Every middle school student knows not to get caught citing Wikipedia as his/her main source. But where to start, when you don’t know anything about a topic.

In this essay printed in the current issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper, Ed Tenner weighs in on the information revolution:

Even a mediocre Wikipedia article — and they range from superb to misleading — may link to valuable additional resources. But what happens when a user is exploring a new topic? To judge a source we need to have the knowledge we are trying to get from it!

Tenner welcomes “information abundance” and recommends “knowlege bootstrapping” and/or “ratcheting.” With practice everybody learns techniques for refinement of their results and more sophisticated searches

Since I’m just a little older then Tenner, I liked going down memory lane with him, back in the days before Xerox copiers revolutionized scholarly research. You will too, if you were born before 1950. And if you are younger — read it and thank your lucky stars!

Richard K. Rein, who I believe was in Tenner’s Class of 1969 at Princeton, had his own take on this subject.

PS to Tenner: Consider making your own Wikepedia page about yourself. A search on your name yields these incomplete results.

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