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Wikipedia class action
December 12, 2005 1:41 PM   Subscribe

A class-action lawsuit is being prepared against Wikipedia. After the controversy about John Seigenthaler and the exposure of the culprit, a group seeking to sue Wikipedia want people to join them. Can I sue other encyclopedias for publishing out-of-date, partizan, politicized nonsense?
posted by bobbyelliott (121 comments total)

 
Fuck fuck fuck. In addition to the hassle of the lawsuit itself, this will encourage pranksters to add false information to articles so that they can join the suit and get a piece of the payout.
posted by gsteff at 1:45 PM on December 12, 2005


Does this mean I can go anonymously defame myself on Wikipedia, then sign on to sue them for the damages I suffer?
posted by Wingy at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2005


Can I sue other encyclopedias for publishing out-of-date, partizan, politicized nonsense?

No but do you think we could organize a boycott?
posted by wakko at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2005


... for publishing out-of-date, parti[z]an, politicized nonsense?

Maybe they should go after some of the talking heads on the cable news channels as well.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2005


Not that this suit makes any sense, or that Wikimedia has any cash anyway. But the legal bills will hurt. If the EFF is looking for a way to get their mojo back, taking on this seemingly winnable case would be a great way.
posted by gsteff at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2005


Yes. Yes, it does.
posted by Lockjaw at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2005


Hey, isn't displaying Wiki's logo on the side of the Class Action page with a false caption some sort of tort? Didn't someone get in trouble doing that with McDonald's a few years back?
posted by ibmcginty at 1:50 PM on December 12, 2005


so i wonder what particular ox was gored by wikipedia in the case of the classaction.org *holes? I mean, I can understand the desire to have someone, somewhere accountable for publishing or causing to be published libelous materials. But jeez--shouldn't there also be some level of "hey chill out dude, sure, they called you a baby-eater, but was only Wikipedia, not the L.. Times, fer chrissakes."

I have been called an idiot by far better people than the editors of Wikipedia--only because they don't know me--but if it appears on the web, I mostly shrug it off. I guess I don't have all that much reputation to damage or something.
posted by beelzbubba at 1:52 PM on December 12, 2005


YEAH! Fuck wikipedia for trying to create a free pop encyclopedia!!! I gotta put gas in my Ferarri to chase more ambulances!
posted by Zorro on Doughnuts at 1:53 PM on December 12, 2005


If the lawsuit doesn't pay off for them at least the lawsuit-related Google ad words will.

Has anyone dialed the phone number on the web page? Who answers?
posted by StarForce5 at 1:54 PM on December 12, 2005


This must be a joke/hoax.
posted by dwordle at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2005


Selected WHOIS data for this site:

Registrant Name: Jennifer Monroe
Registrant Organization: WikipediaClassAction.org
Admin Name: Jennifer Monroe
Admin Organization: WikipediaClassAction.org
Tech Name: Jennifer Monroe
Tech Organization: WikipediaClassAction.org

Name Server: DNS1.BAOU.COM
Name Server: DNS2.BAOU.COM
Name Server: DNS3.BAOU.COM


Not the first time "Jennifer Monroe" and BAOU Trust have had a run in with wikipedia.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2005


God that's fucked up
posted by delmoi at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2005


Kennedy was eventually removed by Wikipedia's co-founder Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales, but only after more than four months anguish and hard work by Seigenthaler.

It takes four months of hard work to delete a paragraph from a wikipedia article? What is this, the EPA?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2005


Look out, kids! It's The Man, here to keep you down!
posted by keswick at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2005


There's precedent for Wikipedia to lose such a case, isn't there? Something along the lines of how the owners of a forum are not liable for the content posted by its users -- unless the owners moderate and/or edit the forum, thereby showing that they are accepting responsibility for content?

So because Jimbo has made edits, he is therefore liable. But if he hadn't, he wouldn't be. Or something like that.

In any case, it'd be useful for EFF to defend this.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2005


PinkStainlessTail : So.... timewasters then? Or dangerous?
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2005


The domain is registered to one Jennifer Monroe, who works for or owns a scam called QuakeAID, about which an article was posted to wikipedia after the indian ocean earthquake last year. They posted a typical puff piece, but it was soon converted into its current form.

If they continue this it's just going to be a nice bit of pubilcity for wikipedia and a good laugh for everyone who enjoys scammers getting outed.
posted by fvw at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2005


On failed-to-preview: What PST said.
posted by fvw at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2005


This is just so frustrating. Anyone can sue anyone, over anything. And even if they have little or no chance of winning, there will always be some ambulance-chasing lawyer who's willing to work on contingency. God, I hate lawyers sometimes...
posted by littleme at 2:03 PM on December 12, 2005


timewasters then? Or dangerous?

I just did a WHOIS, then googled up "Jennifer Monroe" + wikipedia. Looks like whiny timewasters to me, but dhartung (or, on preview, fvw) or someone with more involvement in wikipedia might know more about whether these people should be taken seriously.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2005


So an organization which looked a lot like a charity scam posted an article about itself in Wikipedia, which was deleted. Now a principal of the alleged scamsters wants to sue Wikimedia. Is that the gist of it?
posted by gimonca at 2:05 PM on December 12, 2005


"hey chill out dude, sure, they called you a baby-eater, but was only Wikipedia, not the L.. Times, fer chrissakes."

Ok but whoever's doing it won't this be the point, that wikipedia can't have it both ways meaning: be both credible and not responsible simultaneously? The present themselves as being an online encylopedia not a parody of an encylcopdia.
posted by scheptech at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2005


I just yelled "Jesus fucking Christ" so loud my cat ran away. This is ridiculous.
posted by goatdog at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2005


I think wikipedia should just post a disclaimer on every page saying something like:

"I don't know how we can make this any more obvious, but-- do you see those edit buttons? That means ANYBODY can edit ANY of these pages at ANY time. Take everything you read here with a GIGANTIC grain of salt. Do not use this for real research, or for any other purpose besides getting a general idea about what's commonly known (or thought to be known) about a subject. If you want more accurate information, read a book."
posted by empath at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2005


Wikipedia should not have changed their editing policy. It shows weakness and gives the impression of admitting guilt.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2005


Actually, it's not ridiculous. Powerful people are going to hate wikipedia because they don't control it. If they win the suit, wikipedia goes down. If they lose the suit, they drag it through the mud enough to thoroughly discredit it. Either way, the powerful are going to win this one. I hope I'm wrong about that.
posted by muppetboy at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2005


Empath, that's a great idea.

Also, how about we teach some MEDIA LITERACY in this country, eh?

