Truth: Can You Handle It?

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

How many legs does a dog have, if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

-- Abraham Lincoln *

* * *

[*Note: Lincoln never said this. He liked a similar, more long-winded anecdote about a cow, but the dog version? Nope. Still, the quote is credited to Abe on some 11,000 different Web pages, including quote resources Brainy Quote and World of Quotes.

[Though not technically "true," the quote makes a nice start to this article about truth, being topical and brief, so if we want to go with truth-by-consensus (very popular now), we can go ahead and just say that he said it.

[Besides, by the time you finish this article, your brain might have tricked you into thinking that he did say it (more on that later), so let's just go ahead and leave it in. Okay?]

Moving on.

Inhabitants of the Wiki-world, consider these random but related events, most of which pertain to the under-25 set, all of which occurred in the past six months:

The launching of, a wiki-weather site in which users can collaboratively decide whether it is raining outside.

The release of "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," Farhad Manjoo's exploration of the "cultural ascendancy of belief over fact."

The addition of "collateral misinformation" to The entry: "When someone alters a Wikipedia article to win a specific argument, anyone who reads the false article before the 'error' is corrected suffers from collateral misinformation."

And a scholar at the Hoover Institution performed an experiment with totally unsurprising results: When 100 terms from U.S. history books were entered into Google, the topics' Wikipedia articles were the first hits 87 times.

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