Truth and Consequences
You’ll see more than the usual number of hyperlinks in this post, but they are here to prove a point. Trust me.
To whom do you turn for the truth? Where do you find unbiased information about almost anything imaginable?
I hear the chorus of e-voices responding, “David Amulet.” And I am grateful. But even I cannot write about everything; even I must go elsewhere for true information about many topics.
And that’s not on my booksehelf. Despite having more than 1,000 books in my house, I don’t have a standard encyclopedia to satisfy my curious mind. So I often find myself looking to Wikipedia—the free, online reference guide for which anyone can write, edit, or comment on an article.
Recently, however, critics have been attacking Wikipedia, claiming that often distorts or ignores the truth. Must I go out and buy a massive (and quickly outdated) hardcover encyclopedia set to get good information?
A recent investigation has revealed that Wikipedia, even with its flaws, is just about as reliable as standard reference compilations. The average science-related entry in Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as the Encyclopædia Britannica, according to a recent expert-led study that the science journal Nature reported the results of this month. Wikipedia has slightly more “minor” errors, according to scientists, but the big-name encyclopedia matches the e-contender when it comes to “major” mistakes.
I have found Wikipedia more useful than any other single wide-ranging source. It has quite respectable coverage of topics that Britannica probably does not touch—from outstanding but underappreciated musicians (like Steve Hackett) to my favorite authors (such as Chuck Palahniuk) to surprisingly detailed pop culture entries (including the phrase “bling-bling” and the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani).
And there’s another aspect of the Wikipedia that appeals to me. Through constant updating and editing and discussions between people with different information and opinions on each topic, it shows an accumulation of truth that is above and beyond the traditional encyclopedia. (For you science fiction fans, it’s the closest we humans can yet get to the shared-consciousness collective knowledge of the Dals in David Eddings’ Mallorean series or the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert’s Dune series.)
Most entries that I waded through while putting together this monstrously hyperlinked post contained phrases that I would edit if I cared enough to take the time. But all in all, the articles present an impressive array of cumulative knowledge that can be accessed—and updated—more quickly and easily than any traditional print product. It may not be as trustworthy as a true expert on any given subject, but it’s a good first choice for most topics.
Unless you can ask A.J. Jacobs, who read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. True story. How do I know?
Because Wikipedia has an entry on the book he wrote about the experience here.