Wikipedia and Legal Decisions: What Do Paralegals Really Do for Information?

August 2, 2022

I read an interesting and, I think, important article about legal search and retrieval. The good news is that use of the go to resource is, so far, free. The bad news is that if one of the professional publishing outfits big wigs reads the cited article, an acquisition or special licensing deal may result. Hasta la vista, Wikipedia maybe?

Navigate to “How Wikipedia Influences Judicial Behavior.” The main idea of the article is that if a legal decision gets coverage in Wikipedia, that legal decision influences some future legal decisions. I interpret this as saying, “Lawyers want to reduce online legal research costs. Wikipedia is free. Therefore, junior lawyers and paralegals use free services like Wikipedia for their info-harvesting.

The write up states:

“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,” says MIT researcher Neil Thompson, the lead author of the research. “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. Our results also highlight an important public policy issue. With a source that is as widely used as Wikipedia, we want to make sure we are building institutions to ensure that the information is of the highest quality. The finding that judges or their staffs are using Wikipedia is a much bigger worry if the information they find there isn’t reliable.”

Now what happens if misinformation is injected into certain legal write ups available via Wikipedia?

The answer is, “Why that can’t happen.”

Of course not.

That’s exactly why this article providing some data and an interesting insight. Now is the study reproducible, in line with Stats 101, and produced in an objective manner? I have no idea.

Stephen E Arnold, August 2, 2022


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta