually asking an expert. All I know is that this is an article on Wikipedia, and may have been written as a prank by a high school student who has no clue about organic chemistry whatsoever. Therefore I will be very hesitant to refer to such article, and I will be very hesitant to give it high rating on correctness and accuracy.

Rawr (4, Insightful)

Trashhalo (985371) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020316)

Let me just say that I am so tired of the the rampant bias against wikipedia in education. I have had teachers go on 10 minute rants on how horrible of a site it is. I also am frustrated with the fact that during these rants generally there are no facts, studies or examples given to why they believe wp is untrustworthy only that anyone can change it so that means it is bad. Are there bad articles in wikipedia? Yes I dont think anyone would disagree with that. Are the bad articles the ones you will be looking at? I think thats the more important question. The more popular a topic is the edits it receives and the more trustworthy the information is. That is ofcourse ignoring the fact that now many big wikipedia articles cite sources. Another baseless concern is that at the time you are looking at the article some random false fact will have been inserted. Wp has this little feature called "history" I always check the last couple changes to a article before citing it in a paper. If something seems fishy I will cite a earlier version of the same article.

Anyways I guess in summary people are way too afraid of the wiki model.

Re:Rawr (2, Insightful)

svyyn (530783) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020556)

If something seems fishy I will cite a earlier version of the same article.

Thus easily allowing you to choose which 'facts' you want to include.

Re:Rawr (1)

sedyn (880034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020632)

Of course people can't quote a source to back up their opinion, it hasn't been posted on Wikipedia yet!

Re:Rawr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020858)

I think the point a lot of people miss is that a Wiki can CHANGE. It's not printed on paper, it's AGREED UPON. It's not an encyclopedia, it's a social agreement.

If two experts (or an expert and a non-expert) disagree, than their disagreement is part of the knowledge that we get from Wikipedia. I don't see the harm, aside from being annoyed that I can't find a definitive answer on something for which evidently there is disagreement. Big deal.

Re:Rawr (1)

dfghjk (711126) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021408)

"The more popular a topic is the [more] edits it receives and the more trustworthy the information is."

I don't agree with that. Trustworthiness is more a function of how invested in the "facts" the contributors are. Where stronger emotions exist you lose trustworthiness.

WP is a great resource just so long as you don't count on it being definitive. Having millions of edits is no guarantee of accuracy.

That's because experts know more.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17020334)

Experts by definition know a lot more about a topic. Especially where articles omit sources, experts aren't stymied, because the stuff that's missing is trivial to them.

They can judge corectness of topics they already know a lot about more easily than a non-expert could. Which might explain why most students underestimate their ability to score well on tests, where their professors don't worry so much about 2/3rds of the class not passing.

Also, people in general seem to be pretty dense. Evolution, climate change, 9/11 as a reason for invading Iraq, gay marriage - even if you don't agree with the accepted (biological/ climatological/ politicological/ sociological) viewpoint on such issues, popular "debate" about these matters can hardly be called rational. People these days seem to distrust the scientific method itself, let alone experts, for coming up with answers they don't like (yes/partly our bad/red herring/no harm).

Perhaps non-expert's opinion of wikipedia articles would improve if each page was headed "and thus spoke nostradamus:"

Why I Doubt (2, Informative)

greysky (136732) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020358)

I tend to take most things I read on Wikipedia that I'm not an expert on with a grain of salt, simply because I keep finding errors in articles that I am.

Re:Why I Doubt (4, Interesting)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020636)

I tend to take most things I read on Wikipedia that I'm not an expert on with a grain of salt, simply because I keep finding errors in articles that I am.

But that's why this experiment's results are so interesting. What you're saying reminds me of how people look at mainstream media's coverage of things. It appears somewhat reasonable when they're talking about things you don't really understand, but then once they get onto a topic you know anything about, suddenly you see how full of shit they are. Your ignorance allows you to trust them, and your expertise makes you distrust them.

This study perversely suggests that Wikipedia is having an opposite effect on people, than mainstream media does.

I wonder if it has to do with what happens when people find errors in things they're familiar with. When you find errors in Wikipedia articles, do you do anything about it? With mainstream media, you can't do anything about it, but with Wikipedia, you can. Maybe you don't correct errors, but eventually someone may, and perhaps the motivation to do that, is somehow proportional to expertise.

Re:Why I Doubt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17022718)

I've had to correct some math on the number of stars in the universe, turns out the author was off by 10^17 . . .

