Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


See who's editing Wikipedia
August 14, 2007 5:36 AM   Subscribe

See who's editing Wikipedia. The most shameful Wikipedia spin jobs and another one from Fox News. Meet Virgil Griffith and find a few interesting Wikipedia battles of your own with his new creation.
posted by spock (92 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. When can we burn Diebold headquarters down?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:50 AM on August 14, 2007


Meh at times Wikipedia can be a glorified graffiti wall....
Behold Wikiality.com, the Truthiness Encyclopedia!
posted by ItsaMario at 5:56 AM on August 14, 2007


Who is SlimVirgin?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:57 AM on August 14, 2007 [10 favorites]


What an awesome idea.
posted by DU at 6:05 AM on August 14, 2007


Holy crap PeterMcDermott - that was a fascinating read.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:12 AM on August 14, 2007


More SlimVirgin
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:19 AM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


IP's from PR companies would be the best sources to check. Also lobbying groups and lawyers offices. These are the professionals who edit public opinion every day through the mass media, it's their job to spin sources like Wikipedia.
posted by stbalbach at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2007


The Blackwater USA (a mercenary company with family ties to the Bush House) site was completely deleted and rewritten by Blackwater's PR hacks to detail all their "services" and "sacrifices," eliminating the facts (still available at SourceWatch) about their being founded and owned by billionaire right-wing fundamentalist Republicans.

Somehow, I'd rather read a PR version of the Blackwater page than something by this guy. NPOV goes both ways.
posted by loquax at 6:41 AM on August 14, 2007


Hmm, I will have to check back on this later when it's functioning again. One of my few posts here was about Raytheon and an anti-RPG system, the RPG cache image was deleted from the main article entirely and the "Controversies and Litigation" section on Raytheon was not simply reorganized but completely whitewashed and renamed "News and Significant Events", which was followed up with the direct addition of a three part section titled "Corporate Stewardship".
posted by prostyle at 6:44 AM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think the links posted above only reinforce the view to Avoid using wikipedia for anything else but light reading.


Also some light viewing for anyone bothered. A Trailer from
'Truth in Numbers
The Wikipedia Story'
posted by ItsaMario at 6:50 AM on August 14, 2007


Dawkins warned you about Wikipedia didn't he?
posted by caddis at 6:53 AM on August 14, 2007


I think the links posted above only reinforce the view to Avoid using wikipedia for anything else but light reading.
Sadly, Wikipedia has become entrenched as something akin to a reliable reference, at least among the late-comers and true-believers.
This potential for influence makes it a very cost-effective PR tool for those corporations and individuals with the money to pay a staffer to camp-out and edit-out anything not in keeping with the official company line.

Anyone with a lick of sense could see this coming from the moment Wikipedia opened it's doors. It kind of makes one ask "What's the point of Wikipedia?" if it's nothing but company-approved flack.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on August 14, 2007


loquax, this is a perennial Wikipedia argument, but it would be better for there to be 'billionaire right-wing fundamentalist Republican Joe Blow' than nothing at all, the reason being that the bias in the first case is open for anyone to see, argue about, and eventually fix, while in the latter case there's no indication that a subtle spin in the opposite direction is there.

In fact, who wouldn't be happy with that description? I mean, I know that I personally would be indisposed towards someone I read that about, but because I have opposing views, not because he had been slandered. Whereas the PR job sounds a lot more open to dispute than, say, the claim that Joe is a member of Church X and gives Y million a year to batty anti-something nice group Z.
posted by topynate at 7:01 AM on August 14, 2007


One CIA entry deals with the details of lyrics sung in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode.

*files under Hope For Humanity*
posted by mediareport at 7:08 AM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Here's Stephen Colbert's take on the issue. (for those unfamiliar with some of the Colberts shenanigans last year)

I read the headline last week, "Microsoft offers cash for Wikipedia edit."

Apparently, the software behemoth hired an Australian computer expert so they would be more favourable to Microsoft's products. Now I know a lot of people don't trust Microsoft - just because they've been accused of bundling software to crush smaller companies like puppies in a pile-driver.