("But the internet said it was TRUE!!!")
posted by chasing at 2:17 PM on December 12, 2005


What part of the Wikipedia disclaimer did they not understand? Maybe this part (emphasis original):
None of the authors, contributors, sponsors, administrators, sysops, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia in any way whatsoever can be responsible for the appearance of any inaccurate or libelous information or for your use of the information contained in or linked from these web pages.
Maybe their lack of understanding of this part will lead to lawsuits against MSN, Britannica, etc.:
While other encyclopedias, unlike Wikipedia, are professionally peer reviewed, they still do not guarantee their content.
Maybe they should read this article before going any further.
posted by Revvy at 2:19 PM on December 12, 2005


My serious suggestion for 'fixing' wikipedia, is to start a program with universities to 'approve' certain pages.

They could get college professors to assign students (even freshmen) to verify and source all of the information on a given page, and that version of the page could be marked as 'verified'.

Then when you visited a page, it would either say: "All of the information on this page has been verified and accurately sourced by a college student at ___ University, according to the guidelines set by the Wikimedia Foundation", or if it's been updated since then: "Some of the information on this page has not been verified and sourced, to see the last fully sourced version of this page, click here."

That way, you would at least ahve some assurance that the page you are looking at at least meets certain criteria for reliablity, even if it's just that all of the facts on the page have been traced to some published source.
posted by empath at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2005


I hope the judge has seen (and gets) this, and laughs them out of court.
posted by kimota at 2:29 PM on December 12, 2005


This Wikipedia, it vibrates?
posted by fixedgear at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2005


I find it curious that the site also has Adsense running on it.
posted by zymurgy at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2005


Can I sue other encyclopedias for publishing out-of-date, partizan, politicized nonsense?

perhaps. but wouldn't you rather zue other enzyclopedias for publizhing out-of-date, partizan, politicized nonzenze?
posted by quonsar at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2005


Editorial barriers would kill Wikipedia.

Validating and fact checking articles? If Wikipedia were to mark any pages as "certified" that could give ambulance chasers a legal leg to stand on. It is legally safer to disclaim all content as unverified.

Wikipedia's popularity is proof that is doesn't need to be fixed. People just need to understand that Wikipedia is useful for getting the gist of a topic but is not a primary academic source of information.
posted by StarForce5 at 2:50 PM on December 12, 2005


quonzar, no need to puzh hiz noze in it, iz there?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2005


Personally I hope that Wikipedia's existing disclaimers are strong enough to have a judge toss this out. Any legal eagles out there with an opinion on that? I've no idea what US law would do with this.

Re: certified articles, I don't think you'd find any universities willing to certify any pages at Wikipedia. Would you put your name on something that was subject to being edited by some bored 13 year old later on? And having it university verified (ie., peer reviewed) kinda defeats the purpose of it being open to the masses.
posted by Zinger at 2:59 PM on December 12, 2005


I find it curious that the site also has Adsense running on it.

I was appalled to see this running on the site. It only made the lawsuit even more of a carnival trick than actual legal maneuverings. My hope is the judge will fine them for wasting the courts time.

A perfectly good community knowledge base is now interrupted if not threatened for this garbage. What a waste.

Jennifer Monroe is trolling for other *bad* and *nasty* things that have happened to people. Is there any value in collecting statements on the belief and helpfulness of Wikipedia?
posted by fluffycreature at 3:05 PM on December 12, 2005


In principle, the Wikipedia concept is a fantastic one. But there is so much disinformation within its pages, all of it subject to change at any given time, that it cannot truly be relied upon as a dependable resource.

Let's take the entry for Edgar Allan Poe. For one thing, while Poe created the detective story, he did not, as the Wikipedia entry implies, invent the Gothic novel. The first official Gothic novel was Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Just about any English major knows that (or should know that). And that's in the first paragraph. (Incidentally, in Walpole's entry, Walpole merely "[sets] a literary trend to go with the architecture." Oh, is that all? So all the dissertations and discussions over the past few centuries have been about seeing what kind of novel works best with the settee in the living rrom. Who knew?

That such a major error has been allowed to fester in Wikipedia's crevices for some time is a telling indicator to me that it is, for the most part, useless. Perhaps good for a few leads that can then be confirmed at a library, but ultimately meaningless for anyone concerned with factual information. Perhaps no better off than hearsay, which is not permissible as law, in some cases.

Therefore, I welcome any efforts (whether it be a frivolous lawsuit or a tire exploding in front of Jimmy Wales' door) to knock Wikipedia on its ass and get them to understand that it will only be an effective resource once it has its facts straight. The damn thing has had four years to iron out the kinks. And I, for one, am tired of seeing Wales & Company putz around.
posted by ed at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2005


Wikipedia's popularity is proof that is doesn't need to be fixed.

StarForce5: I'll go with most of your argument, but surely this isn't a criterion you're willing to apply universally.
My first thought was of reality tv.
posted by Wingy at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2005


I think wikipedia should just post a disclaimer on every page saying something like...

Notice Wikipedia's tagline is now "From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit". The last four words are very recent.
posted by cillit bang at 3:15 PM on December 12, 2005


Waits for cash to flow in................
posted by Joeforking at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2005


I think Wikipedia is great. Simply reading about this lawsuit has caused me immeasurable pain and suffering. I could lose, like, 30 seconds of sleep tonight! If there are enough fellow Wikipedia enthusiasts out there, perhaps we could launch our own ridiculous class-action lawsuit against this Jennifer Monroe food-tube.
posted by adamrice at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2005


Anyone can sue anyone, over anything. And even if they have little or no chance of winning, there will always be some ambulance-chasing lawyer who's willing to work on contingency. God, I hate lawyers sometimes...

Maybe I'm missing something, but there doesn't seem to be a law firm associated with this, nor do there seem to be any court filings. Thus far, it looks like it's just these Jennifer Monroe/BAOU trust wankers trying to gin up trouble.

It's actually not that easy to get a class action going. (You can see the rule here, though you have to click past a donation request to get to it.) Before a class action can really start, a judge has to find that the plaintiffs are sufficiently numerous, that facts of the plaintiffs' cases are sufficiently similar, and that the plaintiffs' lawyers have both the experience and the resources to pursue the case effectively. Class actions can be extremely expensive for the attorneys at the front end, and there aren't very many law firms that are qualified to handle them. Those that are tend to be pretty selective about what they take. I can't speak to the issue of the class (though I have my doubts about it) but in any case I don't see any indication here that Monroe & co. have managed to interest or retain the kind of counsel they'd need to get this off the ground.

In sum, this looks to me like a lone, unrepresented idiot doing some saber-rattling and making a little Adsense cash. The sky's not falling just yet.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2005


"Let's take the entry for Edgar Allan Poe. For one thing, while Poe created the detective story, he did not, as the Wikipedia entry implies, invent the Gothic novel. The first official Gothic novel was Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Just about any English major knows that (or should know that)."

Then why didn't you edit the page to change it? (Incidentally, the paragraph links to the Wikipedia page about the Gothic novel, which does cite The Castle of Otranto as the first.)

Seriously, I don't get it when people complain that facts are wrong on a WP page but they don't bother to change them.

Yes, sometimes stupid editors will change your edits back, but generally if you change something to reflect truth, it's likely to stay intact -- especially if you explain your edits in the edit summary line so people understand why the changes are being made.
posted by litlnemo at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2005


ed - if you disagree with what is written about Poe, why don't you edit it to reflect the truth? If other literature majors agree then the edit will stand and the wiki will be another small step closer to the truth.

It's not hard you know.
posted by longbaugh at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2005


I like wikipedia. That said, there are a lot of issues which need to be worked out. the best thing about this, I think, is that many if not most of these issues will be worked out in public.

I agree with Ed that it is very problematic in an academic setting. My sister is a college English professor, and she is struggling with whether or not to allow Wikipedia citations. Currently she allows her students to cite Wikipedia, but asks that it not be the only source for a claim that rests on factual basis (as opposed to someone's opinion). This is considered somewhat controversial in her University, as many professors have banned Wikipedia citations alltogether.

Ed, you should go edit the EA Poe entry. I think wikipedia or something like it is both inevitable and desirable, but it depends on people who know to edit it properly.
posted by cell divide at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2005


You know, the thing I don't get about this whole Seigenthaler thing is why he didn't just edit the page himself to be more truthful?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:29 PM on December 12, 2005


ed:

If you know so fucking much about Edgar Allen Poe and Walpole, enough to be offended by the error you find in the wikipedia article, fix the article.

By bitching about an error instead of just fixing it, you aren't just part of the problem: you are the problem.

In my mind the real crisis Wikipedia faces is it's own internal political strife, mostly centering around the deletionist/inclusionist war. I side with the inclusonists. The reason the deletionists still have an argument is that the Wikipedia still considers itself an encyclopedia.

on Preview: litlnemo beat me to the punch.

Wikipedia shouldn't be considered an encyclopedia. It is so much more than that. As long as articles aren't patent nonsense, or self-links (original scholarship and non-meta-advertizing); they should be included. Even the stubs about webcomics, elementary schools, whatever.

I think the default article view should have different sets of edits in differing text colors, to highlight Wikipedia's evolved nature.
posted by blasdelf at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2005


Ed's belligerent anit-wikipedia comment faults wikipedia entry for Poe for implying that Poe was the one to "invent the Gothic novel." Curiously, Ed doesn't quote the entry--probably because it says only that Poe was "a progenitor of Gothic novels." Further, if you click on "Gothic novels" in that very sentence, you're taken to a page on the subject that in its first sentence clearly identifies Walpole as the form's first major practitioner.

There are plenty of mistakes in wikipedia, but this isn't one of them, and I'm puzzled why anyone would misrepresent the page in such a way (did I miss something in the history that's been changed since you wrote this, Ed?).
posted by washburn at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2005


We should make our own wikipedia full of facts born, Hodgman-like, from our authorial minds. We tried it once with Literary Theory, but that's petered out.

Maybe every week, players take a random subject from Wikipedia and create a fake entry on our own wiki?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2005


Anyone can sue anyone, over anything. And even if they have little or no chance of winning, there will always be some ambulance-chasing lawyer who's willing to work on contingency. God, I hate lawyers sometimes...

Maybe I'm missing something, but there doesn't seem to be a law firm associated with this, nor do there seem to be any court filings. Thus far, it looks like it's just these Jennifer Monroe/BAOU trust wankers trying to gin up trouble.

It's actually not that easy to get a class action going. (You can see the rule here, though you have to click past a donation request to get to it.) Before a class action can really start, a judge has to find that the plaintiffs are sufficiently numerous, that facts of the plaintiffs' cases are sufficiently similar, and that the plaintiffs' lawyers have both the experience and the resources to pursue the case effectively. Class actions can be extremely expensive for the attorneys at the front end, and there aren't very many law firms that are qualified to handle them. Those that are tend to be pretty selective about what they take. I can't speak to the issue of the class (though I have my doubts about it) but in any case I don't see any indication here that Monroe & co. have managed to interest or retain the kind of counsel they'd need to get this off the ground.

In sum, this looks to me like a lone, unrepresented idiot doing some saber-rattling and making a little Adsense cash. The sky's not falling just yet.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2005


ed: there is so much disinformation within its pages

I was going to sneakily edit the pages you referenced to correct the inaccuracies, but on examination I notice you're being a bit unfair. From Gothic Novel: "The gothic novel is a literary genre, which began in Britain with The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole." No Poe there.

I think you're objecting to the Poe article' statement "He is best known for his tales of the macabre and his poems, as well as being one of the early practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of Gothic novels and detective fiction, as well as crime fiction in the United States" (my emphasis.) You're right, bad choice of word: but later in the article his relevance to Gothic literature is described thus:

"Poe is regarded as the foremost proponent of the Gothic strain in literary Romanticism. Death, decay and madness were an obsession for Poe. His curious and often nightmarish work greatly influenced the horror and fantasy genres, and the horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft claimed to have been profoundly influenced by Poe's works."

I must admit I take the Walpole article statement "In 1764, he published his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, setting a literary trend to go with the architecture." as a tongue-in-cheek comment: important to note though that this statement contains links to both a description of the book and the Gothic novel article described above. In context this is not unreasonable.

I hope you'd agree that your description of this as "disinformation" (deliberately misleading information) is at the least a bit exaggerated!
posted by alasdair at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2005


blasdelf, I agree with you 100% about inclusion. One thing I hate about Wikipedia are the tiresome debates about if something (or usually someone) is important enough to be in Wikipedia. I feel like basic information about the famous and non-famous is what it can do better then any other source, creating content that wouldn't exist in a structured format elsewhere.
posted by cell divide at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2005


Sorry ed, didn't mean to pile on. What washburn said.
posted by alasdair at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2005


washburn writes "Curiously, Ed doesn't quote the entry--probably because it says only that Poe was 'a progenitor of Gothic novels.'"

Uh... It claims that he was a "progenitor" of a genre that was created 40 years before his birth. You don't see a problem with that? "Progenitor" means "precursor" or "ancestor" or maybe "originator". I think it's clear that the word does not apply.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2005


Seriously, I don't get it when people complain that facts are wrong on a WP page but they don't bother to change them.

By bitching about an error instead of just fixing it, you aren't just part of the problem: you are the problem.

This right here is the main thing I don't get whenever we talk about Wikipedia. Why is the default assumption that everyone ought to be a part of the Wikipedia project? Since when did it become an obligation for everyone who knows anything to police Wikipedia? Maybe they have other things to do with their lives. Why does that disqualify them from criticism?

John Seigenthaler: everyone says that, if he didn't like being publicly slandered, he should just have edited his own page. But that's total hokum: it's not incumbent upon anyone to take part in the Wikipedia project. It would be totally within his rights to sue for defamation--and if Wikipedia chooses to allow anonymous authorship, then they are opening themselves up as a target for a totally justified action. All of this is part of the difficult and untested concept behind Wikipedia, and as it's becoming more popular the rubber is really hitting the road.

With some regularity, my students cite completely incorrect information in Wikipedia. I don't have time to go look up and correct those articles. What I do have time to do is explain to them that Wikipedia is not a trustworthy source and that they are not to use it. I could be editing Wikipedia articles--or I could be focusing on my teaching or my own research. I don't think that I'm part of any problem.

I love the idea of Wikipedia and I enjoy browsing around. But the Wikipedia partisans need to realize that these issues are serious ones, and that they can't idealistically rely upon the goodwill and endless time of other people to fix them. Why isn't there more willingness to really talk about authorship, accountability, and correctness as problems that can be addressed? Why is there such dogmatism about Wikipedia?
posted by josh at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2005


Eek-- I managed to post the same comment twice. Sorry all. Admins, please fix it. Thanks.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2005


ISP liability for the utterances of its users was formerly governed by the Cubby v. Compuserve decision; most of that case law was enshrined into the US Code via the Communications Decency Act §230. There's already an entry regarding how that might apply to to Seigenthaler controversy. The consensus does seem to be that the CDA gives Wikipedia safe harbor here.

I'll reiterate that one of the greatest things about Wikipedia is the existence of articles like "John Seigenthaler Sr. Wikipedia biography controversy".
posted by dhartung at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2005


Weird. This article ran on Findlaw today, about Wikipedia's potential (lack of legal) liability in defamation suits.

But Wikipedia will still have to pay their legal bills to defend against this, if the plaintiffs get as far as finding representation and filing suit.
posted by dilettante at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2005


Me: "Wikipedia, meet Capitalism; Capitalism, Wikipedia."

Wikipedia: "Why, hello Capitalism! Umm . . . hey Capitalism, what's with that rope, and the burlap sack?"

Me: Well, see y'all later, then.
posted by washburn at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2005


Therefore, I welcome any efforts (whether it be a frivolous lawsuit or a tire exploding in front of Jimmy Wales' door) to knock Wikipedia on its ass and get them to understand that it will only be an effective resource once it has its facts straight. The damn thing has had four years to iron out the kinks. And I, for one, am tired of seeing Wales & Company putz around.

I know! Because we're PAYING for this, am I right?
Oh....wait.
I don't think that Wikimedia has any obligation to me, just as I have no obligation to Wikimedia.
posted by 235w103 at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2005


Josh> Yes, but you also aren't launching lawsuits at Wikipedia for slandering you, either. Presumably the effort, time and cost sSeigenthaler has spent to be compensated for this problem could've simply been spent fixing the article. It's as simple as deleting a bunch of it and putting your reason as "Defamatory and untrue information removed".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2005


First off, I am not entirely anti-Wikipedia. I'm anti-disinformation. As stated in my initial comment, I would be perfectly happy to see Wikipedia thrive and blossom if it could ensure that indisputable facts (such as the fact that it was Walpole who originated the Gothic novel and not Poe or the fact that the earth is round or that there are 24 hours in a day) could not be tampered with. That, in a nutshell, is Wikipedia's problem. Some nut who doesn't know that "progenitor" means "originator" or "founder" gets a little trigger happy and decides, for example, that it's God who controls the White House, rather than the President of the United States (or, for that matter, special interests).

Second, why should it be my (or anyone's) responsibility to fix information that I know is incorrect, particularly when there is no guarantee that it will stay corrected? Seems a wasted effort, if you ask me. Sort of like ordering a turkey sandwich, only to have the plate taken away from you just as you're about to sink your teeth into the first bite. Sort of defeats the purpose. And like any human, I need sustenance.
posted by ed at 4:02 PM on December 12, 2005


I'm with josh and ed. Yelling "why don't you fix it?" every time someone mentions why they don't trust Wikipedia isn't addressing the problem. I don't have time to police it; I do know that it contains enough errors to make it untrustworthy.
posted by goatdog at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2005


Wikinews has a story on it, BTW. :)

Wikipedia haters are morons, but i'd love to know if any are paid by tranditional publishers.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2005


Sure dhartung--I'm no legal expert--I guess what I'm trying to say is that instead of just saying 'if you disagree, then fix it,' there has to be some other way of addressing these problems. Because they are real problems that are here to stay, right?

pseudo: the point I'm making is that having to go edit Wikipedia articles about yourself to prune out defamatory information sucks. It's like how now, because identity theft is so widespread, I have to be constantly consulting my credit reports. That sucks, too. I just don't understand how so many Wikipedians can feel that telling people they need to constantly check Wikipedia to edit anonymous, slanderous articles about themselves is a good solution to this problem. Surely there could be a serious effort to confront the consequences of simultaneous anonymity and growing popularity/authority?

As for the Gothic novel article: I can only speak from my perspective as a teacher and a literature academic; but for me, that Gothic novel article is really bad. I couldn't fix it with just an edit; to write a real summary history of the Gothic novel would take a real expert -- i.e., an English professor -- a really long time. Way more time than any busy professor would put into writing an anonymous, editable article. If the result of collaborative editing is the level of quality on display there, then that's obviously fine, since Wikipedia is a free resource available to everyone; but I can still tell my students, who have more authoritative sources available to them, to go to those sources and to avoid Wikipedia.

I don't think that wikipedia can or should try to be perfect; but at the moment, from my perspective, it's a free, fun resource that's about as good as "free and fun" suggests. Surely there are innovative ways to reward accuracy and quality and punish inaccuracy and shoddiness that will make wikipedia more useful, beyond simply asserting that everyone ought to pitch in. This is especially true because one of wikipedia's big strengths is that it's up-to-the-minute, with articles on, for example, living persons.

Again, I'm not anti-wikipedia at all; I guess I just think that the project needs a little more reality principle. I'm certainly asserting a reality principle when I tell my students to go to the library and read authoritative sources instead. Why aren't there ratings for contributors and articles? Why aren't there audits so that a reader can see that an article is rated more or less trustworthy? Why can't I find out who wrote what and rate them? There are lots of things that I think of as 'web virtues' that Wikipedia lacks. For such an open project it can be a strangely opaque resource.

Anyway, just my $0.02....
posted by josh at 4:17 PM on December 12, 2005


Ed: There's a difference 'a' and 'the' progenitor, yes?

And, btw, from the OED, as to what progenitors are, and whether there can be more than one of these for a person or thing:
Progenitor:1. A person from whom another person, a family, or a race, is descended; an ancestor, a forefather.
[1347 Rolls of Parlt. II. 180/1 En salvation de lui & des almes de ses progenitours.] 1382 WYCLIF 2 Tim. i. 3, I do thankyngis to my God, to whom I serue fro my progenitours. 1490 CAXTON Eneydos Prol. 4 The most renommed of alle his noble progenytours. 1542-5 BRINKLOW Lament. (1874) 107 Let them consider howe tyrannously the bisshoppes kyngedome hath vsed their progenitours, Kynges of Englonde. 1610 HOLLAND Camden's Brit. To Rdr., The English-Saxon tongue which our Progenitors the English spake. 1742-3 LD. LONSDALE in Johnson's Debates 23 Feb. (1787) II. 508 Another principle of government which the wisdom of our progenitors established, was to suppress vice with the utmost diligence. 1835 THIRLWALL Greece I. vii. 251 Their fabulous progenitor, Thessalus, was called by some a son of Hercules. 1875 JOWETT Plato (ed. 2) V. 70 He supposes that in the course of ages every man has had numberless progenitors.
posted by washburn at 4:17 PM on December 12, 2005


Not that my general distrust keeps me from linking to it in FPPs or thinking that the idea of a class-action lawsuit is ridiculous.
posted by goatdog at 4:18 PM on December 12, 2005


"a difference between," I mean.
posted by washburn at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2005


And, hey, the editors have shown that if somebody, say a curmudgeonly comic book writer complains loudly enough, they'll lock the whole page.

As an educator, when my students cite false information, whatever the source, I believe I have a responsibility to not only correct them, but to do what is in my power to correct the source. If it is a text book error, I take the time to write to the publisher. If it is Wikipedia, I take the time to alter the entry and cite sources that support my alteration.

I also spend a lot of time demonstrating to my students that most sources on the Internet cannot be trusted as a primary source. Attack the problem from both sides - educate the students and educate the sources. I've even been proven wrong on several occasions - if you can believe that.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2005


Ed, your not using the service as it was designed to be used.
posted by stbalbach at 4:21 PM on December 12, 2005


washburn: the point is that Poe wasn't a progenitor of the Gothic novel in any sense. A practitioner, maybe. But the Gothic genre predated him and his writing. It's just an incorrect statement. (As an aside--how does one edit that headnote?)

Reading over my own comments, I just want to be clear that I'm not in favor of this 'lawsuit' or anything like it; at the same time, I don't think that fans of wikipedia should use this kind of craziness to straw-man those who aren't feeling the wikipedia love.
posted by josh at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2005


dhartung's comment is what immediately came to my mind as well -- there's never been a good test of the CDA's "safe harbor" provision in the courts, but many of us as community publishers have been relying upon it as the modern replacement of the "common carrier" laws that got cited earlier (the bit about "as long as you don't edit you're not responsible".)

Not that I think this case is going to give us a court precidence either, but if they carried their crusade far enough that would be a likely result.
posted by bclark at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2005


I believe you might be misreading that Poe paragraph, Ed. (Not that this isn't the fault of the writing, which is awkward.) The claim is not that Poe is the progenitor of the Gothic novel, but that he is "a progenitor of Gothic novels ... in the United States." It is poorly phrased. And whether he is in fact a progenitor in the US, I do not claim to know, otherwise I would edit the article. I was not an English major. ;)

Josh, when you said "As an aside--how does one edit that headnote?" did you mean how does one edit the Wikipedia article? If so, just click the "edit this page" link at the top of the page. There are help links on the editing page to explain the wikiformatting if you need them, as well.
posted by litlnemo at 4:34 PM on December 12, 2005


Josh> The problem is, as I understand it, once Wikipedia takes on responsibility for anything going across its system, it takes on responsibility for _everything_ going across its system. To begin to exercise editorial oversight means that they all of a sudden become responsible for _everything_ that gets posted.

And yes, hunting for defamatory posts about yourself and changing them sucks. But, it can't be as tedious as writing articles, writing repeated complaints to wikipedia, launching a lawsuit, organising a group of dissatisfied internet folks to join your lawsuit, etc. Seigenthaler gave up on legitimising his position with utilitarian arguments the moment he spent more time complaining about the problem than fixing it.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2005


Anyone who doesn't apply critical thinking to what they read on the internet is a fool who you will never be able to protect by law. So don't design laws around them.

The question is not "is wikipedia ever wrong". Of course it is - maybe even more than "traditional" resources. The question is: "is wikipedia useful" and the answer to that, for me, has become a resounding "yes" over the past year or so. I find it exceptionally useful for a lot of questions. If it's a case where the factual accuracy is important to me, I double check - as any responsible researcher would do. For instance, if I was writing a book about the Gothic Novel I would have to be a complete fool to not check any source's claims about who originated them. This may come as a shock to you Ed and Josh, but even professional scholars have disagreements about "firsts" like this.

The majority of the time, though, I don't need to check - Wikipedia points me in the direction of useful resources, and I can tell if what they're saying makes sense: a description of a computer process, for instance, will be demonstrated to be correct or not when I try it myself.

So the real problem is people thinking the internet and things found on it work exactly the same way other information resources do. I don't think the Wikipedia people make that claim, so complaining that it's not true seems like a waste of time.
posted by freebird at 4:38 PM on December 12, 2005


Hey, who needs it? We've got Fox News and Encarta!
posted by Dareos at 4:42 PM on December 12, 2005


There is a problem with the operation and functionality of Wikipedia. The basic problem is that none of the Trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., nor any of the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible and therefore accountable for the content.

This situation will be familiar to anyone else who has ever attended a Rainbow Gathering, although I'm probably the only one here who has.

/exdirtyhippie
posted by Afroblanco at 4:50 PM on December 12, 2005


Josh: I hope you're kidding if you're claiming that the history of the gothic novel ended with Poe.
posted by washburn at 4:52 PM on December 12, 2005


The basic problem is that none of the Trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., nor any of the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible and therefore accountable for the content.

Seems like there's not really one person responsible for the internet, nor accountable for its content, but it still somehow ends up pretty useful, doesn't it?
posted by freebird at 4:53 PM on December 12, 2005


I love quonzar
posted by matteo at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2005


(aka The Quonz)
posted by matteo at 4:56 PM on December 12, 2005


Here's a case of deliberately misleading information put in Wikipedia: when it was created in July 2003, the page about the highjacking of Air France Flight 8969 included a bit of fiction about US Marines participating in the rescue mission. It took 6 months for editors to notice this. Meanwhile, this little bit of trivia crept to other websites and to a bunch of Wikipedia clones. Finally, it took one year to completely clean the page, as a bit about US involvement was overlooked at first. Since, some people have been trying repeatedly to reinsert the "Corporal Thomas Hintz" story in the article in various guises (last was on December 5 where a mini edit war took place). Indeed, all the changes were reverted, but it still took 5 days last September.

Frankly, this sort of cat and mouse game with facts (a 2-year revert war about a rather invisible, but very meaningful piece of historical trivia) is the sort of problem that Wikipedia must address quickly. The fact that readers must be cautious when reading stuff on the internet cannot be an excuse for the people running Wikipedia to waive responsibility about what they claim to be an encyclopedia and not a bunch of data collected by smart, serious people and, unfortunately, wild monkeys. Just saying "too bad about the monkeys" is not a valid answer. True, readers should be responsible (and not jaywalk), and so should be the Wikipedia editors (and the urbanists in charge of designing pedestrian crossings). But today's Register article explains that much more eloquently.
posted by elgilito at 5:01 PM on December 12, 2005


Yea friiggin Wiki, and they sold me scolding hot coffee too and because I was reading this shocking post on the ffin journalist killing JFK I spilt it on my spandex bike shorts. I'm crippled!!
posted by Mr Bluesky at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2005


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by nightchrome at 5:10 PM on December 12, 2005


Frankly, this sort of cat and mouse game with facts (a 2-year revert war about a rather invisible, but very meaningful piece of historical trivia) is the sort of problem that Wikipedia must address quickly.

