Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Truth According to Wikipedia

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Truth According to Wikipedia

Article excerpt


THE WORLD AND WIKIPEDIA: HOW WE ARE EDITING REALITY By Andrew Dalby (Siduri Books, [pounds sterling]14.99) IT IS now four years since Wikipedia surpassed 18th-century China's Siku Quanshu to become the largest compendium of knowledge ever known. Today it offers more than 10 million articles in more than 270 languages and is consulted daily by millions of readers all over the world. Never has so much knowledge been so freely provided to so many.

This miracle is made possible by a peculiar and unlikely mode of production. All of Wikipedia's articles are composed and endlessly revised by unpaid, self-appointed enthusiasts, many of them unqualified and anonymous, who are themselves numbered in millions. And there's the rub. How can we trust the efforts of such a motley multitude? We cannot, according to the world's accredited intellectual elite, who see Wikipedia's triumph as the cutting edge of a generalised onslaught on their mastery of our minds. Our grasp of truth, they warn, depends on the expertise of the authorised. If we let the lunatics take over the asylum, we shall be sorry. On the face of it, you would think they must be right.

Surely an encyclopaedia written by anyone who happened to fancy contributing must quickly founder in a sea of ignorance, negligence, malevolence, bigotry, hawking, puffery and propaganda? Wikipedia, according to its often distinguished detractors, must always be unreliable and therefore useless. Yet its global following continues to grow.

Traditional encyclopaedias are collapsing in the face of the onward march of their awesome rival.

Already, Wikipedia is the world's default provider of knowledge. The future of what we can know therefore turns on the validity of its pronouncements. As an arbiter on this matter, Andrew Dalby is not wholly disinterested. He is an exlibrarian who currently makes cider in France but is also a Wikipedia contributor. …

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