Wikipedia Smart

Have you ever noticed when reading the news about a topic you know well - one you are an expert on - how often the news seems misinformed and confused? I used to work in the automotive industry and when a big story would come about about some recall or quality issue that I had inside information on, I noticed that the reporters were so clueless. They were trying I am sure but to become an expert on something cannot be done in a day.

Which brings up another issue: Wikipedia. I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with people online about topics that I am very well read on and have them respond in dismissive and condescending ways to the points I am making. They suddenly start citing facts that I was not familiar with and start giving details on (for example) slavery in England during the 9th century. I studied medieval English history in college (as a minor track), have read broadly on English history, and have taken a particular interest in the history of slavery globally. Yet this person suddenly seems to know more than I do and is citing facts and details that I certainly would have to go look up. Did I happen to come across a professor of English history on Twitter? Doubtful. No. I came across someone that is very Wikipedia smart.

Wikipedia smart people are able to respond to any argument by googling the topic, finding a fact they think supports their side and quickly posting that fact.

The problem of course is that this is confirmation bias at its finest. You already believe something and just use google to confirm it. This cannot be good. Broad knowledge of a topic is important to understanding it. Quickly googling to find facts to support your view is not be a good approach. It is sure to make someone, like the reporter talking about details of the automotive industry, laughably misinformed and yet very self confident. It is a way of confirming what you believe without any additional real information.

I have argued in the past that reading books is necessary. Wikipedia Smart is not actually smart. Are you interested in the effects that Christianity had on Europe? Read books. Are you interested in the history of slavery? Read books. Do not get in complex debates and then have to use Wikipedia to make your points. If you use Wikipedia at all, it should be to find references to things you already know. For example, I know that Anselm condemned slavery but I don't have the direct quotation. I can google that and get the quote. But if I am arguing Christianity denounced slavery and just google, "Christians that denounced slavery" and find some list on Wikipedia or whatever.... that is not helpful. You need to read. Read books. Maybe long articles. Read read read. Be real smart. Don't be Wikipedia smart.


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