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An Open Letter to Wikipedia, from Philip Roth
September 7, 2012 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Dear Wikipedia, I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed.

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”
posted by KokuRyu (113 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now that it's been printed in the New Yorker, is it citable by wiki standards?
posted by thecjm at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2012 [17 favorites]


"And, Thornton, whoever you got to write your paper on Kurt Vonnegut obviously knows nothing about Kurt Vonnegut's work."
posted by orange swan at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2012 [45 favorites]


Well, it's been corrected now, so obviously the process works.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Looks like the wiki entry has already been amended.
posted by thecjm at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2012


If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article.
posted by CNNInternational at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2012 [21 favorites]


Now that it's been printed in the New Yorker, is it citable by wiki standards?

One of the comments on the New Yorker page says: I love that someone has already revised the entry to reflect Mr. Roth's complaint, citing to, you guessed it, this very article.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Now that it's been printed in the New Yorker, is it citable by wiki standards?

Technically, yes. And this is all more or less as it should be. Probably he could have come up with other sources.
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here.
posted by jiawen at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


As ti why secondary sources are important, imagine this is not an article on a book by Philip Roth but by J. Random Crank.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article.

I think there is a tendency for people who are active on the web (for example MeFites) to overestimate how web-savvy everyone else is. I perform a lot of online services for very large clients who often have no clue about Facebook or Twitter work, let alone Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is pretty esoteric, and even if you understand the concept, just going in and fixing an article is no easy thing to do, and comes with the enormous risk of starting an edit war.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't see why J. Random Crank's own statement on the topic shouldn't be included in the article.
posted by The World Famous at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


And this is all more or less as it should be.

So I could modify Wikipedia to say that Harry Potter was based on the life and times of Tiny Tim and J.K. Rowling would have no recourse but to get the New Yorker to print a rebuttal?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


Maybe he could ask Bret Easton Ellis for a reference.
posted by papercake at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


There are also instances in which the Wilipedia in crowd will be utter assholes, this just isn't one of them.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2012


CNNInternational: "If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article."

If the author had tried to edit it, their policy woudl be to reject the edit because he needed "a secondary source".
posted by idiopath at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article.

If you ever want to start a massive edit war, replete with flames, accusations of unverified identity and bad, and Godwin's Law in 0 to 60, try to edit a WP article that's actually about you.
posted by ubiquity at 11:19 AM on September 7, 2012 [25 favorites]


* bad faith
posted by ubiquity at 11:20 AM on September 7, 2012


Wikipedia was right to wait until they had a written and public source. Otherwise, what standards do they have for "facts"?
So I could modify Wikipedia to say that Harry Potter was based on the life and times of Tiny Tim and J.K. Rowling would have no recourse but to get the New Yorker to print a rebuttal?
No, they would (hopefully) ask you for your source.
posted by Jehan at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Encyclopaedia by press conference.
posted by bonehead at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article.
posted by CNNInternational at 11:13 AM on September 7 [1 favorite +] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by chavenet at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Generally when you're citing you have to cite a source from a recognized peer-reviewed journal, major publisher, or some other similar criteria. Wikipedia does not seem concerned about where a secondary source is published, just that it's published; they use all kinds of trashy sources.

With that in mind, I'm not sure why their criteria would not allow a written letter from the author as a source. If nothing else, it should be primary source material and subject to analysis.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


This really seems a bit absurd. Why the gossip is allowed to stand when the author has clearly explained otherwise is nonsensical.
posted by odinsdream at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And this is all more or less as it should be.

It shouldn't have to work like that. If Roth can be verified who he say he is (and there are mechanisms to do that on Wikipedia), he should be allowed to submit ''corrections''. Wikipedia already deals in primary source material on Wikicommons. Pictures are original content. They are verified through the OTRS system. Wikipedia also has rules for Biographies of Living Persons, and for editors of their own article subjects. There are ways, it's absolutely ridiculous that Roth had to go through some much hassle and print a NYT article just to correct false information, it makes Wikipedia appear broken, it doesn't have to be that way.
posted by stbalbach at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


People add preposterous things to WP everyday, and they are almost always instantly reverted, especially in major (or majorly popular) articles. So I don't think JKR needs to worry.
posted by ubiquity at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2012


CNNInternational: "If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article."

