Which is more trustworthy – A published encyclopedia or Wikipedia? Weekly #7

Embarrassing incidents, contributors who falsify their names and make changes and edits to articles without checks and balances. It’s easy to guess that these words describe – Wikipedia, of course.

The New York Times says Wikipedia operates under the philosophy that anyone can be an editor, and that all information should be public. But the magic of Wikipedia is its quick and easy access to information. Why worry about research or reading, or accuracy when Wikipedia will be able to provide you with half truths, fuzzy research? In today’s world, who cares about the truth. It’s all truthiness.

I remember my parents buying me a complete set of World Book Encyclopedia in elementary school. I used it to write reports through upper elementary, middle and high school. Each year we paid for a one-volume update. These beautiful books, whose pages smelled so good and felt slick to the touch, were a prized position. Displaying World Book on our bookshelf provided us with a certain “educated status.” It meant we were going places, were serious about learning and headed on to college. Many years later my daughter received the gold edition of Encyclopedia Britannica from an older friend who, although well meaning with such a generous gift, was certainly not up with the times. It was already too late. I can never remember her using these books even one time but they looked classy on the bookshelf.

Forget the editors, fact checkers and all that work that went into the old-fashioned encyclopedia books. As Microsoft said “people were beginning to get their information in other ways.”

Is Wikipedia reckless and unworthy of our attention? Why else would comedian Stephen Colbert tell his viewers to edit the elephant entry on Wikipedia saying that the population of elephants had tripled recently? It’s all fun and games. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said Wikipedia is ” self-policing and self-cleaning which ensures its articles are accurate.” However, many contributors to Wikipedia say they don’t recognize their articles after about a week because of changes, edits by others. As the old saying goes, “People believe what they want to believe.” Thinking in these terms plays into the success of Wikipedia.

A democratic society depends on the truth, not half truths or “truthiness.” Call me old-fashioned but I vote for a published encyclopedia.

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