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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Arabic Wikipedia vs conspiracy theories?

One of the reasons why the Youtube anti-Muslim video became the source for massive, violent demonstrations last year was because people could not believe it wasn't 'government approved', a conspiracy.

A Demos researcher, Jamie Bartlett, wrote last year for the New York Times:
When Americans visit the Middle East or the broader Islamic world, they are often struck by the vitality of public interest and discussion about world affairs. Less comfortably, they often find the public to be cynical about Western interests, and quick to believe that shadowy groups control the world: that a cabal of Jews was responsible for 9/11 or that the C.I.A. instigated the Arab Spring for oil access.

This is not a stereotype, but a fact of Middle Eastern cultures – and a fact that Western nations must reckon with. Conspiracy theories of this type are ubiquitous in the region.
Conspiracy theories are not the only reason such people might distrust 'the West', as Stephen M. Walt points out angrily here in Foreign Policy. But it is nevertheless pleasing to read in Global Post of a massive expansion in Arabic Wikipedia and a rapidly growing project linking academia with the encyclopedia.

Bartlett points out that:
Skepticism is usual and healthy, but conspiracy theories inspire a generalized, knee-jerk cynical mistrust.
That Wikipedia is linking up in this way, in this part of the world could have the potential to seriously undermine the conspiracy brokers.

The Post article says that universities in Ukraine, Poland and Egypt are encouraging their students to post their thesis as Wikipedia entries.
Although critics warn that Wikipedia articles are no substitute for rigorous academic papers, supporters say more than simply putting more information at public disposal, erasing boundaries between the internet and academia will invigorate scholarship by enabling it to benefit everyone.

"Contributing to Wikipedia considerably increases students' motivation since their articles can be read by the whole world, not just their teachers or supervisors," argues Sergei Petrov, one of the Wikipedia project coordinators in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute ran a test program during its last fall that produced 23 new or expanded articles on Wikipedia Ukraine.

Since anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, point out mistakes or improve an article's structure, the argument goes, thousands of reviewers could lighten the load for college professors by helping out.
The one area, critics say, in which this idea may not work is social science.
Launched two years ago, the Wikipedia Education Program encourages professors around the world to assign writing entries as class work.

The program has helped produce nearly 6,000 pages of published content in its first year and almost double that in the second, thanks to a growing flock of volunteers and more than 3,500 trained new editors.
Says the Post, maybe a little hyperbolically:
Twitter arguably started the Arab Spring, but it will be up to Wikipedia to keep it going.

HT: Andy Mabbett

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