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August 1, 2006 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Wikiality: the reality that the majority of people agree upon. Stephen Colbert is at it again, provoking some chaos in his segment, "The Word," by asking viewers to change the Wikipedia entry on elephants to say that the population has tripled in the last three months. How can Wikipedia deal with the problem of vandalism? Here's an interesting article from the New Yorker about "the world’s most ambitious vanity press."
posted by farishta (66 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder what people unfamilar with the controversy think when they look up elephants and see:

This page has been temporarily protected from editing to deal with vandalism.
posted by null terminated at 2:06 PM on August 1, 2006


That was a pretty good segment. And now I think I will always think of Oregon as Idaho's Portugal. That ought to go on their commemorative state quarter, or something -- it's a great state slogan: "Idaho's Portugal."
posted by chasing at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2006


Colbert's Wikipedia pages are locked, too. That's his character's page and his real self's page.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:08 PM on August 1, 2006


Those crazy internets.
posted by sharksandwich at 2:09 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I like this line from the talk page:

The information about Natalie Portman dressing up as an elephant is completely irrelevant.--XmarkX 10:02, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)< ?i>
posted by delmoi at 2:12 PM on August 1, 2006


God, I was laughing so hard at that segment. My little sister ran to the laptop as soon as he started telling people to change the Elephant article.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:14 PM on August 1, 2006


The colbert articles are only semiprotected, although my account isn't elite enough to edit it.
posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2006


the talk page has some good stuff, especially after the main article got locked with the "tripled to 1.8 million" bit, so people couldn't change it to the correct one:
[...asked for source for tripling population]

I am glad you asked for a source that isn't Colbert, here is one from wikipedia, a very reliable source of information: [2] "Elephants are increasingly threatened by human intrusion, with the African elephant population tripling in the last 3 months." --Thax 17:00, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I don't think you can cite this article in writing this article. That change was reverted, anyway, so it's obvious that it's not accepted by the community. alphaChimp laudare 17:22, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

You make a good point, purhaps a compromise is in order. You say no change, I say population tripled in 3 months. Half way would be the population tripling in 6 months. Surely you cannot deny this infallible logic. --Thax 18:28, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
posted by rsanheim at 2:18 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think Colbert's point is if the mainstream corp. media repeats the same lie, it becomes "the truth."

Most TV news gets its "news" from one source: The Associated Press.

Enough said?
posted by wfc123 at 2:21 PM on August 1, 2006


Defacing wikipedia is one of the lowest types of prank you can pull, IMO.
posted by knave at 2:22 PM on August 1, 2006


I wish everybody would stop bitching about wikipedia and just use it properly.

It's a collection of what interested amateurs believe they know about various topics, backed by references to outside sources. If you're lucky the article actually accurately summarizes what those sources say, and the sources themselves are reliable.

Just use it to get the gist of a subject and to find further research, if you're interested.

Wikipedia's main problem is that people keep wanting it to be something it can't be.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]




"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."
posted by Firas at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2006


How can Wikipedia deal with the problem of vandalism?

The solution is easy, if contentious, and requires extra effort: namely, you have to provide documented sources for the content of your edit. Some entries already use references, but the practice is not enforced.

This solution would fulfill the promise of allowing anyone to edit the Wikipedia, while adding some measure of community-determined objectivity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on August 1, 2006


The main thing I like about Wikipedia is it's fast becoming the easiest place to get an answer to a "what is X?" question, when X is a concept or a complicated thing, in the simplest form: "X is Y."

Strike-slip fault, ergonomics, Regency England - the first sentence usually sums it up, without having to wade through all sorts of confusing crap.

Haters, give it up.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:28 PM on August 1, 2006


I wish everybody would stop bitching about wikipedia and just use it properly.

Really? I'd argue there's no way to use Wikipedia properly - there's a million different ways. And those ways are all mutually exclusive. That's why it's so fun.
posted by muddgirl at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2006


you have to provide documented sources for the content of your edit.

What's a documented source, in terms of Wikipedia? Do you mean "paper" source, "MSM" source, only peer-reviewed sources?

The beauty of wikipedia is often IN the "original research". See my comment above.
posted by muddgirl at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2006


Anil Dash has a recent pair of posts with a lot of interesting Wikipedia-related links. And he just pointed out this Atlantic Monthly article. And I'm too lazy to link to his MetaFilter profile.
posted by staggernation at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


The solution is easy, if contentious, and requires extra effort: namely, you have to provide documented sources for the content of your edit.