Re:Why I Doubt (1)

nczempin (822340) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022070)

I tend to take most things I read on Wikipedia that I'm not an expert on with a grain of salt, simply because I keep finding errors in articles that I am.

I do the same with every kind of article, especially in newspapers and magazines (even with "trade" magazines, albeit somewhat more leniently).

Why do you feel you have the need to single out Wikipedia?

Haven't you ever read an article in even a respected newspaper on a subject that you're an expert in, and cringed given all the little or big inaccuracies and oversimplifications?

One idea on why (4, Interesting)

arodland (127775) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020372)

The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing", and the non-expert says "wow, this is some really shitty writing." So the expert comes away with a higher opinion.

Re:One idea on why (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020820)

That's kinda what I was thinking.

IMO, 'The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing"' because experts have a body of knowledge which fleshes out all the unexplained basics which a layperson may or may not know.

That background knowledge (or lack thereof) makes a huge difference in their ability to evaluate information.

Re:One idea on why (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021578)

The expert says "there are some good ideas behind this really shitty writing", and the non-expert says "wow, this is some really shitty writing." So the expert comes away with a higher opinion.

We have a winner.

In reading through old sets of the Britannica, (people really do save such things,) the first thing you notice is the quality of the writing: T.E. Lawrence on Guerrilla Warfare, H.L. Mencken on the American language.

it's a question of open-mindness (3, Insightful)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020398)

I believe that the difference between the groups that this study used was not really the fact that in one group there were "experts" and in the other "non-experts", but that in one group there were "grad-students" and in the other "non-grad-students".

One of the things that one learns while doing his/her PhD is that he/she is NOT an expert in ANY field. It is only a matter of time for some big-headed know-it-all grad student to get crushed in a conference by a more experienced, better informed researcher. Being a grad-student and having research as your job makes you more open to new ideas and other people's opinions.

When you daily come accross many different approaches that try to solve the same problem, you are bound to learn that you must examine them all first before you decide. Otherwise you might miss a good idea that may eventually cost you your PhD. Sure you will have a favourite in the end, but that will be only after giving way to every possible option.

So a grad-student reading a Wikipedia article with an "alternative" (i.e. mistaken) point, would say "Hmm.. why not?", while a non-grad-student could say "WTF is this?" Of course, this would be the case only when the point is more close to being debatable and not obviously wrong.

Re:it's a question of open-mindness (3, Informative)

heroofhyr (777687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020952)

I believe that the difference between the groups that this study used was not really the fact that in one group there were "experts" and in the other "non-experts", but that in one group there were "grad-students" and in the other "non-grad-students".

And I believe someone should RTFA before weighing in on it. It wasn't divided into "people who are grad students" and "people who aren't grad students," it was divided into "people who are grad students or researchers in a certain field and are given an article from Wikipedia about that field" and "people who are grad students or researchers in a certain field and are given a random article from Wikipedia's 'Random Article' link in the Navigation Menu on the front page." Or maybe we shall let the study itself explain:

A total of 258 academics (research fellows, research assistants and PhD students) were asked to participate in the study. 69 (27 percent) agreed to take part with 55 (21 percent) actually completing the survey. Each respondent was randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions. Under Condition 1 they were asked to read an article in Wikipedia that was related to their area of expertise. For example, a member of the Fungal Biology and Genetics Research Group (in the Institute of Genetics at Nottingham University; see http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/biology/Genetics/index .phtml [nottingham.ac.uk] ) was asked to look at the article on metabolites. Areas of expertise were found from the academics' own Web sites with the choice of article being made by the author. If there was any doubt the expert was contacted for advice. Under Condition 2 respondents were asked to read a random article. Wikipedia's own random article selection feature was used to assign a different article to each Condition 2 respondent. (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_11/chesney/ )

It's very short, so it's not too big of an inconvenience to actually read it.

Good for initial exposure to ideas. (2, Insightful)

Trespass (225077) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020476)

I got into this discussion with some people on another forum the other day. There's a lot of people who regard it as little more than a repository of useless information, but it seems to me that that's more a factor of what sort of information they're looking for. There's a lot of things one there that I personally find pretty trivial, but who cares? It's not like having an exhaustive list of all the Pokemon characters is bothering anyone.

Personally, I find it to be a very useful resource for information on technical topics outside of my field of specialization. I do lots of modeling and conceptualization for games, so it's reeeeally nice to have an easy resource to explain the basics of say 19th century steel production or aircraft engines from the 30s. It's also really cool just to be able to read about a historical event and click a related topic to trace a thread through time. It's not a complete resource, but what is?

