Not Your Father’s Encyclopedia

Today's Internet age is putting an end to the hardcover encyclopedia business. Why spend fortunes on a massive (albeit attractive) World Book set when you can get what you need a mouse click away on the Internet? Any student preparing a research paper and searching Google will probably be handed over quickly to the "Wikipedia" online encyclopedia system. What's more — and here's an offer that presumably can't be beat — it's free!

Consumer beware.

At Wikipedia you won't find a distinguished body of tweedy old professors poring over every paragraph on the Hanseatic League. It's actually on the other end of the credibility spectrum. Wikipedia is an "open-source" encyclopedia, a reference source anyone can create. The danger in this system becomes very obvious, very quickly. Recently the comedian and movie star Sinbad had to announce that he was not, in fact, dead of a heart attack at age 50 as his Wikipedia entry claimed. "Somebody vandalized the page," claimed Wikipedia spokeswoman Sandra Ordonez.

Not only can Wikipedia articles be written by anyone with Internet access, others can then edit that material by adding off-setting and consequently off-putting material whose purpose is to create intellectual mischief.

The other day Bernie Goldberg emailed me, upset. He pointed me to his Wikipedia entry. To read what was written was to conclude that apparently I must hate his guts. But we are friends. He is a man for whom I have profound respect, professional and personal. He knew there was foul play.

Right there on the screen, under the heading "Criticism," it stated that I had attacked him, "claiming that Goldberg merely lifted material he had been producing for years, and only published the book because he had an axe to grind with his former employers and was attempting to make a ‘quick buck,' noting that Goldberg never mentioned the alleged liberal bias of the media until it was ‘convenient' and ‘profitable' for him to do so."

Where did this come from? An accompanying footnote linked to a column I wrote when Goldberg's "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken is #37)" was released in 2005. Among other things I called it "a wonderful read for anyone not on that list." I'd opened my column by joking that "I hate him" — because he'd written a set of New York Times best-sellers I wish I'd thought to write first. There you have it.

But the author wasn't guilty of misunderstanding me. Remember how the Wikipedia entry said I charged Goldberg with opportunism, for never mentioning liberal bias until it was "convenient" and "profitable" for him? Neither those sentiments nor those words appeared anywhere in my column footnoted by Wikipedia.

In fact those words have never been uttered by me. The accusation would be false. Back in 1996, Goldberg used the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal publicly to castigate his own network for its one-sided oafish bashing of Steve Forbes. It was anything but "convenient" or "profitable" for him. It ruined his friendship with Dan Rather and put him on a path to the outer fringes of CBS News. Ultimately it ruined his newscast career.

My attorney contacted Wikipedia by email demanding the removal of this false entry. No response. So we edited out the offensive material ourselves, after which in writing counsel alerted Wikipedia to the legal action that might befall them should this be repeated. Here's full disclosure, Wikipedia-style: You can see how each article is altered, sometimes hour by hour, in its "History" section. But there is no mention of the attorney's complaints. In the Goldberg article's history, an editor simply now scolds: "Bozell's article is a mock-jealous swipe at Goldberg's opportunism. PLEASE REREAD IT." (Capitals theirs.)

Goldberg and I are not alone. The website Conservapedia.com has a long list of 41 allegations of bias and factual errors at Wikipedia. You can add to that the problem with the credentials of its staff. One of its editors, named only "Essjay" online and described on his user profile "as a tenured professor of religion at a private university with expertise in canon law," was recently exposed as a 24-year-old college kid in Kentucky. He resigned in disgrace — even though Wikipedia tried to retain him, claiming he'd edited thousands of articles with flair.

The Florida-based Wikimedia Foundation is aware of its website's reputation. Board member Erik Moller was very frank in a recent essay. One of their ten things they wanted you to know about Wikipedia is "We don't want you to trust us. It's in the nature of an ever-changing work like Wikipedia that, while some articles are of the highest quality of scholarship, others are admittedly complete rubbish. We are fully aware of this."

It's enough to make used-car salesmen cringe.

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  • Guest

    God loves you .

    The whole attitude of the Wikimedia group is that some fat old joke named Pristinus Sapienter is meant to be the most widely read expert on everything in the world – in history!

    NOT EVEN CLOSE – right? (You didn’t have to be THAT excited about my ignorance . . .)

    Only problem is – everyone else in the world is, too. Any ‘-pedia’ with a massive ‘changes’ index means the ‘-pedia’ has its roots in the Latin ‘pedis’ – louse – as in lousy. A lousy reference is no reference.

    I depend upon a few sites, starting with bartleby.com; WASP-ish credentials, but at least recognizable credentials. I also Google into college-level reference sites. Wikipedia sometimes has a graphic that is interesting – but its textual content is suspect unless I wrote it. ;)

    Well . . . no, I haven’t actually even corrected spelling or grammar, let alone written for Wiki-whatever.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    The "value" Wikipedia has (most likely) is a view into what the world "thinks" the entry means.  It is the world-perspective on a subject (which may or may not include fact).  I take that back.  Even that is too generous an explanation.  It is the internet-world-perspective on a subject – which in my opinion is quite subject.

  • Guest

    I trust Wikipedia only slightly more than the old media.

     

     

  • Guest

    I wish we could submit our will to the wisdom of the Almighty as easily as we submit to the "wisdom" of Wikipedia, ABC News, or The New York Times. For some reason, we tend to resist the Creator and embrace the created. 

  • Guest

    As a teenager I would like to offer the dissenting opinion here. It is a shame when articles are messed with by jokers, but for the most part Wikipedia is reasonably accurate, and if not always then an article is at least linked to other webpages, sometimes over 100.

    I don't mean to present myself as a subversive presence here, but I will suggest that anybody who finds actual bias in Wikipedia as a whole is probably skewed themselves in their worldview, because I honestly don't see it institutionalized there.

  • Guest

    But this is the dilemma of Wikipedia.

    Worldview and fact are not always the same.

    Worldview and Truth are often not the same.

    I would suggest that one that has never found bias in Wikipedia (you are right…there are perfectly accurate entries, but not all) has only a worldview – which, by definition, is skewed Truth.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    . . . and to trust one not is to be suspicious of all – I prefer the more comprehensive Google for wide-scale searches, with most frequest start at bartleby.com or, New Advent . . .

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

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