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July 29, 2014 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I Accidentally Started a Wikipedia Hoax: A stoned college prank involving the history of the children's book series Amelia Bedelia takes on a life of its own.
posted by naoko (87 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry EJ, but that was no accident.
posted by General Tonic at 11:06 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


It wasn't THAT funny.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:10 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


The obvious answer is that her stoned collegiate mind tuned into some kind of universal consciousness and discovered a heretofore unknown truth about the origins of Amelia Bedelia.
posted by chrchr at 11:10 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


I am unsurprised, but...

A few years ago I was hired to do a bunch of research for a report on the future of transportation, and Wikipedia was a great place to start. Obviously (to me, at least), I couldn't use it as a primary source, and because I was taking this fairly seriously started to drill down into the listed sources.

Mapping some of the claims made in the Energy efficiency in transportation page (and a few similar pages) to their sources makes a lot more sense when you assume that those portions were initially written by stoned college students as a joke, and the structural and political difficulties in fixing that page seemed deep enough that I didn't want to try to tackle fixing it.
posted by straw at 11:12 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Why does he keep refering to Amelia Bedelia as obscure? Or is it just because I am a parent that I assume everyone knows who Amelia Bedelia is, even if I can't always recall who wrote the books?
posted by TedW at 11:12 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


It was even cited by Mr. Amelia Bedelia himself: Herman Parish, Peggy’s nephew and author of the books after his aunt passed away in 1988, who apparently told a reporter from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that his aunt based “the lead character on a French colonial maid in Cameroon.”

The mind boggles.
posted by asperity at 11:14 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Can't be THAT obscure; Stephen Colbert made an Amelia Bedelia joke a few nights ago.
posted by jessicapierce at 11:15 AM on July 29


I may have told this story before, but I can't find it on the site.

My colleagues at a previous job pulled a prank on an overseas visitor to our site once. They knew where they were staying, and so created the Wikipedia entry for the place, saying that the place was haunted.

They specifically mentioned the months while the visitor would be there as being prime time for ghostly activity (check the first version of the page).

If you visit the relevant page now (linked above), the claims for the haunting are still there, but the story has been fleshed out and the time period for peak haunting has been removed.

There can be lots of reasons for vandalism to stay there...
posted by YAMWAK at 11:20 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I remember Amelia Bedelia because I remember reading the books to my sister when she couldn't have been more than 3. And she was just plain NOT amused by Amelia Bedelia's nonsense. I thought that she just didn't get the joke, but she made it clear that she just thought Amelia shouldn't be so stupid.

30 years later, this exchange still defines a lot of our relationship.

I imagine she would feel the same way about getting high and editing Wikipedia entries as a joke.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:20 AM on July 29 [7 favorites]


My impression was Amelia Bedelia sort of fell out of favor in the late 90s/00s when Junie B. Jones came along. (Team Bedelia!!!)
posted by sallybrown at 11:22 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


See, if you want your prank to be harmless you can't have it be too believable.

I know a guy who writes for MAD Magazine. His initial Wikipedia entry was created back in 2004, and back then he thought the whole idea of him having a Wikipedia entry was completely ridiculous. So sometimes, to amuse himself, he'd log on and make outrageous changes to the article to see how long it took someone to notice.

But he was posting obviously-fake things - like how he is known for his sardonic use of ampersands, or that he was born in Italy in 1853, or that he invented the steam-powered air hockey table, or that portions of his left buttock are on display in the Smithsonian. After a while, Wikipedia started keeping a close eye on things; but even if they stayed up a while, nothing he posted would ever get repeated without someone saying, "......wait. Can we research this?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Tlön, Uqbar, Amelia Bedelia
posted by Iridic at 11:25 AM on July 29 [11 favorites]


There is room for both Amelia Bedelia and Junie B. Jones in my heart.