As It Should Be (2, Interesting)

susano_otter (123650) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020516)

If you're not an expert, you should be skeptical about your sources. In the case of Wikipedia, you should find an actual expert you can trust, have them read the entry, and tell you their expert opinion of its reliability.

Also, note that these experts aren't necessarily saying that Wikipedia is 100% accurate or reliable. The real issue might be that where a non-expert might mistakenly disregard a large amount accurate information from Wikipedia, an expert might understand that while the majority of the information was accurate, a few important inaccuracies were also present.

Re:As It Should Be (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021156)

If you're not an expert, you should be skeptical about your sources. In the case of Wikipedia, you should find an actual expert you can trust, have them read the entry, and tell you their expert opinion of its reliability.


Or you should have the basic critical thinking competence to review whether the claims in the article are sourced, and review the sources (particularly if the use is of any importance.)

An encyclopedia is, after all, a starting point for research, not an ending point.

If you don't understand what an encyclopedia is for, you shouldn't be using Wikipedia at all.

"Caution ... needs to be used..." (4, Interesting)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020568)

"Caution--and further research--needs to be used before citing anything learned from Wikipedia as a fact."

Yes, well, caution--and further research--needs to be used before citing anything learned from the Encyclopaedia Britannica... or the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics... or the World Almanac as a fact.

All of these are secondary sources. All of them are highly useful and are used as actionable sources of information every day, but none of them would be an acceptable citation in a research paper.

Furthermore, Wikipedia has always had policies that all information in Wikipedia must be derived from a published "reliable source" and that the source should be cited. Although these policies have mostly been honored in the breach, in the past year or so there has been an increasing tendency to cite sources explicitly. This is virtually a requirement for an article to become a home-page "featured article," for example. In some cases it is easier to trace the source of a fact in a Wikipedia article than in a traditional encyclopedia.

Re:"Caution ... needs to be used..." (1)

pilkul (667659) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021278)

This is virtually a requirement for an article to become a home-page "featured article," for example.

Not just virtually, it is a formal requirement [wikipedia.org] . The only FAs that have few/no references were promoted a few years ago when standards were lower, and the removal process is gradually pruning them out.

Re:"Caution ... needs to be used..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17021560)

You don't think the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics counts as a reliable source? You wouldn't cite it in a research paper? I'd like to know what field you work in, since it's clearly not one of the sciences. I've written research papers, and I've cited the CRC many times. It's a good, solid reference book -- I own a copy and there are (at least) two older editions in my lab. In the modern editions, everything's cited, often back to the original paper written by the guys who collected the data--unlike on
Wikipedia.

Just because Wikipedia has a rule saying everything should be cited doesn't automagically cause every single important detail to become referenced. Not instantly, and, if you've seen the proliferation of their little "CITE ME!" tags, not even slowly in all too many cases. There's a rule that says you can't cross the street on a red light, but if there's not a single car around and the light's red, you're probably going to cross anyway. Just because a rule exists doesn't mean anything's actually happened.

Please think before you write something. You'll come off looking a lot better.

Apparently Doctors/Med Students Aren't Concerned (2, Interesting)

btavshan (699524) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020604)

For the endocrinology classes I teach at the med school here, the most popular reference for both the students taking the class and the guest lecturers seems to be Wikipedia...I've even regularly seen physicians use the Wikipedia article as a refresher on a subject.

Re:Apparently Doctors/Med Students Aren't Concerne (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021202)

IME, Wikipedia is often better on technical subjects than on subjects of general interest, because the people who are motivated to actual read/edit the articles tend to have some knowledge of the field, know how to do research, and not be particularly interested in goofing around with it.

Re:Apparently Doctors/Med Students Aren't Concerne (1)

quoll (3717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021410)

I've heard complaints about Wikipedia from many people who are eminently unqualified to make such assertions.

Conversely, the experts in the area seem to like Wikipedia, much as the above story suggests. Along these lines, I was interested to hear a podcast from Australia's Science Show [abc.net.au] talking about this very issue (the podcast is no longer up, but there is a transcript [abc.net.au] ).