"This is a shitty frame", thought CNNInternational while looking at the Mona Lisa.
posted by boo_radley at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Aren't there special rules for WP pages about currently-living persons? I don't see any reason why one of those rules shouldn't be the ability for that person to have information removed from the page. Probably don't want to let them add things to the page, but if they want stuff removed it's probably easier to just go along with it than it is to have them suing for libel or writing lulzy articles in major publications that makes WP look bad.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:26 AM on September 7, 2012


If you ever want to start a massive edit war, replete with flames, accusations of unverified identity and bad, and Godwin's Law in 0 to 60, try to edit a WP article that's actually about you.

Editing an article about you is against the rules.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:27 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


someone had once idly told me that the man was the offspring of a quadroon and a black, but that unprovable bit of unlikely hearsay was all of any substance that I ever knew about Broyard

Relative to the topic of his novel, I find his use of both "a quadroon" and "a black" to be deliberately provocative. Fucking Roth, man!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:28 AM on September 7, 2012


Omg you got me to finally finish something written by Philip Roth.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:30 AM on September 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


Editing an article about you is against the rules.

By whose rules? Saying it's "against the rules" is kind of a ridiculous thing to say if someone has written an article about you without your consent.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2012


Generally when you're citing you have to cite a source from a recognized peer-reviewed journal, major publisher, or some other similar criteria. Wikipedia does not seem concerned about where a secondary source is published, just that it's published; they use all kinds of trashy sources.
According to the article, the original statements were sourced to the New York Times and Salon. Not the greatest of sources, but surely not trash?
With that in mind, I'm not sure why their criteria would not allow a written letter from the author as a source. If nothing else, it should be primary source material and subject to analysis.
It's needs to be referable. When somebody cites "author's own correspondence" in a book, you take it on their reputation that it's true. Wikipedia can't do that, as pages aren't the work of individuals. There needed to be something public so it can be checked against the reputation of the source's creator.
posted by Jehan at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I understand your point, Jehan - but it's Philip Roth, man!
posted by Mister_A at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Despite it being Philip Roth, I'm still with Jehan on this one. The open letter to the New Yorker was sufficient and got the job done, though it would be nice if less prominent authors were able to accomplish the same thing without the uh, trouble of getting the New Yorker to print a letter.

Perhaps some kind of database service open across the world that was accessible by the common Wiki editor on a variety of platforms. If only, if only.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:40 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It might seem like Wikipedia could use some kind of deposition process to allow authorities on a subject to make authoritative assertions without this silly business of publishing them elsewhere first. But it's actually very clever that they don't, because relieves the burden of authentication: How do you know this person emailing you to complain is really Philip Roth? Simple: They have the ability to publish letters in the New Yorker under the name Philip Roth.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Their article on Spartacus is all f'ed up. WHO AMONG US WILL EDIT IT?
posted by Mister_A at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


Looking at the page history, Roth had his biographer, Blake Bailey, edit the article. It was reverted, with a request for verification. Bailey removed it again. A user called Parkwells made numerous edits later the same day, adding cites from Kakutani and other critics.

I assume Roth then resorted to direct correspondence with Wikipedia - I couldn't find anything on talk pages.

Bailey's other edit to the Operation Shylock article seems to have gone unremarked.
posted by zamboni at 11:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


By whose rules? Saying it's "against the rules" is kind of a ridiculous thing to say if someone has written an article about you without your consent.


Wait, you say someone wrote an article about a living person without that person's consent? The internet really is a lawless wasteland. You'd never see that happen in print.
posted by straight at 11:49 AM on September 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just to add, I think that maybe Roth should have rather gotten onto the New York Times and Salon for publishing the original articles without research. They let their writers suggest his book was based on or influenced by the experiences of Anatole Boyard, but seemingly on no grounds but the writers' guesswork.
posted by Jehan at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2012


Whoa!
This is absolutely amazing.

Phillip Roth is still alive?
posted by item at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2012


Philip Roth is alive as well! What a world!
posted by item at 11:52 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


By whose rules? Saying it's "against the rules" is kind of a ridiculous thing to say if someone has written an article about you without your consent.

