Boutin on Wikipedia

Paul Boutin has a piece in Slate on Wikipedia. It’s not a very good article, and the poor fellow’s email in-box is no doubt already full of indignant responses. I’m sure a technorati search tomorrow will bring up a host of superb rebuttals. This won’t be one of them. I would just like to point out how odd this paragraph is (and I’m even too lazy to put the hyperlinks in):

But excessive nerdiness isn’t what’s keeping Wikipedia from becoming the Net’s killer resource. Accuracy is. In a Wired feature story, Daniel Pink (kind of) praised the hulking encyclopedia by saying you can “[l]ook up any topic you know something about and you’ll probably find that the Wikipedia entry is, if not perfect, not bad.” But don’t people use encyclopedias to look up stuff they don’t know anything about? Even if a reference tool is 98 percent right, it’s not useful if you don’t know which 2 percent is wrong. The entry for Slate, for instance, claims that several freelance writers are “columnists on staff” and still lists Cyrus Krohn as publisher months after the Washington Post Co.’s Cliff Sloan took over.

Just how different, exactly, does Boutin think that makes Wikipedia from, oh, say, Slate? I find mistakes, typos, errors of judgment, etc. etc. etc. all the time in major publications, including Slate. (Slate, to its credit, now runs a Corrections column.) And yet somehow Slate manages to be useful to me, even if I can’t – oh, to have the innocence of a child again! – take everything it says as gospel truth. I suppose that Boutin could say that there’s a big difference between reference materials and publications like Slate. Well, sure. But they’re both alike in this respect: Both are more or less fallible, and neither typically deserves the kind of credence that Boutin thinks is due to reference materials but not Wikipedia.