Some educators have lamented the impact of ‘Internet Culture’ among many students. Why learn something when you can simply look it up later? An Irish student named Shane Fitzgerald decided to illustrate the vulnerability of this approach to learning.
“When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head,” Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre once said, according to several newspapers reporting his death in March. However, the quotation was invented by an Irish student who posted it on the Wikipedia website in a hoax designed to show the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet for information.
Fitzgerald thought a few small newspapers might run his fabricated quote, but he was mistaken.
Quality newspapers in England, India, America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre’s death,” Fitzgerald wrote in an article in Thursday’s Irish Times newspaper.
Retractions were printed, but the point was made. What is the moral of this story?
“The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn’t use information they find there if it can’t be traced back to a reliable primary source,” said the Guardian’s readers’ editor Siobhain Butterworth.
I admit to using Wikipedia. It’s a fast, easy way to find information on almost anything. Some of my visits are for the express purpose of checking the link ‘bibliography’ below an article. To be fair, the site plays a useful role in the assembling & dissemination of information. The caveat: Anybody can edit the articles, so one may not always know the qualifications or expertise (or ideological slant) behind a piece of information.
It is not fair to lay all blame on Wikipedia. Human beings who perform sloppy, insufficient research are certainly part of the problem, and sloppy research existed long before the Internet. The Web has simply strengthened the temptation to take shortcuts.
Biblical Studies and Archaeology both depend on careful research and study for proper interpretation. Scholars, teachers and students who take the quick & easy path will inevitably find the Dark Side. There is no honor in misinforming oneself or others.
Read the short article about Fitzgerald’s hoax here.