DystopiaBox Response to Robert McHenry

First, go read The Faith-Based Encyclopedia by former Encylopædia Britannica editor-in-chief Robert McHenry. Then read the following, which was first posted to the discussion page for his Wikipedia entry:

McHenry's article certainly is provacative. Among the things I think he fails to understand is that people using the internet for research expect to have to think critically about the veracity and objectivity of the information they find. If you are looking for authority, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is vastly preferred to the Wikipedia. What Wikipedia shows us is that people are looking for qualities besides authority in their information -- qualities such as accessibility, usefulness, and currency. For these qualities, Wikipedia is unexcelled.

Second there is the question of what information matters. The Britannica must weigh the desire to preserve information with the need to control expansion of its volumes. The Wikipedia does not suffer from rampant expansion. McHenry uses the example of the entry on Alexander Hamilton to make his point. What if we were to compare the entries on American Idol, or Banksy, or even Robert McHenry himself? The Britannica is useless, but the Wikipedia preserves such ephemera.

Finally, it must be noted that the lack of authority in Wikipedia is not directly linked to its accuracy. When one cites the Wikipedia, even reproducing an error of fact, the reader is alerted to the non-authoritative status of that fact, just as McHenry says. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Facts are always involved in conflict, as the incalculable revisions to the Britannica itself demonstrate. An error that slips past their esteemed editors will likely BECOME truth saving a monumental effort of revision. The beauty of the Wikipedia is that conflict is transparent and accessible. This is the social construction of truth. Authority is an expedient end-around to settle dispute, but it is not the only means, and it does no guarantee of social value.

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