SHOULD the wonderful Wikipedia internet encyclopedia change its rules so that changes or additions to existing entries would in future be subject to the pre-approval of its editors? At the moment anyone can intervene without notice to edit an entry. Last week someone who was too quick on the draw amended biographies to read that Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Robert Byrd had died during an inaugural lunch for President Obama on January 20.
Both had been taken ill but recovered. In each case the error was spotted within minutes by Wikipedia's alert editors but there have been cases in the past where more subtle and less noticeable changes have been made - sometimes with the deliberate intention of changing important facts or meanings. Wikipedia's astonishing scope depends on its openness to anyone who has information of importance to contribute. It is a profoundly democratic operation in which the founder, Jimmy Wales, regularly consults with its users. He has suggested that new or unknown users should in future submit their contributions to an editor for approval but members of the very small staff which runs Wikipedia think this would lead to long delays in the inclusion of topical material. The pre-approval approach has been in use on the German Wikipedia site for almost a year and users have complained that up-dating of information has slowed down. On the whole it may be better to let Wikipedia continue on its present very satisfactory lines.