Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ABC Nightline presents a report on Wikipedia

I remember in the early 1950s the encyclopedia salesman coming to our home. That was something every family with a young child needed. We got the 1950 World Book, which I would gradually learn was greatly simplified compared to some other encylopedias like Brittanica and Americana, and the Knowledge in Depth set. But the World Book had those great garish-colored topographic relief maps of every state and every Canadian province, ranging from bright green at sea level (not yet rising then) to browns and reds for the Rockies. I even associated provinces with colors: Manitoba was yellow, Saskatchewan was orange, and Alberta was brown.

So today we have the great democratizing Wikipedia, a project of Jimmy Wales, who set out to "conquer knowledge." He told "Nightline" (Tuesday Sept 12, 2006) that we cannot look for perfect people to contribute; so everyone can contribute. It is true that sometimes controversial pages get vandalized, and editing is suspended for certain pages.

Wikipedia has content in many languages, even the utopian standard Esperanto, as well as curious ancient and mystery languages like Euskara (Basque).

Professional journalists are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a sole source, because of the presumed lack of formal verification in this volunteer, free effort. But of course they can check the secondary sources given by better Wikipedia entries. The online encyclopedia is a good starting point for investigating almost any important topic.

My own site is somewhat like an online encyclopedia, but it is organized around the six chapters of my first DADT book, which forms a knowledge network to walk down to almost any important topic (that affects individual liberty). It has become my own knowledge project.

Could I join forces with Wikipedia? I have not yet contributed, but I may well. One advantage to Wikipedia is the relative anonymity. One can contribute without having to be publicly known, which can be a plus or a minus, totally depending on one's job and family circumstances.

Can we have too much knowledge? Some people think we can. In fact, political theory often revolves around manipulating public perception -- propaganda -- which is the opposite of open source knowledge, and which is becoming politically less important in a global Internet age, to the dismay of many. The film "Copenhagen", about Heisenberg and Bohr, does illustrate the dangers of releasing privately discovered knowledge into the wild, even with the noblest of intentions.

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