And goddamn, is Junie B. Jones hilarious. I love that guy!
posted by asperity at 11:26 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


Huh, I hadn't heard the Cameroon thing, I don't think, I always just assumed it was anti-Irish propaganda. "Oh those wacky Irish", we're supposed to think, "God bless 'em, they're dumb as posts but they sure can cook." Perhaps I was wrong about this? I hadn't even considered that I was wrong.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:26 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The other night I read Amelia Bedelia, Play Ball to my daughter and encountered the following:
"Throw it to first base," yelled the boys. "Put Dick out." So Amelia Bedelia threw the ball to first base. Then she ran and grabbed Dick. "How far out do you want him?" she called.
My inner 12-year-old finds this hilarious. I think having kids has helped me develop a much better poker face .____.
posted by whitecedar at 11:27 AM on July 29 [8 favorites]


Do we know the real prank isn't the Daily Dot article?
posted by stbalbach at 11:31 AM on July 29 [6 favorites]


My lie—because that’s what it was, really—was repeated by dozens of sources, from bloggers to academics to journalists. They knew better than to attribute Wikipedia directly, because even a seventh-grader knows citing Wikipedia as a source is tantamount to admitting that you haven’t done any research at all. Instead, they referred to the source of the Amelia Bedelia Cameroon lie in vague terms, such as “the literature I’ve read” on the subject, or even to Parish himself.
Wow, he's not kidding. The Parish example may take center stage, but don't miss that link — it's a fantastic example of the way bullshit and rumor circulate as fact when citation ethics takes a holiday. A certain kind of nightmare scenario of online cultural discourse: Wikipedia as omnipresent, tacit common knowledge, even when what it knows is wrong.
posted by RogerB at 11:33 AM on July 29 [8 favorites]


So it would would appear to be about time to add linguistic evidentiality to English, at least some grammatical qualifier that indicates whether a given fact is cited or un-cited on Wikipedia.

If indeed linguistic evidentiality is a thing and that's not an entirely fabricated Wikipedia article about it.
posted by XMLicious at 11:35 AM on July 29


ruin a children's book: points!
posted by mullacc at 11:35 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Wait...Goebbels never said that thing about repeating a lie so often that it becomes the truth? Man, there's a piece of historical irony for you.
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on July 29


Do we know the real prank isn't the Daily Dot article?

Well, timing on the initial Cameroon insertion's as the article says.
posted by asperity at 11:36 AM on July 29


It's true what they say: marijuana IS dangerous.
posted by NoraReed at 11:42 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


My edit that Arnold Schwarzenegger became very interested in the mythology of Robert Howard's Conan and now worshiped Crom did not last long.

Which is too bad. The world would be a better place if more people knew the riddle of steel.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:42 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


I just did some basic Google searches and the earliest ref outside Wikipedia is 2010, and nothing in Google Books other than a recent self-published religious book. If it was a real fact there would be something pre-dating 2009 otherwise where did the original Wikipedia editor get the information.

Noteworthy that it takes a stoned person thinking they are clever to write something completely normal sounding.
posted by stbalbach at 11:47 AM on July 29


This must be most embarrassing to Herman Parish, who took over his aunt's legacy and is probably now revealed to have not known her that well at all.
posted by painquale at 11:47 AM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I think it's a bit weird, to be honest, that the author doesn't feel guilty about their act of vandalism. I think what stories like these reveal is the extent to which institutions like Wikipedia rely on basic human decency. I'm sure this will come off as stuffy, but I think allowing your own private enjoyment of a joke to get in the way of the sharing of human knowledge is sort of sociopathic. Even the fake edits that are really obvious but rely on someone else cleaning up after you are, to say the least, a bit antisocial: the equivalent of dropping food wrappers in the street.
posted by Acheman at 11:49 AM on July 29 [21 favorites]


The most surprising part of this is that they're still writing Amelia Bedelia books. I read the first couple as a kid, but they always felt very old fashioned and sort of time bound. What middle class family has a live in maid anymore? Have they changed her character to reflect the times? Does she have a vampire boyfriend or spend her time literally interpreting magical prophecies or whatever it is whippersnappers like to read about these days?

Next comes Mrs. Pigglewiggle and the anime reboot...
posted by theweasel at 11:49 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


But given the tone of the writing—"her vast collection of hats, notorious for their extensive plumage” is about as snarky as snarky can get [really?]—and the fact that Evan and I didn’t even cite a source, why would no one see any red flags?....

...I’d be lying if I said that the words Milowent uses to describe what Evan and I did—”vandalism,” “fabrication,” “hoax,” “lie”—don’t stick in my craw a little bit.

Gah, what sticks in my craw is this person blaming everybody else for not getting what was so 'obviously' a (not actually very funnay) joke.

(Dumb shit like) This is why we can't have nice things (like Wikipedia)
posted by Flashman at 11:50 AM on July 29 [4 favorites]


"Oh those wacky Irish", we're supposed to think, "God bless 'em, they're dumb as posts but they sure can cook." Perhaps I was wrong about this? I hadn't even considered that I was wrong.

You're not absolutely wrong, but you're generalizing. Some of them are smart and some of them can't cook. But the real issue is that times have changed and it's no longer acceptable to say stuff like that directly. Just keep your thoughts on our Celtic friends to yourself, unless you want a lot of fuss.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:51 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


This is not even unique to Wikipedia. As an example, there are many books, articles, etc. that say that Delaware gave the first bar exam in the United States. It's even in Wikipedia.

I decided it would make an interesting blog post, but after a great deal of research I found that there is no actual evidence of this anywhere and that somebody probably made it up, maybe as long ago as the 1960s, and it has been blindly cited in law review articles and books ever since.

The world is full of bullshit that has become fact.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:56 AM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Man, talk about Wikiality. The thing with Snack-Facts like these is that 99% of the time they are so dang arbitrary. They just add a little flavor, a little flair. But they don't actually matter, nothing actually changes.

My take-away is not any feelings about the nature of this lie but rather that so much truth out there is no more or less important than this lie.
posted by rebent at 11:59 AM on July 29


Obligatory xkcd: Citogenesis
posted by zinon at 12:00 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


Gah, what sticks in my craw is this person blaming everybody else for not getting what was so 'obviously' a (not actually very funnay) joke.

I think the moment someone decides to cite an unverified, unsourced Wikipedia factoid in whatever the hell it is they're releasing to the public as a researched document, any blame for perpetuating misinformation is on them and them alone. People doing that is why we can't have nice things like accurate information in places that aren't the easily-editable-even-by-stoned-college-students Wikipedia.
posted by griphus at 12:03 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I read the first couple as a kid, but they always felt very old fashioned and sort of time bound. What middle class family has a live in maid anymore?

Especially one from Cameroon, right? What?
posted by The Bellman at 12:05 PM on July 29


It's like Foucault's Pendulum for the children's publishing industry.
posted by nzero at 12:09 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


So this isn't the thread where we come clean about the Wikipedia vandalism we committed in 2009?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:09 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I think it's a bit weird, to be honest, that the author doesn't feel guilty about their act of vandalism.

From link:
It also doesn’t make me feel great that this particular lie had duped so many people that it’s been propagated dozens and dozens of times by allegedly credible sources. ... When I spoke to my co-author Evan on the phone the other night, he admitted he shared my guilt.
posted by ODiV at 12:11 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


What's the proper term for this sort of thing? An apolo-brag?
posted by Navelgazer at 12:12 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


I love how over-seriously a lot of asshole editors take wikipedia, when i've heard tens or even over a hundred instances of stuff like this completely getting pulled off.

If this took this little effort, imagine how much stuff trolls who want no greater satisfaction than showing their internet friends what they pulled off, and have all the free time in the world to go really deep with this have inserted. And this isn't just some scare tactic thing, i used to know some serious dedicated trolls who were down with the long con, so to speak.

Mostly though, that juxtaposition pisses me off. I correct a typo and get reverted, they do shit like this and it sticks for ages or basically forever.
posted by emptythought at 12:14 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Ok, since you ask, I do vaguely remember making a dumb, and probably not that funny either, edit of my own back when I first learned about this Wikipedia, and which was corrected in a matter of hours.
posted by Flashman at 12:15 PM on July 29


I think what stories like these reveal is the extent to which institutions like Wikipedia rely on basic human decency.

What the story reveals to me is why it's academically and journalistically unethical to regurgitate uncited, unverified information from Wikipedia.

