Just did a short talk with Randy Stross whose Digital Domain column (unfortunately in Times Select) in the NYTimes is doing a bit on Wikipedia. I get to say something like, ” Of course, my collegues use Wikipedia. They are lying if they don’t admit it.” I also say that I require students to go to primary sources that Wikipedia isn’t a primary source. Neither is Britanica nor is World Book. Researchers should get to the primary sources.
Wikipedia does point you to great primary sources tho. And unlike say World Book, you can follow the discussions of articles in the Talk section of a Wikipedia article and disputed articles are clearly marked as such on Wikipedia.
I pointed him to the wonderful HG Wells (1937) article “World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia” which pretty much describes Wikipedia within the technological contraints on the period.
Then I expressed my doubts about the World Book entry on Television in our 1963 World Book. It’s so clearly
slanted toward RCA and Zworykin over Farnsworth. I say:
The lengthy section on television in Vol. 17 has only this to say about Farnsworth (in context so you can see how Zworykin surrounds him):
“These first TV pictures were poor, because only a few impluses could be transmitted in a short time. A more efficient system was found in the earlier work of Vladimir Kosma Zworykin of the United States. In 1923, he filed a patent application on the ‘iconoscope,’ an electron camera tube.
Another American television pioneer, who conceived of a different electronic scanning system, was Philo T. Farnsworth. In 1922, while he was a sixteen-year-old high-school student, Franswroth described his idea to his physics teacher. The Patent Office later granted Farnsworth a patent on his ‘image dissector,‘ or camera tube. He also made other contoributions to television
For the receiving end of television, in the 1920′s. Zworykin and others developed an electron tube called the kinescope. The picture picked up by the iconoscope is reproduced on the face of the kinescope.
Progress in the 1930′s. On July 30, 1930, the Radio Corporation of America and its subsidiary, the National Broadcasting Company began ….”
What follows is much more on RCA in fact most of the rest of the history article is about RCA. Farnsworth is never mentioned again or before.
There is also a table “Famous First in Television” in where there at two Zworykin references multiple RCA and NBC references and no mention of Farnsworth.
The article is signed by Jack Gould and “Critically reviewed by Vladimir Kosma Zworykin and James Robertson” No more said about any of them but you see what happened to Farnsworth (and how Zworykin was made Amercian).
Now the Farnsworth entry in volume 6. No picture. Two short paragraphs. Farnsworth was still alive then. Says he invented the dissector at 16 and 6 years later patented it. But years passed before any of his work was put into commercial use. “He licensed his important inventions to RCA and ATT.”
Zworykin, the final full entry in the final volume 19, gets a picture (credited to RCA) and 5 paragraphs. “A Russian-born American physicist and electronics engineer. He is responsible for many technological advances in radio, television, and the electron microscope.”
The story that World Book carefully left out is clearly there. Wikipedia seems faired and more accurate and there are great links to primary sources.