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Monday, December 19, 2005

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 Must I go out and buy a massive (and quickly outdated) hardcover encyclopedia set to get good information?

No.

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.

12 Comments:

At December 19, 2005 1:01 PM, Blogger Perplexio replied to my musings ...

So you're a Chuck Palahniuk fan? I read and loved Invisible Monsters and Fight Club but I also read Diary and Lullaby and found myself disappointed and underwhelmed to the point where I'm in no rush to read any more of his material. I will eventually read more of his books, but the mediocrity of those 2 books has bumped him much lower on my "must read" list than he once was.

I actually used Wikipedia extensively when posting a message on a message board about the absurdity of Kwanzaa-- a holiday created by a USC professor in 1966 to foster ethnic unity among African-Americans based on tribal customs of various different African tribes. Most African nations today are either predominantly Muslim (thanks to the Moors) or predominantly Christian (thanks to the Europeans) very few Africans actually still adhere to the tribal customs Kwanzaa is supposed to be based on-- and I learned this on wikipedia.com!

On an interesting side-note, a few months back, the wikipedia article of the day was on prog-rock band, Dream Theater. Something which gave me, and several other Dream Theater fans intense delight! I'm just waiting for Steve Hackett's entry to be a "Featured entry of the day."

 
At December 19, 2005 1:31 PM, Blogger BuffyICS replied to my musings ...

I love Wikipedia! One has to assume that some of the most contested entries are probably the most accurate, since multiple sides will be contributing to the editing process--so it's not surprising that the science entries are fairly well-written. I suppose it's the lesser-known and more random entries that might not be as reliable. Still, it's a great reference, and I don't go a single day without using it!

 
At December 19, 2005 4:26 PM, Blogger cube replied to my musings ...

I read Jacobs' book. It's really quite amusing. As far as Wikipedia goes, I always double check was I find there.

 
At December 19, 2005 5:40 PM, Blogger The Phoenix replied to my musings ...

Wikipedia is a great source of information, and I especially enjoy the "organic" process many of the entries go through, especially updates and corrections.

 
At December 20, 2005 7:08 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Perplexio: My major issue with Chuck Palahniuk's recent books are his closings. I still find his sotires and his tyle intriguing, but I haven't read a truly outstanding finish since Fight Club.

Buffy/Cube/Phoenix: Wikipedia is the best there is -- not to say that it's perfect, just that there's no other source like it. Thankfully, perhaps, it doesn't have articles on each of you. Yet.

-- david

 
At December 20, 2005 9:35 AM, Blogger Laurie replied to my musings ...

I've never used Wikipedia. Go figure..

 
At December 20, 2005 2:23 PM, Blogger Ben Heller replied to my musings ...

Me neither !!!!!!

Go get some education Ben.

 
At December 20, 2005 9:02 PM, Blogger Jamie Dawn replied to my musings ...

Thanks for dropping by my place today.

If you like things that gain info and get smarter, then you will like: http://20Q.net
This has been known to freak people out, so be warned!

 
At December 20, 2005 11:34 PM, Blogger Dear Jane replied to my musings ...

I have never used Wikipedia. then again, I don't really care if my claims are accurate or not... but good to know if I ever do care...

 
At December 21, 2005 5:04 AM, Blogger Jenn replied to my musings ...

I LOVE Wikipedia. I feel smart because of it. :)

Merry Christmas to you and yours, David! XOXOX

 
At December 21, 2005 5:57 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Laurie, Ben, Jane: There really is no need to use it ... unless you want to learn entirely too much about pop culture. But that's part of why you why you come here ...

Jenn: You are smart without Wikipedia. It just bolsters your confidence to let your inner strength shine through.

-- david

 
At December 21, 2005 11:13 PM, Blogger cube replied to my musings ...

The problem with Wikipedia is that anyone could go and add an article about anthing (including cube) which is totally & completely made up & no one (except cube) would be the wiser. Doesn't that sound like an accident waiting to happen? BTW I have a vivid imagination...

 

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