How many of us believe the recent study claiming that Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica were equally accurate? I certainly don’t, because every time I have gone to look up something on Wikipedia that I already have a good deal of knowledge about, I find at least one error. Still, I am addicted to the thing. It’s an enormous font of information and a convenient place to begin research on just about anything you can name. It is, in the immortal words of Carel the IT god, what the internet is for.
Still, there are those errors. Sometimes they’re egregious, and sometimes they’re in articles on things that I really care about. But until recently I’ve resisted the temptation to register and begin making corrections. Why? For at least two reasons. One, it would mean that I would have to go check my facts. Checking facts can be tedious work. Just ask all the people who put up misinformation on Wikipedia. Better yet, ask all the people who don’t. Two, now that I’ve registered, will I be able to resist the urge to correct every error I think I see? A slippery slope indeed.
For a long time now I’ve had an idea in my head for a fictional character who drives himself crazy over all the bits of misinformation and urban myth and whatnot that everybody but he manages to live with in perfect comfort and without the slightest ill effect.
I intend to avoid his fate by only making corrections that really matter. Like the one that eventually put me over the edge in the first place. It was in the first paragraph of the article on Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, which claimed that Chuck Jones got the idea for the cartoon from Mark Twain’s Roughing It, in which Twain is supposed to have said that coyotes are so hungry that they will even chase road runners. Whereas what really happened is that Jones got the idea for Wile E. Coyote from Roughing It, which includes (see Chapter V) a very droll portrait of the coyote in which Twain speaks mostly of two salient features of the animal: his perpetual hunger and his astonishing speed. The passage is highly entertaining, Twain at his best, but although he tells us that the coyote will eat anything he can bite, including nitroglycerine, there is not, in the entire book, a single mention of Geococcyx californianus, better known to fans of the series as Accelleratii Incredibus, Tastyus Supersonicus, Birdius High-Ballius, or any of his other pseudo-Latin tags.
I hope I don’t run across too many more errors I can’t live with. Imagine how much research I’ll be getting involved in. And what if the same fate befalls me as will befall (if I ever get around to writing him) my fact-obsessed fictional character? He, of course, eventually goes off the deep end. His obsession for facts becomes transmogrified into an obsession for non-facts. He becomes the king of misinformation, which come to think of it might not be a bad title. With the arrival of internet-based modes of misinformation-dissemination such as Wikipedia, maybe his time has come.