Am I just being old fashioned? Or does trustworthiness still matter?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

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Wikipedia is a free-for-all 'encyclopedia' that allows anyone to change the content. Is that OK?

August 25, 2004

   After this column was published, the author received dozens of letters, most of them deploring his stand. Apparently, many people believe an "encyclopedia" that is untrustworthy -- one in which any visitor can alter any page -- is acceptable. Is it? Am I just being old fashioned? Is trustworthy information still important? Maybe it's time we thought about issues such as these before our children get any further along in school. We might be teaching them the wrong thing. -- Al Fasoldt

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2004, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2004, The Post-Standard

   In a column published a few weeks ago by my companion Dr. Gizmo, readers were urged to go to the Wikipedia Web site, an online encyclopedia, for more information on computer history. The doctor and I had figured Wikipedia was a good independent source.
   Not so, wrote a school librarian who read that article. The librarian, Susan Stagnitta of the Liverpool High School library, explained that Wikipedia is not what many casual Web surfers think it is. It's not the online version of an established, well researched traditional encyclopedia. Instead, Wikipedia is a do-it-yourself encyclopedia, without any credentials.
   "As a high school librarian, part of my job is to help my students develop critical thinking skills," Stagnitta wrote. "One of these skills is to evaluate the authority of any information source. The Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. It even states this in their disclaimer on their web site."
   Wikipedia, she explains, takes the idea of Open Source one step too far for most of us.
   "Anyone can change the content of an article in the Wikipedia, and there is no editorial review of the content. I use this web site as a learning experience for my students. Many of them have used it in the past for research and were very surprised when we investigated the authority of the site."
   Stagnitta gives two quotes from the Wikipedia site that illustrate the problem.
   From the home page:
   "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia written collaboratively by its readers. The site is a Wiki, meaning that anyone, including you, can also edit any article right now by clicking on the edit this page link that appears at the top of every Wikipedia article."
   From the disclaimer page:
   "Wikipedia is an online open-content encyclopedia, that is, a voluntary association of individuals and groups who are developing a common resource of human knowledge. Its structure allows any individual with an Internet connection and World Wide Web browser to alter the content found here. Therefore, please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by professionals who are knowledgeable in the particular areas of expertise necessary to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information about any subject in Wikipedia."
   I was amazed at how little I knew about Wikipedia. If you know of other supposedly authoritative Web sites that are untrustworthy, send a note to afasoldt@twcny.rr.com and let me know about them. The best thing about the Web is also the worst thing: Information is all over the place. You need to be careful about trusting what you read.