Yes, Elgilto, but it's the sort of cat-and-mouse game with facts that traditional media have suffered from since day one. There are incorrect factoids and untrue stories floating around in articles and op-ed pieces for decades in 'traditional media.' Look at stuff about 'the number of women abused on Superbowl Sunday' -- that bogus bit of data was planted and STILL spreads due to the work of lazy writers.

I agree that it's something Wikipedia needs to deal with, but I think the problem is less serious than people seem to imply.
posted by verb at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2005


Couldn't Wikipedia basically be taken down by a team of 20 or so people focusing on a specific set of core articles (say WWII) and continually editing or reverting them through proxies?
posted by Captaintripps at 5:20 PM on December 12, 2005


And QuakeAID (mentioned above) is related to Greg Lloyd Smith who you'll remember from various online scams and lies,
Greg Lloyd Smith assumes false identities (such as Amy Jackson) to carry out his online businesses.

GLS registered www.amazon.com.gr in Greece, and then tried to sell it back to Amazon for millions. He was sued by Amazon using the RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations) stautes, and the URL now belongs to Amazon.

After unsuccessfully trying to take a company called Frugalescrow public (total loss) he went on to bigger things. MPC Trading, the company allegedly behind Youvegotpost, also dabbles in small time porn sites.

GLS also tried to sue Nike, but nothing came of that either.
Basically the guys an incompetent crook.
posted by holloway at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2005


This right here is the main thing I don't get whenever we talk about Wikipedia. Why is the default assumption that everyone ought to be a part of the Wikipedia project? Since when did it become an obligation for everyone who knows anything to police Wikipedia? Maybe they have other things to do with their lives. Why does that disqualify them from criticism?

Be a part of it, or don't use it. That seems simple.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:35 PM on December 12, 2005


mrgrimm writes "Be a part of it, or don't use it. That seems simple."

But what if it contains false information about you? You don't want to be part of it, and you're not using it, but other people are using it, and you're being harmed by the false information those people are obtaining.

This is the Seigenthaler incident in a nutshell. He couldn't give a flying fuck about Wikipedia. He doesn't want to participate in the process. He's not using it as a resource. But it contained harmful lies about him, and community members are saying that it's his responsibility to police those lies.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:46 PM on December 12, 2005


Couldn't Wikipedia basically be taken down by a team of 20 or so people focusing on a specific set of core articles (say WWII) and continually editing or reverting them through proxies?

Wikipedia could be taken down by a plain old denial of service attack. Why bother with editing?

(I'm not sure what 20 people would do other than screw with a bunch of articles until someone notices and locks the articles in question, though.)
posted by mendel at 5:48 PM on December 12, 2005


Okay I'm editing the fucking Edgar Allen Poe page.
posted by geoff. at 6:14 PM on December 12, 2005


For instance, if I was writing a book about the Gothic Novel I would have to be a complete fool to not check any source's claims about who originated them. This may come as a shock to you Ed and Josh, but even professional scholars have disagreements about "firsts" like this.

I'm a grad student in literature--oh boy do I ever know this!

Josh: I hope you're kidding if you're claiming that the history of the gothic novel ended with Poe.

That's not what I'm claiming at all--I should have said that the development of the Gothic novel predated Poe.

Be a part of it, or don't use it. That seems simple.

See, this sentiment (and the "Wikipedia is good enough for me!" sentiment) just don't hold up. People are using it who aren't participating; that's just a fact. People are also in Wikipedia who aren't using it. And, as others have pointed out, the fact that no account of any given subject is perfect doesn't mean that there aren't vast differences in quality and accuracy among sources. Yes, you do have to read every source critically--but that doesn't mean that some sources aren't vastly less accurate or informative than others.

The complaints levelled at Wikipedia involve some kind of gray area--usually the gray area of accuracy, sometimes the gray area of participation. All too often the response is all black-and-white. I say: that account of the Gothic novel isn't particularly good. You say: Well, of course, no source is perfect! But that's not what I said; I could be clearer if I said that, on a scale of 1 to 10, I rate that article a 2 for helpfulness and accuracy. The question is, what can be done to make that article better besides telling me to participate in a system that has so far failed to produce an article better than a 2?

It might be the case that, if Professor of English Jane Doe wrote an article about the Gothic novel for wikipedia, it would pretty awesome. But then it could be immediately edited by an anonymous high-school kid. That's silly.

So is the fact that, having read a bad article, I can't rate it or provide feedback, even as an expert. Why can't I establish my credentials in my area in Wikipedia? Etc., etc., etc.
posted by josh at 6:25 PM on December 12, 2005


Oops--I posted that a little early.

Anyway, I guess all I'm saying is that in some cases structural elements of the Wikipedia project don't produce the best results; and that I wish there were some structural changes undertaken that (IMO) would make it better. To my mind, most of those changes would introduce some graded scales of authority and trustworthiness. Obviously there are problems with authority and trustworthiness now, and I don't think they can be talked away.
posted by josh at 6:37 PM on December 12, 2005


I heard that G.W.B. was the first to sign on for the constant defamation of his article. Its true! The internets told me so!
posted by mystyk at 6:45 PM on December 12, 2005


Verb: it's the sort of cat-and-mouse game with facts that traditional media have suffered from since day one

This is not completely true. Wikipedia claims to be an encyclopedia, not just another information source created for the sole purpose of entertainment. When we read an article about history, science or geography, some minimal trust is expected, otherwise why bother publishing it at all?

I edited a scientific book a couple of years ago: we tried very hard to make the data as accurate as possible as it was a reference book. After it was published, readers started reporting errors: I compiled them, set up a web page explaining the errors with the corrections and informed readers of the existence of the page. Of course, we corrected every single mistake in the next edition. We didn't tell the readers that they had been a bunch of fools for taking what we wrote at face value. While we did push the message that even scientific information should be considered with a critical eye (and as one of my jobs is to collect/analyse scientific data I do know that peer-reviewing does not prevent totally wrong stuff from being published), we still felt that we were responsible for what we wrote and took steps to fix the problems.

It's one thing to make mistakes, but it is problematic to run a system that, as shown in the example I cited, allows crap to be inserted not just once by mistake, but deliberately, over and over, in the course of several years. And while it may not be such a problem now, the growing popularity of Wikipedia is likely to attract every kind of loons, pranksters and agenda-driven people who will make the problem worse. The "be part of it" is not going to help, as there will be always more idiots wanting to have fun (or believing that they know) than actual, reliable specialists. I'm not willing to spend time writing about my field of expertise (that is almost inexistent in Wikipedia right now as it's not the kind of stuff that people write passionately about - another Wikipedia issue btw) if what I wrote is going to be reverted by some clueless person wanting to share his/her opinion with the world.

The fact is that I deeply love Wikipedia and find it a fantastic idea so far, but it's not going to last long in the real world (i.e. outside the geeksphere where it was born) if the anyone-can-edit-including-stupid-jerks-with-a-grudge policy is not altered to make the articles more reliable.
posted by elgilito at 6:47 PM on December 12, 2005


All I know is that my entry in Wikipedia is 100 percent correct. Sp no lawsuits here.
posted by maxsparber at 7:00 PM on December 12, 2005


Be a part of it, or don't use it.

I'm ProWikipedia, but I don't actually buy the "Be part of it or don't use it" deal either. I use it a lot, and have made like one edit ever. If I am evil, it's not because of that.

that doesn't mean that some sources aren't vastly less accurate or informative than others

That's absolutely true but I deny that it's a simple ordering. There are ways in which Wikipedia is both more accurate *and* informative than, say, an encyclopedia. I bet you can't find anything about "O RLY" in the Britannica! Thank goodness - that's not what it's for. But I bet Wikipedia does at least as well as the Britannica on the mathematical definition of a Manifold. Probably neither is as good as MathWorld or PlanetMath for that, though. So you know already that different sources are better for different things.

Britannia is certainly more "stable", in the sense that you're much less likely to embarrass yourself by believing something you read there. Wikipedia is far better in terms of access - I can't easily compare the two, because like most people I don't have a full paper encyclopedia. I'd say Wikipedia is better in many modern technical and cultural areas, but wouldn't fight to the death over it.

It might be the case that, if Professor of English Jane Doe wrote an article about the Gothic novel for wikipedia, it would pretty awesome. But then it could be immediately edited by an anonymous high-school kid. That's silly.

It's only silly if the professor can make the better article. That's very likely the case, and the energy it takes to revert the kid's changes is less than that used to make them. So the laws of statistical physics imply that Wikipedia will, on average, be moving toward accuracy. That's my general experience as well, so I don't understand the exaggerated concern over obvious edge cases.

It's useful - so what if it's not always true?
posted by freebird at 7:10 PM on December 12, 2005


Even trying to figure out what baou.com, Greg Lloyd Smith, Kestrel Trading Corporation, QuakeAID and Jennifer Monroe actually are pretending to be doing legally makes my head spin.

Here's Kestrel's page from google cache - seems to be down? Kestrel seems to be some sort of Mauritius-based front operation for various enterprises.

Here is a page from the JDO entitled "JDO UNCOVERS SHADOWY TERRORIST FRONT BASED OVERSEAS" - it's kind of got that "Time Cube" riff going for it. Needs more blink tags, still, it looks like these folks have been after them for a while, and some useful info there.

Greg Lloyd Smith (R) is a registered trademark. Here is his weblog.
posted by swell at 7:48 PM on December 12, 2005


Note that OfficialWire.com redirects to news.baou.com, which has this:
Wirth's arsenal consisted of untrue, libelous writings that he and Wikipedia published as fact. All attempts, by QuakeAID's founder, to correct the untrue comments were re-edited, blocked or labelled as 'untrue' by a group of volunteers, who hold themselves untouchable and above the law.
The OfficialWire article is by Jennifer Monroe, and does not make explicit who "QuakeAID's founder" is. QuakeAID.org redirects to quakeaid.baou.com.
posted by swell at 8:27 PM on December 12, 2005


can someone help me find the edit button on wikipediaclassaction.org? whoever made the entry forgot to mention that the people behind the lawsuit are morons.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:27 PM on December 12, 2005


"News" from the OfficialWire:

The Jewish War On Freedom Of Speech
Corporate West causes terror in order to profit from it
by John Kaminski
ENGLEWOOD FL -- (OfficialWire) -- 11/19/05 -- One by one, those who oppose the manipulated Jewish version of history are being forcibly removed from society, and silenced because their views conflict with the program of mind-controlled slavery that has been meticulously crafted by the people who control the world by controlling the money.

posted by CaptMcalister at 9:45 PM on December 12, 2005


I'm finding it harder and harder to resist all the urges that make me want to go out and kill. I don't know, maybe it's a lasagna deficiency.
posted by Mr T at 9:55 PM on December 12, 2005


ibmcginty: Nope, I don't think it's illegal given that all the Wikimedia logos are copyleft of some variety. Then again, IANYAL so maybe there's stil a misrepresentation tort in there regardless of the legality of using/modifying the image.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 10:16 PM on December 12, 2005


Actually, the wikimedia logos aren't copylefted, and even if they were, they'd still be trademarked.
posted by fvw at 10:56 PM on December 12, 2005


The Wikipedia logos are copyright. See this one as an example.
posted by Harald74 at 11:37 PM on December 12, 2005


It's only silly if the professor can make the better article. That's very likely the case, and the energy it takes to revert the kid's changes is less than that used to make them. So the laws of statistical physics imply that Wikipedia will, on average, be moving toward accuracy. That's my general experience as well, so I don't understand the exaggerated concern over obvious edge cases.

It's useful - so what if it's not always true?


This is exactly what I'm talking about. It's actually less useful and less accurate, but that gradation of quality doesn't seem to matter to you--as long as there is some non-zero value of usefulness, the poor quality gets a free pass from this perspective. I think this is dodging the issue. If I ask my relatively uninformed but gregarious friend about a very large number of topics, he may somehow point me in some useful direction. But that doesn't make him an encyclopedia and it doesn't mean that his knowledge and usefulness couldn't be improved.

And while I get what you're saying, I don't think the principle you're citing is *really* true for all sorts of knowledge. For a big timeline of dates, it's certainly the case that small inaccuracies could be introduced, and then corrected, over time, and that eventually more and more dates on the timeline would be correct than incorrect. A historical summary of the Gothic novel, however, is more than a collection of facts to be disputed and corrected. It's actually a large essay that takes a general interpretive stance, and editing it in piecemeal fashion over a substantial length of time, it seems to me, will not necessarily make it more coherent, useful, and accurate. Certainly that seems to be the case with this article, which to me seems perfectly typical, and not at all an edge case.

A few general comments:

- Wikipedia seems "useful" to me when I look at articles on topics I don't know about; but whenever I look at articles that fall within my area of expertise, I notice that they are very deficient and often wrong. So, for all I know, this is the case for all sorts of other articles as well--it's just that I can't judge their accuracy.

- I agree with the statement above that Wikipedia is great for certain topics that would never, ever be in a real encyclopedia. But, of course, the opposite is true; for topics that are covered by more traditional sources, I don't find that Wikipedia is as useful. Obviously if the project aims at being a pop-culture encycloopedia then this is fine; if it aims at being something more like a normal encyclopedia, then this isn't fine.

