Heidelberg scientists claim disputes over the content in the free-access online encyclopaedia Wikipedia can reflect a country’s geopolitical instability.
Professor Robert Russell of Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence CellNetworks developed the ‘Wikipedia Dispute Index’ which measures the frequency of pages linked to countries that are disputed by Wikipedia users. To calculate the index, scientists use methods similar to those applied to biology, physics, and social science networks and apply them to the cross-linked information in Wikipedia.
Disputes among Wikipedia authors led the research team to see how often a country turns up in connection with a controversial Wikipedia article. The biggest contributors to this Dispute Index tend to debate pages about present-day or historical events, people, and where content varies greatly depending on the authors’ political viewpoint.
“The evaluation of our ranking for the most cross-linked countries suggests that debates in Wikipedia correlate with regional instabilities all over the world,” says Professor Russell. “Our Dispute Index is in very good agreement with indicators that are much more difficult to elaborate and are usually based on a combination of different political and economic metrics. The Index is not entirely free of subjectivity, but it is easy to calculate; and it is independent of complex data capture or expert questioning.”