I have finally managed to track down the source of an error which surfaces regularly in correspondence. 'As a qualified speech therapist', said someone in a letter to me recently - and about me! Excuse me? Not me. I am an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. But a 'real' spth? No. (My wife is.) I worked with speech therapists in clinics and schools for many years, so any confusion would be understandable; but my role was always as a 'clinical linguist' - someone who describes and analyses the linguistic character of disorders of communication, but who never treats.
So where did the error arise? Wikipedia, of course. There it says in the entry on me, plain as the beard on my face: 'He is also a qualified speech therapist'.
I say 'of course'. I edit encyclopedias, and very early on I was intrigued by the wiki concept, thinking it would actually help my work. How wrong I was. I quickly discovered that there were so many errors that it just wasn't a safe procedure to use wiki entries without scrupulous checking - in which case you might as well go to the more reliable sources to begin with. Wiki is fine for fun browsing, but I would never take a 'fact' from there without doing a second check. The Wiki managers now seem to have realized the dangers of uncontrolled eneyclopedia compilation for themselves, as I read they have introduced a tier of editorial supervision into the system. Faced with the entries that have been mischievously (or worse) tampered with, and growing threats of litigation from people whose characters have been assassinated, I wasn't surprised. In fact, I predicted years ago that this would have to happen.
I had never thought to look me up in Wikipedia before, but, having been told about the speech therapy error, now I did. I learned some interesting things about me. I live in Holyhead 'with my wife and four children', it says. Well that's a surprise. I've just looked round the house and I can't see them anywhere. (The last one left home years ago.) I 'write articles for the Catholic devotional magazine, The Tablet'? Never. I used to review for them once, back in the seventies, but the only article I ever submitted to it was turned down! And I'm 'president of Crystal Reference Systems Limited'? Ah, it must have been an American who put some of the entry together, for we would never say 'president' in the UK. 'Chairman' I was, before that little company was taken over last year. That's history now.
My entry - as virtually every Wiki entry I have ever read - is a fascinating, unpredictable, dangerous selection of facts and fictions. And the problem is, you never know which is which. It's not as if accurate information isn't available, especially these days, when official websites exist for most things. It takes a lot of time and effort and professionalism to compile encyclopedia entries which are balanced, objective, and accurate, and even then, the professionals don't always get it right. Wiki's fond hope is that by letting everyone have a go, eventually the truth will emerge, and the result will be better than the traditional encyclopedia. That was always a naive belief. Many of the entries are fuller, certainly, than anything you have ever seen in print, and you can read stuff there which is unavailable anywhere else. But beware: lurking within the depths of detail there be always dragons.