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
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 MAKES NO GUARANTEE OF VALIDITY.
"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 email@example.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.