Stoned college kids gonna stoned-college-kid. Wikipedia is an excellent tool—but like any tool, you have to understand its limitations and proper use.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:21 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]




Anyway, this synopsis of Nate Dogg and Warren G's "Regulate" is the best Wikipedia vandalism of all time.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:25 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]


What's the proper term for this sort of thing? An apolo-brag?

Bragpology, maybe?
posted by kate blank at 12:26 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I feel like the expert she was talking to was having trouble explaining to her that what was knee-slappingly hilarious to her stoned mind was just plausible-seeming vandalism unrecognizable as a joke to anyone else.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:26 PM on July 29


Wouldn't it be helpful for the author to, uh, actually establish that Amelia Bedelia wasn't based on a maid from Cameroon? I know it totally sounds like something stoned college kids would come up with, and I don't doubt they got stoned and wrote it, but saying "oh, we were stoned and wrote that" does absolutely nothing to give Wikipedians a basis for correcting the entry. Who knows – maybe they were stoned enough that they don't remember that the article already said the bit about Cameroon, and they only added the thing about the plumed hats. Or maybe they are misremembering the whole thing. Either way, it'd be nice to have some information about this beyond the vague hearsay here.

I mean, it just seems ironic. The article seems to be about the fact that Wikipedia isn't always well-cited or trustworthy, but the article itself is blatantly guilty of the same things. How long would it take to gather enough evidence to verify that, yes, what the Wikipedia entry says is incorrect?
posted by koeselitz at 12:30 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


How long would it take to gather enough evidence to verify that, yes, what the Wikipedia entry says is incorrect?

Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Why not find the relevant primary sources and make the update yourself?

Anyway, this isn't how it works—you can't prove a negative. The general rule is to remove uncited claims.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:39 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


I can't see why anybody's particularly surprised that Wikipedia contains completely baseless information like this. Wikipedia is a subculture that privileges tech geeks who can assimilate its rules, lingo, and Web formatting style over people who have accurate knowledge of something. Excessive adherence to the "no original research" rule even makes it worse.
posted by jonp72 at 12:42 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Excessive adherence to the "no original research" rule even makes it worse.

Can you explain what you mean by this? Seems to me that Dickson's collegiate vandalism is exactly the sort of thing that "no original research" is meant to prevent.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:47 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Somewhere in the depths of Wikipedia, an old blog post I wrote is cited as a source on the topic I wrote about. I can tell you for a fucking fact [citation needed] I have never in my life written anything that could be cited as a definitive and correct source of information.
posted by griphus at 12:48 PM on July 29


Yeah, the "no original research" rule is one of the best rules Wikipedia has, and I've never seen an example of it being a bad thing.
posted by koeselitz at 12:51 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


LOL it is too easy to become an authority on wikipedia. I remember long ago, I made an edit to an article about a book. I put in an unsourced but widely held critical opinion about the book, that it is generally discredited. Just now, I went back to the oldest history page, my original edit is lost, apparently it occurred before revision tracking was implemented. The first instance of my edit was sourced as "According to certain authorities [citation needed].." My intention was to bait future editors to put in well sourced critical opinions. That only took 6 years. But the new sources are impeccable, and agreed with my original edit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:53 PM on July 29


I can't see why anybody's particularly surprised that Wikipedia contains completely baseless information like this.

What's surprising and worth thinking about is not that it's there in the first place, but how (and how widely!) it circulates.

As Wikipedia has taken an increasingly central place in the giant game of Telephone that is the new citational ethos of online discussion, stuff like this gets passed on in the form of puffery and bullshitting — factoid filler in lazy journalism, or inflated claims about "the literature I've read" that sound just convincing enough to take in another reader, so the claim gets passed on again and again ad infinitum. This is the natural outcome when "find a link" and "cite a source," or web search and research, are taken as substitutable. I'm sure it has its beautiful, Pessoan or Borgesian, side, this unstoppable circulation of fiction; but it's also a triumph of bullshit and a nightmare for factuality.
posted by RogerB at 12:58 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I take the unreliability of wikipedia as a feature, not a bug. In the old days of multi-volume encyclopedias (that were often inappropriately used as sources for students research) 'facts' would be regurgitated and there was no 'citation needed'.

