29 January 2007

Wikipedia Rules!

If making law is a key part of ruling, Wikipedia is in charge.

More than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia, beginning in 2004, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court thus far has never cited Wikipedia.)

While 100 decisions out of thousands of decisions made every year may not be many citations, only a select few learned legal treatises have been cited as often as Wikipedia in a two year period. Only a couple of blogs have been cited more often (many of which appear in the sidebar). It undoubtedly outranks the law reviews of many law schools for frequency of citation. There are many actual appellate decisions that have never been cited in a published opinion (probably close to half), and the better part of the nation's statutes have never been cited to by any court.

While the linked article worries that this might corrupt the judiciary, unless a party actually introduced a Wikipedia article into the record as evidence at trial, it should only consider these matters in the course of taking "judicial notice" which is governed by Rule of Evidence 201 (Colorado and the Federal Rule numbers are the same). The basic standard is that:

A judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.

The fact that Wikipedia is about as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica, is more up to date, and covers more topics makes it often desirable on this score. Judicial opinions have long referenced news articles for a like purpose. In principal, such a reference in either case, however, should be preceded by an opportunity to be heard "as to the propreity of taking judiical notice and the tenor of the matter noticed.", and request may be made on that score by a party after the fact (presumably in a motion for reconsideration).


Anonymous said...

As a librarian, I find this truly depressing news.

Off Colfax said...

Care to explain the depressing part of this, Jude? As an amateur researcher, I find it rather exhilarating.

Anonymous said...

Librarians invest a great deal of time in selecting authorative materials. We invest a great deal of time in teaching people how to evaluate information. I agree that Wikipedia has value--for example, when the program Cash Cab appeared on television, the only article I could find about it was on Wikipedia. I've edited articles on Wikipedia (and added an article). I think wikis are amazing tools for collaboration. But we have a generation of students who believe that everything should be available full-text online for free. That's what Wikipedia provides, so that's what they expect. Then when they encounter a professor who indicates that they need to do research outside of websites, they're lost. They are too trusting of what they read. They don't realize the need to use more than one source, to evaluate bias and reliability. So to me, the inroads Wikipedia makes into everyone's everyday life are depressing because for many people, this frequently inaccurate source of information will be the only source they bother checking. i.e., "I read it in Wikipedia, so it must be true."

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I don't know about that. The bias and reliability issues in Wikipedia are much more transparent than they are in other sources. You can look at the history of edits and discussion about meta issues with a single click from any page and experienced users of Wikipedia frequently do so.

Also, knowing that it doesn't have the imprompture of a publisher's authority bespeaks a caution rarely taken with conventional published sources.

Students have always been lazy and oblivious to bias and accuracy issues. Wikipedia at least brings those issues into the open as a routine thing to consider.

Anonymous said...

@ Andrew Given that most students are indeed lazy and oblivious, how does wikipedia bring bias/accuracy issues into the open? I've yet to see any disclaimer near the title of any article.