Wikipedia's rules. The site you would be editing.

And as straight noted, you don't have veto power over articles written about you, print or otherwise.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:55 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh dear. Something has just occurred to me.

I know someone with his own Wikipedia page, and the fact that he had his own page was something he found delightfully bizarre. Plus, he writes for Mad Magazine. So, for a while, he would occasionally entertain himself by writing his own amusing falsehoods into his own bio for his own amusement, to see how long it would take for someone at Wikipedia to notice.

I'm wondering now if maybe Wikipedia's insistence on a secondary source for "I want to change the Wiki page about me" is because they got sick of Des.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Imagine if Philip Roth wrote a New Yorker article complaining that a biographer got a fact wrong in a book and won't let Roth write a correction to be published in a revised version of the book.

And if everyone expressed shock and horror that a biographer would privilege other sources over a statement made by his subject. How dare Michael Moore make a movie quoting someone else about George W. Bush and not letting GWB himself have the final word to veto and correct everything!
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, imagine if books and movies were crowdsourced and constantly revised the way Wikipedia is.
posted by The World Famous at 12:02 PM on September 7, 2012


And as straight noted, you don't have veto power over articles written about you, print or otherwise.

Unless you happen to be Jimmy Wales, of course.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


(which is to say that I don't disagree with your point, straight, but editing a book or a movie after the fact isn't a great analogy when we're talking about Wikipedia.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 PM on September 7, 2012


If only there was a way to edit a wikipedia article.

If only it wasn;t against Wikipedia policy to edit your own entry...
posted by MartinWisse at 12:05 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The World Famous: On the other hand, imagine if books and movies were crowdsourced and constantly revised the way Wikipedia is.

I would actually love to read a book created in this way. There is some online fiction that approaches it, but it's usually in the sense of various collaborators adding on to one ongoing story, not a large swarm of people amassing on a pre-existing text and recreating it. It would be the ultimate in postmodernism.
posted by capricorn at 12:08 PM on September 7, 2012


Unless you happen to be Jimmy Wales, of course.

[Citation Needed]
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:08 PM on September 7, 2012


Metafilter: And this is all more or less as it should be.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:15 PM on September 7, 2012


[Citation Needed]

Wikipedia Founder Edits Own Bio
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:16 PM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


How do you know this person emailing you to complain is really Philip Roth?

philiproth@hotmail.com

duh.
posted by Fizz at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you know this person emailing you to complain is really Philip Roth?

How do you know that the information in a secondary source is accurate?
posted by The World Famous at 12:19 PM on September 7, 2012


How do you know you're not just a brain in a jar?
posted by found missing at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


So I could modify Wikipedia to say that Harry Potter was based on the life and times of Tiny Tim and J.K. Rowling would have no recourse but to get the New Yorker to print a rebuttal?
No, they would (hopefully) ask you for your source.


Fair enough.

In this case the statement about Anatole Broyard was added on October 17, 2004 by Wikipedia user 24.87.43.140. There were no comments made on the edit.

It seems to me that the standards for adding or removing any bit of information should be the same: if a statement was added with little or no oversight then removing the same statement should require little or no oversight.

I speak here on behalf of the New Yorker, which is already thick enough and will become quite unwieldy if it becomes the standard mechanism for removing things from Wikipedia.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe they could make it a last page contest, and kill that played out caption contest. (Please, NYer, kill it and put it out of its misery.)
posted by found missing at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It shouldn't have to work like that. If Roth can be verified who he say he is (and there are mechanisms to do that on Wikipedia), he should be allowed to submit ''corrections''.

While at first it seems ridiculous, think about the potential abuse that the need for secondary sources avoids. "Yes, I'm the Boston Cat Kicker, and the information about me in your article on The Boston Cat Kicker erroneously states that I kick cats. I have never kicked cats, and I should know because I am me. Who are you gonna listen to, a judge and jury or the bona fide Boston Cat Kicker himself?"
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:40 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that the standards for adding or removing any bit of information should be the same: if a statement was added with little or no oversight then removing the same statement should require little or no oversight.