Now people read an assertion, and want to know where that came from, and will read the original sourcing of that information. Ideally they will view that sourcing with a critical eye as well ('maybe National Review has an agenda they are trying to push, and are not an objective source').

People are a lot less pleased with 'anonymous sources' than they used to be, and read media with a more critical eye than they used to [citation needed].

The fact that 'citation needed' is now a popular phrase used in many contexts other than wikipedia is an example of this.

So yeah, bullshit does get inserted, but it also gets removed. The XKCD does bring up a valid concern though - but it's not one that is new to wikipedia.
posted by el io at 1:07 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


"His latest, Amelia Bedelia Goes Wild..."

I feel like the author has not outgrown her penchant for sneaking fake facts into her writing.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:15 PM on July 29


It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a Wikipedia vandal to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:17 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The Wikipedia admin brigade is on the case! As in they banned the IP address that was used to put in the joke edits and nothing else, five and half years after the fact. Bravo!
posted by zsazsa at 1:19 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


Who knows – maybe they were stoned enough that they don't remember that the article already said the bit about Cameroon, and they only added the thing about the plumed hats. Or maybe they are misremembering the whole thing. Either way, it'd be nice to have some information about this beyond the vague hearsay here.

The actual edit was cited above. That IP address made only one other edit when not logged in, three minutes later, on Peggy Parish; that one got corrected 3.5 months later.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:20 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


five and half years after the fact

It's done to create a block log. If there is trouble in the future it's now part of the record.
posted by stbalbach at 1:22 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I see this has been added to Wikipedia's own list of hoaxes on Wikipedia.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:23 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


It's done to create a block log. If there is trouble in the future it's now part of the record.

Yes, that totally makes sense and doesn't seem at all like the action of a parodically irrational bureaucratic process engaged in pointless, belated scapegoating — except that it's an IP address, not a person! Holding his dumb college vandalism against Dickson's own user account would be fair enough, if still comically belated and only a symbolic response to an institutional/cultural failure; but it's indisputably pointless and comical to carry out a belated, symbolic scapegoating of some random computer at Oberlin.
posted by RogerB at 1:33 PM on July 29 [8 favorites]


It's done to create a block log. If there is trouble in the future it's now part of the record.

Trouble from that exact same IP address, which belongs to Oberlin College and is certainly not being used by EJ Dickson or her friend any more? Though Oberlin now has a proven track record of producing edits to Wikipedia that were made under the influence. They should ban all of their IPs. Better safe than sorry!
posted by zsazsa at 1:35 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Normally the aging prig in me would be sniffish over the prank, but anything that forces people to double-check everything on wikipedia (and anyplace else on the web) is on balance a good thing.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:48 PM on July 29


Who knows – maybe they were stoned enough that they don't remember that the article already said the bit about Cameroon, and they only added the thing about the plumed hats. Or maybe they are misremembering the whole thing.

Wikipedia keeps a history of all the changes and edits made to an article; it's very easy to go back and see what an entry looked like at any point in time. In this case, the story checks out.

Amelia Bedelia is basically the fictional character with whom I identify most. I've repeated this "Cameroon maid" story in conversation in the past, as if it were a fact - thankfully only ever in conversation, but still. What an excellent object lesson in not placing too much faith in unverified claims read in a wikipedia article.
posted by erlking at 1:51 PM on July 29


(Also, I never considered Amelia Bedelia as an Irish caricature; what about her would prompt that particular assumption? I always assumed she was very literal minded and 'read' the world in an idiosyncratic way - and in doing so, making apparent the usually invisible absurdities of language. I think Amelia Bedelia is ripe for queer readings, Eve Sedgwick style, but I'm sure scholars in the field of children's literature are on that already).
posted by erlking at 1:53 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Due to a rabid Prachett fan base, Vampire Watermelon is still up. The editors who have been trying to take down that spoof page for years have just thrown in the towel.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:03 PM on July 29


I see this has been added to Wikipedia's own list of hoaxes on Wikipedia.

