Their insidious reference

Mon 28 Jul 2008 03:10 AM

Not long ago, I picked up an issue of the Artist's Magazine in an airport. (May 2008, as it happens.) It includes a profile of the painter Costa Vavagiakis. Among other things, it recounts how the artist was impressed by the Charioteer of Delphi as a young boy. Understandably, it does not include a picture of the statue. Instead, it offers a parenthetical aside with a link to the Wikipedia entry.

By offering the link, the author of the magazine article gives a nod of recognition to the Wikipedia entry. I presume they actually looked at the Wikipedia article, and so they can attest to its accuracy as much as they would something they actually printed in the magazine. The problem is that the entry may well change. One hopes that changes will only make the entry more detailed, but they might make it less accurate. The magazine article provides no discrimination, and taps the Wikipedia entry with its blessing even if the entry has changed.

With this magazine, there is not really anything at stake. Nevertheless, this is an instance of a broader phenomenon. When David Morgan Mar links to an entry about some topic in physics or mathematics (in discussing the Riemann hypothesis, for example) he encourages his readers to go to the Wikipedia for more information. He says, implicitly, that the article gets the relevant facts right. Since he is a legitimate expert, his say so counts for something. Although he has just looked at the article at a specific time, the link remains. If the article drifts, his nod to it remains.

One solution would be to link to a dated version of the article, but that is not common practice.