Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wikipedia as a reference for courts?

With all the discussion within Phillips v. AWH and Texas Digital about the proper reliance of courts on dictionaries, one finds that some courts are relying on Wikipedia. As to accuracy, a recent study done by Nature and reported by the BBC finds Wikipedia about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The British journal Nature examined a range of scientific entries on both works of reference and found few differences in accuracy. has a list of cases in which Wikipedia is utilized. One court that didn't rely on Wikipedia was the Tennessee Court of Appeals which wrote:

Given the fact that this source is open to virtually anonymous editing by the general public, the expertise of its editors is always in question, and its reliability is indeterminable. Accordingly, we do not find that it constitutes persuasive authority. [English Mountain Spring Water Co. v. Chumley, 2005 WL 2756072 (Tenn.Ct.App., October 25, 2005).]

One notes that the Third Circuit [Pennsylvania, New Jersey!] referenced Wikipedia: Allegheny Defense Project, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, 423 F.3d 215, (3rd Cir., September 15, 2005) -- "Understory"

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 and has since grown to more than 1.8 million articles in 200 languages. Some 800,000 entries are in English.

It is based on wikis, open-source software which lets anyone fiddle with a webpage, anyone reading a subject entry can disagree, edit, add, delete, or replace the entry.

In order to test its reliability, Nature conducted a peer review of scientific entries on Wikipedia and the well-established Encyclopedia Britannica.

The reviewers were asked to check for errors, but were not told about the source of the information.

"Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopedia," reported Nature.

"But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively."

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales welcomed the study.

Of the discussion of the alleged quote by Duell, Wikipedia gets it right under "failed predictions:"

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." - falsely attributed to Charles H. Duell, director of the US Patent Office.

There is a listing for Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, commissioner of the PTO from 1835 to 1845, which includes: From Ellworth's exposure to the West and knowledge of inventions, he prophesied late in life that the lands of the West would be cultivated by means of steam plows. This prophecy was introduced in the probate of his will in an attempt to prove that he was of unsound mind.

and don't forget:
A very relevant citation with respect to this quotation is: Eber Jeffery, "Nothing Left to Invent," Journal of the Patent Office Association [now JPTOS], Vol. 22, #7, pp. 479-481, 1940. This article attempts to trace the "there's nothing left to invent" story, and leans towards attributing its origin to a statement made to Congress in 1843 by then Patent Commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth

Getting back to failed predictions, Wikipedia also has
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Falsely attributed to Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM


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