Can you trust Wikipedia?

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Who doesn't rely on Wikipedia – at least once in a while – these days? But for those of us who do, here's a startling statistic: Wikipedians (those who write and edit the info we find at the online encyclopedia) are “80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, around 70 percent under the age of 30.”

Wow. Talk about a world view.

The statistic above comes direct from "The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia" by Andrew Lih, a former Wikipedia administrator.

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In a lengthy critique of "The Wikipedia Revolution" for Boston Review, researcher and blogger Evgeny Morozov writes, "Wikipedia’s potential lies in harnessing the 'wisdom of crowds'; however, those crowds are only as wise as they are diverse." And apparently they are not particularly diverse – at least not when it comes to gender, age, or family situation.

Does it matter? That, of course, is subject to debate. But it is certainly interesting  that – particularly in a day and age when Publishers Weekly's failure to include any female authors in their 10 Ten of 2009 list can still kick up a bit of a dust storm – that this statistic about Wikipedians is not more widely commented upon.

So to go back to the question above: Can you trust Wikipedia? Morozov's answer: "Most of us have stopped asking and simply bookmarked it." Perhaps we should be a bit more inquisitive.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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