Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Shane Fitzgerald's Wikipedia Stunt

If you haven't already heard the story, you can find it here.

Basically, what Mr. Fitzgerald's stunt (planting information in a Wikipedia article that was not only false, but named no sources) boils down to is yet another demonstration of the appalling laziness of far too much of what is sometimes grandiosely referred to as "the fourth estate."

While I certainly do not wish to denigrate Wikipedia unnecessarily-I think the project certainly has its attractions, and its uses-it is also a reminder of certain, likely inextricable weaknesses it has as a source of information. (I consult it from time to time, as a casual source of general information-but I always take anything I see in it with a grain of salt. And I certainly check for attribution on anything that strikes me as the least bit questionable, or important.)

Additionally, it has been suggested that the culprit may be the time-pressure journalists operate under as much as anything else-time-pressure which is far from conducive to checking one's facts. Nonetheless, it is also a reminder of something I mentioned on The Space Show the other day: the mindless readiness of far too many to use anything they find on the Internet, their inability or unwillingness to evaluate the quality and reliability of the information they get.

(And in case you are wondering, yes, Fitzgerald is now the subject of his own Wikipedia page, accessible here.)

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