Replace "oversight" with "online source" and that's how it's supposed to work.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:41 PM on September 7, 2012


How do you know you're not just a brain in a jar?

Would a brain in a jar have these glorious tentacles? I think not.
posted by The World Famous at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2012 [20 favorites]


It seems to me that the standards for adding or removing any bit of information should be the same: if a statement was added with little or no oversight then removing the same statement should require little or no oversight.
Sure, that's fair, and it shouldn't be hard. I think right now the process would be to slap a "citation needed" tag on it, wait a few months, then delete if nobody comes by to give a reference. I don't know how long you should wait until deleting the line, but I guess you could justify deleting it pretty quickly and challenge anybody who restored it to do so with a cite. The worry was that somebody could find a reference for this assertion when it was challenged. I think that is a key point here, and less about Wikipedia being wayward.

I've edited a few obscure pages on Wikipedia, and it seems that some folk are only to happy to pick you up on an uncited fact. After finding that I couldn't cite anything but my own knowledge on a given article, I happily deleted a couple of lines. Maybe I'm not typical. I'm tempted to go delete something that was tagged as needing a citation in August, and see if anybody restores it with a reference.
posted by Jehan at 12:47 PM on September 7, 2012


Tell Me No Lies: And this is all more or less as it should be.

So I could modify Wikipedia to say that Harry Potter was based on the life and times of Tiny Tim and J.K. Rowling would have no recourse but to get the New Yorker to print a rebuttal?
Are you new to the very idea of Wikipedia? Yes, you can modify a Wiki article. If it's complete hogwash, as you've hypothesized, it will likely be quickly corrected. If you continue, you will be banned (based on your IP address, and not just your username).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you know this person emailing you to complain is really Philip Roth?

philiproth@hotmail.com

duh.


So what? Anyone can create any email account on hotmail, or gmail, that they want as long as it isn't already taken. That doesn't prove anything.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:50 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you know you're not just a brain in a jar?

Because nobody could make all this shit up.
posted by Twang at 12:50 PM on September 7, 2012


It seems to me that the standards for adding or removing any bit of information should be the same: if a statement was added with little or no oversight then removing the same statement should require little or no oversight.

Thing is, while it didn't come with references when first added, it wasn't invented from whole cloth for the wiki, either. It was the result of speculation by literary critics. So when he tried to have it removed, the wiki editors had some actual cites to add.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2012


Anyone can create any email account on hotmail, or gmail, that they want as long as it isn't already taken. That doesn't prove anything.

I suspect that was the point/joke.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:54 PM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia does not seem concerned about where a secondary source is published, just that it's published; they use all kinds of trashy sources.

The quality of the sources is up to individual editors - and so it depends on that editor's knowledge of (or ability to find) available sources. Of course finding reliable sources can take an -enormous- time investment ... moreso the farther you go back in time and the more obscure the subject. Just try to document, for example, the origin of the term "light-year". Good luck.

Additionally, just because a statement is carefully cited does not mean it can survive the whims of any random (or highly motivated) party that comes along. There are (gasp!) people willing to remove unfavorable facts from bios, and no doubt quite a few people earn a part of their living (gasp!!) massaging the bios of the well-connected.
posted by Twang at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you know this person emailing you to complain is really Philip Roth?

philiproth@hotmail.com

duh.
No, that's the email for Phil Iproth, the well-known Chuvashian ballet critic. Idiot!
posted by Jehan at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


/runs off to create Phil Iproth page on Wikipedia, citing this thread as a secondary source.
posted by The World Famous at 1:00 PM on September 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


zamboni: Bailey's other edit to the Operation Shylock article seems to have gone unremarked.

It's been a while, but I remember coming across a very personal comment, something like "Hey Alicia! See you in math!" on a random, low-interest Wikipedia page. Given the sheer size of Wikipedia, the ability to sneak in some unrelated junk is probably pretty good, but I imagine Wikipedia staff have gotten better at cracking down on this, at least for content that links to off-site. Otherwise, you'd end up with a wiki like the engineering wiki, which has a front page about carpet cleaning:
There are a mob of misconceptions around carpet cleaning that hold remained across the years, in defiance of the advancement of in era technology. Here we list a scarcely any of the widespread myths using the causes why they are not seemly at this time.

