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Wikis

I home school my daughter. She turned in a report to me that referenced Wikipedia as a source for her information. I told her, "It's okay to source information on the web, but it must be information that has a verifiable author." She looked at me as if I were crazy (that is what daughters do). I said, "Watch this!" I promptly brought up Wikipedia in my browser and found a prominent article and then hit the edit button. I typed, "So-and-so had a very big nose." As this was not Cyrano or a Caesar; the statement was palpably false.

I hit save, and voila, the person in question was suddenly known to the world as having a very large proboscis. Not wanting to affect the information presented in Wikipedia, I promptly deleted my spurious entry. But the exercise did illustrate that anyone could write anything about anyone. In fact you can create entries for people you know and write anything you want about them on the most popular "-pedia" site on the web.

But there is another insidious problem with Wikipedia and wikis in general. Because they allow anyone to copy and reprint the information presented, they get people "scraping" entries from their site and posting them elsewhere. If such replication were not enough, each one of these copyings comes with a link back to Wikipedia, enhancing the entry's popularity on search engines. This makes Wikipedia's unverifiable and possibly unreliable information very prominent. To compound this problem, many of the websites which "scrape" Wikipedia's information, in turn, place well in search engines. The result is that for many searches half or even more of the top ten results of a search might easily be rooted in Wikipedia.

My daughter, Kate, is no longer allowed to use wiki spawned information as a source. I would encourage educators and others to also impose this rule. I would say it is permissible to use a wiki as a starting point, but it should never be accepted as a source. Everything used from it should be independently verified.

At InDepthInfo we don't profess to always be correct, but we do use an editorial staff to check the information presented. We are responsive to complaints about questionable information. We also do not allow people to post, willy-nilly, on our pages. Rest assured that if we say "So-and-so has a big nose." he probably does.

W.J. Rayment, Editor in Chief

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