I hope that the confession is itself revealed to be a hoax and that Peggy Parish was in fact inspired by a maid in Cameroon, and it was all done in order to get the Amelia Bedelia page erroneously listed on the Wikipedia page of hoaxes. When the truth comes out, the Wikipedia list of hoaxes could be added to the Wikipedia list of hoaxes.
posted by painquale at 2:25 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]


MiltonRandKalman: Due to a rabid Prachett fan base, Vampire Watermelon is still up. The editors who have been trying to take down that spoof page for years have just thrown in the towel.
"The previous version of this article marginalized vampire pumpkins and displayed blatant and flagrant favouritism toward the vampire watermelon minority even though pumpkins represent the clear majority of plant-based vampires and were given prominence in the primary sources. I have now corrected this oppressive injustice. I understand some of you come from sheltered backgrounds but please open your minds and do not allow traditional prejudices prevent your acceptance of vampire pumpkins as equal to vampire watermelons."
Okay, the talk page on that entry made me laugh out loud for real.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:28 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Due to a rabid Prachett fan base, Vampire Watermelon is still up.

Huh? They cite an 1960s ethnologist specializing in Serbian Romany culture and the specific works in which he discusses the vampiric plant myth as found in Kosovo. You can argue the original folklorist may have been pulling a gag (there are no cites for the myth besides Vukanović), but it sure doesn't seem in itself to be a Wikipedia spoof.
posted by ormondsacker at 2:35 PM on July 29


Talk pages are the best of Wikipedia.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:36 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I mean, if I we're just throwing out dubious Wikipedia pages that have survived for months, how about The Pretenders current/former member list over on the side there? Chrissie Hynde has a link to her page; Martin Chambers has a link to his page; but there's apparently no page for former bassist Bobby Peterson (who I understand these days is a university dean, hacky-sack enthusiast, and may or may not be a stupid-head).
posted by ormondsacker at 3:01 PM on July 29


A couple of years ago I noticed this paragraph on JM Coetzee's page that was so unlikely and preposterous that I went to the trouble of screencapping it and e-mailing to myself. The passage stayed there for months, but it's now gone.
posted by Flashman at 3:16 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Talk pages are the best of Wikipedia.

They're kinda worst of the web though. Pedantic simpsons comic book nerds having whiskey-dicked lightsaber battles.
posted by emptythought at 3:20 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


If you visit the relevant page now (linked above), the claims for the haunting are still there, but the story has been fleshed out and the time period for peak haunting has been removed.

There can be lots of reasons for vandalism to stay there...
posted by YAMWAK at 1:20 PM on July 29




And, apparently this comment has pushed them to propose deleting the current page. Metafilter wins again!
posted by blurker at 3:33 PM on July 29


I'm kind of hoping this turns out to be the first thread that reveals that Herman Parish is a con-man who has been pretending to be Peggy Parish's nephew for years.
posted by RobotHero at 3:35 PM on July 29 [5 favorites]


Pedantic simpsons comic book nerds having whiskey-dicked lightsaber battles.

Earmarked for future theft. Thank you.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:46 PM on July 29


Wow, I'm surprised they corrected the offending Wikipedia article. The first thing that came to mind when reading that is, "Now it's going to be impossible to REMOVE the hoax, because now they would need to prove the Cameroon thing is NOT true, and NO PRIMARY SOURCES!!!"
posted by pravit at 3:52 PM on July 29


Next hoax: publish an article in which you falsely claim to have added 'facts' to specific wikipedia articles, back in the day.

Extra credit if you manage to get all of Wikipedia deleted. Without hacking DNS.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:59 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


this paragraph on JM Coetzee's page

Like the Amelia Bedelia thing in the article, this is a really wonderful example of the kind of "vandalism" or prank that Wikipedia's culture will never be able to extinguish without a radical transformation into a culture with much better subject-expert retention. That line came with a citation to provide supposed evidence (though it doesn't) and so wouldn't invite suspicion from someone totally ignorant of the subject, whereas, in order to get that it's a joke (and, actually, kind of funny) requires a reader who actually knows something about the subject of the article. It was inserted by an unregistered IP user (who made a string of otherwise reasonable, helpful edits before and after), and then it stayed there for almost a year, while the article was edited by numerous others including some Wikipedians high-profile enough that I recognize their user names, before being removed by another IP.
posted by RogerB at 4:00 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


This is some pretty good work in the Vertical Horizon entry:
The band garnered enough attention to inspire the portmanteau "Verizon" following the Bell Atlantic-GTE merger later that year, and the song was heavily featured in early promotions by the company.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:03 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Is this becoming the thread where we tell our favorite Wikipedia vandalisms? Because a few years ago I noticed that the Wikipedia page for the Red Delicious apple varietal indicated that it is sometimes known as "Red Disgusting".

