Wikipedia Fact and Fiction

Wikipedia, despite its shortcomings, is pretty darn amazing. Like most people, I have a love / hate relationship with it. I’m amazed to see it show up in Leopard, too! “Jordan C” just submitted a well-positioned argument for the world’s greatest encyclopedia…

I just thought I’d send you an email with some information towards the argument for the wikipedia. The idea of books that you are purporting is a reality which I enjoyed constantly as a child — I am an owner of hundreds of books and have read many more, and yet I don’t think that because I have books that I am any closer to the truth, and I’ll explain why the approach of “read a book” is a double-edged sword.

Firstly, the idea of books are essentially a logical progression that came all those years ago from primitive homo sapien who would pass on acquired characteristics that benefitted their survival through non-verbal communication and later we’d learn to speak with others and communicate verbally.

Essentially, many years later we developed logical means of understanding our world through relational means; mathematics being an excellent example used within early cultures of reckoning and various other uses. Essentially, a book was and still remains a repository for information that was deemed to be useful enough that it could be passed on to further generations without the need for us to physically do it, but also for taxonomy as a means of saying “we existed”.

Now, I appreciate the intended humor of the piece when the air quotations were used for further impact, but I have to say that when you take the standpoint that books are always superior, isn’t entirely logical. Sure, I absolutely agree that a wide range of sources allows us to, on some occasion afford ourselves a wider view of a topic but also disagree on the same measure.

Of the 52 Physics Textbooks I have, 30 of these contain information on the same topics within calculus, mechanics and quantum theory. They all provide different axioms and perspectives that allow you to envisage the topics differently, but their intended message remains the same, as there are literally and logically, structures which we define with absolute values of true and false; programming languages, mathematics and humanistic affairs.

Now, have I contributed these to the wikipedia? You bet your bottom dollar! Why? Because as you say, you need a wide range of topics and other matters to find the “truth” of a matter, and that whilst wikipedia may be a great resource it is inaccurate in places; absolutely, but for the reasons of human interference. The facts that are presented in, Topology or Abstract Algebra, the integration of 1/x or whatever structure you care to name that is similar, are self-evident but are interpreted wrongly by a minority who purport this information to others.

Lest we forget, this occurs with printed books, too as any bias inherent . Wikipedia is, at the very least attempting to break the barriers that have been set by people literally selling information to people. This is where wikipedia’s current situation, and it’s future begins to shine. If I have books, and journal access which I know the less fortunate may not have, then I am able to legally reference those materials, submit them for review and provide a indiscriminate place where information is retained for the people, by the people.

To me, even in a trivial sense as was discussed on your video, it’s pretty counter-intuitive to slag off those people who are making a difference by making their works seem shallow because the information already exists in books that cost more than some people will ever manage to get in their lifetime. Sure, too many cooks spoil the broth but then one cook that’s poisoning the soup can do more than 20 who are spitting in it.

Now, on to truth is relative. Time is short, and again the truth does remain relative, but that’s a boring semantics question that to me, remains within the realm of non-scientists who are trying to make minutia count as something worthwhile. I think the real thing is, because I stumbled upon the video in the sheer spirit of “serendipity” (shitty word) and that there were so few wikipedians that heard about it, I’d just sorta like to say…

They just kinda, get on with it; regardless of the reason why, they are in a lot of areas making a very big difference to the world. We can remove institutional bias simply by providing a logical way of comparing every caveat of the “truth”, and letting the facts speak for themselves. Wikipedia is young, and will evolve.

Slag off the people adding Dragonball Z and Celebrity articles there by all means, but please for the love of Leibniz do not lump myself and lots of other academics in with the “group” of wikipedians. We are individuals, and have individual bias, but at the very least we’re trying to eradicate it.

Don’t be so quick to put us down, as we’re trying to make a difference, no matter how small you might think it will be.