Irish (but also Dutch?) judges are based on Wikipedia

Irish (but also Dutch?) judges are based on Wikipedia

Many people nowadays are looking for answers to their questions in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, but you can expect better from elimination. but? A recent study showed that Irish judges were heavily influenced by the well-known knowledge base.

The study, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maynooth in Ireland, showed that not only does Wikipedia dominate the research sources of many students. Irish judges seem to return regularly to sources – whether they are authoritative or not; Not just for some background information, but even for the substance of their legal argument and the specific wording used in the judgments.

Of course, none of these judges publicly cited Wikipedia as a source for their decisions, so the researchers had to be more ingenious. Throughout 2019 and 2020, professors and their students at Maynooth University have been busy preparing 154 influential Irish Supreme Court decisions for publication on Wikipedia. However, only half of them are optimized for search engines and have already been published.

Comprehensive legal research

Results? In the period that followed, judges cited Supreme Court rulings posted on Wikipedia twenty percent more than those not posted on the knowledge platform. This increase is largely due to the use of judgments by lower courts, which researchers believe have been under a heavy workload and lack the time and resources to conduct comprehensive legal research.

In addition, the data researchers found a relatively high (21.8 percent) use of certain phrases, which were first used in Wikipedia articles. It appears that the research does not show a correlation, but rather brings causation to the table.

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USA, UK and Netherlands

The researchers say the findings likely apply to other countries as well. Like in the US, UK and Netherlands for example, the Irish legal system is hierarchical. The researchers said the manner in which Irish judges perform their judicial functions is expected to “be seen in the exercise of these functions in other jurisdictions”.

The question now may be how badly the judges were inspired by an online encyclopedia. The researchers also formulated an answer to this. Anyone can write and edit Wikipedia pages, and in this respect it is fundamentally different from the “old” encyclopedia or knowledge base compiled and edited by experts. By relying on articles written by people who may not have a legal background, let alone a relevant jurisdiction, “the judge waives his personal responsibility to enforce the law.” Making a judgment based on both the likelihood of the source being published on Wikipedia and the interpretation of the Wikipedia author would jeopardize the considered nature of the decision.”

Hard working

“I think what we’ve learned from this research is that scientists are just like everyone else in the community – we’re all on Wikipedia all the time, right?” Principal researcher Neil Thompson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Some people had the idea that you look up everyday stuff on Wikipedia, but for science and other, more serious matters, they just use textbooks and the like. But that wasn’t what I saw happening around me, so we said, let’s take a look at that effect” .

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Thompson said judges’ reliance on Wikipedia seems more serious, if only because judges can control a person’s fate. Therefore, one of the researchers’ recommendations is to hire experts who can create and edit articles on Wikipedia’s behalf, although this right conflicts with Wikipedia’s premise that anyone can contribute to the knowledge base.

Irish judges may be shocked by the outcome of the investigation and will think twice about the future before turning to Wikipedia to craft a ruling, but the question of course remains how this will be in the rest of the world.

Read the full study here.

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