Not accurate prearranged that dust is abrasive so each time you trace on the carpet, grime is loam into the carpet fibres, damaging the carpet. A dirty carpet wishes destitution replacing ahead a clean carpet will. Vacuuming unique won't maintain a carpet absolutely unfetter from grease and high-quality grains that grant to wearing broken the carpet.

Not in the poop indeed - you'd wash clothes directly they be suffering with been played out, straightforward if they look clean. The similar applies to carpets - aura contains pollens, fungi, bacteria and feeling pollution including cigarette smoke, auto fag fumes and hundreds of other chemicals. Your braids, incrustation, clothing and shoes can transport these from outdoors to overcome up fundamentally your carpet.
And it goes on for another four paragraphs. Some of the site still contains engineering information, but I think many pages are polluted with spam.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2012


I've been involved in big long arguments over source quality - usually with deletionists trying to remove all citations from an article so they can AfD it on notability grounds - so I can assure you there are guidelines on what makes for a reliable secondary source and pages and pages of debate over the interpretation of those guidelines.
posted by Artw at 1:05 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


/runs off to create Phil Iproth page on Wikipedia, citing this thread as a secondary source.
posted by The World Famous at 4:00 PM on September 7


Eponysterical
posted by Fizz at 1:06 PM on September 7, 2012


This is why Wikipedia is awesome. I can guarantee you at the next family gathering, someone will chortle at me, "Didja hear that Philip Roth couldn't get his own Wikipedia entry edited because he wasn't enough of an authority?"

And I will do what I always do, which is to put on a funny voice and say, "I'm the Queen of England, and I was actually born a black man in a white woman's body, put it in my Wikipedia entry because I'm the Queen and I say so is why! Prove me wrong!"

I appreciate that Phillip Roth feels that his word is bond. To the rest of us, it's just some random dude saying something while claiming to be Philip Roth. Until Wikipedia has verified accounts like Twitter, we can't take his word for it. Sorry, man.

(Not to mention, the right way to do it would have been for Roth to add [citation needed] to the bit he wanted changed. That is why that thing exists. )
posted by ErikaB at 1:09 PM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Given the sheer size of Wikipedia, the ability to sneak in some unrelated junk is probably pretty good, but I imagine Wikipedia staff have gotten better at cracking down on this, at least for content that links to off-site.

Well, actually, no:

Wikipedia reaches a turning point: it's losing administrators faster than it can appoint them

Speaking from personal experience, I can say to me as a casual user of Wikipedia that it seems broken. I created an entirely new Wikipedia article about a year ago, and made sure it was bullet-proof, with tons of secondary sources. I then submitted the article for approval, and it was placed in queue... and nothing happened for 8 weeks.

Finally, I just removed the "not reviewed yet" (or whatever it says for new articles) markup from the article, wondering if it would cause some sort of admin meltdown.

The article is still up. Nothing happened. And this leads me to believe that there are just not enough people on Wikipedia to make sure it is a properly reviewed resource.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:13 PM on September 7, 2012


Sucks to your deletionists.
posted by Twang at 1:14 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Not to mention, the right way to do it would have been for Roth to add [citation needed] to the bit he wanted changed. That is why that thing exists. )

But why would Roth necessarily know this bit of obscure trivia? Granted, I take the point that anyone can write anything about anyone online or in print (although there libel laws in some countries that take care of that), but expecting everyone to know about esoterica like this is very arrogant.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia Founder Edits Own Bio

Ah, I thought you might have been misremembering his other fine moment.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:18 PM on September 7, 2012


When left to their own devices, Wikipedians relentlessly follow their process, with only the tiniest regard for the quality and consequences of the outcome. If Kafka and Borges had collaborated, and given the idea to Asimov to write up, perhaps the resulting story could have served as the plot of a novel of prophetic warning, a third in a triad with 1984 and Brave New World.

