Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Truth or Fiction?

'Information Technology' the computer crowd call it, as though they invented it. But, of course, information technology began when some neolithic artist drew a painting on the wall of his cave or scratched a memo in the dirt outside his abode. Progress continued until we got to the stage of books and encyclopedias where progess virtually ceased. The only advance made thereafter was to make it more instantly available by computer.
And, as with so many things 'instant,' quality has ceased to be a factor.
Apart from mis-information concerning weapons of mass destruction and the probity of various governments disseminated by the media via IT, it now appears that the cornucopia of instant knowledge on the Internet, Wikipedia, is not all that you might think.
Personally, I think that enrolling Joe Blows from around the world to write an encyclopedia is an act of desperation if not insanity. Even that acknowledged authority, Encyclopedia Britannica, whose staff include some of the world's finest academics, has been known to make the odd boo-boo. And that pompous old geezer, Dr. Johnson, got a few things wrong in his first dictionary of English when he strayed into the realms of information rather than orthography.
So it's hardly surprising to find that one of Wikipedia's most prolific correspondents turns out to be, not the Phd. qualified academician that he had claimed, but some young HillBilly from that well known seat of learning, Kentucky.
On occasion, I had turned to Wikipedia for information but became suspicious of many of the entries which, when not superficial and apparently plagiarised from other sources, were occasionally decidedly dubious.
I'm sure that many of the providers to the service are admirably qualified but the presence of a few rogues is sufficient to discredit it as a facility for serious research.
Quite unbelievably, the young man from Kentucky had supplied his material using an assumed name and the compilers of Wikipedia had never bothered to check out his credentials.
But, of course, maybe they had looked him up on Wikipedia where he could have posted his own version of his curriculum vitae.
A set of secondhand encyclopedias might be more expensive - but you stand a better chance of getting the right information. Wikipedia should really carry a government health warning and I'm sure that the Romans would have put a 'Caveat Emptor' pop-up on the website.



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