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“If I saw it in Wikipedia, it must be true!”

Illustrating the M. C. Escher–like nature of information authentication on the Net, here’s an e-mail we received from one of our authors, Professor Gregory J. E. Rawlins, whose latest book on technology is in progress and online:

so i’m doing (yet another) rewrite of the book and i’m in the second
chapter, part of which is on slavery. i’m googling to check a fact and come
across the wikipedia page on slavery in medieval europe. skimming down the
page, one interesting fact that i’d unearthed maybe a year ago in an obscure
journal caught my eye: at least 10,000 european slaves were sold in venice
in the early 15th century. ha! i think to myself, i better hurry up and
finish this damned book! others are ferreting out the same obscure sources
i found over the endless years of research on this damned book! so i click
on the reference for the factoid and… it points to me :) .


wikipedia is backing a statement of fact with a reference to an online,
not-yet-published book. at least they should have looked up my detailed
references to the literature to support the factoid in my notes just in
case i was just making stuff up….i blame google for this though since for
certain obscure things googling them turns up my book draft at or near the
top, so presumably other folks out there are linking to other bits and
pieces of the draft. of course i’m pleased, but you should fear for the future my friends :)



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