What? A Tripod page you set up 5 minutes before?
posted by fire&wings at 2:40 PM on August 1, 2006


Heh. I wondered how long it would take that New Yorker article to show up here in an FPP. I briefly considered making a post that would be, in its entirety:

^

.... but then I thought better of it.
posted by soyjoy at 2:41 PM on August 1, 2006


This guy is funny?
posted by Outlawyr at 2:42 PM on August 1, 2006


The Original Research policy has problems. For example, there is no provision for "common knowledge that has no documented source". This is more common than you may think. The one I'm dealing with is, Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition (1911) a poor source for researching because it contains factual errors. This is brain dead obvious to anyone who reads it (full of racism) - but there is no published source that says this, that has done a critical review of EB1911 from a modern perspective.
posted by stbalbach at 2:45 PM on August 1, 2006


Strike-slip fault, ergonomics, Regency England - the first sentence usually sums it up, without having to wade through all sorts of confusing crap.

Sure, unless the first sentence is part of a vandalized entry, or even better, completely false. It doesn't happen as much as the haters think it does, but it happens.

I do some editing and see similar examples every day. I try to fix what I can, and so do a lot of other wikipedia editors. Problem is, the vandalizing and the willful de-neutralizing of entries seems to be increasing at a rate that's outstripping the editors' ability to keep up with it.

That said, and all joking aside, I still think wikipedia is an amazing resource. Where else are you going to find good, fairly detailed entries about George Clinton and George Clinton in the same cyberneighborhood?
posted by blucevalo at 2:50 PM on August 1, 2006


What's a documented source, in terms of Wikipedia? Do you mean "paper" source, "MSM" source, only peer-reviewed sources?

Single web sources are notably problematic. So the journalist's standard two-source, media-independent approach seems pretty reasonable to me.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2006


One must remember that what you see immediately on looking at a wikipedia page is not the whole point. There is an entire edit history, and often a very lively talk page, for each entry. All of these sources should be read together if you're seriously going to use wikipedia as a source.
posted by odinsdream at 2:57 PM on August 1, 2006


One day people will look back and have a good long laugh about the obsession with truth and authenticity that afflicts so many in these times. Once the truth is priced at its true market value and the world doesn't fall apart everybody will wonder what the big deal was and move on. Of course, by then politics will have totally evolved into entertainment and 'Who Wants to be President of the United States' will likely be the highest rated television show.
posted by nixerman at 3:09 PM on August 1, 2006


I wish everybody would stop bitching about wikipedia and just use it properly.

People once said the same about PageRank, but I digress.

posted by Smart Dalek at 3:10 PM on August 1, 2006


That New yroker article was really good.
posted by raedyn at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2006


How can Wikipedia deal with the problem of vandalism?

Looks like it's doing fine on that elephant page. Where's the problem?
posted by reklaw at 3:21 PM on August 1, 2006


Haters, give it up.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:28 PM PST on August 1 [+] [!]


Haters...

"The Haters are a noise music and conceptual art troupe from the United States. Founded in 1979, they are one of the earliest and most well-known acts in the modern noise scene. The group is primarily the work of the Hollywood, California-based musician, artist, writer, and filmmaker GX Jupitter-Larsen, accompanied by a constantly changing lineup of other "members," usually local experimental musicians and artists in whatever town in which a Haters performance happens to take place."

gottabefunky, what, exactly, do these folks have to give up?

Just saying.
posted by AspectRatio at 3:39 PM on August 1, 2006


It was a funny bit, but as I was watching it I knew, sadly, that millions of nerdy sheep would run to their computers and do his bidding. It's kind of a really obvious, lame thing...and next on the Colbert Report there will be a segment about how this has played out, how so many people edited the page, Wikipedia's response to it, etc....as Colbert knew all along.
posted by chococat at 3:52 PM on August 1, 2006


There's always the uncyclopedia.
posted by nickyskye at 4:20 PM on August 1, 2006


Thanks farishta, especially for the New Yorker link. We don't get the Colbert Report over here, so we're left watching YouTube for the highlights or using BitTorrent if we're very determined. I'm kind of on the fence about Colbert's WP prank here though. In principle it is generally a bad idea to deliberately vandalise an article, but on the other hand WP seems to weather it gracefully, and I believe that it will recover from any sort of vandalism anyway in the long run. Also thanks staggernation for the additional links.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:23 PM on August 1, 2006


nickyskye writes "There's always the uncyclopedia."

Well, you'd think so.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:26 PM on August 1, 2006


You make a good point, purhaps a compromise is in order. You say no change, I say population tripled in 3 months. Half way would be the population tripling in 6 months. Surely you cannot deny this infallible logic.

