The assignments for my Extinction class have been pretty awesome so far. The first one was to critically analyze the science portrayed in XMen: First Class. The second and third assignments involved finding, summarizing, and evaluating primary scientific literature (which I find cool, but I recognize that I might be completely alone in that). The fourth, and current, assignment, is to update and improve a Wikipedia article on an endangered species. I’ve never done this before, and for someone (and I think I’m not alone in this because our generation was practically nursed on Wikipedia) who has used it as a source on school topics and movies and celebrities and important works of fiction and really anything I’ve ever googled, it’s really weird – and also insanely cool – to be able to change an article that other people might use at a later date.
But it’s also scary. On most articles that are really popular, mistakes can be fixed in no time, so it’s sort of hard to completely screw up an article and expect it to remain screwed up for any length of time. A kid in my recitation said that he and his friends had once tried to edit an article, and succeeded, only to find it corrected a couple of hours later. But with small, less-viewed articles – like the one on the Mountain Plover that I’m editing for class – it becomes a lot easier to intentionally misdirect anyone who stumbles across the page. That’s a scary thought. Wikipedia is an incredible resource, but it’s also one built by humans, so it’s bound to err occasionally. This project for Extinction, however, is hinting that it might be easier to err than we thought, and it might also be getting easier to not realize when we have erred.