Friday, 15 January 2016

Tree of knowledge...

Today is Wikipedia Day, the 15th birthday of the modern day tree of knowledge. Since Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger (yes, they sound like they should be writing musicals) launched the online encyclopedia in 2001 it has become the fount of all knowledge for just about anybody who is curious about anything. 

Of course with its millions and millions of pages there are bound to be a few glaring mistakes, even more than a few maybe, with claims that up to six in every ten pages has factual errors. Of course Wikipedia works really hard to make sure that what it publishes is true and factual, but some real hooters have slipped through the Wikipedia net.

In 2006 Wikipedia stated that Robbie Williams eats domestic pets in pubs for money. It has also reported that David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century, Sinbad – of Brookside fame – is dead, the Duchess of Cornwall's Christian name is Cow-miller, a yacht crushed and killed TV presenter Vernon Kay, Alan Titchmarsh has written and published a new version of the Kama Sutra and that Tony Blair worships Hitler.

Actually, apart from Sinbad being dead, none of the other reported facts surprise me much at all; particularly Tony Blair worshiping Hitler. It does however make me wonder what truth is, particularly published truth. If it is written down somewhere with authority, claims to be fact and people believe it, does that make it fact and is any knowledge repository any more reliable that Wikipedia?

An expert-led investigation carried out by Nature used peer review to compare Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica’s coverage of science. The investigation found that there was an average of 2.92 mistakes per article for the Encyclopedia Britannica against 3.86 for Wikipedia. That doesn’t seem a big margin of difference to me when truth is often just a question of reported events. We all know how unreliable witnesses are, everybody lives in their own version of reality and what each of us sees, or thinks we see, is based around our experience of the world and our internal belief system.

There are people on this planet who believe that every word of the Bible is fact. I have to wonder what planet they are actually living on. Just how can they believe in talking bushes, virgin births, the resurrection, and all the other tales the bible purports to be gospel. If they can believe that Balaam’s donkey could actually speak, a few loaves and fishes could feed 5,000 and that Adam lived to the overripe old age of 930, then I can believe that Alan Titchmarsh is a sex guru, that Sinbad really has passed over to the other side after being crushed by the Kama Sutra and that Robbie Williams is partial to the odd guinea pig sandwich for lunch.

A lot of what is we are told is true and real, probably isn’t. I’m sure the version of modern history I was taught at school was very different from what they were teaching in India, Germany and the USA. In Russia people are alive and in photographs one minute and then they are simply not there the next as the are deleted from reality. I believe that William Shakespeare cut quite a dash and had a cute little goatee beard, we all know what he looks like don't we? But there are no confirmed portraits of Shakespeare drawn from life, so who really knows how he looked?

Fact is like a Chinese whisper. It starts out as one thing and ends up as another and that’s why the world isn’t flat any more, Mount Everest isn’t the tallest mountain in the world and the Great Wall of China can’t be seen from outer space.

Happy Birthday Wikipedia.


  1. Kate Fox on FB
    Lol@alan, I loved watching his garden show.....

    1. Andrew Height
      I must get around to reading his novel Kate. He's fast on the way to becoming a national treasure.