Thank You/Howard Morland

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Howard Morland

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Once upon a time in the Stone Age, some guy invented the Clovis point: the sharpest flint arrowhead yet.

He probably wanted to keep it a secret. But he was also proud of it, so he showed it to his friends. Pretty soon, there were Clovis points all over North America. It's human nature. We love to share what we know.

My name is Howard Morland. I'm a retired journalist from Virginia, and I've been contributing to Wikipedia for five years.

But my story actually begins in 1979, when I was a young anti-nuclear activist. My friends were campaigning against nuclear power. They could tell you all the different ways a reactor could melt down, all the hazards and features of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Yet, there was another half of the nuclear industry. This half used similar materials and processes, but they used them to create the bomb. And no one knew much about that at all.

At the time, I was working on contract for a publication called The Progressive. We wanted to tear away the veil of secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons. We researched how and where the bomb was made — everything. This information was available in the public domain, but not accessible to the public.

I wrote the story. But before we could publish it, the government took us to court. They stopped the publication and wanted to censor the information.

We were in court for six months, but we won. The article was published unaltered.

Just a few years later, there was growing outrage against nuclear weapons worldwide. On June 12, 1982, a million people marched in New York City to protest the bomb. I believe we played a role in bringing nuclear weapons to the public attention, and public opposition to nuclear weapons was a key factor in ending the Cold War.

Twenty years later, I met a guy named John Coster-Mullen. John didn't have a nuclear physics background; in fact, he was a truck driver. But he had an unusual hobby. He traveled all over to attend reunions of the soldiers who dropped the fission bombs on Japan. They told him about their experiences, and they also told him about the bomb. He wrote it all down in a self-published memoir.

Every encyclopedia in the world, from the Britannica to the World Book, described how the Hiroshima bomb (Little Boy) was made, and included a diagram. News articles and school teachers referenced these diagrams. But here's the thing. Every single one got it wrong. John Coster-Mullen and his self-published memoir got it right.

Along with some of my colleagues, I submitted Coster-Mullen's diagram to Wikipedia, and after some talk-page discussion it was accepted, giving Wikipedia the world's most accurate encyclopedia article on the topic.

(For people inclined to worry about such information getting out, don't. The detail was trivial, a question of which of two pieces of uranium was largest. The bomb will work either way, but this pursuit of historical accuracy is a perfect example of how Wikipedia articles are constantly being corrected to make them more accurate.)

After that, I started contributing regularly to Wikipedia. I don't just write about nuclear weapons. I also write about my hobby: kayaking. You might have heard about the Olympic sport of whitewater slalom kayaking. There are artificial river courses scattered around the world where athletes can train and compete. I've made it my goal to produce a map and article about each one of these facilities.

I used to write for a living. So why do I volunteer my writing for free on Wikipedia? Primarily for the audience. If what you write is accurate and well written, it will be read by large numbers of people every day. (If not, it will quickly disappear.) Wikipedia is one of the most amazing institutions I've ever encountered. It's a beautiful testament to the desire of people to know, and to share their knowledge.

-- Howard Morland

Video Attribution: The Impact of Wikipedia - Howard Morland by Victor Grigas, under CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, from Wikimedia Commons.

Image Attribution: Howard Morland by Karen Sayre, under CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, from Wikimedia Commons.

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