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Wikipedia Draws Raves, Rants from Online Researchers


So goes the debate about this vast, free, interactive, Internet encyclopedia that millions of people -- including an estimated 36 percent of online, adult Americans -- consult regularly.

A not-for-profit venture founded in 2001 in California, Wikipedia has grown to more than two million articles in several languages. It is supported by user donations. Wikipedia, which carries no advertising, got its name from the Hawaiian phrase "wiki wiki," meaning very, very quick.

The site is completely open to additions and corrections, twenty-four hours a day. But that means it's wide open to ideologues and vandals who deliberately post false information, unfounded accusations, and smut. In one notorious incident in 2005, someone posted a scurrilous biography of John Siegenthaler, a onetime aide to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The article stated, falsely, that Siegenthaler, quote, "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations" of Robert Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

Wikipedia supporters trust that eagle-eyed "citizen editors" will spot such misinformation, correct it, or remove it. But since many entries cite few sources or none at all, it's not always easy to tell what's right and what's false.

Wikipedia is a valuable place to begin a research project. Then it's up to the user to fact-check the article and search out other sources. Wikipedia helps by routinely linking to many other Web pages.

But remember: If you're looking for rock-solid facts online, looking it up on the wiki wiki can be risky.

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