Reference works part 2

In 2007, a week or so after Kevin Rudd became PM, I took a look at a bunch of online reference works, some free, some corporate, to see how many had updated their articles on Australia.

The score was 2/5 getting it right, with Wikipedia and Britannica having been updated, and Citizendium, Encyclopedia.com and CIA World Fact Book having not been.

It’s been a week since Julia Gillard became PM. How do they stack up this time?

  • CIA World Factbookhead of government: Prime Minister Kevin RUDD (since 3 December 2007); Deputy Prime Minister Julia GILLARD (since 3 December 2007)Thumbs down!
  • CitizendiumAustraliaโ€™s head of government is Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Australian Labor Party (ALP).Thumbs up!
  • WikipediaFollowing a partyroom leadership challenge, Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister in June 2010.Thumbs up!
  • Britannica — You have to scroll down a long way to find the Prime Ministers list, but: Julia Gillard 2010-Thumbs up!
  • Encyclopedia.com — The default result is from the Columbia Encyclopedia, 2008, and it’s not clear if it’s been edited since then. Parliamentary elections in Nov., 2007, brought the Labor party into office; party leader Kevin Rudd , a former diplomat, became prime minister.Thumbs down!

So a better result this time around, with 3/5 correct, and Britannica Citizendium coming into the fold of having updated their information relatively quickly.

And as always, rather than relying solely on any of these, one should always seek a secondary source for important information.

Just don’t, okay?

Just because you can edit Wikipedia doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve merely dabbled. Added references to things where I knew of them, mostly. Added text on things where I knew for definite that relevant information was missing, and where I could cite a source. A couple of times I’ve added photos of a subject that I had handy.

And I’ve added those articles to my Watch List, so I can keep track of how they change subsequently.

Often there are smart, informed people coming in and doing as I do — adding useful information where they have firm knowledge, gradually refining what’s there.

And then there’s the idiots. The clowns who think Wikipedia is their playground.

It’s not even intelligent vandalism. They’ll come in and add a reference to themselves or their friends because they think they should be famous. They’ll put in some stupid joke reference to someone. Much of the time these things are easy to spot because they’re badly spelt. Sometimes they’ll come in and chop a huge chunk of text out of an article.

Or in other cases people will put something in that they think is right, based on some half-remembered fact, which is actually wrong and there’s no evidence to back it up.

Then people like me come in and undo the change.

What amazes me is that in this day and age, Wikipedia still accepts anonymous changes to most of its articles. I can’t help but think it wouldn’t be quite as common if it at least required people to create a logon first, and it was easier to track which logons were responsible for what.

One thing they are apparently planning to do is colour-code text based on how “trustworthy” it is, based on who has contributed it and how long it’s been in the article. I can see that may well help for readers to see what’s reliable, what’s half-arsed conjecture, and what’s total crap.