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Beware the plethora of inaccuracies

According to Raymond Hull and Laurence Peter, quoted in The Oxford Book of Modern Quotations, competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. No more accurate a statement could be applied to CD-Roms where the eye is bedazzled not just by monitor flicker but by effortless access to everything from vital information to utter trivia.

We tend to believe what computers show us, yet this often unequivocal trust in technology is misguided for the CD-Rom can be a hiding place for a hoard of misinformed - or, worse, misinforming - ghosts. A journey through current CD-Rom releases should be a voyage of discovery and yet, the more one uses them, the more the way to learning is bedevilled by incompetence and error.

Microsoft's Bookshelf '95, seven reference tomes on one CD-Rom, is a case in point. It is an improvement on the 1994 release: Robert Graves is at last acknowledged as the author of I, Claudius. However, Hong Kong still has the wrong flag and Macau is spelt two ways, while historians are told Kenya's Mau Mau uprising ended in 1959, not 1956. The world-famous Encarta '95 from the same publisher contains similar inaccuracies.

Microsoft's offerings are, however, paragons of accuracy compared to Hutchinson's Concise Multimedia Encyclopaedia. In this, the picture of Hong Kong is printed the wrong way round and Victoria (the original settlement) is now apparently called Hong Kong City: there is no such place. While the text on rhinos discusses African and Indian species, the accompanying illustration is of the unique "hairy" Sumatran rhino which is not mentioned. In the sport section, Nic Price wins the 1994 British Open with a 75-yard putt: fortunately, the video voice-over corrects this to 75 feet.

Not all the current CD-Roms are so economical with exactitudes. Dorling Kindersley's World Reference Atlas and History of the World with Microsoft's Explorapedia series are pretty accurate but they are not as detailed and do not claim universality.

This is not nit-picking. CD-Rom publishers set themselves up as deserving of intellectual trust. Yet these fallacies were found just by icon-hopping, so one has to wonder what others lie waiting. CD-Rom makers should heed Samuel Butler's dictum "I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy", instead of Saki's "a little inaccuracy saves tons of explanation". Or did they say that? The information came from the Oxford Compendium on CD-Rom. Actually, they did: the quotes correspond with The Oxford Book of Modern Quotations - on paper.

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