- To my mind, there are certain topics that will never be adequately covered under the current model. Topics, for example, that, unlike a news story or internet meme or technical concept, aren't based upon internet-accessible sources; topics that require lengthy, coherent, and interpretive writing; topics that are highly specialized and not "fun." But this isn't inevitable--the model could always be changed to encourage accuracy, accountability, and the participation of experts. And what would be so bad about the model changing? What's lost besides inaccuracy and anonymity?

Again, I think this lawsuit, etc., is dumb and pointless. But it's not as though the Wikipedia model is sacred, permanent, and problem-free.
posted by josh at 6:38 AM on December 13, 2005


Wikipedia is free, wikipedia is good.

Someone is trying to take away our free, good thing.

Methinks the folks behind baou.com are gonna be in for a rough time.
posted by jeremyw at 7:31 AM on December 13, 2005


It's actually less useful and less accurate, but that gradation of quality doesn't seem to matter to you--as long as there is some non-zero value of usefulness, the poor quality gets a free pass from this perspective.

Not at all. I just find that there are unquestionably areas where Wikipedia is more useful and accurate than Britannica. The converse is certainly true. And I consider access to information a feature, and Wikipedia is unquestionably better in that regard. I'm just saying it's not really a X > Y type of relationship - it will depend a lot on what you're asking, and whether you have a copy of Britannica sitting next to your computer.

I don't think the principle you're citing is *really* true for all sorts of knowledge.

Yep - that's a pretty interesting point, isn't it? There are certainly some types of knowledge that work well with incremental, multi-party improvements, and types that don't. I'
d say that for the former types Britannica has a disadvantage, but the point is a good one.

But it's not as though the Wikipedia model is sacred, permanent, and problem-free.

Certainly. And no one is arguing there's nothing in Wikipedia needing correction. That's kind of the point, though, isn't it?

It seems like a lot of the concern about Wikipedia is of the form "well, I know to be cautious of what I read there, so it's fine for me. But dummies will read it and not know it can be wrong. So it's bad." Well, fine. I support it because it works really well for me. Don't try to take away my toys because dummies might hurt themselves with them.
posted by freebird at 10:20 AM on December 13, 2005


Someone e-mailed the group behind the class action and got a pretty rude reply.
posted by bobbyelliott at 10:35 AM on December 13, 2005


I actually called the number. The guy who answered insulted me several times (to be fair, it was over the course of a pretty long discussion) and then, to win a rhetorical point, tried to claim he was talking to me from London (I pointed out that 866 was a north american area code and he got really pissed off). A fuller transcript, if anyone's interested.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:53 PM on December 13, 2005


In case it's no clear, this seems to be a fraud or at the very least not a serious attempt but a vendetta by one or two people. Check out the other organizations this guy is affiliated with.
posted by geoff. at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2005


Arriving rather late to this thread, but nevertheless must add that, if one cares to look beneath the surface of this "controversy", it's clear there is a much larger conflict behind it. Wikipedia represents self-organization, a bottom-up, emergent process without central coordination or a predictable outcome.

Knowledge being the means by which humans understand, manipulate, and control their surroundings (and one another), the application of self-organization to the process of ordering and advancing human knowledge is a serious threat to those individuals and institutions who rely on a top-down, hierarchical, and centrally-planned approach to this process, ie. the bureacratic approach, in which categories are defined and policed by experts, holders of legal certificates which "prove" that they are "correct" arbiters of "truth". Wikipedia is just the most high-profile example of this, and its sudden explosion from obscurity to global prominence has put it in the crosshairs.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy to attack Wikipedia, but rather a sincere and spontaneous outburst of hostility from anyone with a stake in the bureaucratic policing of knowledge.
posted by dinsdale at 2:22 PM on December 13, 2005


While I do see the confict you mention, dinsdale, your portrayal seems a little partisan. I don't think the "old", "bureaucratic" top-down organization of knowledge is obsolete or bad. There's plenty of room for both models, and contexts where each is clearly superior. I'm not saying you are doing this, but some people want to turn this issue into some "cathedral vs. bazaar" holy war for the heart of the future, and I think that does at least as much harm as good.

They're just different tools for different things: I hate when people condemn Wikipedia for not being Britannica, but the Britannica isn't bad or obsolete just because it's not the Wikipedia.
posted by freebird at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2005


A class-action lawsuit represents self-organization, a bottom-up, emergent process without central coordination or a predictable outcome.

Class-action lawsuits being the means by which humans understand, manipulate, and control their surroundings (and one another), the application of self-organization to the process etc, etc, etc

Empty jargon cuts both ways.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2005


It is not the policing of knowledge which is at issue here. If there is a Heinrich Schlieman amongst the amateurs who might discover Troy and Wikipedia can enable him, then more power to it. The problem is that for every autodidact, there are a thousand fools who would willingly disseminate unchecked hearsay and outright lies which might stay on Wikipedia's pages long enough to spread disinformation amongst the people who use it.

If we apply the Wikipedia approach to the scientific method or the world of academia, it doesn't hold water. With the former, you must prove your hypothesis through an experiment. With the latter, you must cite sources to prove your point. If Wikipedia is intended to operate as journalism, then three sources must confirm a fact. Instead, we have unchecked pages linking to unchecked pages -- in short, a nightmare for anyone concerned with the furtherance of knowledge and concrete information.

I'm curious to hear from the dogmatic types here (who seem, for some reason, to commit numerous grammatical errors) who are gainsaying the idea of a group of experts that would hold the Wikipedia information accountable or, at the very least, confirm any and all changes made by the community. Why do you feel threatened by this? You accept here at Metafilter the benevolent dictatorship of Mr. Haughey and his aides-de-camp. What is it about policing and ethical accountability that offends you? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by ed at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2005


If we apply the Wikipedia approach to the scientific method or the world of academia, it doesn't hold water.

If you apply the paper encyclopedia approach to scientific journals it doesn't work either. Is the Britannica invalid because it doesn't follow the same peer-review process as Nature? Of course not - these are different spheres of knowledge and different tools, so I don't see what your point is. That Wikipedia does not replace every other form of media or knowledge storage? Granted! Agreed! So what?

What is it about policing and ethical accountability that offends you?

Nothing whatsoever. There are, however, contexts where differing models of policing and accountability make more sense - why do you think the same model has to hold for every media?
posted by freebird at 5:05 PM on December 13, 2005


The "be part of it" is not going to help, as there will be always more idiots wanting to have fun (or believing that they know) than actual, reliable specialists.

Says you.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2005


is it too late for someone to create a false entry about about a mefite? and then that mefite can contact this fool about sueing and see how far he takes it, and then we can see just how much of this suit is "about the principle". though there's the risk of a lawsuit for a false lawsuit.
posted by bam at 11:36 PM on December 13, 2005


and maybe not really worth the effort
posted by bam at 11:37 PM on December 13, 2005


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