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Stephen L. Carter

Are We in a Recession? Don't Ask Wikipedia

For a model of how to moderate partisan disputes online, look to the internet’s original encyclopedia.

Volunteer editors help order emerge from chaos.

Volunteer editors help order emerge from chaos.

Photographer: Kirill Kudryavstev/AFP/Getty Images

The swirling controversy over how to define the term “recession” has now hit Wikipedia. After partisans engaged in a furious editing duel of the relevant pages, Wikipedia suspended most changes to the entry for “recession” as well as “business cycle.” Depending on one’s politics, the decision represents either a last-ditch effort to preserve the site’s neutrality or a caving to ideological interests. Whichever side you’re on, you should be glad the fight is being fought ... and confident that it will soon blow over.

Although Wikipedia, one of the most visited sites on the web, repeatedly insists that its articles should never be used as the sole source for any particular fact, the site’s pages are increasingly treated as authoritative in news articles and scholarly papers alike.