A little over two years ago I took my Master Practitioner Training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The main trainer, Matt James, had just received his doctorate. Some time earlier, he had become the head of a¬†small university in Hawaii, and now he was proud to announce that the university had achieved accreditation, making its degrees as acceptable to other universities and businesses as schools such as Harvard or my alma mater, UCLA. They’re focusing right now on offering a Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Psychology.
During the training, Dr. James talked a bit about his own doctorate. He mentioned that in one class, a student had used the ubiquitous¬†Wikipedia as a source for a paper. Wikipedia has become the “go to” place for so many students and occultists when doing research. There’s no need to go to a library or thumb through dictionaries, encyclopedias, or specialized books. And best of all, it’s free! ¬†It’s an incredible resource, right?
Not according to Dr. James’ professor. That instructor attacked the student’s work saying that Wikipedia was not a good resource. The people who make entries are not trained and have their own agendas and issues. Good students go to primary sources, not debatable secondary sources and worse, like Wikipedia.
My guess is you’ve heard how people with political agendas have gone onto Wikipedia to either add insults to some people’s entries or clean up facts that might be embarrassing to a person.
So is Wikipedia a reliable source?
What Wikipedia Says About Wikipedia
I figured a good thing to do would be to see what Wikipedia itself has to say about their quality. Frankly, I was shocked at what they say about the system that so many people rely upon. When I give workshops, I often say, “Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.” I’m including links to Wikipedia so you can check these quotes for yourself:
Link One. Here you’ll read the following:
WIKIPEDIA MAKES NO GUARANTEE OF VALIDITY
…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.
Link Two. Click on this link to read the following:
…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.
Link Three. This link contains the following information:
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.
Again, don’t take my word for any of this. Check it out for yourself. All the bold type is in the original. Wikipedia clearly says you should not trust them. Can you imagine similar warnings on your dictionary or on the¬†Encyclopedia Britannica?
So is Wikipedia worthless? Absolutely not! What this post is pointing out is that we should not think of Wikipedia as something more than it is, a generalized assortment of information created by imperfect people with their own agendas that is not vetted by experts. When specifically asked about it, I usually say that Wikipedia is a great place to¬†start researching any subject. It is simply a horrible place to finish.
Wikipedia and Magick
Magicians don’t spend all of their time reciting spells from books, performing long and elaborate rituals or making magickal tools. A great deal of magic involves research. Many magicians have large personal libraries they can use for resources. Do you need to discover the qualities associated with a particular deity for a ritual? Do you need to look up the traditional associations for an astrological sign? These things require research. As I wrote, Wikipedia is a good place to start such research, but you shouldn’t rely on it. You need to go to original sources.
Frankly, I’d really like to see Wikipedia become the encyclopedia people think it is: a resource that is trustworthy and reliable, not one that warns “all information read here is without any implied warranty of fitness for any purpose or use whatsoever.” One way to do this is by understanding that certain people have agendas and disagreements, sometimes getting these put right onto the pages of Wikipedia. For example, let’s take a look at James Boswell.
In fact, check out the Wikipedia entry on Boswell. Although he did a great many things, he is primarily know for just one thing. He wrote a biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson. That’s what Boswell is known for.
Now, I’d like to compare that with another scholar. Dr. Richard Kaczynski. He has a Ph.D. from Wayne State University. He is currently a¬†staff affiliate at Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry. He has published a handful of books, dozens of occult-oriented articles, almost three dozen psychology-oriented articles (in peer-reviewed journals), and has appeared on TV and on DVDs. He is also a musician who plays keyboards. He has a curriculum vitae most scholars wish they could have.
In the occult world he is most famous, however, for one book: Perdurabo. This book is the best biography of Aleister Crowley ever written. Period. In the past, when people asked me about Crowley, one of the things I would do is advise them first to read Crowley’s autobiography and at least one or two biographies about him. Now, I tell people to read Perdurabo. Even a recent review of another Crowley biography concludes, “‚Ä¶Perdurabo remains the ‘definitive’ biography of Crowley‚Ä¶”
So Boswell, a scholar primarily known for one book, a biography, has a nice listing on Wikipedia. Kaczynski, also a scholar with an enormous list of published writings to his credit, is primarily known in the occult world for one book, a biography.
The difference? There is currently a “discussion among Wikipedia contributors” to delete Dr. Kaczynski’s entry. There is no such threat against Boswell. It has been alleged to me that one of these “Wikipedia contributors” has an anti-Crowley, anti-Golden Dawn agenda. I do not know if this is true. I can say, however, that if Wikipedia is to become a reliable source, it shouldn’t be considering the deletion of the listing of a respected scientist, university professor, author, lecturer, and biographer simply because he is an occultist, and that, in my opinion, is what appears to be happening. In fairness, doing so would also require the deletion of Sir Isaac Newton’s entry because of his interest in alchemy.
In my opinion, deleting the entries for Dr.¬†Kaczynski or any other occultist involved in the practice of real magick makes me want to question the accuracy and objectivity of¬†any entry having to do with magick, the occult, spirituality, religion, etc. And that would lead to questioning each and every entry throughout Wikipedia.
If you are someone who is a Wikipedia contributor you might want to comment on the proposed deletion on Wikipedia. Or perhaps you might simply want to blog about it.