If it had existed, then perhaps Jimbo Wales could have read that story, and devised WP somehow differently, perhaps even with a senatorial board of eminent philosophers and one well-mannered seven-year-old, whose duty is to apply the minimum necessary amount of Common Sense. But maybe then it would not have achieved memetic ascension.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


WP:BLP makes good reading as well - I believe that it was in part
In response ti the editing incident.
posted by Artw at 1:20 PM on September 7, 2012


If he wants his Wikipedia article to be changed, he should find out how to change it. Or hire someone to change it for him. I'm not sure who his "interlocutor" was in this scenario, but I would blame them for not figuring it out.

I suppose you could blame the unnamed Wikipedia Administrator for not pointing out the existence of [citation needed]. It's true that Wikipedia is not super easy to edit. But why should it be?

Regardless, "Because I'm Philip Roth and I said so" is simply not - despite what Roth may believe - a compelling argument in this case.
posted by ErikaB at 1:22 PM on September 7, 2012


>(Not to mention, the right way to do it would have been for Roth to add [citation needed] to the bit he wanted changed. That is why that thing exists. )

But why would Roth necessarily know this bit of obscure trivia?


Depends on your definition of "obscure" I suppose. It's a running joke among nerds (I used it above, as it happens.) I can understand him not knowing that, but what are we to do?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:22 PM on September 7, 2012


Wikipedia: Thunderdome for D&D Rules Lawyers.
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on September 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


I've had similar fun with WikiPedia. I was compiling notes on a memoir for research purposes, and thought I'd see what Wiki had to say about the book. It turns out that the Wiki article was, in that regard, quite poor: a ton of clearly biased and sometimes even outright incorrect stuff, that could clearly be demonstrated incorrect by actually reading the bloody memoir in question. However, since you're not allowed to do original research, and you can't use primary sources, this camper who had taken charge of the page reverted any edit I made, page references, typo corrections and all. The crap secondary source interpreting what the man had said was better than what the man had actually said.

Now, this was about a Nazi, and after a certain point you realize that one has better things to do than arguing all day about a Nazi not being treated fair. But it still rankles me, and was enough to drive me off the site.
posted by Palindromedary at 1:27 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is another problem which is being prevented by Wikipedia's policies, which seem so unfair to Mr. Roth. This is the very real possibility of authors editing their own Wikipedia pages falsely. Wikipedia's seemingly pedantic insistence on external validation is meant in part to prevent this issue of revisionist history.

Let's say Stephen King decides he wants to remove the bit from the article about The Tommyknockers which says it was inspired by a Lovecraft story.

Maybe he hates Lovecraft now, and doesn't want to be associated with it. Maybe he joins a religion that is very anti-Lovecraft. Maybe he marries a new wife who hates Lovecraft. There are all sorts of reasons someone might want to change or remove bits of their history.

But the Lovecraft connection is verified by a secondary source (it appears in his book On Writing). If he wants to remove it, it's not enough for him to just say "I'm Stephen King and I say take it out." He has to cite an earlier secondary source that says otherwise.

Without these protections, the whole thing collapses.

Frankly, if anything I feel it should be more difficult to edit a Wikipedia article. Obviously the falsehood Roth was trying to correct was able to slip in through the cracks. If the editing policies were tougher, that would not have happened.
posted by ErikaB at 1:28 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


How do you know you're not just a brain in a jar?

Citation needed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia has always been pretty shit on literature imo. It's like asking a convention of the world's most conceited Cobol programmers about Jane Austen. Quite probably provoking Roth to write this is their biggest ever contribution to the subject - so well done all round, I suppose.
posted by Segundus at 1:30 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you know you're not just a brain in a jar?

Because nobody could make all this shit up.
Christ, what an imagination I've got!
posted by zamboni at 1:30 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to know why Wikipedia provides such comprehensive detail about porn stars, past and present. It makes no sense.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aren't there special rules for WP pages about currently-living persons? I don't see any reason why one of those rules shouldn't be the ability for that person to have information removed from the page.

People that are sufficiently famous employ firms to remove this information for them--the well-loved actor who gave roofies to a number of women and groped them, the aging writer who admitted on tape to buying the services of young boys, and the popular thriller writer who had an inordinate fondness for nazis and rather unconventional opinions on the holocaust.
posted by mecran01 at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2012


People that are sufficiently famous employ firms to remove this information for them--the well-loved actor who gave roofies to a number of women and groped them, the aging writer who admitted on tape to buying the services of young boys, and the popular thriller writer who had an inordinate fondness for nazis and rather unconventional opinions on the holocaust.

