The Dangers of Trusting Wikipedia
I use Wikipedia a lot. It’s one of my main sources of information while researching information related to each of the books I read.
But I always take an extra step. If Wikipedia doesn’t have a source, if it doesn’t link out to some other respectable site that provides the same information, then I won’t use it in that case.
So there are definitely dangers in trusting Wikipedia, and here’s a great example why:
Recently, Philip Roth (read my review of American Pastoral) wrote “An Open Letter To Wikipedia” in which he spelled out his experience trying to change a piece of faulty information in an entry about his novel, The Human Stain.
Roth says, “The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.” The point of dispute was this statement–that The Human Stain was “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.”
Roth petitioned Wikipedia to change the entry, and here’s how he explains the results:
Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”
Let’s talk about that for a second. How ridiculous that Wikipedia “requires” Roth to provide a secondary source, other than himself, on what inspired HIM to write a novel, to create art. Amazing.
That’s like someone asking me, “What prompted you to write this post?” Well, I saw a tweet about it on Twitter. “No, I think you saw it on Facebook.” Yeah, that’s not true. I saw it on Twitter. “No, no, no, you allegedly saw it on Facebook. If you want us to believe you saw it on Twitter, we’ll need someone else’s account.” Insane.
Roth goes on to explain the actual inspiration for The Human Stain (an event in the life of his friend, Melvin Tumin), and sums up the letter this way:
Finally, to be inspired to write an entire book about a man’s life, you must have considerable interest in the man’s life, and, to put it candidly, though I particularly admired the story “What the Cystoscope Said” when it appeared in 1954, and I told the author as much, over the years I otherwise had no particular interest in Anatole Broyard. Neither Broyard nor anyone associated with Broyard had anything to do with my imagining anything in “The Human Stain.”
Bam! Shut your face, Wikipedia. Shut it.
The author IS the source. You don’t need any other source than that.
You can read the entire letter over at The New Yorker.
Do you trust Wikipedia?