James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds, begins with Francis Galton's anecdote about an ox-weighing contest at a country fair: for a half-shilling, one could purchase a ticket on which to write an estimate of the slaughtered and dressed weight of a displayed living ox. The ticket with the guess closest to the actual weight would win a prize. Galton found that the mean of all guesses was in fact more accurate than the best guess, even though the guessers included livestock experts. This is a good illustration of the fact that a collective judgment may often be more correct than the judgment of any individual expert — something which appears to be true in financial markets, for example.
Wikipedia is a mechanism for producing collective judgments about the accuracy and importance of factual statements. I think this makes Wikipedia very exciting — any statement placed in Wikipedia is immediately subject to review and revision, and if everyone is animated by the same sense of trying to achieve truth, the text can quite rapidly evolve to something accurate and balanced.
But is this faith well-placed? Do articles always or even usually "evolve to something accurate and balanced"? What are some of the mechanisms skewing articles toward falsehood and bias? What institutions (policies, traditions) have spontaneously emerged to mitigate these problems of falsehood and bias? I hope to address questions such as these in this blog.