March 26, 2011

Earth Hour Tonight!

At 8:30 p.m., more than a billion people in thousands of towns and cities around the world will ignite some candles and shut off the lights for one hour.

Check out this environmental event here. Be sure to watch the official video!

Happy Birthday, Conrad Gesner

Before there was Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias—printed books, multi-volume works that organize knowledge in alphabetical order. An early encyclopedist named Conrad Gesner was born in Switzerland on this day in 1516.

Gesner set out to collect all the world's recorded knowledge, and he presented this knowledge with elaborate illustrations. In addition to general encyclopedias, Gesner tried to connect ancient knowledge about animals with then-modern science, plus his own observations of animals, in a 5-volume natural history encyclopedia of animals. This was his most widely-read encyclopedia, and it was also the most widely-read of all natural histories of his time—so it is considered his magnum opus (masterpiece, or great work).

Encyclopedias and Wikipedia

Encyclopedias are generally created by editors who have experts in each field write entries about that field. The experts are paid for their writing, and the editors are paid to edit and smooth out the writing. These editors care about the accuracy of the finished, published encyclopedia because they care about its reputation.

In contrast, Wikipedia is written by anybody who wants to contribute—and these volunteers do not get paid for their writing. It is edited by whoever wants to make a change, for whatever reason—and sometimes that means vandals who put up mis-information, funny stuff, or outright lies. Dedicated contributors watch for vandalism, and much of the deliberate misinformation is taken down immediately—but some errors do of course slip through and may linger for months before they are caught and removed.

(But some errors slip through to print in the case of encyclopedias, as well. And these errors are not so easy to correct once they are printed and distributed around in libraries!)

In Russian
Wikipedia has information on far more topics than do encyclopedias—including “fun” (some would say unimportant) topics, local topics, and very current topics. My local shopping center, my friend's son's rock band, and the earthquake that hit Japan last week are all covered by informative articles on Wikipedia, for example...try finding that stuff in Encyclopedia Britannica! As for fun stuff, I bet most encyclopedias don't have articles on pirates vs. ninjas, Krusty the Clown, and Silly Bandz! But Wikipedia does.

If you want to know how reliable Wikipedia is...consult Wikipedia

This article explains how bad “info” is cleaned up from Wikipedia. 

Here is another article about the reliability of Wikipedia—from someone else, independent of Wikipedia. (It basically agrees with Wikipedia.)

No matter what source you consult, remember—take things with a grain of salt, don't believe everything you hear or read, and check multiple sources!

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