Zettelkasten Forum

Handling wrong information in the archive

Here I want to discuss the problem of information outdating in the archive. By outdating I mean the result of discovering the factual errors or logical fallacies. After finding such content, information becomes nonactual and it could affects connected items. As a result, the archive may become seriously infected in a moment without any additional actions from you.

Is this really a problem?

Obsolescence itself actually is not a problem here. Opposite, it is a natural process in the information life-cycle. There are no strict needs to delete erroneous information. Even incorrect fact is a part of your thinking and important from historical perspective to form a path of thoughts. Sometimes wrong information illustrates a subject from different views.

Possible ways to handle it

By analogy with simple operation there are several ways to deal with Zettels containing incorrect information: removing, editing, and adding. For me, adding is more favorable method. It can be done by creation a new Zettel or inserting a comment directly in the obsolescence card. Of course, the choice of appropriate operation depends on different facts. In some cases, it would be a lot easier and cleaner to just edit something inside a Zettel.

An example

Let me provide an example of the adding approach. Imagine that today is 18th of February, 1930. Pluto was discovered this day and you immediately wrote a Zettel about it:

  Pluto is the ninth planet in the solar system. 

Later, on February 7, 1979 Pluto crossed the Neptune's orbit and for 20 years became not the most distant planet in the solar system:

  Pluto temporarily became the eighth planet from the Sun. 

After all, Pluto was declassified to the little planet on August 24, 2006:

  Pluto was demoted to the status of a dwarf planet.

While composing a note about this, inspection of the archive showed that there was already notes about Pluto. At least one of our notes is incorrect (A)—Pluto is no longer a planet:

  Pluto is the ninth planet in the solar system.

  Note added: Pluto is no longer considered a planet. See [[C]].

Have you encountered this problem? How it was stressful for your archive? Any recommendations on preferred actions for handling it?

Post edited by xymaxim on


  • edited October 2018

    the choice of appropriate operation depends on different facts

    I think you get pretty close to answering your own question here, in the sense that it just depends.

    But it depends on both the nature of the fact and the nature of your end game.

    Are you making reference notes, in the sense that you are trying to represent the contents of an author’s work? (I do this a lot.) In notes like that, I sometimes realize later that I have misunderstood and/or misrepresented an author’s position, in which case, I have no qualms about editing or totally rewriting a note.

    If I am going to reference that position in an essay, I usually don’t see any value in tracing through my misunderstandings of it before getting to my updated articulation of their ideas. On the other hand, if I think up additional or alternative interpretations of an author’s position, I simply add on or make a new note.

    I think a key aspect of your question, though, is it’s conception of the archive as a repository of correct information (like an encyclopedia), rather than as an accumulating network of your thought and understanding.

    Since I’m not trying to produce an archive of correct facts (whatever that might look like), I typically leave traces of my past thoughts and their threads in tact, as erroneous or misjudged as they might be, since it is easy enough to mark them as outdated and simply link to a new/updated thread of thought.

    If I am reading through my ideas and I think of a new distinction, for example, then I will just make a comment and link to a new note, making sure that I can find and follow that new thread when I stumble on it later.

    It is not stressful on the archive, because the stability and longevity of the archive is not premised on its being free of errors.

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