But I'm sure people are going to start trusting Microsoft again if Microsoft just pays someone to write an entry in Wikipeda on how people are trusting Microsoft again.

Of course Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said he was, quote,

" ... very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach"

Boo hoo, Comrade! Open source software is like free trade - and the invisible hand of the market has the mouse now.

Now others out there are going to say, "Can't Microsoft's competitors pay somebody to change it back?"

Exactly.

IBM can throw some of their money at perception and make their products "objectively better".

Then Microsoft can fire their cash cannons back, and we're off to the races!

This is the essence of Wikilobbying. When money determines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity. And I'll give five bucks to the first person who goes on Wiki and changes the entry on Reality to "Reality Has Become A Commodity".

And to those who say "That's not what Reality is", I say "Go look up it on Wikipedia".

posted by ItsaMario at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2007 [7 favorites]


I'm sure this has been said before, but it seems to me that those who are true believers in the value of wikipedia are the same as those who believe in the concept of democracy. The Achilles Heel of both concepts is that they rely upon an "informed electorate" and the democratic majority is anything but. Similarly, as Wikipedia grows (and grows) it become impossible for the public at large (knowlegable in a topic) to be as informed or committed to maintaining a specific Wikipedia page/topic as much as a special interest group or corporation is. Imagining that you are getting anything but that from such a source is folly.
posted by spock at 7:18 AM on August 14, 2007


I'm not sure what it says about my life that I'm now going to ask a friend of mine if she ever edited a Buffy-song-lyric Wikipedia page from a CIA computer.
posted by Partial Law at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sadly this site only tracks anonymous edits. You can easily hide your astroturfing by creating accounts.

Wikipedia needs an automated "checkuser" system where IP ranges are quietly tagged to article & categories. Any edit matching those categories is shown to "lesser checkusers" who see only the edit and IP range, not the IP address.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2007


Somehow, I'd rather read a PR version of the Blackwater page than something by this guy. NPOV goes both ways.

What? Erik Prince isn't a billionaire? Isn't right-wing? Isn't a Christian fundamentalist? Isn't a Republican?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2007


What makes Wikipedia great is what also dooms it to irrelevance.

It is a barrier that I believe simply cannot be overcome.

The only thing that has kept it from devolving into total noise is a large (huge) unpaid volunteer police force.

And one day that police force is going to lose interest in having 300 comment debates about whether "The Naked Cowboy" deserves his own entry or not.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:56 AM on August 14, 2007


Anyone who uses wikipedia for anything serious needs their head examined. It's great little tool for anything non-contentious (and I use it regularly for all kinds of weird things), but it will never replace proper research and properly written articles/books. Which isn't to say those things don't have their own biases (of course they do), but at least they are not hidden in the same manner. People on MeiFi cite to wikipedia all the time as though it was the authoritative "source of record". Articles like this (great post by the way!) should make people reconsider that practice.

"Crowd-source" (or, "people with time on their hands") + anonymity is never going to be a recipe for accuracy or neutrality.
posted by modernnomad at 7:59 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]



What I love is that reporters are now cribbing from wikipedia and then their articles can be used as citations for the original wikipedia content.
posted by srboisvert at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2007


Like traditional encyclopedias are such bastions of unbiased thought and are completely free from corporate bias. Of course no one should use Wikipedia as a primary source of information, but show me a better general source of information and I'll gladly use it. As it stands now, it is leaps and bounds better than its competitors.
posted by afu at 8:05 AM on August 14, 2007


Of course no one should use Wikipedia as a primary source of information is an idiot...
posted by afu at 8:06 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I made wikipedia edits when I worked for a government agency. I even corrected an article about said agency.

I worked on the help desk, and it was definitely not approved by management.

I would guess that if the NSA or CIA were up to any shenanigans, that they'd do it from a CIA ip address.

