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Author Topic: Is Wikipedia a reliable reference?
bthyb
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It's my understanding that anyone can add information to Wikipedia, and there are advantages and drawbacks to this. An advantage is the benefit of a collective knowledge, as experts on a topic will contribute information, and the result is potentially a comprehensive encyclopedia of knowledge.

However, it seems there is a risk for misinformation as well, as someone could post erroneous information because they were misinformed or out of spite or mischief.

Because of this risk, should it be valid to use a Wikipedia reference as a citation, or does the advantage outweigh the risk?

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EarhornJones
I Saw Three Shipments


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quote:
Is Wikipedia a reliable reference?
No.

You're absolutely right in your assessment. While Wikipedia can be a great starting place for research, I wouldn't consider a Wikipedia cite, by itself, to be worth anything.

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Eh?

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Joe Bentley
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Wikipedia has been proven as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica in studies. Link

Also the Wikipedia standards of format require statement made on the site to be backed up with references. If a statement is found to be unreferences, the page is annotated to request citations.

Most pages have several references near the bottom that you can use if someone doesn't want to accept the Wikipedia page as its own source.

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Seaboe Muffinchucker
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One of Wikipedia's major problems is that it is not a primary source. How important this is depends on whether secondary sources agree and how many there are.

If Wiki is the sole source of information cited, I probably would consider it less valid than if other sources were cited as well, providing a cross check of the information.

Seaboe

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Errata
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If by citation you mean like in an actual bibliography, then I would say no. But thats about the only situation its not useful for. Wikipedia is very valuable to give yourself an overview of nearly any topic. But when it comes to using specific data for it for a serious purpose, you should always verify it elsewhere. The editors are surprisingly prompt at following each edit and reverting misinformation, but at any given moment you could get unlucky.

Many Wikipedia articles will also point you to primary sources that you can cite.

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Donovan
Deck the Malls


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The biggest problem out there is really good or obscure missinformation. There have been a few times when I've seen a questionable edit, but did not do anything because it was outside my realm of knowledge. It all depends on the topic.

Donovan Ravenhull

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DemonWolf
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Typically I divide cites into four catergories-
Reliable- CNN, BBC, encyclopedias, dictionaries. They, more often than not, will report the facts and will often keep bias out of the article.
Semi-reliable- wiki, routers, AP are good examples of semi-reliable. Most of what's on there can be verified, but I would not trust it as my sole source. I would seek confirmation.
Biased- Al Jazeera is an example. What they say may be true, but the source has an adgenda and will often not report information contrary to their point.
Unreliable- Blogs, sites with no cites. An annonymous person on the Internet claiming to be an eye-witness.

I would accept wiki as a cite on this board, depending on the subject and how much documentation wiki provides. Since it is a user submitted site, the reliability can vary with the subject.

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Canuckistan
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DW, I would move AP and Reuters into the Reliable categories. In fact, CNN and BBC often depend on AP and Reuters for their early information. A lot of papers rely on AP and Reuters to fill out their national and world pages, too.

To suggest that Wiki is in the same category as AP and Reuters is just wrong. For starters, I cannot go on the Reuters or AP websites and add my own story.

Errata is right: good for a general overview, but I wouldn't count on it for accuracy.

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People need to stop appropriating Jesus as their reason for behaving badly. It's so irritating. (Avril)

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DemonWolf
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I included Reuters and the AP as semi reliable becasue they use so much freelance work that it is not uncommon that they have errors or ULs in their articles. Basically, for the same reason that Wiki is only semireliable. While CNN etc may rely on Reuters, they usually do their own fact checking and verification before printing the story.

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bthyb
WiFi Christmas


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DemonWolf, I would argue that most any news source is biased, just by what they choose to report...but I understand what you're getting at.

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-- My sister and poet extraordinaire, Joanna Hoffman

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Canuckistan
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Most newspapers also rely on a lot of freelancers. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a lot of freelancers are likely to work harder than staff reporters, precisely because they want to get those staff positions.

And, at least in my experience of reading the wires, ULs in copy is a rarity, if at all. And AP and Reuters do promptly correct mistakes when they happen. I fail to see how AP or Reuters is less reliable than CNN.

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DemonWolf
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quote:
Originally posted by bthyb:
DemonWolf, I would argue that most any news source is biased, just by what they choose to report...but I understand what you're getting at.

Good point. But some are obviously far more biased than others and some do not run stories delibratly. Others, like CNN or BBC, while they may occasionally omit a story, do not do it deliberatly or out of bias. Most often, IMO, it is because they think that another story is more important of because they think that their readers/viewers do not care about the subject.

