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Wikipedia: A Great Place to Start—A Terrible Place to End

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on October 11, 2009 | Comments (1)

I like Wikipedia.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wikipedia, the concept is simple. It’s based on the idea that nobody can be an expert on everything, but many people can be experts on individual topics. Thus, instead of creating an encyclopedia run by a limited panel of experts, Wikipedia invites everyone to share their expertise.

The result has been astoundingly successful. The largest software company in the world, Microsoft, was cowed by Wikipedia. At the end of this month they will close all of their Encarta on-line encyclopedia websites. Wikipedia is a colossus that resulted in the failure of Encarta.

In a recent blog post I wrote that Wikipedia was “maligned.” This is because its greatest resource—the numerous people who make entries in Wikipedia—are also its greatest handicap. Each person has his or her own agenda. Wikipedia entries have been changed to falsely malign people or organizations or to eliminate negative facts about people or groups.

So why do I like Wikipedia?

Part of the work of any magician is study. Sometimes, we have to look up information to clarify concepts and ideas. For example, recently I’ve been fascinated by the work of Patrick Dunn such as his Postmodern Magic. I wanted to discover the exact meaning and history of the concept of “postmodern,” so I looked it up in Wikipedia. However, unlike many people today, I didn’t stop there, I checked sources and found more exact and specific information.

Recently, a friend of mine went back to school to obtain his doctorate in psychology. He told me how a fellow student had a paper “reamed” by their professor for giving Wikipedia as a source. It’s a great place to start looking for information, but a terrible place to end your search.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at what Wikipedia has to say about their own validity:

General Disclaimer:

Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information…

Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.

…all information read here is without any implied warranty of fitness for any purpose or use whatsoever. Even articles that have been vetted by informal peer review or featured article processes may later have been edited inappropriately, just before you view them.

None of the contributors, sponsors, administrators, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia in any way whatsoever can be responsible for the appearance of any inaccurate or libelous information or for your use of the information contained in or linked from these web pages.

…Wikipedia is a work in progress, and many articles contain errors, bias, [or] duplication…The great majority of articles are written primarily or solely by individuals who are not subject matter experts, and may lack academic or professional credentials in the area.

Risk Disclaimer:

USE WIKIPEDIA AT YOUR OWN RISK

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY INFORMATION YOU MAY FIND IN WIKIPEDIA MAY BE INACCURATE, MISLEADING, DANGEROUS, ADDICTIVE, UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL.

DO NOT RELY UPON ANY INFORMATION FOUND IN WIKIPEDIA WITHOUT INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION.

So by all means, start your researches on Wikipedia. Just don’t end there. Even they admit that their information is suspect. I suggest that when you use it you merely assume that the information there may be right and may be wrong. Verify it with other sources.

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