There are plenty of smart, well-educated people that work for the federal government who have a lot of time to kill in the office. They're a valuable resource, and they should be encouraged, not discouraged.
posted by empath at 8:14 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


(uh, correction: that they wouldn't do it from a CIA ip address)
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2007


WIkipedia is not a primary source, nor does it claim to be, nor does any encyclopedia. All encyclopediae are meant to be jumping-off points, a good start to helping you research and certainly not the end-all be-all of research.

Anyone who bitches about claims otherwise is a tool.
posted by grubi at 8:22 AM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Sadly, Wikipedia has become entrenched as something akin to a reliable reference, at least among the late-comers and true-believers.

Neither a late-comer or a true believer, but I don't agree. Most topics are pretty safe, and you usually have a pretty good idea beforehand when something you're looking up is the kind of thing that will touch on vested interests, and thus be treated with considerable caution.

Funnily enough, most of the areas of wikipedia that are the least reliable, are the areas that traditional encyclopaedias didn't really cover (current events, bios of living (or recently living) people, etc. So it seems like kind of a quid-pro-quo to me - the encyclopaedia includes vast new never-before-seen sections, but those sections tend to be in constant flux and not authoritative.

If, instead of something like looking up the definition of "neocon", I want to know what the 68th element of the periodic table is, Wikipedia is so reliable I feel no little need to check sources.

Well, ok, I guess the problem you're talking about is people who don't use it as an encyclopaedia, but rather as an authority on controversial current affairs. But at that level of hopeless, I find it hard to care - even if Wikipedia were magically made perfect, the person's unreflective gullibility would just find another outlet with which to trip them.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:24 AM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


no little need = little or no need
posted by -harlequin- at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2007


you usually have a pretty good idea beforehand when something you're looking up is the kind of thing that will touch on vested interests, and thus be treated with considerable caution.

There are so few things that don't "touch on vested interests" on the internet, that aside from your example about the periodic table (which you could get from any google search), it can be genuinely hard to know if you're getting a straightforward write up.
posted by patricio at 8:42 AM on August 14, 2007


And one day that police force is going to lose interest in having 300 comment debates about whether "The Naked Cowboy" deserves his own entry or not.

Recently I've had some free time on my hands, been playing a few computer games, and decided to run through the free trial of World of Warcraft.

And it's clear that Blizzard has found several millions of people who are incapable of losing interest in some seriously boring shit. Just hook up their servers to Blizzard's and fix it so that improving the "fishing" article gives you a plus one to your "click button, fishing pole appears, right click other button, repeat" skill, and there'll be a huge dedicated workforce.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:11 AM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia-haters always like to point to these mythical people who believe every word in wikipedia is true, but I've yet to run into such a person.
posted by empath at 9:15 AM on August 14, 2007 [7 favorites]


What? Erik Prince isn't a billionaire? Isn't right-wing? Isn't a Christian fundamentalist? Isn't a Republican?

Yes, all of those things are true. Yet, the very act of pointing out those facts is itself "NPOV", or as we like to say here on the Blue, "grind grind grind".

It's a brave new world we live in; where certain facts are ridiculed as "biased".
posted by Avenger at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


Somehow, I'd rather read a PR version of the Blackwater page than something by this guy. NPOV goes both ways.

What? Erik Prince isn't a billionaire? Isn't right-wing? Isn't a Christian fundamentalist? Isn't a Republican?


But you see, certain facts are inherently biased, and so, must be carefully expunged from the public space wherever they occur, lest they be mistaken for facts simply by virtue of their being, well, facts.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:26 AM on August 14, 2007


oops. what avenger said, in other words.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:26 AM on August 14, 2007


But you see, certain facts are inherently biased, and so, must be carefully expunged from the public space wherever they occur, lest they be mistaken for facts simply by virtue of their being, well, facts.

Sure seems to work for the link between Islam and violence.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:46 AM on August 14, 2007


Look, I don't like PR firms papering over company histories either, but there is clearly a bias implicit in the comment about Blackwater I cited. That person doesn't want to present "objective truth", they want to present Blackwater in a certain light, specifically 'a mercenary organization with ties to the house of bush and founded by fundamentalist republicans'. That person should not be editing the article on Blackwater anymore than Blackwater itself.

