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Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Limitations of Wikipedia

One of Wikipedia's biggest weaknesses has always been its greatest asset - the fact that it can be edited by anyone.

In some cases this is a very good thing. Try looking for Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings info. You will find massive amounts of information, linked to pages about specific characters and events. The model has been extended for Star Wars in the Wookiepedia. While not technically a part of Wikipedia, it uses the user editable model to provide a source for massive amounts of info from the expanded universe.

The fact that any user can edit it, however, means that any user can edit it. This means that pages can be fraught with errors, especially those on controversial subjects. On such subjects it makes a good jumping-off point for further research. It should never be your sole source on anything controversial.

I used to think that technical and computer related articles were relatively immune from this. Well, it turns out that "relative" is a relative term. I stumbled across this blog post by the former lead engineer on the OS 9 team about his attempts to correct a mistake in an article about OS 9. I highly suggest reading it.

The problem, of course, is that people love their conspiracies. If you can go about your life believing that some big boogey man is holding you back, it gives you a convenient excuse for your own basic failures. The problem is that we used to leave the tin-foil hat brigade to shout at the wind by themselves, especially during wartime. Nowadays we hear "the charges are so serious that they must be investigated." Now every "the government brought down the WTC" or "it's a zionist conspiracy!" nutjob gets front page coverage.

At least the conspiracies in The X-Files were understood (by most) to be entertainment.

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