Is it just me... (-1, Troll)

jotok (728554) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020808)

One possible reason (4, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 7 years ago | (#17020972)

Increasingly people don't trust things that they aren't very familiar with because of the sort of political, under-handed, deceptive crap that has crept into so many areas of knowledge from the political world. Most people I know don't trust the mainstream media anymore and that ranges from people who are nearly communist in their left leanings to people who are practically John Birchers. Dispassioned, reasoned discussions are rare these days.

Think it's not the problem with even science? Why do so many people attack Bjorn Lomborg with a fanatical ferocity for daring to raise scientific questions about how, why and if global warming is happening? Why can't people who claim to operate on civilized values like reason sit down and have a friendly chat. "Interesting, Bjorn, let's look at your facts; Hmmm, interesting, but I don't think you considered the following (X, Y, Z); Touche, but I would like to present this, this and that to prove that global warming is not human-caused." Instead it's more like, "YOU MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION ANY ASPECT OF GLOBAL WARMING?!"

The truth is that there are so many people who are significantly maleducated today that it's no wonder why people are screwed up. I mean, it was a real eye opener for me, when I started reading up on my own time, about some of the cultural practices of the ancient world. Most of the people who look horrified at religion today have never even heard of such practices as Pater Familias nor know that their celtic ancestors (if that applies to them) often practiced human sacrifice. I honestly think that based on some of the conversations I have had since I started doing these things on my own, that the maleducation of the American public today is worse than the lack of education that existed 200 years ago. There is nothing worse than having a horrendously bad education--it'd be better to simply be a void that can be filled by actual knowledge.

Now, the reason that I brought up the global warming issue was not to beat a popular pinata, but to illustrate the fact that to many "laymen," the "experts" often come off as narrow-minded fanatics. That doesn't inspire confidence in the average person. What does inspire confidence is a calm ability to articulate on his or her level with facts that back it up. Problem is, too many people have an agenda and too many people are too caught up in it to be convincing to the majority who won't immediately accept what they say at face value as though it were penned by the hand of God.

Re:One possible reason (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021674)

but to illustrate the fact that to many "laymen," the "experts" often come off as narrow-minded fanatics.

That's true for large sections of Wikipedia, and that's one of the many reasons why it sucks as a primary reference source. You can be pretty much assured that any "hot button" topic will be a veritable mess of crap created by borderline "expert" well-organized editor cliques aggressively pushing POV agendas. This is an interesting ecosystem to observe, actually, as an example of how online communities work. It makes for interesting reading but terrible content. Of course it's the direct result of the way the thing is supposed to work - the problem is the constant harping and "buzz" about how well it works. It doesn't. And it never will. But that doesn't mean it's useless or pointless.

Don't get me wrong, I actually like WP. But I would never consider it an encyclopedia. It's more like an interesting mass of relatively well categorized information.

Re:One possible reason (1)

Palshife (60519) | more than 7 years ago | (#17023062)

Maleducation? I resent that. They teach the girls badly, too.

Why isn't Wikipedia better? (1)

quoll (3717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021042)

Many people complain about the lack of authority and accuracy in Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is a community project, that a community puts together. If Wikipedia is at fault it is because the community in general has allowed it to be that way.

People can only know about faults in Wikipedia if they saw them for themselves (otherwise it's hearsay, and the complaints are therefore without merit). By looking up Wikipedia, people are acting as a part of the community, most likely with the intent of deriving benefit. By finding problems and not addressing them, they tried to take from the community and not give anything back.

If the people complaining know of specific inaccuracies, then why have they not fixed them? Are they not a part of society or something?

Re:Why isn't Wikipedia better? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17022968)

Wikipedia is generally fine(as a secondary source, if you cite it as a primary you have problems) until you drift away from technical topics. Once you hit anything remotely politicized(consoles, anime, politics), it can and does go to hell. And if you aren't part of the establishment, you *won't* be able to change it.

Say, for example, the only source of something is a statement by a single individual. It is presented as fact, w/o attribution to the individual. If someone tries to change a statement, for instance: "Due to interferance with the motion controls, the vibration feature has been disabled on the dual-shock 3." to "According to Kaz Hirai[link], in a statement at the Sony E3 press conference, the vibration functionality has been disabled due to interferance with the motion sensitive controls.[citation]"

The second statement is more precise, accurate, and includes citation. The first is a statement of fact, w/o citation. The person camping the article will revert the article immediately and attempt to tag it as vandalism.