Facts are great, I love facts, but please don't tell me that you're arguing that the selection, presentation and context of facts don't alter perceptions. And that's why NPOV exists, to ensure that the *intent* behind the article is to present a balanced perspective of the subject. NPOV is violated when a company or interested party edits an article, and it's violated when those with an agenda, political or otherwise edit an article.
posted by loquax at 9:48 AM on August 14, 2007


Facts are great, I love facts, but please don't tell me that you're arguing that the selection, presentation and context of facts don't alter perceptions.

Then why be afraid of letting the facts pile on, as long as their accurate? Selection cuts both ways. Omitting the political leanings of the Blackwater leadership doesn't neutralize the point-of-view of the article--it skews it in another direction, one that downplays the possible significance of the company's political commitments.

Facts are point-of-view neutral, and are either accurate or inaccurate--facts are not in themselves biased. So the correct antidote to the selective presentation of accurate facts that might have the effect of skewing the POV of the article is the inclusion of additional facts that balance the picture, not the removal of certain facts whose accuracy isn't in question.

Writing from a neutral point of view doesn't mean meticulously expunging any facts that could potentially result in a reader forming a political opinion on a subject, does it?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2007


their--->they're
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 AM on August 14, 2007


spock, if no one has said it yet, thank you so much for this thread. It verifies everything I've always thought about wikipedia.
posted by misha at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sure seems to work for the link between Islam and violence.

this is a troll/derail, but i'll bite anyway.

be careful when you start talking about links between 'x' and violence, krrrlson, because the most consistent and conclusive statistical link ever established between violence and any 'x' factor, is the one established between violence and male gender.

i'm guessing you're male, right? well, since you're so heroically committed to combating the root causes of violence wherever they're found, you'll probably want to be among the first in line at the newly expanded gitmo facility once we start housing all the potentially dangerous violent offenders like you there, as you patiently await pacification through castration.

see you in a dozen years. maybe.

me, i'll keep my half-baked opinions about the sources of violence to myself, thanks. especially when i'm in a thread about people whitewashing wikipedia.

/derail
posted by saulgoodman at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


So the correct antidote to the selective presentation of accurate facts that might have the effect of skewing the POV of the article is the inclusion of additional facts that balance the picture, not the removal of certain facts whose accuracy isn't in question.

Great, except that every article would need to be about 25 pages long. Regardless, at least a basic establishment of relevance should be required. I really don't know anything about Blackwater, but just saying that Prince is Christian and Republican, or even that his second cousin is friends with GWB's neice means nothing besides adding a semi-conspiratorial tinge to the article. There are a lot of people in the US that are Christian and Republican, after all. Is there *proof* that Blackwater was awarded contracts improperly on the basis of his connections or religion? Great! If not, then why is it in the article?

Besides, I wasn't even saying that the fact that he's Republican or whatever shouldn't be included, if true and relevant, only that the particular guy whining about PR flacks editing that article sounded just as bad, but from the other side. My bet is that there's a far bigger problem with personal bias and agendas (political and otherwise) than there is with corporate image sanitation.
posted by loquax at 10:32 AM on August 14, 2007


My bet is that there's a far bigger problem with personal bias and agendas (political and otherwise) than there is with corporate image sanitation.

loqax: did you read the links? because they suggest otherwise.

I really don't know anything about Blackwater, but just saying that Prince is Christian and Republican, or even that his second cousin is friends with GWB's neice means nothing besides adding a semi-conspiratorial tinge to the article.

That or it provides context that might be relevant to someone investigating/researching the history of the growth and development of the private defense industry.


Great, except that every article would need to be about 25 pages long.

So? Web pages are a hell of a lot cheaper than paper.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:37 AM on August 14, 2007


successfully opened 'cache/e1/d9/d03c5a3b75c51f848fa0446dcf42'! We can make our cache file
Warning: mysql_connect() [function.mysql-connect]: Too many connections in /jizz4/web/wikipedia/docs/name2ip.php on line 161
Could not connect -- error: Too many connections
posted by blue_beetle at 11:03 AM on August 14, 2007


That or it provides context that might be relevant to someone investigating/researching the history of the growth and development of the private defense industry.

