Know It All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?

You could cure a toothache or make snowshoes using the original Britannica, of 1768-71. (You could also imbibe a lot of prejudice and superstition. The entry on Woman was just six words: “The female of man. See HOMO.”) If you look up “coffee preparation” on Wikipedia, you will find your way, via the entry on Espresso, to a piece on types of espresso machines, which you will want to consult before buying. There is also a page on the site dedicated to “Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia” (Stalin’s birth date, the true inventor of the safety razor).

[…]

Wikipedia is an online community devoted not to last night’s party or to next season’s iPod but to a higher good. It is also no more immune to human nature than any other utopian project. Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site. Nothing about high-minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse. Senators and congressmen have been caught tampering with their entries; the entire House of Representatives has been banned from Wikipedia several times. —Stacy ShiffKnow It All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise? (The New Yorker)