Saturday, November 15, 2008

Encyclopedic Knowledge

More and more people are relying upon Wikipedia to learn about the world. But should we, when any revenge-bent chimpanzee can log in and change stuff?

What’s to stop me from telling the world the New York Yankees have changed their name to “The Overpaid, Menopausal Wimps?”

Approximately 36% of us online types use Wikipedia, according to the Pew Research Center. A staggering 96% of Wikipedia’s entries show up on the first page of a Google search.

A New York Times study a few years ago found that Wikipedia averages four errors per article, which sounds awful until you compare it with Britannica, which has three, or with the Bangor Daily News, which is just one giant mistake from front to back.

So the short answer is that we can rely on Wikipedia, at least roughly as much as we can rely on anything else.

But to be sure, I had to launch my own investigation. I checked what Wikipedia says about a bunch of topics on which I am already an expert.

Take navel lint. When I first discovered that the hairs on my abdomen had started combing fibers into my bellybutton, I was quite alarmed. Still, in retrospect, I should not have panicked and flung the lint ball into my future father-in-law’s Chicken Alfredo.

“Contrary to expectations,” Wikipedia states, “navel lint appears to migrate upwards from underwear rather than downwards from shirts or tops. The migration process is the result of the frictional drag of body hair on underwear, which drags stray fibers up into the navel.”

Complete B.S. If this was true, my navel lint would be white (or mostly white), instead of roughly the same color of whatever shirt I’d been wearing the previous 36 hours.

“The existence of navel lint is entirely harmless, and requires no corrective action.” Wrong again! Clearly, the author of this article has never accidentally revealed his navel during a blind date.

In 1997 I paid a sketchy guy (he was mostly bald, except for a mullet) $1000 cash for a ten-year-old car that looked like a cardboard box fastened to a Radio Flyer wagon.

The Volkswagen Fox was my first vehicle, and I loved it.

They don’t sell the Fox in the U.S.A. anymore, probably because it had a top speed of 55 mph before unsettling vibration set in, and I had to use bumper stickers to hold the fenders together.

Wikipedia doesn’t mention any of this. Slackers.

I am also a Scrabble aficionado. I don’t want to brag, but I have never lost since I started secretly using the dictionary when playing online.

I’ve studied the Official Scrabble dictionary, watched episodes of the old game show on Youtube, and read books about tournament play, all of which has prepared me for the ultimate Scrabble experience, which is to have everyone you meet think you are mentally ill and unfit for companionship.

I could not find a single error in Wikipedia’s extensive article on Scrabble. But they did fail to mention that some sinister Mattel employee has been voodoo hexing game racks, as evidenced by the fact that I’m always stuck with the ‘Q’ at the end of each match.

Guess I’ll have to plug in that info myself.

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