Wikipedia, the anonymously editable knowledge bank, has been involved a several controversies. Earlier this month, an article in Vice News said that a “lonely” Chinese woman wrote fake Russian history on the platform for years. And now, a study has claimed that Wikipedia can influence the legal decisions of judges when there are articles covering relevant cases. The research has been carried out by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, according to a release by the university.
The team conducted the study by developing over 150 new Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions, written by law students. Half of these articles were randomly chosen to be uploaded online, so that judges, lawyers and clerks can use them, while the rest were kept offline. The second part was done intentionally to understand what would happen if no Wikipedia article is available on a topic.
The MIT researchers found that there weren’t as many articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions as there are for its US counterpart. As soon as the number of these articles increased, they noticed a spike in citations, by more than 20 per cent.
The team said that these citations mainly came from lower courts (including the High Court) rather than the Supreme Court itself or the Court of Appeal. They said that clerks in these courts were using Wikipedia to cope with busy court proceedings.
“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized field experiment that investigates the influence of legal sources on judicial behavior. And because randomized experiments are the gold standard for this type of research, we know the effect we are seeing is causation, not just correlation,” Neil Thompson, the lead author of the study was quoted as saying by the MIT.
“The fact that we wrote up all these cases, but the only ones that ended up on Wikipedia were those that won the proverbial ‘coin flip,’ allows us to show that Wikipedia is influencing both what judges cite and how they write up their decisions,” he added.
The other members of the team are Brian Flannigan, Edana Richardson, and Brian McKenzie of Maynooth University in Ireland and Xueyun Luo of Cornell University.
The research has been published in “The Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Jurisprudence”.