Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Why I love Wikipedia, donate monthly, and am concerned about SOPA and PIPA.

Many of my friends and family have been mildly alarmed, since I started medical school, to learn that Wikipedia is my most frequently consulted resource.  And it is not just because I am the med school equivalent of a lazy high school kid, looking up the quickest and easiest thing to find.  

Yes, Wiki IS the quickest and easiest way to learn something most of the time.  But it is also, nearly always, an excellent and accurate source of information -- and I am not the only one who thinks so. In fact, I would guess that 99.9% of med students and residents use it as much as I do.  It was essential for getting through lectures by some super-specialist hotshot doctor rambling on and on to 1st and 2nd-year students, who were all looking at each other, thinking, "What the EFF is he talking about??  I have never even heard that word before!!"  A quick Wiki lookup would tell me more in 2.5 seconds than I would ever have gotten from the lecture on my own.  And not only that, but many times the articles would be way more detailed than I wanted.  We even had a lecturer last year who told us to use it as a resource -- and told us that he had read all the articles related to what he was teaching us, and that they were all legit.

I became a monthly donor.  And my boyfriend, after first being horrified, and then making a lot of fun of me, donated to Wikipedia in my name for my birthday last year.

Today, Wikipedia is blacked out in protest of the proposed SOPA and PIPA ("Stop Online Piracy Act," and "Protect IP Act") legislation in the House and the Senate, respectively.  

In their own words:
"Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.
"For over a decade, Wikipedians have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Wikipedia is a tremendously useful resource, and its existence depends upon a free, open and uncensored Internet. SOPA and PIPA (and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States) will hurt you, because they will make it impossible for sites you enjoy, and benefit from, to continue to exist."
Freely shared information allows us to enjoy and benefit from so much via the internet.  In effect, this legislation would be harmful, if not fatal, to any website containing user-generated content, because it would be required to police every single thing posted to ensure that it did not contain even a link to a page suspected of copyright infringement, or risk being "disappeared" from the internet by the government.  Sound familiar?  Among other things, SOPA and PIPA also essentially outlaw software designed to circumvent censorship mechanisms, including, ironically, programs used by democratic activists to get around internet censorship in countries like China and Iran, whose laws are not unlike SOPA and PIPA -- even anti-censor programs developed by organizations that are currently funded by the State Department for these exact purposes.  

A couple more good articles can be found here and here.  Educate yourself about the proposed legislation -- if what you learn is concerning to you, contact your representatives and tell them you oppose it!  Just go to Wikipedia's homepage - they have made it easy for you.

Full disclosure: I can't say I don't have a vested interest in this issue.  If Wikipedia is shut down, I might not finish med school.  Seriously.

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