Recently I posted an article saying I have written of Wikipedia completely because of the false information it posted on the Vestal Virgins - priestesses in ancient Rome.
It said there were eighteen vestals instead of six, that initiates were prepubescent girls when they were actually children, that every five years three vestals retired when in fact the vestals had the option of leaving when they were thirty but few of them ever did....
I was always open to the possibility of false information leaking into Wikipedia, but I never thought the falsities would be so blatant. Ergo, I wrote off Wikipedia completely.
Today, something changed my mind.
I've started doing research for my new novel about Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. I do many things to prepare for a novel before I start writing it (in fact, I wrote a series of posts about it). The first step is to write down the purpose of this book - what inspired me to write it, what I want it to accomplish, etc.
I came up with this idea in 2006, so it was hard for me to remember what inspired me to write it. It wasn't my trip to New Orleans, my African American literature class, or Martha Ward's nonfiction, Voodoo Queen. Those things helped, but at what point did I have that ah-ha moment, that burst of inspiration that told me, "I have to make this into a book"?
I remember now. After a trip to New Orleans, I wanted to learn more about this "voodoo queen" I had heard so much about. I looked it up on Wikipedia. That's when I knew.
I know now how disgusting the article on Marie Laveau is. It says she was born in 1794 instead of 1801. It says her daughter became the second Marie Laveau when we don't even know if a second Marie Laveau existed, much less that it was her daughter. It says she was a hairdresser, which was only a rumor that got started in 1995 (a century after her death) by the book New Orleans As It Was. At least it admits that most of the information in the article is rumor and speculation.
Yet despite all this, the article did exactly what Wikipedia is supposed to do: give me just enough information to help me know if I want to learn more. If it weren't for Wikipedia, I probably would have read the same false information from some other website, and it wouldn't have included links to other topics and lists of books I can go to if I want to continue my research.
I've decided to continue using Wikipedia, but I will forever be suspicious of it.