Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Can Wikipedia Be Trusted?

Bryan Henderson just finished his dinner and is about to start his Sunday evening ritual: the purge of Wikipedia’s heinous phrase, ‘comprised of.’ The fifty-something-old software engineer has exterminated this imperfect sentence from the website over 48.000 times, by hand.

He believes the construction is ungrammatical and backs up his stance with a 6.000-word essay.

Bryan says the problem comes from confusing the verbs ‘to comprise’ and ‘to compose.’ 

Comprised is a synonym for includes. And composed means made of. So it’s correct to say, “The house comprises four rooms,” but not “The house comprises of four rooms.”

Yeah, my uncultured ears can’t pick up on the error either. But ever since Bryan discovered the misuse in college, hearing the phrase makes his head hurt.

When the linguistic crusader started his battle against the phrase in 2007, Wikipedia had over 16.000 instances of his pet peeve. After three years, Bryan had sent them all to kingdom come.

The community has dubbed obsessive editors like Bryan, WikiGnomes. But there are also Wikipedians who focus on adding and refining material. Look at Wikipedia’s leading editor, Steven Pruitt, who has made over 3 million edits.

Wikipedia relies on such gnomes and contributors to meet its goal of recording the sum of human knowledge.

Despite having devoted editors like Bryan and Steven, many school teachers look down on the open source encyclopedia and refuse to accept the website as a reliable source.

Wikipedia is most often discredited because articles can be written by anyone, not necessarily by an expert.

But is that a bad thing?

Traditionally, the world was only changed by powerhouses in the form of governments and big companies. And hindered by the bog of bureaucracy, decisions were slow and incremental.

But the internet gave everyone a low-cost way to get their voices heard, to get educated and to raise money. Now the individual holds the power to kickstart revolutions with a clickety clack of the keyboard.

Today, the big and slow are often defeated by the small and fast.

Bloggers attract larger audiences than newspapers.
Indie game developers earn more money than their published counterparts.
And the experts of the Britannica Encyclopedia are losing out to a self-organised group of book worms.

A 2005 investigation by Nature showed that Wikipedia and Britannica are about equally accurate. Considering the open source encyclopedia can instantly respond to new information, it’s no wonder why Britannica retired.

Look, if Wikipedia is good enough for practicing doctors, it’s good enough for learning students.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach