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Wikipedia prankster comes clean
December 11, 2005 9:36 AM   Subscribe

This is why we can't have nice things. The man who edited the John Seigenthaler facts concerning the assassination of JFK & RFK in the Wikipedia has finally come clean. As a consequence of his actions, Seigenthaler wrote an editorial to USA Today, anonymous editors can no longer create pages in the Wikipedia (although they can still make edits), and the credibility of the project as a whole was placed into scrutiny. NY Times bugmenotlink
posted by jonson (70 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Double
posted by tristeza at 9:42 AM on December 11, 2005


Not a complete double; the NYT article in the first link is new information.

How on earth the guy thought Wikipedia was a "gag site" is beyond me.
posted by Remy at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2005


Not exactly double, as the previous post doesn't reference anything about the unmasked poster.
posted by elquien at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2005


Yeah, this isn't a double, it's the resolution of the first thread - see the "update" tag.
posted by jonson at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2005


it's not a double post, tristeza, relax.
posted by matteo at 9:50 AM on December 11, 2005


Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Mr. Seigenthaler on Friday that he had written the material suggesting that Mr. Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

He called and admitted it? Way to walk into a defamation suit, jerkface.
posted by rkent at 9:52 AM on December 11, 2005


RTFA, rkent. Siegenthaler is not interested in a defamation suit.

This situation, though, will be used in a thousand or more college classrooms next semester and beyond as instructors of underclass students attempt to show the difference between google-pedia research and peer-reviewed research for their papers/projects.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2005


Sorry guy, but no one else even close to having a method for covering as much as Wikipedia.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2005


Mr. Chase said he thought Wikipedia was a "gag" Web site

Ouch.
posted by mediareport at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2005


Sorry, thought this could have been added to the open thread about the same subject. My bad.
posted by tristeza at 10:05 AM on December 11, 2005


Mr. Chase said he thought Wikipedia was a "gag" Web site

Yeah, right. Which is why, to fool his co-worker, he went to the trouble of editing the entry. Speaking of which, the admins seem to have pruned the history of the article.
posted by Gyan at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2005


BASILIO
Slander is a fittle breeze,
a very gentle zephyr,
which insensibly, subtly,
lightly, sweetly,
begins to whisper.

Softly, softly, at ground level,
hissing in an undertone
it goes spreading, it goes buzzing;
it penetrates insidiously
the ears of people
and bewilders and inflates
the mind and the brain.

Emerging from the mouth,
the noise grows in volume.
gathers force little by little,
flies now from place to place;
it seems like thunder, like the tempest
that in the heart of the forest
goes whistling, rumbling,
and freezes you with horror.
Finally it overflows and breaks loose,
it spreads, it redoubles,
and produces an explosion
like the shot of a cannon,
an earthquake, a hurricane,
a universal tumult,
that makes the air resound.
And the wretched one who s slandered,
trampled down, humiliated,
under the public scourge,
if he's lucky, expires.

BASILIO
La calunnia è un venticello,
un'auretta assai gentile
che insensibile, sottile,
leggermente, dolcemente,
incomincia a sussurrar.
Piano, piano, terra terra,
sottovoce, sibilando,
va scorrendo, va ronzando
nelle orecchie della gente
s'introduce destramente,
e le teste ed i cervelli
fa stordire e fa gonfiar.

Dalla bocca fuori uscendo
lo schiamazza va crescendo,
prende forza a poco a poco,
vola già di loco in loco;
sembra ti tuono, la tempesta
che nei sen della foresta
va fischiando, brontolando
e ti fa d'orror gelar.
Alla fin trabocca e scoppia,
si propaga, si raddoppia
e produce un'esplosione
come un colpo di cannone,
un tremuoto, un temporale,
un tumulto generale,
che fa l'aria rimbombar.
E il meschino calunniato,
avvilito, calpestato,
sotto il pubblico flagello
per gran sorte a crepar.
posted by matteo at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2005


the difference between google-pedia research and peer-reviewed research for their papers/projects

And the difference is zippo. Take a look at recent academic history and see how much data has been faked and published in credible peer reviewed journals and been caught. Then wonder how much isn't caught.

Be a skeptic. Use multiple lines of inquiry. Never use a single source for data. Don't ever rely on single scientific study until it has been replicated. Even then still be skeptical.
posted by srboisvert at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2005


Sorry guy, but no one else even close to having a method for covering as much as Wikipedia.

for me, it's not the "covering as much as," since there is a method for covering as much as--comprehensive encyclopedias already employ that method; they are only limited by publishing budgets. If a market for a printed, refereed encyclopedia could pay for such an endeavor, the methodology exits.

Instead, it is the ability to hyperlink subjects, terms, and comments within the entries that sets wikipedia apart and takes advantage of the worldwide web's nodal design. Nothing is more of a drag in research than to have a volume of an encyclopedia refer one to another topic, and then going back to the stacks and finding that volume gone.

Wikipedia instead allows the researcher to quickly and easily jump from concept to concept without having to get up and find another entry in another volume.

Regardless of the capacity for serious flaws to be introduced in Wikipedia, it remains an excellent source to begin to amass then winnow down potential research sites, upon which the information retrieved can be more assiduously confirmed.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2005


the difference between google-pedia research and peer-reviewed research for their papers/projects

And the difference is zippo. [...]
Be a skeptic. Use multiple lines of inquiry. Never use a single source for data. Don't ever rely on single scientific study until it has been replicated. Even then still be skeptical.


Uh... that IS the difference.
posted by papakwanz at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2005


I don't really feel this guy is to blame in a world-historical sense. This would have happened eventually; Wikipedia is "flawed" in this way because of the same things that make so useful. It will survive.
posted by austin5000 at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2005


and on preview, I agree with your point, srboisvert; i should have made clear that even peer-reviewed materials can be bollocks. trust no one. always count your change.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2005


To be honest, I don't think the commons benefits from having anonymous articles -- part of participating in any commons is being responsible for your participation and its effects.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:28 AM on December 11, 2005


Why's everyone so uppity about Wikipedia? It's one tool amongst many for finding information. All of them imperfect.

One shouldn't be using only Wikipedia or only the New York Times or only the Encyclopedia Britannica or only any other single source for professional research...

Vote Chasing 2006.
posted by chasing at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2005


Chasing, before you get my vote, I'm gonna need to know what the key elements of your platform are.
posted by jonson at 11:21 AM on December 11, 2005


ld define wikipedia as an information source of huge breadth of information of inconsistent quality. Some articles are great, particularly those on technical subjects.

However, the prose can be, well, pretty bad sometimes especially on articles that get a lot of edits. Not everyone has the same sense of paragraph and article structure. As far as the factuality? Well, that's a complex issue. For non-controversial subjects, it's not a big deal. But controversial subjects do have problems.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2005


Uh... that IS the difference.

What is? I was refering to treating every information source as suspect.
posted by srboisvert at 11:25 AM on December 11, 2005


This solution is worse for Wikipedia than the problem. How many times in the past has someone been slandered on Wikipedia? How many times has a new article started by an anonymous editor eventually become a valuable contribution?

Collaborative anarchy (and it's beneficial side-effects) is the differentiator between Wikipedia and other encyclopedias. This is an experiment, not a product. We're all excited because the result was so counter-intuitive. By moving Wikipedia toward the command-and-control encyclopedias, we won't get a better (ie. more authoritative) product than them and we will get a less interesting experiment.

My solution would be a standard disclaimer before every article like "Don't believe everything you read on the internet!", but funnier.
posted by mediaddict at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2005


Maybe they need to do what newspapers do and have a "corrections" section.
posted by Auz at 11:42 AM on December 11, 2005


mediaddict is on the money--what makes Wikipedia interesting is the open callaboration. I'm not sure, though, about open anonymous collaboration, and I'm not sure that I really see the point of anonymity in wikipedia. Anonymity makes the wikipedia less transparent and it removes an important type of information from every article.

