Wikipedia is honest about potential for ‘errors’—be aware

Diogenes

Years ago a young student asked me for help with her research paper. I told her to come up with a draft and we’d talk. When she brought the paper to me for discussion, I immediately asked her where she got her information about the topic. Her answer dismayed me. (Article continues after image).

Wikipedia Disclaimer
Wikipedia is very transparent about potential for ‘false information’ and other verification issues. (Snip: Wikipedia.com)

“Wikipedia,” she said.

She’d used the crowd-sourced site for every single talking point.

“Did you verify the sources by looking for similar claims in credible articles?”

“No,” she said. “Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.”

Oh, my.

Wikipedia is most definitely useful. I read there and often get new perspectives on a topic. However, I always consider the source. This site lists every reference at the bottom of each entry. This is a good thing because legacy media has a definite bias. I also, however, look for sources at odds with claims in articles.

Wikipedia doesn’t mislead readers about the potential for errors and misinformation. Here’s a lift from the site’s ‘About’ section:

“Over time, articles tend to become more comprehensive and balanced. However, because anyone can click “edit” at any time and add content, any article may contain undetected misinformation, errors, or vandalism. Readers who are aware of this can obtain valid information, avoid recently added misinformation (see Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia), and fix the article.”

Unfortunately, retractions and changes are often completely overlooked. Here’s one example Wikipedia provides related to a South American coati, a strange looking little creature:

“A South American coati. In July 2008, a 17-year-old student added an invented nickname to the Wikipedia article coati as a private joke, calling them “Brazilian aardvarks“. The false information lasted for six years and was propagated by hundreds of websites, several newspapers, and even books by a few university presses.[4][5]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia

“Disinformation” has become a common buzz word with today’s media. It’s hard to know whom to trust, and as always, I tell people if you want to really understand politics, just go to government websites and read what elected officials actually do. Most politicians say all manner of things in a campaign, but it’s what they do once they’re elected that counts.

Yesterday a dear one asked me what I thought about the current state of politics. I find it little different from any other period in my lifetime. There’s still a movement to divide the people; it’s always existed in every centralized government on the face of the planet. There’s bias in US media to favor one party’s candidates and actions, but the good thing now is that we do have alternative media to take a second look, and we have that on both major sides of the aisle.

We have little honesty, just as governments have had scant honesty since the time of Diogenes (or before). This is why power vested in a central government behemoth matters.

I had a hard time explaining to the student I helped why it was important to be curious, to seek answers for yourself, and to write honestly about those answers even if they aren’t to your liking. As years passed, I realized I failed completely to get my point across to her. Being educated is no barrier to being duped.

Next time you hear someone cite Wikipedia as a source, raise a caution flag in your head. The ‘References’ section on each entry are valuable, and they at least show you where information came from. If you are after truth, however, venture forth on your own and don’t simply accept whatever the natterheads on both sides of the aisle are yammering about. Sometimes, the truth is right in front of us and we refuse to acknowledge it. That is human nature, and self-examination when it comes to principles appears to be a thing of the past, especially in today’s politically vested media.

If Diogenes who experienced life as both free man and slave roughly 300 years before the birth of Christ could walk this Earth today, he’d probably just look at the human race and mutter, “Not much changes.”

~~Featured Photo of Diogenes looking for an honest man published by Gebbie & Co., c1886. Max Rosenthal, etcher; Salvatore Rosa, artist. US Library of Congress digital collection.

(Kay B. Day/January 27, 2021)

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