So no, you can't just clean up wikipedia articles on every topic.

similar problems with traditional media (2)

purplelocust (944662) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021246)

My experience with tradition media is that almost always when there is an article on something that I actually know a great deal about, they get many facts/details wrong and those stick out to me. Even if the overall story is basically OK, it is always troubling when there are significant numbers of obviously wrong things. In general, of course, this erodes my confidence in coverage of things outside my areas of expertise because there is no reason to think that reporters make mistakes only when they are writing about something I know well. So this study could be coming from noticing the same effect- even if the gist of the article is OK, experts notice problems and then become suspect overall.

Re:similar problems with traditional media (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021770)

I was just noticing this the other day with the "How it's made" show. I noticed the episodes on electronics (PCB) and sheetfed printing, two things I know about, had several errors.

I have to say wikipedia generally seems to have less of this than most media.

Isn't it time Slashdot had a Wiki icon? (5, Interesting)

gadfium (318941) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021314)

There are regular stories on Wikipedia on Slashdot, and occasional stories on other wikis. Shouldn't there be either a Wikipedia icon or a Wiki icon to distinguish these stories? The Wikipedia "multilingual globe being built" is copyright (one of the very few things in Wikipedia which is) so you can't use that, but the Wikipedia "W" is fairly well known. Looking through Wikimedia Commons [wikimedia.org] , this puzzle piece [wikimedia.org] looked good to me. I don't know if the GFDL licence would be a problem for Slashdot.

The MediaWiki sunflower [wikimedia.org] would only be suitable as an icon for Wikis powered by that piece of software. I don't have an idea for an icon to represent all wikis.

Protocols (0, Flamebait)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021316)

55 articles is not a statistically significant sample size. One article, even two articles, each is not enough to develop a valid opinion.

A better way would be to have the 55 people read 5 articles on subjects they are familiar with and 5 articles on subjects they are unfamiliar with, then have the people rate the subjective veracity of the articles, then have them look up the same 10 subjects in 2 different conventional sources, and finaly have them re-rate the wikipedia articles for veracity.

This article is effectively useless as it mearly give the opinions of 55 people and nothing more.

Where are the digital signatures/endorsements? (2, Insightful)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021378)

There's no guarantee that an article, at any moment in time, even approaches accuracy. If an expert in a field has reviewed some piece of information within it, perhaps a mechanism allowing him to digitally sign that piece of information would allow the article to gain some credibility.

In theory, citations should achieve the same goal, but it's clear that people don't want to research Wikipedia articles that have already been written. They want to use them as research. Do we want to work to try to change people's habits and perceptions, or change the system to work with people's habits and perceptions?

Re:Where are the digital signatures/endorsements? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#17022028)

There's no guarantee that an article, at any moment in time, even approaches accuracy. If an expert in a field has reviewed some piece of information within it, perhaps a mechanism allowing him to digitally sign that piece of information would allow the article to gain some credibility.


Since Wikipedia is licensed under a fairly permissive license, nothing stops experts (or anyone else) from serving digitally-signed copies of Wikipedia articles if they want to endorse them in that way.

In theory, citations should achieve the same goal, but it's clear that people don't want to research Wikipedia articles that have already been written.


People who care about accuracy and aren't qualified to evaluate the content independently do.

People who don't don't care about accuracy.

They want to use them as research. Do we want to work to try to change people's habits and perceptions, or change the system to work with people's habits and perceptions?


There is no way to "change the system" so that people whose "habits and perceptions" are to accept anonymously-written secondary sources as reliable without any kind of critical analysis or review of sources are going to get consistent, reliable information.

Providing a method for "experts" to digitally sign Wikipedia pages won't fix that, because peopel who don't care to check sources also won't care to review the qualifications or appropriateness of the "expert" that signed the page, or even pay attention to whether or not it is signed. The problem isn't that people who care have no way to evaluate Wikipedia articles, the problem is that people don't care to do that.

It's not about "expert" but rather "demonstrable" (1)

csoto (220540) | more than 7 years ago | (#17021404)

True scientists are "experts" because they use logic to rate one's findings and conclusions. The "problem" with Wikipedia isn't a lack of often very good, "expert" knowledge. Rather, it's the lack of editorial value that limits its credibility. Experts familiar with a given area already have credible sources to conjur whenever they evaluate Wikipedia entries. I "believe" the entry on the MPEG standard because I'm very familiar with that topic. But were Wikipedia to be my first exposure to the topic, I'd be skeptical simply because I cannot vouch for its "truthiness" (the same goes for elephants). This is the same old "what's wrong with Wikipedia" thing.
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