Guess which one is Philip Roth, which one is a Roth character, and which one is made up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:45 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Roth claimed that the Wikipedia article contained a serious misstatement, because it reported that it had been alleged that the book was inspired by the life of Anatole Broyard. Since the allegation had in fact been made, there was no misstatement in the article.

Wikipedia's refusal to "correct" the "misstatement" has resulted in the article reporting both the alleged inspiration and Roth's rebuttal. To me, this seems preferable to an article where the references to the alleged Broyard inspiration had simply been removed upon Roth's request.
posted by delegeferenda at 2:31 PM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Given that the false statement Roth objected to lacked sources of its own, I guess the thing to do would have been to insert a [citation needed] and then wait/hope for an editor to remove the offending sentence. Or, to put it another way, Wikipedia works just fine under the assumption that anyone who does not learn its intricate ways is clearly just failing to do the minimum necessary to protect themselves and can be ignored at will.

Wait. That sounds kind of familiar.
posted by Zarkonnen at 3:42 PM on September 7, 2012


Wait. That sounds kind of familiar.

I see you were paying attention during the RNC.
posted by The World Famous at 3:45 PM on September 7, 2012


And then there's this sort of thing...

The novel has been the subject of various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on September 7, 2012


The human hand has five fingers. [citation needed]
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:06 PM on September 7, 2012


delegeferenda: "To me, this seems preferable to an article where the references to the alleged Broyard inspiration had simply been removed upon Roth's request."

I thought that also, but, what about the rest of us who don't have ease or power to get things published like Roth clearly does? There needs to be a place for experts and expertise on Wikipedia. Vetted of course.
posted by stbalbach at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2012


Recent Wikipedia lulz is this pre-RFC about "the Beatles" vs "The Beatles" (when writing about the fab four in a sentence). Epic. The supporting evidence section is Kafkaesque. People fighting for years apparently. Spilling out to all sorts of places across Wikipedia dragging in who knows how many before its done. It's normal human nature to disagree but when it's over stuff like this it's both awesome and horrifying.
posted by stbalbach at 5:47 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


All the wikipedia foofaraw aside, I thought the letter was a fun read, an extended riff on trivialities written by a master of the language.
posted by alms at 8:12 PM on September 7, 2012


> ... not a large swarm of people amassing on a pre-existing text and recreating it. It would be the ultimate in postmodernism.

That reminds me of something.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:47 PM on September 7, 2012


Jimmy Wales threatens to encrypt Wikipedia if UK passes snooping bill
posted by homunculus at 11:05 PM on September 7, 2012


Philip Roth Taught a Course at Bard; Did It Inspire The Human Stain?
posted by homunculus at 12:42 AM on September 8, 2012


The Wikipedia machinations aside, it was a good piece, not the least of which was to learn about Anatole Broyard
posted by the cydonian at 3:32 AM on September 8, 2012


Given that the false statement Roth objected to lacked sources of its own, I guess the thing to do would have been to insert a [citation needed] and then wait/hope for an editor to remove the offending sentence.

There was a citation for the original statement, but the original statement was an opinion anyway. The original text is below:
Salon.com critic Charles Taylor argues that Roth had to have been at least partly inspired by the case of Anatole Broyard, a literary critic who, like the protagonist of The Human Stain, was a man identified as Creole who spent his entire professional life more-or-less as white.[1] Roth states there is no connection, as he did not know Broyard had any black ancestry until an article published months after he had started writing his novel.[2]
posted by bluefly at 8:21 AM on September 8, 2012


Well he handled it better than some people.
posted by the_artificer at 1:06 PM on September 8, 2012


Grant Shapps altered school performance entry on Wikipedia

New Tory party chairman Grant Shapps deleted O-level entry and information about donors to his private office
posted by KokuRyu at 1:36 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


By whose rules? Saying it's "against the rules" is kind of a ridiculous thing to say if someone has written an article about you without your consent.

