Surfin’: Wikipedia vs CIA


By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
Contributing Editor

This week, Surfin’ tries to determine the best place to just get the facts (Ma’am) about new countries.

Before Wikipedia, there was the Central Intelligence Agency. A decade ago, if I wanted to look up information about the new country I just worked on 10 meters, I would consult the online edition of the CIA’s The World Factbook. During the past 10 years, I changed my modus operandi and today, I will consult Wikipedia for information about that new country.

How did this happen? I have a simple explanation.

You will find nothing about Theodore Samuel Williams, Parcheesi, Hallicrafters or Kurt Vonnegut in the Factbook, but consult Wikipedia and you will find plenty. I used Wikipedia all the time to look up stuff and got out of the habit of using the Factbook to look up countries. As a result, Wikipedia became my go-to website to look up everything.

For old times’ sake, I recently visited the Factbook website and discovered that it had changed a lot since my last visit years ago. In 2009, there was a complete redesign of the Factbook website, which included the addition of many new features. Also, weekly updates of the website began in 2010 replacing the biweekly updates begun in 2004.

When I pulled down Factbook’s drop-down “Select a Country or Location” menu, I selected the first item that I was clueless about: Akrotiri, which is a British military base on Cyprus (the UK’s version of the US’s Guantánamo Bay).

Consult Wikipedia and I find that Akrotiri is paired with Dhekelia, another British military base on Cyprus. (Dhekelia has its own page on Factbook. On the other hand, Guantánamo has no Factbook page.) Also, I could not help noticing that Factbook is Wikipedia’s source for its Akrotiri and Dhekelia maps.

Without spending days -- if not weeks -- comparing the Wikipedia and Factbook pages of each entity, I will never know for sure which is better.

Considering the multiple sources of Wikipedia’s content, the Factbook’s content is likely to be more consistent. On the other hand, Wikipedia may have content that the government will not reveal in their Factbook, so it is probably a wash as to which one is better.

That being said, if you have not used the Factbook in awhile, give it a try; I think you will be pleasantly surprised by its new face.

Did you know that (according to Factbook) “in order to align their time zones more closely with their main trading partners, the Pacific island nations of Samoa and Tokelau late last year moved from east to west of the International Date Line”?

Until next time, keep on surfin’!

Editor’s note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, just learned that “date line shift” is a lot faster than continental drift. To contact Stan, send e-mail or add comments to the WA1LOU blog.