Don’t believe everything you read

28
Feb
2008

I love Wikipedia. I very often use it as a personal reference source or in links from this blog. These links are especially useful for going into the history and culture of a place I have been, but couldn’t possibly do justice to in a short blog post.  But Wikipedia is not perfect.  It is compiled by end users and touts itself as the encyclopedia “anyone” can edit.  There is a review process, and I believe it probably works quite well for the majority of topics that have a high amount of interest.  It is obviously in (most) people’s interest that the content be accurate, and that is why Wikipedia is so dedicated to the form and format of their articles (asking authors to cite sources for example).  Because Wikipedia is user generated, we the users must be extra vigilant when examining information from sources such as these.  We have a responsibility to critically evaluate the information in front of us to the best of our ability, rather than just accepting it wholesale. This is even more important outside of a structure such as Wikipedia (who at least have standards in place). Blogs are a perfect example of where one must be especially critical of the information.

Still, every so often I come across a Wikipedia article for a term that is obviously the work of a mischief maker (or buffoon).  While there is no doubt an art to such fakery and possibly a vehicle for great satire, it is a perfect illustration of the need to be vigilant and critical of the information we receive.  Take the entry for “gadfly” as an example.  The author begins with an acceptable dictionary definition of the term, but then pretends to cite a work of Plato and a biblical reference as well.

Somewhat familiar as I am with language antecedents, this seemed preposterous to me.  A quick jump to  Merriam-Wesbster’s dictionary as well as other sources date this word to the late 16th or early 17th century, making it quite ineligible (apart from inherent language trouble, obviously) from ever having been in usage in the Bible or Plato’s Apology.

So, is the author a mischief maker or buffoon? Further searching of sources leads me to believe the latter.  For instance, in the Wikipedia entry for Plato’s Apology (vast portions of which seem to have been copied wholesale from the MIT resource linked above) there is a use of the term “gadfly”, but this is in a discussion, translation and interpretation of the work, not the work itself.  Likewise searching the Bible resource above, one can find the term in one of the newer translations dating from after 1965.

The web being the marvelous changing beast that it is, perhaps by the time you read this the article will have been updated and corrected. Perhaps I will be the one to do it.