ETA: Bias does not necissarily mean less reliable, simply that you are only getting one side of the story. For example, Al Jazeera uses AP and Reuters but often only reports the parts that agree with what they want to say. FOX News is reliably in that I have not seen them actually lie, but there is no denying that they are biased and will report only what they see fit, which is why I left them out of my original list. If I were to get a cite that I considered biased, I would usually counter with a cite that shows the bias.

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DemonWolf
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quote:
Originally posted by Canuckistan:
Most newspapers also rely on a lot of freelancers. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a lot of freelancers are likely to work harder than staff reporters, precisely because they want to get those staff positions.

And, at least in my experience of reading the wires, ULs in copy is a rarity, if at all. And AP and Reuters do promptly correct mistakes when they happen. I fail to see how AP or Reuters is less reliable than CNN.

As I said, it is my opinion, and I do not claim to be an expert. You are free to consider them more or less reliable than I do.

Typically, when I see a cite that I consider less than reliable, I usually do my own research rather than simply dismiss a cite, unless it is a blog that seems to be the oly site covering the story.

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faceless007
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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quote:
Originally posted by Joe Bentley:
Wikipedia has been proven as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica in studies. Link

Joe, you should know better than to use the word "proven" so cavalierly--One study does not make for irrefutable absolute proof. First off, the study above concerns only hard science articles. It says nothing about the accuracy of Wikipedia on any other subject.

Britannica issued a rebuttal, which IMO brings up some very valid points, such as the fact that Nature's experts were taken as the sole authority on what constititues a mistake or not.

Nature then shot back, but I'm not very convinced by it. I think this quote is telling:

quote:
In Britannica’s statement of 23 March, the company also addresses specific errors
identified by our reviewers. Britannica has examined these points, and claims that
some of them are not errors at all. It is worth noting, though, that of the 123 purported
errors in question, the company takes issue with less than half, and that Britannica has
subsequently corrected many of the errors that our reviewers identified.

Note the part in bold: Nature thinks Britannica's claims are trivial because they concern "only" less than half of the errors. If "only" less than half of the claims of any other article in Nature were wrong, would they be so defensive about its accuracy? That's an absurdly high potential error rate to dismiss with a wave of the hand, and I think it's reflective on Nature's methodology in that study.

Anyway, I think Wikipedia is accurate on some things and less accurate with others; as with all sources of information, they have biases which affect how much energy and effort goes into ensuring the quality of their information. Wikipedia has been called "the encyclopedia that Slashdot built," and I think that's largely correct, because the articles on computers, technology, eletronics, video games, science, tech companies, and "nerd" movies like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars tend to be very thorough and informative. I think the latter two points are especially true, because if you look, you'll find a great deal of individual articles about people and places within those two fictional universes--which means there are quite a few avid editors and writers who are very knowledgable about Middle Earth and the Star Wars universe. There's nothing all that wrong with this, but I question whether that material is really so encyclopedic that it should take up so many individual articles.

On other subjects, like other movies, culture, and geography, which are more academic, I tend to be more skeptical. The articles on history, in my experience, are a mixed bag, some better than others.

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callee
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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I cannot believe that no one has yet given a link for that absolutely hilarious parady in the recent onion...


as to the OP, for what it's worth, I tell my students that they can use wikipedia if they want in the course of their research, but I better not ever see it in footnotes or bibliography, and everything I do see better be documented with other reliable sources.

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a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well. - John Carroll

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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quote:
Wikipedia has been proven as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica in studies.
Not only that, it also carries a broader range of subjects. You won't find information on wrestling stars or goatse in Encyclopedia Britannica.

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/Troberg

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Canuckistan
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quote:
Originally posted by DemonWolf:
As I said, it is my opinion, and I do not claim to be an expert. You are free to consider them more or less reliable than I do.

Well, you're free to be wrong. [Razz]

(IOW, we'll agree to disagree here)

quote:
Typically, when I see a cite that I consider less than reliable, I usually do my own research rather than simply dismiss a cite, unless it is a blog that seems to be the oly site covering the story.
Now that's something we can most certainly agree on.

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People need to stop appropriating Jesus as their reason for behaving badly. It's so irritating. (Avril)

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Towknie
We Three Blings


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Wiki is true! Stephen Colbert says so! And don't forget that the number of elephants in Africa has tripled in the last six months!

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Towknie: Ryda-certified as wonderful, enlighted, and rational.

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Archie2K
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BBC often reference their Breaking News stories on the TV to Reuters or AP. Usualy, Reuters from what I've seen. This does lead to BBC being wrong during the heat of big incidents. As an example, when the Buncefield oil refinery blew up last year, BBC reporters turned up to the scene with a whole host of eye witnesses and viewer submitted photographs and promptly reported that a plane may have crashed or been deliberately flown into the refinery from nearby Luton Airport, something which was totally and utterly wrong.