It still makes me laugh out loud. In general the Red Delicious wiki page tends to be pretty heavy on the criticisms of the cultivar but it usually doesn't degenerate into schoolyard slurs.
posted by town of cats at 9:47 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Can you explain what you mean by this? Seems to me that Dickson's collegiate vandalism is exactly the sort of thing that "no original research" is meant to prevent.

I sometimes think that the "no original research" often leads people to think that any thing that isn't immediately documentable on the Web is somehow less true than something that is. Since the Amelia Bedelia hoax got on the web without arousing the wrath of Wikipedia's peanut gallery, it's given more credence than it is due.
posted by jonp72 at 10:17 AM on July 30


I'm of three minds on this:

I think what stories like these reveal is the extent to which institutions like Wikipedia rely on basic human decency.

1. Yes and exploiting that is anti-social because someone else does have to clean up the mess and typically the intent is to spread misinformation to serve for no other purpose than entertainment.

What the story reveals to me is why it's academically and journalistically unethical to regurgitate uncited, unverified information from Wikipedia.

2. Yes, the true lesson is that you can't use an "authority" that can be edited by any stoned college kid as a source of verifiable facts or general consensus.

3. Maybe the influence of vandals like this is ultimately beneficial, because too much credulity is tied up in the use of Wikipedia and the more sound-bite-happy stories emerge of its routine abuse, the more critical people will be at evaluating their sources. At least Wikipedia. Of course, the average person either "uses" Wikipedia to tear through college or high school writing assignments or for entertainment-surfing-value, or at least that's how I perceive it. Neither audience is necessarily going to be rigorous about holding Wikipedia to a higher standard if it serves its purpose to them.

If I were a teacher I'd use Wikipedia as a great example of the greater challenge of average-Joe research and critical thinking in general -- you have to have some general sense of what seems credible and develop some healthy but not counterproductive amount of skepticism, a willingness and desire to verify, and when it's unclear, a persistence to formulate your own informed opinion. The last one is hardest, informing an opinion from multiple contradicting sources that might disagree with one's own sensibilities in other areas.
posted by aydeejones at 12:32 AM on July 31


Also, I have found that when trying to be conversationalist beyond small talk and venturing into more speculative areas, it's actually sort of endearing to point out when you're totally speculating, or riffing on something you "read somewhere" that might be "total bullshit." Or "could be making this all up, but I think..." As long as that isn't all you ever do.

It develops your own credibility so that when you say something that is doggedly true but controversial to the person you really are trying to "reach" beyond mere chit-chat, you don't have to spend so much time qualifying it, but if you're already comfortable about your internal epistemology you'll have those resources available or be able to guide someone to them the same way you found them.
posted by aydeejones at 12:36 AM on July 31


(Those qualifiers for speculative conversation also really help if you catch yourself 'splaining something when you realize you really don't "know that you know" what you're talking about. You may not even have to apologize for 'splaining or feel the least bit bad, since you have added a dose of outward self-awareness and taken the edge off of any condescension that may have been percolating)
posted by aydeejones at 12:39 AM on July 31


I just realized that no one in this thread mentioned the thing from last year where someone noticed that Rand Paul's speeches contained passages from Wikipedia quoted word for word, and when challenged on it,
Paul insisted "nothing we said was not given attribution to where it came from" and the matter was a "disagreement on how you footnote things."

...

But Paul claiming he credited the movie exacerbated his problem, since the movie itself wasn’t what he lifted from.
No FPPs about it either, surprisingly.
posted by XMLicious at 4:50 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


There can be lots of reasons for vandalism to stay there...

Did you guys create the pages of the books that are cited to support the "haunted" claims too? 3 out of 4 of them actually link to What look like pages from real books. That's an admirable effort for a prank.
posted by Hoopo at 7:06 PM on August 8


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