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Monday, April 22, 2024

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and Wikipedia."

Think I'm quoting wrong? Go look it up. Just make sure you check Wikipedia first.

But don't leave our favorite free online encyclopedia quite yet.

Exam week is approaching, and I have to start researching somewhere for all the papers I have to write.

Speaking of research, in Friday's Alligator, Andrew Meyer wrote a guest column about Ron Paul and cited the encyclopedia's Web site in the second line to define the term "political radical."

Personally, I would have referred to the sixth edition of "The American Political Dictionary," published in 1982: "A radical is generally regarded as a leftist or rightist who is extreme in demands for change."

At least I had to go to my bookshelf for that one. And no one has ever pasted tidbits of misinformation into any of the books I own … except for that illustrated Bible, but never mind.

That's why the first rule of Wikipedia is do not quote Wikipedia. It's also the second rule.

According to Wikipedia, "Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity."

But how do I know for sure if that's true? The thing just told me it can't guarantee its own validity. I don't know what to believe anymore.

Well, according to Wikipedia, "'What I Believe' is the title of two essays by Bertrand Russell (1925) and E.M. Forster (1938) espousing secular humanism."

I've taken Wikipedia with a grain of iodized salt ever since I looked up the exact date the Titanic sank, only to find a pornographic photo.

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Of course, that was long after one of my high school teachers based an entire class discussion on a questionable definition of a literary term he lifted from Wikipedia.

P.S.: Check Wikipedia for the origin of the phrase "grain of salt."

Wikipedia is a starting point, but it's not the final answer. The site says, "Do not rely upon any information found in Wikipedia without independent verification."

Wait, can someone independently verify that for me?

Wikipedia is the fast food of reference material: You go there when nothing else is open (like a library), you don't realize how much you've consumed until it's too late and, if you eat enough of it, it will probably kill you.

You may think Wikipedia is harmless, but even the site itself advises visitors to use it at their own risk.

"Please be aware that any information you may find in Wikipedia may be inaccurate, misleading, dangerous or illegal."

It's been said that the winners write history.

I'm willing to say Wikipedia is written (and edited) by winners, too - conspiracy theorists, propagandists in the CIA and geeks in their parents' basements. I wish I could be a geek, but I don't have access to a basement.

Anyway, I know I would welcome the chance to continually edit my writing, as long as no one else were able to touch it.

Take my column last week, for example. After fretting about cell phones giving me cancer and then swearing them off for good, I was struck with a much bigger problem, which I forgot to mention: contracting deadly communicable diseases from pay phones.

Vincent Massaro is a senior majoring in journalism. His column appears on Mondays.

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