As for the claim that there is 'no difference' between wikipedia and peer-reviewed research: that's a pretty huge oversimplification. Anonymity is, in fact, one big difference.
posted by josh at 11:45 AM on December 11, 2005


And the difference is zippo.

Excluding the middle ground here helps nobody except people who want to restrict access to information.

No, the difference is not "zippo." To argue that it's "zippo" is nonsense. Yes, there is fabrication in academia, but there are mechanisms in place to make it difficult to get away with. By and large, they work. They don't work on Internet Time, though, and that's why it can seem that the "difference is zippo."

I'm all for Wikipedia. It's an idealistic enterprise. It needs to be, in order to move forward. But it needs to incorporate pragmatic ideas into itself -- it needs to evolve. And it's doing that.
posted by lodurr at 11:48 AM on December 11, 2005


This solution is worse for Wikipedia than the problem.

mediaaddict, to my mind, you haven't done a good job of explaining why Wikipedia will suffer from mandatory registration. Are you afraid that authors will be slandered, or that people won't post entries for fear of being slandered? What is the worst-case scenario?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:01 PM on December 11, 2005


I wouldn't say the difference is zippo srboisvert. I like Wikipedia, but my equally baseless assumption is that the rate of accuracy is much higher in reviewed journals. there are high profile instances of exceptions to this but I'd bet dollars to donuts those journals are a much better source of information then wiki. (not to mention that the journals have an actual name behind the data)

I think being registered on wiki may be beneficial
posted by edgeways at 12:05 PM on December 11, 2005


The only way to make Wikipedia legitimate is to require its editors to footnote and cite each factual statement before posting in an article. Instead, Jimbo & co. decided to make the encyclopedia an ad-hoc anything-goes reference site, and golly, look what happens. Wikipedia's a toy, not an encyclopedia. The "gag" site crack is not far from the truth.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:07 PM on December 11, 2005


So, saucy, what do you like to chop with that axe, once you've gotten it ground so sharp?

Personally, I think you've got a far too stringent definition of "legitimate", but then, maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps you could tell us what you mean by "legitimate"?
posted by lodurr at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2005


Wikipedia IS a joke site!
posted by parallax7d at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2005


The problem isn't Anonymity as I see it, there's really no reason to write anonymous encyclopedia entries, the problem is with intellectual expense.

Right now it's really easy to correct a Wikipedia entry. Just go ahead and do it, but how many potentially valuable edits are going to be lost because the editor was too lazy to bother registering. My guess is quite a few. When I ran a website with commentary I got an order of magnitude more posts when I allowed people to comment without registering, and I got more registered users participating.

On the other hand, Anonymity brings anarchy, and Wikipedia is probably big enough to start requiring a simple registration (email for now, but that can always be faked).

Anyway, those are just my thoughts.
posted by delmoi at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2005


lodurr, I don't know anything about nuclear physics, and I've never read a book about nuclear physics. But I can edit an encyclopedia entry on nuclear physics. Something's wrong with this model.

You can't verify the credentials of anonymous posters. You can, however, check their work. The only thing separating a monkey at a keyboard from a person qualified to write an encyclopedia is an assurance that what you are writing is grounded in credible source material.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:54 PM on December 11, 2005


Saucy Intruder, you should know that Wikipedia was born out of frustration with the slow progress of the prior project, which was known as Nupedia. Part I, Part II

"Legitimacy" is overrated.

This really was an aberration in that most bad anonymous edits are corrected quickly. The only reason, sorry to say, that Seigenthaler's entry was not corrected quickly is that nobody reads it. In any event, the proper collaborative response is to fix the entry, not go to USA Today and have an op-ed published that questions the entire enterprise.

I think being registered on wiki may be beneficial

On Wikipedia, you mean. Wikipedia is only one of thousands of wikis. This abbreviation is becoming widespread and it is very misleading.
posted by dhartung at 12:54 PM on December 11, 2005


Wikipedia-watch seemed slightly "off" to my first reading, and a little bit of research showed Mr. Brandt, the owner, to also be the owner of Google Watch. Google Watch inspired Google Watch Watch, well worth a read. Mr. Brandt seems to be the same kind of "activist" as video games violence crusader Jack Thompson, an unflattering comparison to be sure. Too bad their type often gets picked up as "expert sources" by sensasionalist reporters...
posted by Harald74 at 1:00 PM on December 11, 2005


dhartung, Nupedia was a closed-access system that required expert review before articles could be posted. I'm simply suggesting that Wikipedia policy be adamant that all factual assertions be cited to outside authority. This enables peer editing, not disables it.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2005


So, saucy_intruder, what's your alternative suggestion? No sources should be accepted unless they're vouched-for by somebody who passes some acid-test for expert-hood?

What would the test be? Who would define it -- and then multiply that question by the number of discreet fields in which someone would have to be defined as qualified?

There will be something wrong with every model, saucy. Absolutely every one. No model will be perfect. No model will even approach perfection. Does that mean we do nothing?

Now, as far as I can see, wikipedia is largely reliable. If you want to say that it's problematically unreliable, I think you need to make a case based on more than token examples. I could go through Brittanica and cherry-pick some "inaccuracies", if I happened to own one.

What would in fact be very very intersting is if there were a way to organize a very large-scale distributed fact-checking system to validate/invalidate wikipedia. I'll be kind of surprised, in fact, if something like that doesn't evolve over the next few years.
posted by lodurr at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2005


Am I talking to the wall here?
I never said that posts should be vetted by experts. I said that all factual assertions should be cited to outside authority.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:05 PM on December 11, 2005


Wow. I think I'll paste an earlier comment of mine:

----------
For what it's worth, a comparative audit by a German magazine, found Wikipedia upto the mark.

As I've maintained for quite some time, Wikipedia needs an audit process to keep track of its status.

Pick

1)10 most popular articles.
2)10 randomly selected moderate-to-high traffic articles.
3)10 randomly selected low traffic articles.

Compare against 'reputable' encyclopedias. Then compare all references against primary sources.

Judge on accuracy, breadth & depth, lucidity, and presentation.

Present results.

Repeat every quarter.
----------
posted by Gyan at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2005


What outside authority? Who decides? And who manages the overhead task of managing outside authorities?

The principle behind Wikipedia is that you can average failure across volume activity. It works in large part because (as dhartung alludes) the "intellectual cost" (as good a term as I've heard) is relatively low. Things like maintaining a table of righteous authorities increases the intellectual cost (both individual and distributed) tremendously.

Also, I'm not clear on how your proposal doesn't constitute vetting against experts. The vetting is merely displaced in time. The "authorities" have to be established, somehow; how else other than via experts? And who monitors for the appropriatteness of an authority?
posted by lodurr at 1:16 PM on December 11, 2005


Arguing on the internet is like the Special Olympics, you may win, but your still retarded.

Wiki are the cure to the problem described by this joke, and that threatens people.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:29 PM on December 11, 2005


Jimbo didn't just change the rules over this incident. People who look at lots of anon page creations thought about it for a while first.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:31 PM on December 11, 2005


I found that using Wikipedia was far superior to most other forms of internet research.

Try figuring out if Porsche ever made a 365. If you google it, you get ~10000 hits, many of which are proclaiming the specs of the 1948-1962 Porsche 365, every one of which is a Typo.

Check Wikipedia and you will find a detailed history of EVERY Porsche Model ever made, with no reference at all to a 365.


I just wish Wikipedia had entries for many of the typos and common misconceptions of the internet, like a snopes or some such.
posted by subaruwrx at 2:07 PM on December 11, 2005


We can seriously bicker for-frickin'-ever about whether Wikipedia is a net positive or net negative for the world. I personally love it to death. It's one of my desert-island websites. I surf to it constantly to try to get a rough handle on references I don't recognize, things I'm curious about.

But whether you're me or you're Daniel Brandt, the point is, this Pandora's box has been opened. I'd mark Wikipedia's chances of survival as being a good deal better than the Encyclopedia Britannica's. Sorry. But assuming that to be true, what can we do to mitigate the chances of a repeat of the Seiganthaler incident?

Is it an audit process? Maybe. Who says the Wikimedia foundation has to do it? Why not announce the project and handle it volunteer-style?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2005


In any event, the proper collaborative response is to fix the entry, not go to USA Today and have an op-ed published that questions the entire enterprise.

I've seen that a lot recently, and (as a supporter of Wikipedia) think it's off-base, both in this case and in general. In this incident, Seigenthaler did contact the editors and get the entry fixed quickly. But the questions raised by the article's existence for months - and its subsequent appearance at other reference sites - are more than deserving of an op-ed in a mainstream paper; it's silly to suggest otherwise.

In general, I find it more than a bit odd to put the responsibility to fix the problem on the subject who's been maligned without knowing it, even if I'm the kind of person who would go ahead and make the change myself. Also, the argument that Wikipedia would suffer immense and important losses by eliminating "spur of the moment" edits via a simple registration system deserves at least as much of an experimental test as the current experiment for page creation. Is there data to back up that claim, or is it simply to be accepted on faith?
posted by mediareport at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2005


grrarrgh00: where do I announce it? Just create a page in the Wikipedia namespace? I personally won't be able to participate in it; it's just an idea I had for a process that strikes me as useful. Will that be cool?
posted by Gyan at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2005


I like the restriction on anonymous article creation. If you browse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_creation you'll see that this process is filtering out a fair amount of crap that would be immediatly AFD'd (put up for deletion). It does seem to me that attack articles/hoaxes/non-notable bios will all be significantly more commonly created by anonymous than users. And, anonymouse users can still edit articles to add random bits of information. I like the policy change.
posted by JZig at 3:29 PM on December 11, 2005


Wikipedia's article on John Seigenthaler still falls short of what i would call acceptable. Though the MetaFilter entry looks to be on the up and up.
posted by dgaicun at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2005


credibility of the project as a whole

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by quonsar at 3:41 PM on December 11, 2005


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

One could laugh the same laugh about encyclopedias in general, dear. Do keep that in mind.
posted by mediareport at 3:45 PM on December 11, 2005


Right, so I meant the Articles for Creation page. Due to boredom, I did quick survey of the page, and in my entirely subjective opinion, 53 of the proposed articles would survive AFD and 57 wouldn't. I hope that's worse than the average for new articles by registered users...

Oh, the one actual problem with the proposal in my opinion is that anonymous users can't nominate articles for deletion (it involves creating a sub page). I'll assume they'll fix that at some point.
posted by JZig at 3:47 PM on December 11, 2005


What outside authority?

The authority of anyone who feels like tracking down citations. I've found any number of articles in wikipedia asserting all kinds of great things, but I can't actually use any of it because these pages are chock full of unsupported data, and there isn't the first suggestion for finding an original source.

There wouldn't have to be some governing body checking each source--just require that facts have some kind of reference, even if its "anecdotal" or "hearsay"--at least we would know where it's coming from. Don't even audit pages for compliance--just request it, and enough people would honor the request to make a quantifiable positive change.

Pardon me if something like this is already the case, but my own searches suggest that it isn't.
posted by hototogisu at 3:59 PM on December 11, 2005


Hmmm, I mis-read your earlier comment, lodurr, let me try that again--"authority" can be anything, as long as it is outside of the page author's head. Let users decide if they want to accept the source or not--it's a step up from only having the author's name to judge veracity on.
posted by hototogisu at 4:01 PM on December 11, 2005


Anonymity brings anarchy

Eh? I think you mean "Anonymity brings chaos".
posted by melt away at 4:46 PM on December 11, 2005


I think this whole idea of "citing" is getting outdated. Its getting so easy to google or citeseer for facts now, that the additional effort to actually cite a link is unnecessary. Either you find an authoritative link (tools like pagerank help) via a search or you come up empty.
posted by karuna at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2005


...or there is no good source on the internet (any number of scientific quibbles, or musical trivia, or whatever), and since the page author is more or less quoting what they found offline, it wouldn't kill them to tell people where it was from.

