Wikipedia vindicated.

No, I don’t mean that Sinbad is really dead (Although he might be. Did anyone measure ecotoplasm levels around him recently? (Just kidding!)), what I mean is that the Wikipedia process works.

A lot of people disparage Wikipedia because of inaccuracies in the text. Since anybody can edit an entry, of course there are many inaccuracies and even outright hoaxes. But this is also its biggest strength. There are so many people involved in the project, hoaxes are discovered quickly and fixed. This is something that traditional publishing cannot easily match. Once the book goes out the door, it is immutable and inaccuracies are there forever.

The opportunity facing Wikipedia is to provide feedback as to the reliability of the information in an article, down to the sentence level. One way would to be to have a toggle that colored the sentences as to age. Also, sentences that have been independently verified could likewise have an indicator. Wikipedia just highlights the problem that the WWW has always had, namely how trustworthy is the information you are looking at.

As a side note, because of incidents like this one, some teachers have told their students that they are not allowed to use Wikipedia as a source of information for homework. How ironic! They are not allowed use a database of information with thousands of people editing and checking the entries for accuracy, and instead must use Google to find random web pages produced by random people to get the info.

The final irony of this incident is that the information did not originate on Wikipedia. It started as a rumor and was then reported in some news outlets. The entry on Wikipedia was changed in good faith and was likewise changed back once the information was determined to be inaccurate.


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