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Ideas / HowToUseWikipedia

How To Use Wikipedia

Remember that:

  • Wikipedia is not the fountain of all knowledge.
  • no single information source is the fountain of all knowledge.
  • it's foolish to discount an information source because it isn't the fountain of all knowledge.
  • a large proportion of your information is not mission critical. It doesn't really matter if it's a bit wrong.
  • if you rely heavily on the integrity of a small body of factual information, then you're treading on very thin ice. It's like the difference between a heavily braided rope and a single high-tensile-strength fibre: if the fibre snaps you're finished, but if some individual strands in the rope break it doesn't matter. Your information is the same.
  • for high value information, you should cross check your data sources, regardless of what they are, and consult specific trusted/accepted authorities. Preferably more than one independent one.
  • untrusted data sources can still have good data on them, but you just need to check it. In particular, modern untrusted data sources like wikipedia are often easier to search than trusted ones: you can shortcut straight to an answer with a reasonable degree of probability of truth, and then check it, rather than hunting for ages through a forest of correct but badly organised information.
  • it's bad to coddle yourself with high quality data sources all the time. It's good to keep your discerning eye sharp by running a lot of varying quality information past it.
  • it's bad to coddle yourself with increasingly high quality data sources, because you'll lose touch with what everyone else is using. You run the risk of losing a common vocabulary with your fellow human beings.

in general, a good information strategy is to depend on the overall integrity afforded by a lot of medium quality information that is approximately reinforcing, rather than a small amount of highly trusted information.

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Page last modified on June 01, 2007, at 11:11 PM