Saturday, 13 October 2012

Why Trust Wikipedia?

I'm not sure about Wikipedia. I certainly don't swear by it, however as I understand it, the original intention was not to be an infallible source but a democratic resource to which we can all contribute and I think that's admirable. Inevitably there's a lot of rubbish in there, contributed by the ignorant but enthusiastic, the knowledgeable with an obsession and those with personal, political and commercial axes which they wish to sharpen, but the thing is huge and there's also a lot of accurate stuff.  I've contributed an article to it and although that has been somewhat altered by others, it is still there and still accurate as far as I can tell.

When I'm researching something I look at Wikipedia AND a number of other sources, it's usually up there with some of the better ones. I've seen a lot of inaccuracies, omissions and bias in printed encyclopedias and other 'factual' books over the years, there are flaws in every one.

This from a discussion by a group of very literate writers on Linked In;

"So, you cannot really trust ANY source, even the seemingly reliable and carefully verified sources. The truth is that everything we read is potentially a lie, and unless you know the writer's political persuasion, commercial interests and connection in detail, it is extremely difficult to distinguish truth from fiction."    Lorraine Cobcroft.

Lorraine I'm absolutely certain you're right! Therefore we have to take responsibility for making up our own minds. Anything remotely political or commercial which is posted in Wikipedia is suspect to begin with and is subject to constant attack by people with an axe to grind. I've heard pretty negative suggestions about the powers of the Wiki 'moderators' too - they too are far from unbiased - allegedly.

There are certain topics where I wouldn't trust Wikipedia and suspect it was never intended to cover. For example, health advice. I am sure that most writers are intelligent enough to take that from our doctors and not from an encyclopedia of any sort!

However when looking for basic information about, say an obscure 19th century painter, or a species of New Guinea marsupial, then the info on Wikipedia is as good as you'll get in plenty of other places, just like an old fashioned paper encyclopedia. And Wiki's best articles give useful references and links to other sources, which that encyclopedia from the doorstep salesman never did.

Maybe some people expect too much, or can't be bothered to do the proper research because that means they have to check many sources. As for the very gullible, they will also believe everything they see on TV or in the worst newspapers, all we can do is hold their hands and try to keep them safe!                   

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