It's getting so easy to google things these days that some of us keep forgetting that we're not living in a Neal Stephenson novel just yet.
posted by hototogisu at 6:03 PM on December 11, 2005


In any event, the proper collaborative response is to fix the entry, not go to USA Today and have an op-ed published that questions the entire enterprise.

This bugs me for some reason I can't quite put into words. It seems to say that if one perceives that something does not work, that one should shut up and participate anyway.

Playing Devil's advocate here. Why should Seigenthaler spend his time fixing the entry this week, with the strong potential that he might need to return to fix it next week, the week after next, and the week after that? And why shouldn't he, having come to the opinion that the Wikipedia process is fundamentally broken due to lack of accountability, not express his opinion in a venue he feels is more friendly to his concerns?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:12 PM on December 11, 2005


On the subject of Wiki-pedia accountability, I might suggest that an approach similar to E-Bay's feedback system might make sense, and honestly anonymous posting on a resource like that seems counter-intuitive. I don't just ask anyone about problems my car might have, I ask a mechanic, and I tend to rely upon those where I have a reference from several people whom I trust. It works in the real world, why not the net?
posted by sfts2 at 6:16 PM on December 11, 2005


It's a different era, and people have to process information differently.

Finding answers requires more work on the part of the questioner, as more sources are available, and any of them could be bullshit. Does anybody really believe, in light of so many recent incidents, everything that's in a newspaper anymore?

This has been true with the internet proper for quite some time now. Wikipedia is just another product of its culture (and, in my experience, an invaluable resource for reasonably good information). The toothpaste of information is not going to be squeezed back into the tube so easily...
posted by First Post at 6:37 PM on December 11, 2005


What is? I was refering to treating every information source as suspect.
posted by srboisvert

Yeah, me too. In my mind, proper research involves multiple sources, skepticism, all that kind of due diligence.

---
lodurr, I don't know anything about nuclear physics, and I've never read a book about nuclear physics. But I can edit an encyclopedia entry on nuclear physics. Something's wrong with this model.
posted by Saucy Intruder

Only if someone uses Wikipedia to find instructions on how to build a nuclear reactor.

The only REAL danger is that some idiot high school kid gets a bad grade on his/her research paper for bad info, or conversely, manages to sneak it by the teacher, certainly a bit worse, but again, only really bad if someone's using it to build a nuclear reactor.
posted by papakwanz at 6:55 PM on December 11, 2005


I'm sorry if someone has already linked this on one of the two Seigenthaler threads still in progress, but this is far too apposite to go unreferenced.
posted by dgaicun at 11:12 PM on December 11, 2005


I don't why people get all worried about whether it's accurate information. Any encyclopedia should never be used as a source and it serves its purpose well: Quick information on a large amount of topics (much larger than a "normal"encyclopedia.
posted by jeblis at 11:27 PM on December 11, 2005


Playing Devil's advocate here. Why should Seigenthaler spend his time fixing the entry this week, with the strong potential that he might need to return to fix it next week, the week after next, and the week after that? And why shouldn't he, having come to the opinion that the Wikipedia process is fundamentally broken due to lack of accountability, not express his opinion in a venue he feels is more friendly to his concerns?t

Reasonable points. I'm certainly not saying he shouldn't speak his mind (I've done the same in a way -- commenting on a Wikipedia article I've edited, on my blog); and obviously this sort of accusation goes far beyond the types of errors that Wikipedia normally collars within its system. It was a serious slander.

