The wonders of Wikipedia

Wikipedia: a godsend for some and a swear word for others, especially in the academic world. Although the nature of Wikipedia makes me wary of using it as a source when I’m doing research for a paper, it’s a good starting point to get an idea of a certain subject. When I’m looking something up for fun, though, I don’t hesitate to use Wikipedia as my one and only stop on the Internet, although I take the information with a grain of salt. However, after learning about the reliability and accuracy of much of the information on the site, I have a bit more faith in it.

Although the information is more accurate than I thought, the nature of Wikipedia is that articles are driven by people and are always being edited, always in flux. This is illustrated in the “Talk” sections of Wikipedia articles, which are sort of like a “Comments” section on just about anything that is posted on the Internet. I compared the “Talk” section of three related Wikipedia articles to see what kinds of issues were being discussed. The articles were on trench warfare, chemical weapons in World War I, and sulfur mustard (mustard gas) and the more controversial the topic, it seems the longer the “Talk” section. While the discussion of trench warfare was relegated to the clarification of a few facts and modification of links, the discussion of chemical weapons in World War I was a bit more involved. Users were concerned with accurately describing the amount of gas that was used and by which countries. The “Talk” section of the article on sulfur mustard is much more extensive. Users discuss inconsistencies in the article such as whether the chemical is odorless or colorless and whether it can be used for anything other than warfare. Some users also posed general questions about how mustard gas causes blisters and whether it was used in America in the 1950s and 1960s as a pesticide. One user raises the important issue of whether the article should be under the term “mustard gas” instead of “sulfur mustard” since “mustard gas” is the more commonly used term. I agree with this user since that was the term that I searched for but I was redirected to the article on sulfur mustard. That comment was made in 2006, however, so it seems that the powers that be do not agree.

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