My very tentative conclusion, based on a just few sample queries, is that I hope no one relies on Wikipedia for anything very important. Its entries seem to be a strange mix of accurate statements and egregious errors.
My own experience is that Wikipedia is quite accurate and errors get corrected. An erroneous description of the Patriot Act that Kerr pointed to was quickly corrected. It seems counterintuitive that letting anyone edit any page would result in quality information, but that seems to be what has happened.
If I understand accurately how Wikipedia works—a big “if,” I should point out—my views of what is in the Patriot Act are no more and no less valued by Wikipedia than the views of any other Internet user. Given the widespread misperceptions about what is in the Patriot Act, some one else is likely to come across my corrected entry and think, “What idiot wrote this? This is totally wrong!” They will then erase my entry and re-enter all the mistakes that I corrected. The “genius” of Wikipedia is that no one is there to resolve the disagreement: the loudest voice eventually wins.
Well, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. For example, someone with IP address 18.104.22.168 has been changing the Wikipedia entry on John Lott to remove any criticism of him. (The scrubbed version is here.) Mr 22.214.171.124 is very persistent—so far he has replaced the page eight times. However, since his changes are obviously unreasonable, each time they have been undone. The loudest voice has not won.
Oh, and IP 126.96.36.199 resolves to americanenterpriseinstitute.org.