Jul 22

Wikipedia–the Anti-Snopes

“I can tell you are lookin’ for a way to live
where truth is determined by consensus
full of codified arbitrary directives
come join us” –Bad Religion, “Come Join Us”

I’m a big fan of The Urban Legend Reference Pages–I go there whenever I get some implausible-sounding e-mail to see whether said e-mail is really being truthful, or if it’s just scaremongering from one party or another. I actually posted on their message boards for awhile before drifting away from there, as I tend to do with pretty much everything (Witness my complete lack of work on The Six Day Exile, although that isn’t totally self-imposed). In contrast, I am not a big fan of Wikipedia, though I’ll admit it’s useful if you don’t plan on seriously using any of its information, to the point where I’ll try to avoid linking to it whenever possible. Part of my problem with it can be summed up in the lyrics above (Which, interestingly, predate Wikipedia itself by about six years), but I have another, related problem with it.

One of Wikipedia’s guidelines–indeed, one of the pillars upon which Wikipedia is constructed–is the concept of “Verifiability, not truth”. Put another way, Wikipedia doesn’t care if something is correct–they just care if it’s been repeated before. This probably reached the peak of absurdity in early October, when some prankster wrote a silly, untrue fact about a guy named Ronnie Hazlehurst, who soon after happened to die. Lazy obituary writers then essentially copied his Wikipedia entry, complete with untrue fact, in their papers. You can read the absurd part of this here, or even check the discussion page on Hazelhurst’s Wikipedia entry. To summarize: Some Wikipedians actually argued that because the incorrect fact (Which originated on Wikipedia) was now in verifiable sources (Hazelhurst’s obituaries), it passed the aforementioned Wikipedia pillar and should thus stay in the article. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, yes, but really, that isn’t the point. Coller heads shouldn’t have to prevail–the system essentially encourages the behavior mentioned in the lyrics at the top of this entry. And that’s a system I can do without.

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