It's pretty cool how far Wikipedia has come. It used to be, "an encyclopedia that anyone can edit? Ridiculous!" And now it's, "an encyclopedia with rules? Ridiculous!"

Neat.
posted by jhc at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2012


It used to be, "an encyclopedia that anyone can edit? Ridiculous!" And now it's, "an encyclopedia with rules? Ridiculous!"

Well, when one of the rules is that you're not allowed to cite to primary sources, that's pretty ridiculous.
posted by The World Famous at 11:08 PM on September 8, 2012


@zamboni: Bailey's other edit to the Operation Shylock article seems to have gone unremarked.

Yes. Subjectively dissing the reliability of another person's biography is getting well into conflict of interest territory. As it happens, that detail about autobiographical elements of Operation Shylock is well-sourced, including in Roth's autobiography, The Facts - as his biographer would know.
posted by raygirvan at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2012


Well, when one of the rules is that you're not allowed to cite to primary sources, that's pretty ridiculous.

Primary sources are fine, as the amended article shows. It just has to be on the web.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:27 AM on September 9, 2012


Primary sources are fine, as the amended article shows. It just has to be on the web.
Primary sources can be used, so long as they're published, they don't have to be on the web. The worry comes when they are used as more than a simple description of events. Secondary sources should be used to show interpretation or analysis. That is, Wikipedia isn't in the business of original research, which is pretty well known.


Also, the article which I edited on Friday night by removing information that was tagged in August has stayed edited. Nobody has come by to reference or restore the lines I deleted. I guess the system works pretty quickly?
posted by Jehan at 11:21 AM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Although I can understand Philip Roth's frustration in this particular case, when someone disputes an assertion on the Wikipedia page for a book that is supportable by multiple references in mainstream journalistic publications, and their argument is that they know it's not true because they are a close personal friend of the author, to say that Wikipedia editors should just go ahead and take this (anonymous, unverifiable) person's word for it is more ridiculous than requiring a published reference that any member of the Wikipedia-reading public could verify.

This does not have to have to be an open letter published in The New Yorker, although that is a great way of getting one's own point of view across. As alluded to above, it could be as simple as publishing said letter on one's own website.
posted by skoosh at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2012


-the second "have to".
posted by skoosh at 12:09 PM on September 9, 2012


The Larry Sanger Wikipedia page is pretty funny - it nearly collapses in on itself from the weight of citations used to support often contradictory statements about Sanger's role in the early days of Wikipedia.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:11 PM on September 10, 2012


I know I'm a bit late to the party on this topic, but it appears that Roth's version of events glosses over some mitigating facts. This blog post by a Wikipedian covers the salient points better than I probably could, but basically the facts are thus:

1. The supposed serious error in the article was something (verifiably) written by a critic, giving an interpretation that Roth disagreed with (that is to say, not so much "Wikipedia publishes falsehoods!" as "Wikipedia says a critic gave an interpretation Roth disagrees with, and he wants it gone")

2. To correct this "misinformation", Roth sent someone without a Wikipedia account to delete the information wholesale. The person did this rather ham-handedly, failing to identify themselves in any verifiable manner and claiming authority to remove the content because Roth wanted it gone

3. Roth's representative sent a request disputing the content not to the OTRS system, which is designed to handle content issues like this, or even to the talk page of the article, where other editors would see it, but to a completely unrelated system that's used for blocked editors to request editing privileges back. It would be a bit like me mailing a check for my car payment to Ford's PR department - sure, PR and lending are under the same company umbrella, but PR isn't set up to do anything with my car payment except squint at it in confusion.

4. Nevertheless, the administrator who responded to that service ticked explained to him why we can't take him at his word that he is Roth, and that he must provide sources. Roth apparently chose instead to go the media-blitz route.

Wikipedia has its failings, and among them are a content curation base stretched too thin and a tendency to sometimes over-curate in compensation, but at the end of the day, Roth and/or his intermediary failed to RTFM on Wikipedia's policies, and then were surprised when their ad-hoc method of content control didn't work. His frustration is understandable, but this was not a failure of Wikipedia to police its content; it was a failure of an article subject to do a bit of research on diving before jumping into the pool facefirst.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 12:01 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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