Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wikipedia Again

I was gratified to read NM Tyler Cowen's "Cooked Books" (note the potential chess reference, as well as financial) in The New Republic, in which the well-known economist and blogger writes: "If I had to guess whether Wikipedia or the median refereed journal article on economics was more likely to be true, after a not so long think I would opt for Wikipedia."

I suspect that quote will soon be heard around the academic world--quoted most often derisively by those who are in deep denial about the value of collective knowledge. Yet I think any academic who has actually spent some time looking at Wikipedia would be forced to agree with Professor Cowen. What's more, anyone looking for relatively obscure information (as academics are prone to do) would have to admit that Wikipedia is sometimes the only available or useful source. This is especially true for biographical information about lesser-known chess players (as I mention in my first post on Wikipedia).

I am gratified by Cowen's article because whenever I reference Wikipedia in my blog, I will inevitably draw a comment about it, such as: "Wikepedia [sic] is suspect as far as information is concerned" or "'Wikipedia'?! that is a [sic] evil web site... The fact that you send people there to get information is all I need to know about you." All I want to say to such people is, "Get over it."

One thing I learned at a young age from studying chess theory is that you should never trust any source of information! Even GMs will make mistakes, and the opening line that many believe in today could be completely refuted tomorrow. A healthy skepticism regarding published information may be one of the most valuable lessons to be derived from chess study. And equally valuable today is the knowledge that web sources can sometimes be just as accurate or useful (and even more accurate or useful on occasion) as information you'll find in books.



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