Why Archaeology Should Embrace Wikipedia Part 3- It is the ONLY source.

Posted on August 7, 2014


Wikipedia is not a matter of where people get some of their information; it is a matter of where they ONLY get their information. If you are reading this you have unrestricted use of the Internet, or pretty close to it. Depending on your age you may not know any other world where you cannot access all of the Internet, maybe whenever you want. This is the exception, not the rule. Only 2 billion people in the world have access to the Internet. That leaves 4+ billion without access to the Internet. More and more people are getting access but that access is not the access that you and I enjoy. In Africa, there are programs that give free access via mobile phones, which in many cases is the only access people have, to limit number of websites. Some of these websites are of course Facebook, paid for by Facebook (meh, are my thoughts on Facebook providing access), but a good portion of them are receiving free access to Wikipedia, and that is it. For millions, and by millions I mean at least 350 million, Wikipedia is their only source for information. The program that does that is called Wikipedia Zero. Here is a map of where it is-

Tower of Babel? Never heard of it.

Now you might be thinking, or after I mention this you will be thinking, ‘well articles written in English won’t affect these people too much, they speak a different languages’. This is might be true but on Wikipedia language is not a barrier, well not as big as you think. There are tens of thousands of people whose only contribution to Wikipedia is to translate articles from one language to another. I am at Wikimania right now and have met a high school class from Kazakhstan. They are highschoolers, not experts in many fields, pop culture aside, and so do not create many articles. But, they do speak multiple languages and their entire interaction with Wikipedia is translating articles, mainly from Russian but also English, to Kazak. Writing in English means you might be reaching people in Korea or Kazakhstan or one of the several hundred other languages supported by Wikipedia. In fact, on Wikipedia, at times up, to 20% of articles in a language are translations from other languages.

Academic Privilege

If you are reading this you might also have access to journal articles, possibly through a University. Or you might be able to afford subscriptions to scholarly societies or can travel to conferences. This touches on a topic dear to my heart, Open Access i.e. access to research. Many archaeologists have what can best be described as academic privilege, like white privilege but not based on ethnicity. We have access to articles but for the 99% of the world, including those with access to the internet, they do not have access to archaeological research, even through libraries.

Privilege is not really privilege

A while ago I took a list of 134 archaeology journals they require subscriptions to access and looked at how many of these journals the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, and Harvard subscribed to.

University of Edinburgh- 63%

Oxford- 70%

Harvard- 79%

It turns out that even the richest University in the World does not have access to a many subscription journals, imagine what the rest of us have access to. We talk about people’s limited access to archaeology publications but in fact we are talking about archaeologists limited access to research, first and foremost. Do you have access to all the research you need?

Wikipedia Is Not a Replacement

Wikipedia is not meant to be original research. However, for the majority of us, including most archaeologists, it is the only source of information we have. This is because most of us have access problems to research. We can change this by embracing Open Access but that will take time. Even then, most people in developing worlds will still not have access to the original research. If you don’t trust Wikipedia as a good source of information then think about how 100s of millions of people only have access to it and nothing else. Scared yet?

So the question we need to be asking ourselves, if this is the only resource available for some, including many archaeologists, why should we not engage with it to make it better?

More Reasons Why

You can read my other reasons to embrace Wikipedia part 1 and part 2. And my personal experience with Wikipedia.



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