I was watching TV the other night and was reminded of a book I read years ago. It was a mystery with a female investigator who I think was a rabbi. I typed some search words into my phone and lo and behold, Wikipedia had a page called "List of female detective characters." How handy! I narrowed it down to two possibilities. Nowhere else in the world could I find a list like this. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Wikipedia has another side though.While anyone can add a page consisting of a list of female detective characters in popular culture, anyone can edit Wikipedia pages. According to Wikipedia, "Editing most Wikipedia pages is not very difficult at all. Simply click on the "edit this page" tab at the top of a Wikipedia page (or on a section-edit link). This will bring you to a new page with a text box containing the editable text of the original page."

While researching this column, I came across several Wikipedia pages about articles Wikipedia themselves believes might be hoaxes and those that have been proven to be hoaxes. You can follow links to the decision-making process editors used, for example, "Strong delete - Not only is this not notable, but I have strong suspicions that this may be a hoax (and who knows why the article has been in existence for 12 years!)"

 In 2009 a couple of college students made a handful of edits to the Amelia Bedelia Wikipedia page after a night of partying. They mentioned that the character was based on a maid from Cameroon and that the author, Peggy Parish, had an extensive hat collection. Those changes remained on the Amelia Bedelia page until the author found it quoted in 2014. The amateur editor admitted what he had done on social media.Wikipedia swiftly banned him from editing pages. By then the fake facts had been cited in everything from social media, to lesson plans, to book reports. 

Nobody claims that a published encyclopedia is error free. The difference between these two sources of information is the motives of the editors making the mistakes. Encyclopedia errors tend to be oversights that fact checkers missed in the editing process. Wikipedia errors are often meant to be either funny or malicious.

I found a "Bored Panda" article about 64 noteworthy Wikipedia edits. At one point, the Thermodynamics page stated, "The first law of thermodynamics is do not talk about thermodynamics."

Malicious editing is sometimes called revenge editing. Several years ago Wikipedia changed its editing policies for the pages of people who are still alive to prevent malicious editing. In the past, actor Jeremy Renner has been listed as a velociraptor. Actor Karen Gillen, of Dr Who fame, was said to have had 68 children, and Singer Solange was listed as Jay Z's 100th problem. Many people have been listed as dead on their pages when they were still alive.

The temptation to edit Wikipedia remains though. At one point some local high school students edited the Gering, Nebraska Wikipedia page. When the school administration found out the changes were deleted.

Rather than using Wikipedia as a source, you can scroll to the bottom where the original sources are located. Click on them to find links to the original information. However, it's wise to keep in mind that nobody maintains the links, or regularly updates Wikipedia pages. Just because it's posted on Wikipedia doesn't mean the information is still current. I found outdated information and broken source links on some of the author pages I recently viewed.

It took me several weeks to write this article because I kept going down Wikipedia wormholes. All those links to more information! Please use Wikipedia responsibly. Think of it as amateurs providing information to amateurs, or like a Yelp review. Fun to read, but not necessarily reliable. Wikipedia is useful to a point, but you can often find better online resources, some are even available through your local library.