They also maintained that a power outage had caused the 7/7 tube cancellations despite having mobile phone photographs showing blown up trains, but that's a whole other thing.

Wikipedia is generally reliable and useful for a starting point for research or as a point in an online debate. Since it changes regularly, it should never be cited in an essay.

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keokuk
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Also, if you need to look into anything remotely controversial, lean away from Wikipedia. People will make some obscure changes to tilt the bias of some articles one way or another. There was news a couple of months ago that Wikipedia had to ban edits being made from IP addresses in House and Senate Office Buildings because staffers were making changes to some members' info. In some cases it was as minor as eliminating reference to a congressman's broken promise on self-imposed term limit. But overall, if you're going to look into someone or something that is obscure while still having a small amount of people very deeply interested, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere.
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Joe Bentley
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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Odd one of the few problems I have with Wikipedia is that it is to fair and that the style, content, and tone of many of the arguments gives creedence to opinions, theories, stances, and "facts" that don't deserve it.

Many of the articles on Wikipedia have a token, very tacked on "But some people believe otherwise" bit.

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Nick Theodorakis
We Three Blings


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I often like to look at the "discussion" and "history" pages of wikipedia articles to see if there is any "back-story" to the article I should be aware of.

Nick

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Silas Sparkhammer
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To give 'em credit, Wiki is starting to use real editors to control the chaos.

Someone posted a bio of me (!) on Wikipedia. One of the editors emailed me and asked if this was (a) okay with me, and (b) accurate. I asked him to remove the listing.

Silas

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Archie2K
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Now, Uncyclopedia is a reliable place for references. Let me give you some excerpts;
Fidel Castro: "Castro still has power in Cuba, and no one understands why he just won't die, despite the fact that he has smoked 100,000,000,000 cigars during his lifetime, including several that exploded. [...] Is extremely popular with leftists who don't live in Cuba."
AAAAAAAAA!
Alaska: "Alaska is a funkocracy. Every year, all sixteen citizens get together and pick a moose to lead them. If the moose is unable to perform its duties, the citizens get drunk and play ping-bong. Many Alaskans are Republitarian in their philosophy. Canada is currently devising a plan to invade Alaska. Their current strike force includes Navy, Air force, and the Village People. Their main concern as of now is passing the heavily defended Alaska/Canada border and trying to find a way around that one huge syrup pipeline."

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Andrew of Ware, England
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quote:
Originally posted by Archie2K:
BBC often reference their Breaking News stories on the TV to Reuters or AP. Usualy, Reuters from what I've seen. This does lead to BBC being wrong during the heat of big incidents. As an example, when the Buncefield oil refinery blew up last year, BBC reporters turned up to the scene with a whole host of eye witnesses and viewer submitted photographs and promptly reported that a plane may have crashed or been deliberately flown into the refinery from nearby Luton Airport, something which was totally and utterly wrong.

They also maintained that a power outage had caused the 7/7 tube cancellations despite having mobile phone photographs showing blown up trains, but that's a whole other thing.

Wikipedia is generally reliable and useful for a starting point for research or as a point in an online debate. Since it changes regularly, it should never be cited in an essay.

The BBC has tightened its procedures after 7/7 - and to be fair the source they got the 'power surge' information from was from the emergency services. Since then, and usually before the incident, the BBC always uses phrases such as 'it has been reported...', 'eyewitnesses claim...', etc, etc.

As for 'Wiki' I wouldn't trust it an inch - even with references. I am a moderator for a cricket club's official forum and one person kept making attacks on one player. The 'Wiki' article on this player was then 'edited' by someone to say that this poster was his biggest fan. I edited the 'Wiki' article, but how many other 'malicious'comments are there?

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Llewtrah
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quote:
Originally posted by Archie2K:
They also maintained that a power outage had caused the 7/7 tube cancellations despite having mobile phone photographs showing blown up trains, but that's a whole other thing.

That's an over-simplification. One of my friends was on shift in a LU control room when it happened (ended up working overtime as the next shift couldn't reach them and hisshift couldn't get home). At first, they believed one of the big transformers on the track had blown and caused a chain reaction. It was when they found that the affected sections were not linked (power-supply-wise) that they realised it wasn't just a power outage.

With several incidents on different track sections, initially it wan't known which delays were due to the explosions in the tunnels (blown up train photos) and which (if any) were due to having no power (not to physical obstruction). Some sections of track could have been workable if the power supply hadn't been disrupted or switched off for safety (to let people escape). So the BBC got it partly right.

