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Former Britannica Editor on Wikipedia

Former Britannica Editor Robert McHenry has an article on Wikipedia titled The Faith-Based Encyclopedia. I was hoping that he will make some valuable critique on the Wikipedia project. Unfortunately the article is mostly him trashing the Wikipedia, labeling it as faith-based (dictionary definition of faith: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence) and comparing using Wikipedia as going to public restroom. It is much like hearing Bill Gates dismissing Linux.

The one example he based his attack on is an article on Alexander Hamilton, especially an inaccuracy regarding the uncertainty of his birth year. To be honest I think he is just nitpicking on the two years difference. It may matter to an historian but to me I got fair amount of basic information despite this subtle issue. First lesson, in the age of information glut, critical reading is an essential skill. Not that I would trust Britannica or other professional journalist completely as they too are human who can make mistakes. Set you trust base on the background of the author. Expect error and disagreements.

So I went to Wikipedia to see the article for myself and I came out with quite different impression. The inaccuracy he raised is addressed by volunteers on the same day. I think he should be really impressed. Wikipedia also keep a list of mistakes in Britannica. I wonder how long it would take for them to be addressed. More interestingly this highlighted a new idea, that articles are no longer a static, completed work but always a work in progress.

Then I checked the change history. One thing I appreciate about Wiki is its transparency. Every change is commented. It shows active participation from multiple individuals. They maybe not be in full agreement, but they do know what they are talking about. It is not quite the sloppy image Robert tried to project.

Many editors also posted their profile. See a few of them who has contributed to this article

I've been reading everything I could get my hands on since the age of 5...

Decumanus (Matthew Trump)
A U.S. physicist, computer consultant and ex-New Yorker...

R. fiend
I'm just a guy with too much free time on my hands...
(sounds self-deprecating for someone who has contributed over 50 articles)

These sounds like fairly intelligent individuals to me. And that's what so revolutionary about Wiki. It networks many bright people and facilitate them to work toward a common goal. Wikipedia is one great example of solid achievement.

As of Robert McHenry, I would said he is really behind times.




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