You're right, it might. That has to be weighed by editors of information, whoever they are and in whatever medium, against the possibility that it is extraneous information and/or likely to lead a reader in the wrong direction. For example, should the FACT that Al Gore spends a lot on A/C for his house be included in his article? Should the FACT that Bush got suspended from grade school for fighting be in his? Should the FACT that Einstein beat his wife and wore women's clothes be on his? (Note: I made that up, but you see where I'm going). Sure, hypertext is cheap, but time isn't, and not everyone has the luxury of wading through trivia to get at what's actually important. Editors of an encyclopedia should endeavor to be concise and neutral and come as close to an objective and complete "truth" in as few words and details as possible. Unless there is a real *reason* to include something, don't. You don't go looking for Roosevelt's biography in an encyclopedia, you find a digest. Same for Blackwater. Want to read about someone's perspective on their influence? Read a book, magazine or blog, not wikipedia.

loqax: did you read the links? because they suggest otherwise.

I know, I just disagree. There are a lot of edit wars out there that have nothing to do with the government or corporations, and those that are persistent enough and aggressive enough usually end up winning.
posted by loquax at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2007


Religion was the first casualty on Wikipedia. Anything to do with religion is swarmed by true believers and their jackass apologetics. This topic alone has attracted the most incompetent editors and admins, who remain to work on other articles in their spare time from lying about religion.
posted by Brian B. at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2007


You're right, it might. That has to be weighed by editors of information, whoever they are and in whatever medium, against the possibility that it is extraneous information and/or likely to lead a reader in the wrong direction.

You're general point is well taken though--I don't think we're in any disagreement in principle. It should, however, not be underestimated how difficult it can be to establish the relevance/irrelevance of a particular set of facts. Especially when you consider questions of what facts might be considered most relevant from an historical perspective.

Getting back to the Blackwater example, supposing there were a civil war at some point in America's indefinite future, led by proponents of the establishment of an American Christian theocracy. (I'm not suggesting this is in any way a likely turn of historical events, but it's not a completely impossible turn of events either.) Now suppose that the combat forces in that war included large numbers of private military combatants, such as Blackwater, working as agents of wealthy stakeholders, and years after the fact, historians wanted to untangle the complicated web of political and social connections that ultimately led to the involvement of private troops in the war effort. Information about the political and ideological commitments of Blackwater's leadership in this context would naturally be extremely relevant to these historians' efforts.

So it's really not always clear at the time what information on a particular subject might be most relevant. And who's to say who the audience for the information is?

The point in all this is that editorial decisions involving the removal of demonstrably accurate facts that might be of interest to someone should be made very carefully, and never treated as final, as any fact that doesn't seem especially relevant today could take on new relevance tomorrow.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:09 PM on August 14, 2007


Now if we could just find out who's writing our laws.
posted by neuron at 12:31 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Anyone who uses wikipedia for anything serious needs their head examined." [citation needed]
posted by Auz at 12:52 PM on August 14, 2007 [6 favorites]


'a mercenary organization with ties to the house of bush and founded by fundamentalist republicans'

Loquax, what exactly is NPOV about this characterization? Firstly, how the fuck is "mercenary organization" out of place? Blackwater employees have engaged in combat operations. Under the Geneva conventions, they would be classified as mercenaries. While "mercenary" may not characterize everything they do, it is a pretty fair description of much of their activities. Sure, an article about Blackwater that focuses on their political leanings would be NPOV, but surely these facts are salient enough to warrant at least a mention.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:15 PM on August 14, 2007


The Achilles Heel of both concepts is that they rely upon an "informed electorate" and the democratic majority is anything but.

whenever i see someone make this kind of comment i always wonder if they include themselves in the ignorant unwashed masses. this isn't meant to be personal. i just find it odd when people bemoan how stupid the electorate is but somehow they escape the trap of all those stupid people. cause if you're gonna walk around and say everyone's a sucker you gotta include yourself.
posted by andywolf at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2007


Bias is awesome! All these messy facts are too much for my short attention span.
posted by puke & cry at 1:28 PM on August 14, 2007


andywolf, he didn't say everyone was a sucker. He said democratic majorities are not sufficiently informed. And he's correct. Which is why the U.S. is a Republic. And why many Wikipedia articles are doomed to inaccuracy.
posted by tadellin at 1:32 PM on August 14, 2007


Now suppose that the combat forces in that war included large numbers of private military combatants, such as Blackwater, working as agents of wealthy stakeholders, and years after the fact, historians wanted to untangle the complicated web of political and social connections that ultimately led to the involvement of private troops in the war effort. Information about the political and ideological commitments of Blackwater's leadership in this context would naturally be extremely relevant to these historians' efforts.

I don't think what you describe is the purpose of an encyclopedia in general, or wikipedia specifically. That's the job of primary source material, or books, or other accounts. Regardless, encyclopedias can always be updated as events warrant, no need to hedge one's bets by including everything today. There's simply too much information on any subject for that to be practical or even desirable.

Loquax, what exactly is NPOV about this characterization?

You're right, it's fine. So I'll just redo the Barak Obama intro. How about:

"Barak Hussein Obama is a Christian leftist with ties to various labour organizations who is in favour of expansion of government, expansion of the military, and unilateral attacks on foreign countries (including military intimidation of Iran). He is also a smoker."

All facts, sound good?
posted by loquax at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


"That person doesn't want to present "objective truth", they want to present Blackwater in a certain light, specifically 'a mercenary organization with ties to the house of bush and founded by fundamentalist republicans'. That person should not be editing the article on Blackwater anymore than Blackwater itself."

Loquax— I realize that you'll dismiss this, but Blackwater is a mercenary organization with ties to the Bush family and founded by fundamentalist (and partisan) Republicans.

Perhaps you're coming to one of those points where reality has a liberal bias, hmm?
posted by klangklangston at 1:41 PM on August 14, 2007


""Barak Hussein Obama is a Christian leftist with ties to various labour organizations who is in favour of expansion of government, expansion of the military, and unilateral attacks on foreign countries (including military intimidation of Iran). He is also a smoker."

All facts, sound good?"

Sounds like it was clumsily written by someone with an ideological axe to grind, independent of an inability to quickly grasp what is salient.

Like that Blackwater IS PRIMARILY A MERCENARY ORGANIZATION.

Sorry, Loquax, you're just wrong again.
posted by klangklangston at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


whenever i see someone make this kind of comment i always wonder if they include themselves in the ignorant unwashed masses.

You know who else thought the electorate was stupid?

“Thus inwardly armed with confidence in God and the unshakable stupidity of the voting citizenry, the politicians can begin the fight for the ‘remaking’ of the Reich as they call it.”
posted by saulgoodman at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2007


Like that Blackwater IS PRIMARILY A MERCENARY ORGANIZATION.

Sorry, Loquax, you're just wrong again.


I think I gotta agree with klangklangston here: The term 'Mercenary' has come to have negative connotations over the years because, well, historically soldiers for hire have done bad things and generally earned a solid reputation for being amoral asshats. Over the years, we've conveniently encoded our historical experiences with 'mercenery' types into the connotations of the word for soldiers-for-hire itself, so the term 'mercenary' (the precisely correct word for a soldier-for-hire) now has some baggage.

However, that doesn't change the fact that the term is in fact exactly the denotatively correct term to describe the services Blackwater offers. To pretend otherwise is to allow political correctness to run amok. What, should we pretend the term 'mercenary' doesn't mean soldiers-for-hire, literally expunging the offensive word from our language, just because it's accrued negative connotations over the years? What's next, we can't call pig farmers 'pig farmers' anymore because some people think of pig farmers as dirty yokels? We have to come up with a new term for 'Politician' because the old one has become so loaded?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2007


Loquax, you forgot to mention that he's a black teenager.
posted by mek at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2007


Klangklangston - I never said that it wasn't a mercenary organization. I don't care about the word mercenary, if that's what's got you all upset. In fact, if you had read my comments, you'll also see that I have no problem with including any information about Blackwater whatsoever, as long as it's relevant, belongs in an encyclopedia, and it's not presented in such a way as to prejudice the uninformed reader against it.

