Letters

Letters 05-02-2016

Facts About Trails I would like to correct some misinformation provided in Kristi Kates’ article about the Shore-to-Shore Trail in your April 18 issue. The Shore-to-Shore Trail is not the longest continuous trail in the Lower Peninsula. That honor belongs to the North Country Trail (NCT), which stretches for over 400 miles in the Lower Peninsula. In fact, 100 miles of the NCT is within a 30-minute drive of Traverse City, and is maintained by the Grand Traverse Hiking Club...

North Korea Is Bluffing I eagerly read Jack Segal’s columns and attend his lectures whenever possible. However, I think his April 24th column falls into an all too common trap. He casually refers to a nuclear-armed North Korea when there is no proof whatever that North Korea has any such weapons. Sure, they have set off some underground explosions but so what? Tonga could do that. Every nuclear-armed country on Earth has carried out at least one aboveground test, just to prove they could do it if for no other reason. All we have is North Korea’s word for their supposed capabilities, which is no proof at all...

Double Dipping? In Greg Shy’s recent letter, he indicated that his Social Security benefit was being unfairly reduced simply due to the fact that he worked for the government. Somehow I think something is missing here. As I read it this law is only for those who worked for the government and are getting a pension from us generous taxpayers. Now Greg wants his pension and he also wants a full measure of Social Security benefits even though he did not pay into Social Security...

Critical Thinking Needed Our media gives ample coverage to some presidential candidates calling each other a liar and a sleaze bag. While entertaining to some, this certainly should lower one’s respect for either candidate. This race to the bottom comes as no surprise given their lack of respect for the rigors of critical thinking. The world’s esteemed scientists take great steps to preserve the integrity of their findings. Not only are their findings peer reviewed by fellow experts in their specialty, whenever possible the findings are cross-checked by independent studies...

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Wikipedia.org---the on-line encyclopedia

Harley Sachs - August 4th, 2005
There was a time when encyclopedias were a kind of household furniture. A bookcase loaded with World Book or the Encyclopedia Britannica provided a family with a status symbol. That case of handsomely bound books told visitors that here was a household where knowledge mattered. The books might never be opened, but sometimes someone would set out determined to memorize or at least read the whole thing.
The set of bound encyclopedias could be supplemented with a set of the Great Books of the Western World or the Harvard Classics. It was also common to buy sets of complete works of some authors by subscription, such as the works of Dickens or Balzac.
The sets of books were expensive and encyclopedias were sold by sometimes desperate and otherwise unemployed door to door salesmen who worked on commission. A set of the Britannica could cost from $500 up, depending on your choice of binding. Because bound books of current facts are obsolete as soon as they leave the press, buyers could also subscribe to annual yearbooks. We have several yards of shelf space taken up by encyclopedias and yearbooks. That 1953 edition is now of mainly historical interest.
Those halcyon days are now over. Instead of paying the current price of about $1,500 for a set of the Britannica, you can buy the whole works, the latest edition on a single DVD for $25 plus shipping and handling. Load it into your computer’s hard drive and it’s there on demand, complete with a search engine. But even the latest Britannica on a DVD is a dead thing compared to the latest internet development in research materials, the Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org).
Talk about a Marshall McCluen “global village”! Thanks to the Internet, knowledgeable people from around the world, in fact from over one hundred countries, providing over 500 administrators have put this together. The Wikipedia has currently 1.6 million articles in 200 languages, of which one hundred are active. So you don’t have to know English to access it. The list of languages included is impressive.
That size of an evolving encyclopedia which may be added to, edited, and increased from one day to the next could put the prestigious Britannica to shame; but there’s a caveat. As I’ve often said, an undergraduate pursuing a bachelor’s degree doesn’t learn all there is to know about a subject but does learn where to look it up. In graduate school you discover that the sources you looked up as an undergraduate may have been biased, incorrect, or even lying.

SUSCEPTIBLE TO MISCHIEF
The Britannica is not written by a single god-like authority, but farms out the articles to experts in the field. Those experts, for all the care given in their selection, may be wrong or may distort or omit the content. As a living work in progress, the Wikipedia is even more susceptible to vandalism and mischief.
The Wikipedia is also uneven. As with anything that grows without a firm plan there are gaps. Look up Northern Express Weekly and you’ll find that it is the largest Michigan weekly newspaper distributed in 13 counties in up to 30,000 copies, but the entry doesn’t include the newspaper’s address. The beauty of the Wikipedia is that the entry can be edited by a visitor to the site, adding something which may be in error.
The danger is that vandalism can occur. The Merriam Webster Dictionary includes words that do not exist, inventions inserted to protect the company’s copyright, but the Wikipedia is susceptible to bogus articles. What’s to prevent some wag from inventing a mythical beast and writing a fake article? Or some malicious person to sneak in a subtle distortion or outright slander in a biography? You wouldn’t have to do something obvious like calling a political figure a war criminal, but using loaded words can “spin” some readers.
You may remember Mark Twain’s retraction. He’d been called out, if I recall, because he said a woman was fat. He then apologized to the “alleged” Mrs. Xxx who “claimed to be” the… etc. It’s difficult to police such a huge work, for if printed the Wikipedia would be well over a million pages. Like any cooperative effort, the Wikipedia depends on the good will and good faith participation of all its contributors. A few gross errors or scandals can discredit the whole enterprise.
My grandson has found the Wikipedia a useful source, but just as a journalist must verify sources (Dan Rather, please note!), users of any encyclopedia must always be cautious about reliability. Even the Britannica can be wrong.
 
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