The truthiness of Wikipedia


Chelsea Ratterman, Assistant Editor

On Oct. 7, the Great Issues Lecture Series commenced with a lecture by Caryl Gibbs, English Professor, on “Truthiness, Wikipedia, and the Democratization of Information.”

In the modern day, print has been downsized since the advent of the Internet and its numerous ways to get massive amounts of information nearly instantaneously. It also has enabled people to post their truth on blogs, which may not be reality, but is that person’s truth. Without editors to look for historical and information errors, things said on a blog can stand as truth until being knocked down by someone else, who can disprove it or submits their own truth.

Truth has evolved over the centuries, being redefined by philosophers to fit a time period. The term truthiness was coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005, is defined as meaning a truth known from the gut, and was later placed in Merriam Webster after winning the 2006 Word of the Year, by online survey.  While truthiness has been a form of the word truthy, it has never had its own definition. Since truth may now be defined by gut instinct, the reality that knowledge may be incorrect is problematic.

Professor Caryl Gibbs lecturing on the truth about wikipedia, and it's sometimes unreliable information photo by Tracie Bullen

“Nothing requires me to know what I’m talking about,” Gibbs said.

Discussing Wikipedia, Gibbs said any account holder could edit the articles on Wikipedia, thus blurring the lines of real truth vs. gut truth. “Wikipedia is the bane of a professor’s existence. We tell the students it’s a resource, not a source. It has its uses, with the sources listed at the bottom, but the page itself is not truth,” Gibbs said.

Another term coined by Colbert was “wikiality” which is reality according to wiki, which is based upon an approval-by-consensus format where majority rules on an entry. According to Colbert, using this method “we can all create a reality we can all agree on.” The assumption of truth is delegated to the loudest voice in a majority rule society.  The Great Issues Lecture Series will continue on November 7, with a lecture on “Malcolm, Martin, and Bobby: Values Embodied by Leaders of a Short but Large Life,” by Robert Davis, RSC Training and Development Specialist.

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