Ha! That was funnier than the Colbert clip.
posted by scottreynen at 4:45 PM on August 1, 2006


whenever I write on wikipedia, it's from either personal knowledge (eg places I've been/lived), first hand accounts or what I've soaked in from much reading and discussion in my own field. For the last I can give a few references - none of them available freely online, since they are all academic books or articles - but for the former there are no textual sources. I do history research, but even I know that textual sources are not the end all and be all of human knowledge.

The official policy is dumb - newspaper articles are "reliable sources", but personal experience or first hand witnesses are not. Nor is oral communication from academics engaged in original research - I can cite personal communication in my frickin' thesis, but not on Wikipedia. But I can cite John Stossel (check out his entry for his love of accuracy).

That's a messed policy.

The beauty of wikipedia is the way it captures folk culture - the unwritten customs of a Cambridge college, internet phenomena, television trivia, fashions and fads - all the things that aren't in a written encyclopedia. If I wanted to know about elephants, I would go to the library and get out a book on elephants. But if I wanted to know about Firefly or even Stephen Colbert, I would turn to Wikipedia.
posted by jb at 4:51 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


Colbert came across as a stodgy old man in hipster clothing, even though the show's designed to set him up as the opposite.

I mean, picking on wikipedia for not being a powerful, old guard publication?

I think the target of the satire was supposed to be people who cite Wikipedia posts as resources (even then, I really don't think it's fair to target Wikipedia since "certified" encyclopedias aren't considered appropriate references either), but it ended up falling on the idea of Wikipedia itself, especially when the bit turned from a sketch into a prank. As much as I don't want to call it irresponsible... a part of me wants to say the segment was exactly that.
posted by pokermonk at 5:12 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


The funniest thing to come out of all of this is one of the wikipedia talk page comments.

"Anybody who edits this page to reflect the "fact" that "the population of elephants has tripled" is a tool. That's it. You're a tool. Can't even be original when you vandalise something. That's just sad."

heh.
posted by drstein at 5:18 PM on August 1, 2006


I think this is a testament to Wikipedia's ability to deal with misinformation and vandalism. Look how quickly they were able to spot it and correct it. A day or two? Besides who would use Wikipedia for information that absolutely had to be correct immediately. That and Stephen Colbert is a genius, pure genius.
posted by geoff. at 5:32 PM on August 1, 2006


Colbert is a smart and fearless shit-disturber, and that is much needed these days.

Wikipedia is good and useful, and can survive a bit of pranking.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:34 PM on August 1, 2006


I have a problem similar to jb's. I got into a little edit war with someone on Wikipedia: he said I was making baseless statements/original research, while I actually had at least one source to show what I was saying (an oral quote from a concerned academic, just like what jb mentioned). Also, for my part, I thought he was being a huge jerk: when I said I'd contributed a lot to the article and that my contributions shouldn't be reverted with nary a word, he said I was trying to claim ownership and engaged in various threats; he indirectly called me "vacuous"; he was generally snarky. In the end, he had more time and more friends on the editorial staff. He apparently also knew the "right" way to resolve disputes (I followed a method I found on the main dispute resolution page, but apparently it wasn't the "right" one, even though it was specifically mentioned as a good first step). So he won. That pisses me off.

But I also have a quandary: the original article contains a translation I did, so should I now delete that? I'm fluent in the language in question, and well qualified to do translations of it. Do I have to be published before my translation is considered valid?

I still contribute to articles, but if I ever see that guy wander past an article on my watchlist, I'm going to stop watching the article. I just don't have enough time to deal with jerks like that. I'll just have to hope people realize what kinds of crap go on behind the scenes of Wikipedia articles. (Note to self: read more discussion pages!)
posted by jiawen at 5:43 PM on August 1, 2006


I liked the linking in The Atlantic article. Who knew that Wikipedia would have an entry for "herding cats"?
posted by papoon at 6:01 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


The best way of describing wikipedia that I have heard is that it's like your extrememly well read friend who can tell you about all sorts of stuff. You have to accept that he will be wrong sometimes, and do a bit of research against what he tells you if it's important to be correct.
posted by tomble at 7:02 PM on August 1, 2006


What's a documented source, in terms of Wikipedia? Do you mean "paper" source, "MSM" source, only peer-reviewed sources?

The endless and fascinating Dianetics talk pages have several back and forths on whether Xenu.net and Bridge Publications count as valid sources.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:29 PM on August 1, 2006


Hee for a minute I thought Wiki-editors were citing to Scientology web sites.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:49 PM on August 1, 2006


I like wikipedia but I have seen errors that were corrected and then reverted to their erronous state by someone that thought they knew more than they did. That and the frequent bullshit edits for the sake of political purposes, pranks, or just to cause trouble for wikipedia show that it will never be a truly trustworthy source.

If you can't find better sources to confirm what you read there, you should not trust it for anything having real-world implications (school papers, speeches, whatever). I understand why people do not like the rules regarding no original sources and yes, it does seriously limit the usefulness of the entire project but at the same time it protects the integrity of the information therein.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 7:50 PM on August 1, 2006


Flash Mob on Wikipedia!

I must be getting old ... I didn't even check it out till today.

Metafilter: good and useful, and can survive a bit of pranking. (... just don't tempt Colbert to do it!)
posted by Surfurrus at 8:28 PM on August 1, 2006


Colbert is a master of self-promotion. This gimmick with Wikipedia achieved two things:
  • it publicized his name in one of his target audiences (special-interest geeks: webgeeks, writing geeks, newsgeeks);
  • it gave him a way to measure his influence without causing serious harm.

  • posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 PM on August 1, 2006


    Interesting perspective five fresh fish.

    I've long been interested in the idea of wikipedia, but it is actually a bit intimidating to penetrate as a n00b who wants to respect the rules and norms. It's kind of like MeFi in that respect. I know enough to know there's this whole culture and jargon and way things are done there, but I just am not able to dedicate the time to learning all that before doing anything productive in the articles. Having heard stories, I'm hesitant to just plow in and possibly commit some terrible faux pas. This is probably good for my offline life, though. I could see myself becoming kind of lost in all that if I was to begin.
    posted by raedyn at 12:58 AM on August 2, 2006


    I think this is a testament to Wikipedia's ability to deal with misinformation and vandalism. Look how quickly they were able to spot it and correct it. A day or two?

    First Colbert-inspired edit: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT
    Article protected: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT
    First reversion: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT

    Yes, all within a minute. (I presume that concerned editors were watching live as well as potential vandals, and probably anticipated needing to protect and revert even before he mentioned an article name.)
    posted by dhartung at 2:26 AM on August 2, 2006


    If Oregon is Washington's Mexico, does that make the State of Jefferson Washington's Bolivia? With weed instead of coke, and religious anarchists instead of Catholics?
    posted by odasaku at 2:58 AM on August 2, 2006


    Anything that promotes Wikipedia and Elephants is good.
    posted by homodigitalis at 3:05 AM on August 2, 2006


    I wonder if I can get my hands on a Colbert Nation t-shirt before the weekend?
    posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:32 AM on August 2, 2006


    dhartung: Maybe the Colbert people actually gave Wikipedia a heads up?

    At any rate, there's probably already a lot of this going on. I'm sure the articles for tons of television and radio programs see massive editing during and after airing.
    posted by Captaintripps at 6:36 AM on August 2, 2006


    I think this is a testament to Wikipedia's ability to deal with misinformation and vandalism. Look how quickly they were able to spot it and correct it. A day or two? - geoff.

    First Colbert-inspired edit: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT
    Article protected: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT
    First reversion: 31 July 2006 21:40 GMT

    Yes, all within a minute.
    - dhartung

    That's great, but you can't really assume that's representative. Most vandalism doesn't occur with an announcement beforehand on a popular television show with an audience that (likely) significantly overlaps with wikipedia editors. For controversial topics like Israel or abortion, there would be a lot of people with those on their watch list. How many people have giraffes on theirs?
    posted by raedyn at 7:56 AM on August 2, 2006


    Some argue that Wikipedia is the world's largest collaborative pile of shit, but others contend that it makes excellent fertilizer.
    posted by darukaru at 8:14 AM on August 2, 2006


    But I also have a quandary: the original article contains a translation I did, so should I now delete that? I'm fluent in the language in question, and well qualified to do translations of it. Do I have to be published before my translation is considered valid?

    That's an interesting question, and I don't know off-hand whether translations are considered original research. But you'd probably be better off asking it on one of the various Wikipedia help/discussion pages, or perhaps the talk page for the no original research policy, than you would here.
    posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:53 AM on August 2, 2006


    If they don't allow any original research, why don't they just summarily delete every article on recent television shows, movies, albulms, characters, interenet phenomena, folk culture -- all of these are written from the original media sources, ie original research, and none from published sources.

    Leaving alone the fact that all of those published sources get their information from original research - and it's second hand then. Who would you trust to write an article on historic common land use? Someone who read a book once, maybe just an article, or a historian who everyday works with primary sources on common land use?