It's just that as an outsider, he obviously didn't get the way that the community works, and didn't take the opportunity to learn, and as a resul his op-ed misunderstood some key things. In fact, except in rare cases, there's not a "strong potential" that the vandal would return; most vandals are hit-and-run. Serious POV violators concentrate their efforts on specific articles, and can be dealt with through various methods such as an appeal to an administrator and peer review. But on the whole fixing articles improves them for the foreseeable future.

What I learned, quickly, was that simply reverting a change is fundamentally unsound. Rewording and rearranging the topic is ultimately much more effective. In a way you sculpt the article away from the weak point. I concede that outsiders can't learn this in an instant, but having seen it work, I have a great deal more faith in the community in the long run.

It's actually my favorite thing as an editor to fix a bad article.

Gyan: Such an audit process would fall under the Wikiproject rubric. You may be interested in the Wikipedia Quality subset of WikiProjects, or the Forum for Encyclopedic Standards, or most certainly the Fact and Reference Check. In other words, no, you aren't the first to have these concerns, and yes, people have already devoted considerable time and other resources to attacking it.

I put it this way: the natural state of a Wikipedia article is that it contains errors. All articles can be improved, always. The utility of the Wikipedia project, then, cannot rest on whether it is error-free, because it never will be. Millions of people find it useful; tens of thousands contribute to it daily. Perhaps the utility does not, in fact, depend on this "problem". For me, I'd have no incentive to participate if every article were perfect. In its own way, the errors draw in editors, because they are motivated to fix something they see -- whether it's an error, a bias, or just a hole.

This is why I say it's the proper collaborative response to fix the error. In many ways, it's the natural response. I'd prefer that Wikipedia policy be dictated by such motivated persons than by deliberately uninterested (vs. disinsterested) outsiders.
posted by dhartung at 12:12 AM on December 12, 2005


Q: Has an editorial dispute from the Encyclopedia Britanica ever made the news? enough so the facts _had_ to be aired and proven, one way or the other, was it all documented?

A: Critics of Wikipedia are pissing up rope.
posted by Mr T at 1:01 AM on December 12, 2005


I'd prefer that Wikipedia policy be dictated by such motivated persons than by deliberately uninterested (vs. disinsterested) outsiders.

Wait, is that your way of saying you wouldn't mind seeing edits restricted to registered users?
posted by mediareport at 6:36 AM on December 12, 2005


"On the subject of Wiki-pedia accountability, I might suggest that an approach similar to E-Bay's feedback system might make sense" - Utopian ideologies involving the possible Wikification of all information and even news aside, rating based trust systems will mitigate possible abuse only so far - all trust systems based in anonymity can and will be gamed in proportion to the financial or political import of the subject material.

All sophisticated trust systems will do is screen out yahoos and leave gaming to trained, covert professionals. Spooks, in short.
posted by troutfishing at 7:07 AM on December 12, 2005


... the implication of which, it seems to me, is that real human monitoring (e.g., via community participation) is required. (Put another way, sigint without humint is easily gamed; or another way yet, sigint can inform humint, but should not displace it.) Woudl you agree, troutfishing?
posted by lodurr at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2005


dhartung : "The utility of the Wikipedia project, then, cannot rest on whether it is error-free, because it never will be."

Of course. My audit would be a comparative tool, aiding in self-assessment. Once you move beyond a binary distinction, the prevalence and nature of errors does inform our assessment of its utility.
posted by Gyan at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2005


mediareport: That's my way of saying it grates me that someone circumvents the Wikipedia community entirely, goes to Jimbo Wales, and asks him to "fix" an article. It's my way of saying that if there is a serious problem, the Wikipedia community is almost certainly more qualified to come up with an appropriate way to solve it than somebody who won't even click the "Edit" button.
posted by dhartung at 3:48 PM on December 12, 2005


"the project as a whole was placed into scrutiny."

That's not a proper English construction. You mean "called into question." Or some other construction.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2005


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