Why is it so relevant and important that Blackwater was founded by a Christian Republican (like 50% of the US general public, and likely many other organizations), but what I wrote about Obama isn't salient? And if you think the guy I quoted didn't have an axe to grind about Blackwater and the "house of bush", well, sorry but you're wrong again.
posted by loquax at 2:21 PM on August 14, 2007


"Barak Hussein Obama is a Christian leftist with ties to various labour organizations who is in favour of expansion of government, expansion of the military, and unilateral attacks on foreign countries (including military intimidation of Iran). He is also a smoker."

All facts, sound good?


Believe it or not, to the extent these are facts, I'd say yes. I don't think, however, that it's verifiable that Obama is 'in favour of expansion of government...military...unilateral attacks...', etc.

And you do make a very good point further up-thread about encyclopedia entries not necessarily being the appropriate repositories for every piece of information that could potentially be of interest to someone, but that doesn't mean it's always clear how to make the right distinctions.

Also, maybe there should be some kind of wiki-tool for storing and categorizing all known verifiable facts on a particular subject, for the benefit of the historical record or for research purposes--a tool where the only criteria for inclusion is factual veracity. But that's a completely different subject, of course.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:31 PM on August 14, 2007


Why is it so relevant and important that Blackwater was founded by a Christian Republican (like 50% of the US general public, and likely many other organizations),

Isn't the relevant point that he's a substantial Republican Party financial contributor, not merely a registered Republican?

But still, loqax, you may be right.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:34 PM on August 14, 2007


Blackwater whatsoever, as long as it's relevant, belongs in an encyclopedia, and it's not presented in such a way as to prejudice the uninformed reader against it.

Just out of curiosity though, would you want to see these same standards applied to subjects like the khmer rouge, or joseph stalin? or neo-nazism? or are you willing to selectively admit editorial bias?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2007


How about this:

Blackwater USA was co-founded by former Navy Seal Erik Prince, a "billionaire right-wing fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Michigan Republican family. A major Republican campaign contributor, he interned in the White House of President George H.W. Bush and campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992. He founded the mercenary firm Blackwater USA in 1997 with Gary Jackson, another former Navy SEAL."

from source.com, quoted section via
posted by misha at 2:45 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity though, would you want to see these same standards applied to subjects like the khmer rouge, or joseph stalin? or neo-nazism? or are you willing to selectively admit editorial bias?

Sure I'd like to see the same standards applied, in an encyclopedia. Not that anything should be suppressed, or that it isn't interesting, just that an encyclopedia is not the place for it. That's why editors are removing "trivia" sections. That's why original research isn't kosher. An article in Wikipedia should be written as if the reader has never encountered the subject before and be as ideologically neutral as possible.

How about this:...

If you were to ask me, that should be a biographical entry for Prince, not the entry for Blackwater (which is exactly what it is on that site). Although at the same time, this: "billionaire right-wing fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Michigan Republican family" is a pretty powerful and prejudicial opening line to describe someone with, even if true. Makes him sound like he lives under a mountain in New York State. Flip it around for Soros, that "billionaire left-wing jewish financier and Carlyle Group member".
posted by loquax at 3:35 PM on August 14, 2007


Cool post. I'm a big fan of Wikipedia with all of its warts and failings. It is an amazing thing, and a genuinely interesting and useful contribution to humanity.

I think that the idea of a NPOV is an admirable standard, but ultimately unattainable. It would be very useful if Griffeth's app could be incorporated into the Wikipedia edits page so that it would be reasonably clear who was editing pages. Of course, that isn't going to stop folks from hiding, but better than the pretence of a neutral point of view is honesty about bias.

THAT I can work with.

