Judges claim new research disproves Wikipedia influence on judgments

Judges claim new research disproves Wikipedia influence on judgments

High Court judges have welcomed new research, co-authored by Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, contradicting an earlier study which suggested that Wikipedia influences judicial decision-making in Ireland.

In a paper published last summer, researchers in the US and Ireland said the creation of a Wikipedia article on a Supreme Court case generates a 25 per cent increase in its citations in subsequent Irish court cases.

The paper also stated that there is a “textual similarity” between the Wikipedia articles and the judgments in which the cases are subsequently cited, suggesting that judges are not using Wikipedia as “merely a stepping-stone to other, more authoritative sources”.

Judges strongly rejected the researchers’ findings at the time, and earlier this year claimed some vindication after a new paper elaborated on the methodology used.

Now new research conducted by Mr Justice Humphreys and a number of current and former judicial assistants purports to show how the original research was flawed.

A summary article has been published today in the Irish Law Times and the full paper has been submitted by invitation to the Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Jurisprudence.

Commenting, Mr Justice Humphreys said: “The fundamental problems with the original paper, which render its conclusions unreliable, lie both with a flawed experiment and with flawed speculation as to the meaning of the results.

“These baseless speculations seem to derive from a simple lack of knowledge regarding the practical process of judgment production.

“I don’t at all believe there was bad faith by the original authors, and academics should of course test and research the judicial system. But it’s important that public trust in our legal system is not undermined by poor research.”

The new research has been welcomed by the president and other judges of the High Court.

Mr Justice David Barniville, president of the High Court, said: “Those with practical knowledge of judicial decision-making will know that the claim that judges rely on Wikipedia in preparing their judgments in any material way is plainly wrong. I welcome this detailed analysis which confirms that such claims are wholly inaccurate.”

Mr Justice Cian Ferriter added: “The findings of the detailed study led by Judge Humphreys confirm empirically what any High Court judge, or barrister or solicitor practising in the High Court, would readily have explained if asked: that case law cited in Irish court judgments comes from parties’ written or oral submissions and not from Wikipedia.”

  • Update (19/4/23): An earlier version of this article carried the headline “Judges exonerated in latest research on Wikipedia influence on judgments”. It has been replaced with a more balanced headline.
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