    And that Wikipedia has an irrational love of the textual source over any other - you can't cite the music on an albulm when talking about music, or oral tradition when writing an article on local oral traditions, but you can cite some half-assed researched newspaper article.

    I'm just glad that most of the contributers ignore that inane policy, because otherwise Wikipedia would be useless.
    posted by jb at 9:07 AM on August 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


    One thing is that a lot of folks run programs that give them the ability to rapidly notice vandalism and just as rapidly, fix it. Its interesting in that I've been on Wikipedia consistently for about three to four months and have yet to have a real negative edit experience. There have been times where I've elected and sought out compromise to see changes made, but even that has been rare. The real key is before you alter anything that appears to have had a lot of work, use the Discussion pages to notify folks of your intent and get their input.

    As for original research, I don't think the policy is necessarily bad. All academic research is supported by documentation, be it earlier research or the hard evidence itself, and Wikipedia really doesn't need to be much different. If a scholar tried to publish a paper in a journal with his references "based on my experiences," they'd be laughed out of town. Overall, though, I recommend using the Wiki as a starting point for research and knowledge, not as an end point.
    posted by Atreides at 9:19 AM on August 2, 2006


    I'm just glad that most of the contributers ignore that inane policy, because otherwise Wikipedia would be useless.

    What I don't get is how people can say 'policy X is flawed and would ruin the site if enforced' and still keep on cheerleading for the thing. This is why I maintain that Wikipedia will be forked within a couple years, and the original WP will be dead for all intents and purposes.
    posted by darukaru at 9:44 AM on August 2, 2006


    Smashing NYorker article.

    Here's one not nearly so convivial:
    "The Six Sins of the Wikipedia - By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D."

    http://samvak.tripod.com/wikipedia.html

    SO unconvivial that WPs Vaknin page has been deleted.
    posted by Twang at 10:07 AM on August 2, 2006


    It was deleted after a debate of its merits, and while some votes seemed to be placed out of negative respect towards Vaknin, others seem to make reasonable points. (this from reading the discussion). Least wise, not enough people cared about the article to really bother with the discussion, which indicates its value under the premise that he was "notable" enough for inclusion.

    I read his article and after looking at his credentials, I think I'll vote for the Harper's article as being more credible.
    posted by Atreides at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2006


    I think this is a testament to Wikipedia's ability to deal with misinformation and vandalism.

    Wikipedia's ability to deal with misinformation and vandalism is very good. Its ability to deal with blowhards who seem to know what they're talking about, and jerks who have connections among the editorial cabal, however, is not.

    Darukaru, I hadn't thought of that. I'll watch Metafilter for the forked version.
    posted by jiawen at 1:32 PM on August 2, 2006


    "The Six Sins of the Wikipedia - By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D."

    I like how it instructs us to

    Click on the blue-coloured text!
    posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2006


    The policy against original research isn't really enforced too strictly because it was never meant to be that strict. It's a rule made to be used against people who write long, often crackpot, essay-type screeds and post them as Wikipedia articles, along the lines of Time Cube, etc. It's formulated the way it is so editors have some discretion, but deletion is determined by votes for deletion anyway, so it's fairly democratic.

    I don't know how many people have Giraffe on their watchlist, but I have Clothes hanger on mine, since I wrote most of that article. Same-minute reverts of vandalism is very common, in my experience.
    posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2006


    What I don't get is how people can say 'policy X is flawed and would ruin the site if enforced' and still keep on cheerleading for the thing

    Because it's useful.

    Yesterday I wanted to know what language family Croatian is in. Not for research - if it were serious, I would have academic sources - but just for curiosity. Then I was able to link out (because the language articles are well designed) to look at the Balto-Slavik languages in general, check out that Albanian and Armenian are both their own subgroups, tell my husband about Toccarian, and look up what language family Phonecian was (Semitic). We also checked out a map of the world showing where Germanic languages dominated (a lot of places).

    No other online free encyclopedia has that kind of functionality or ease of use.

    I can also use it to look up things that are not even included in professional encyclopedias -- characters or episodes in a tv show I've just started watching (I actually worked out what was happening in Arrested Development that way), little facts about a small village I have relatives in (I added to that one), who the title of "Warwick" went to after Warwick 'Kingmaker' (he's the only one important enough to be in a paper encyclopedia, but Wikipedia has the whole run) so that I could see that the Percy family did hold the title around the time of Blackadder (though not for the whole of the reign of Elizabeth).
    posted by jb at 2:58 AM on August 4, 2006


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