The problem is, saturation coverage means the news channels often re-use the same news segment over and over without updating it and get "eye-witness accounts" from any Tom, Dick and Sally in the area (and no doubt a good few who weren't there in person, but just wanted their face on TV).

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Llewtrah
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quote:
Originally posted by Archie2K:
Now, Uncyclopedia is a reliable place for references. Let me give you some excerpts;
Fidel Castro: "Castro still has power in Cuba, and no one understands why he just won't die, despite the fact that he has smoked 100,000,000,000 cigars during his lifetime, including several that exploded. [...] Is extremely popular with leftists who don't live in Cuba."
AAAAAAAAA!
Alaska: "Alaska is a funkocracy. Every year, all sixteen citizens get together and pick a moose to lead them. If the moose is unable to perform its duties, the citizens get drunk and play ping-bong. Many Alaskans are Republitarian in their philosophy. Canada is currently devising a plan to invade Alaska. Their current strike force includes Navy, Air force, and the Village People. Their main concern as of now is passing the heavily defended Alaska/Canada border and trying to find a way around that one huge syrup pipeline."

I think you need to go back to looking up stuff on walrus penes, Archie!

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Brandi
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Wikipedia's true function seems to be as a combined (and frequently updated) Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and DC's Who's Who.
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Steve Eisenberg
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quote:
Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
To give 'em credit, Wiki is starting to use real editors to control the chaos.

Someone posted a bio of me (!) on Wikipedia. One of the editors emailed me and asked if this was (a) okay with me, and (b) accurate. I asked him to remove the listing.

There is an article in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly on how Wikipedia works. I am ashamed to say that after reading it I still do not exactly understand how Wikipedia's self-correcting mechanism works. However, Wikipedia does improve over time. While anyone can become one of the 60,000 Wikipedians, it seems that if most Wikipedians paying attention to an edit don't like it, it won't stick.

How famous a person has to be to get a biography is subject to dispute among the Wikipedians. I myself would say that anyone with more than 5,353 posts here should be in [Big Grin]

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Four Kitties
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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Eisenberg:
How famous a person has to be to get a biography is subject to dispute among the Wikipedians. I myself would say that anyone with more than 5,353 posts here should be in [Big Grin]

Uh oh. I'd better go see what they say about me....

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El Camino
We Three Blings


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I would say that Wikipedia is not a reputable site for a college level paper. But then again, a cite from a general encyclopedia would look really out of place as well. I'll admit my experience is not well rounded (mostly scientific classes and thus papers), but if I cite anything less than peer-reviewed literature, that's not good enough.

Also, I would say that most things found in a general encyclopedia probably don't need to be cited, since that's broad knowledge. (With the exception of figures, which may vary from source to source).

But as far as reliability goes, I'm of mixed minds. I think it's reliable, as long as you read it correctly. Only trust assertions with citations. There are often slants to articles - as always, it is often hard to find an unbiased article on a contraversial topic. Look at the discussion section if you're unsure about something, as it may already be discussed as being questionable. For general knowledge or a cite on this board, I'd say it's good enough. For a college level or above paper, I'd say no.


I should add that Wikipedia is rapidly becoming one of my favorite websites. It does have a lot of great information about diverse topics - including a lot of random stuff you wouldn't find in a traditional encyclopedia.

Posts: 1048 | From: Brunswick, Maine | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
El Camino
We Three Blings


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Another reason I love wikipedia: Reliability of Wikipedia
Posts: 1048 | From: Brunswick, Maine | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
FireSpook
The First USA Noel


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quote:
Originally posted by Steve Eisenberg:
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
[qb] There is an article in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly on how Wikipedia works. I am ashamed to say that after reading it I still do not exactly understand how Wikipedia's self-correcting mechanism works.

Think of it as evolution, anything that's false or 'bad' is filtered out of the article over time.

It's certienly a hell of a lot more acturate then the EB, every article about pluto has been edited and changed to reflect the IAU's defination, as well as outlining why, and the defination itself.

Can the EB keep up with that?

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Canuckistan
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by El Camino:
Another reason I love wikipedia: Reliability of Wikipedia

I love the fact that you can edit that page. [lol]

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People need to stop appropriating Jesus as their reason for behaving badly. It's so irritating. (Avril)

Posts: 8429 | From: New York run by the Swiss (Toronto) | Registered: Mar 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
BoKu
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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quote:
Originally posted by Canuckistan:
quote:
Originally posted by El Camino:
Another reason I love wikipedia: Reliability of Wikipedia

I love the fact that you can edit that page. [lol]
The very first word "Reliability" is misspelled as "Relability." I'm going to log in and fix it.

Edit: Done!

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