A World Without Wikipedia: Not Such a Bad Idea


Wikipedia can stay dark permanently as far as I’m concerned. It’s a sinkhole of rumors and errors run by coding tweakers, factoid zealots and folks with tinfoil hats — and yes, Wikipedia has an entry on tinfoil hats. I don’t know a single serious researcher who considers it anything other than a joke. The only thing more amusing than citizen journalism is citizen “scholarship.”

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Another Good Story Ruined, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to A World Without Wikipedia: Not Such a Bad Idea

  1. John jarosz says:

    Wow! Serious elitism here.


  2. James Curtis says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Instead of going dark, these websites should collectively be developing an alternative remedy to the wholesale stealing of copyrighted property. But if they have, I certainly haven’t seen it.


  3. Yes, what is there is mostly gossip and innuendo that’s been floating for years. The vast majority of posters don’t conduct real research to find out the real stories. I know actual historians and researchers who have corrected posts with the true information, only to find that pinheads have replaced it with the bogus information.


  4. Jon Weisman says:

    I would never, ever use Wikipedia as source material but I do appreciate the site for what it is, a grain-of-salt supply of information on a variety of subjects, particularly if I’m just looking for an introduction. For all it gets wrong, there’s a lot it gets right.


    • Pat van Hartesveldt says:

      My feeling exactly, Jon. I would never take Wikipedia (or any single source) as the last word on anything, but I have found that Wikipedia can be a useful jumping-off point for, yes, “serious research,” sometimes leading the way to reliable, academic sources. It is important to be a discriminating consumer.


    • Lee Rivas says:

      I agree. I look at Wikipedia as an outline, a map of sorts, which leads me to explore different aspects of a subject. The ultimate scholarship, however, lies with me.


  5. B.J. Merholz says:

    Now that you have vented, tell us what is your real problem with Wikipedia. I don’t know what are the credentials of a serious researcher, but I have been sufficiently satisfied with my utilization of Wikipedia to have responded with cash to its fund drives. Its information may not always be the best, but it is generally good and I have not perceived any egregious abuses or errors.

    Such a tirade as yours can only be validated by presenting proofs of your accusations, otherwise it can only seem to be a petulant over-reaction to some personal slight or grievance.


    • Earl Boebert says:

      Wikipedia is extremely uneven, as some of the later comments have noted. When encountering an article, the first thing you should do is click on the “history” in the upper right corner. That will give you an idea of how much “churn” there is in the article. The more stable the article, the more reliable it is likely to be. Also as noted later in this thread, there are individuals who for one reason or another take delight in “uncorrecting” errors and the powers that be seem unwilling or unable to control them.

      The physical sciences and mathematics material is usually pretty reliable. The pop culture material is often very iffy, as noted below in the comment about the Valentino article. The variation in quality is such that, as a rule, Wikipedia should be used as the starting and not the end point of an inquiry.

      Much more reliable sources on the net are the specialist fora and commented blogs like this one, where you can watch the peer review process unfold. Examples are boatdesign.net, where you can read master mariners and naval architects discuss the Costa Concordia shipwreck, and gCaptain.com, which is a gold mine of information on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.




      • B.J. Merholz says:

        RIght you are, Earl. Wikipedia is obviously only what it obviously is. What is also obvious is that something, not obvious in itself, drove our site host to extreme perturbation in reaction to the innocuous obviousness that is Wikipedia. I wish Wikipedia had the answer to that question.


  6. Eve says:

    Ha! I think of Wikipedia as a very interesting and entertaining message board, but would never use it for anything more than that. I have looked at the entries on everyone I have written biographies of, and there are errors in all of them.

    “Why not correct them?” I am asked. Well, it is not my job to correct everything on the internet–and if it were, I would start with IMDB. Besides, I am told that correcting facts on Wikipedia is a fool’s errand, as they will be uncorrected within minutes.


    • hockeykevin says:

      It’s true what Eve says. I tried to place Brian Kilrea’s name as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who also played for the LA Kings on the Kings Wikipedia page. It was taken down within an hour of my posting with a note that says ‘he only played for the team for one year and was voted into the Hall under the Builders catagory.’ What does that matter? He’s in the Hall, he played for the Kings. I’m done with Wikipedia.


  7. Gary Martin says:

    I’ve posted material on Wikip and I’ve followed their requirement to reference a verifiable source. In addition it is the best place to find an overview of certain areas, ie: spanish cinema…at present I am viewing contemporary spanish films from Netflix based on the Wkikp article. so far i am enraptured with the results. I had no idea the spanish film industry was producing such great films. But perhaps I have been living under a large rock.


  8. I have friends that are considered the world’s experts on Rudolph Valentino. They go in to correct the mistruths, half-truths, and innuendo on his page, only to find that pinheads replace with the same false information. I also have two friends that are probably the world’s experts on the silent actress Nita Naldi. The same pinhead has posted the wrong information about her, including that she had a sister (no, the woman was her lover), that she acted with her brother (no, she acted with a man who was falsely accused of being her brother), etc., etc. They go in and put in the right information, verified through archive, city records, genealogical, and other research, as well as with the actual family. The pinhead goes in and replaces it with the same wrong information. People correct the mistruths about Thomas Ince’s murder, only to have pinheads replace that with the false stories that have been circulating for decades (if you want the real story, read Brian Taves’ new biography on Thomas Ince). There are misstatements about the history of Hollywoodland and the Hollywood Sign that I don’t want to go back and forth to always try and correct the pinheads who replace it with the wrong information. And last year, there was a researcher who admitted he went in and put in false details about a person who had just died to see if it would get used in an obituary and did, and then came clean to admit it wasn’t true.


  9. Santos L Halper says:

    I would rather have people using the internet to read up on (admittedly pseudo-) encyclopedic information than watch television. That said, younger generations and older users alike need to understand that primary sources are the only legitimate authorities for reference. But in a web of TMZ, mtv.com and the like, Wikipedia is hardly a serious offender. In fact, there have been probably hundreds if not thousands of fascinating aspects of history and culture that I’ve become aware of thanks to the site.


  10. GRossW says:

    Wow. Harsh. Perhaps a more balanced perspective?


  11. Rick says:

    the truly scariest thing about Wikipedia is the number of students who use it as a source


  12. Gary Martin says:

    When I was taught to do research in college it was impressed upon me to verify my sources. I think all of us here agree with that. For that reason I have always accepted the information on Wikip with reservations, as I do with any other source. I believe that wikip’s popularity speaks to two problems that we have in this country. One: we want instant gratification. Certainly wikip is fast …it is faster than google and faster than imdb and recently has become google’s first result. Two: the anti-intellectual right has so well demonized intellect and scholarship that the careful intellectual deads or is terrified of displaying his mettle in the daily discourse or of defending scientific methodology. And certainly the news media does not defend the intellecutals. Thus the correct proceedure is no longer established by the persons who could be role models. When the results of the 2000 national election were announced The Guardian ran an article under this headline: Now we know how many stupid people there are in the US…50 million. I agree, we have become a nation of stupid people. I don’t fault Wikip for that. Enjoy it for what it is.


  13. alexd says:

    Larry, I love your site and your passion for LA history. But this post evidences ignorance and the real service it provides, even if it should never be used as a source.

    Also, you appear to be unaware of the study that found that it was fairly accurate on many issues.


Leave a Reply. Note: Your IP is logged with your comment so a fake name and email address are useless.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s