In the meantime, yay Wikipedia.
posted by salishsea at 4:01 PM on August 14, 2007


i think it's a salient point to mention that wikipedia is no more black-and-white than anything else out there on the internet. much as we would like it to be a definitive source, i doubt it (or any other publicly-edited internet entity, ahem meta...) will ever be truly unbiassed.

that said, wikipedia did help me get a SHIT TON of work done today that involved much looking up of chemical compounds and their respective CAS#s. i don't imagine that too many chemical companies would be falsifying public msds information.

the only maddening thing about wiki is its lack of consistency. as someone else said upthread, sometimes just googling it is better. that said, i don't always know the first google hit is going to be exactly what i need. with wikipedia, that percentage chance is much higher.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:07 PM on August 14, 2007


I think this is also a little misleading... it gives the impression that these are somehow official edits by corporations, when in fact I imagine 99% of these are by employees on corporate networks. Especially since looking at a few big companies (Google, Microsoft, etc) I see mostly edits on technical articles, hobbies, sci-fi, etc.

It's really impossible to distinguish an official edit from something a random employee did. Even if it seems like something that would be a PR-related edit, an employee could have done that on their own initiative.

None of that takes away from the "should we trust wikipedia" argument, but all this tool does is show what networks did the editing, and at any company I've worked at, most employees would be free to surf wikipedia and do edits. This is even more true for colleges and universities.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:27 PM on August 14, 2007


Though it could be interesting to see if you could find organization-wide biases at certain universities and companies, I suppose.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:28 PM on August 14, 2007


I was very anti wikipedia when it was new, but the more I look, the more I am impressed with the quality of the articles. If you need to rely on something then Britannica is more bulletproof. Nevertheless, the overall accuracy seems similar.
posted by caddis at 5:48 PM on August 14, 2007


"Everything's better if you do it on a huge scale, and automate it." - Virgil Griffith

That like, belongs in Wikiquotes or something. Or... did someone else say that before he did?
posted by ZachsMind at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2007


You wrote:
"billionaire right-wing fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Michigan Republican family"
. . .

[is a] powerful and prejudicial opening line to describe someone with, even if true.

See, this is the part I still don't quite get. What makes any one of those qualifiers prejudicial? Let's look at this another way. The same basic intro formula, only for my biography would read:

"middle-class politically independent Theravadan Buddhist from a working class Florida family"

See that? Nothing whatsoever prejudicial about that opening (unless you're one of those tools who doesn't take Buddhists, political independents or the middle-class seriously). So it's not the categories of facts being included in the bio that set your teeth on end (i.e., political leanings, religious views, family history), but the specific contents of those facts. And that's understandable, to a point. But your ick-factor response isn't proof of bias--it would be if any of the details offered were intentionally misleading or somehow oversimplifications of a more nuanced set of facts. But that's not the case here, so what's so prejudicial about plainly stating these facts? Is it prejudicial to characterize Ted Bundy as a mass-murderer? Yes, but only because most people don't approve of mass-murdering. Is that characterization of Bundy still accurate and relevant? Yes.

The description of Prince only seems prejudicial because we happen to be at a deeply divided point in our cultural history wherein a certain segment of the population has very strong negative feelings toward politically connected right-wing Christian fundamentalist billionaires. Otherwise, these particular facts presented in this way wouldn't even raise an eyebrow, much less come across as prejudicial.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:16 PM on August 14, 2007


Sadly, what perhaps many are ignoring (and this may have been mentioned before but I got bored scanning the thread about halfway down), these IP address traces which are the cornerstone of WikiScanner's usefulness might be forgeries!

*gasp*

If you're a hacker, or otherwise Net Saavy individual smart enough to cover your tracks, and you want to go in and change something in WikiPedia just to be an expletive about it, wouldn't you purposefully fake your IP address and make it look like the CIA did it? Or Haliburton? Wouldn't you purposefully ghost yourself as if you were Senator Joe Biden? Or Bill Gates? Or Penn Gillette? Just for grins? So if anyone does get in trouble for whatever hijinks you were up to, it wouldn't be you?

Am I the ONLY one who saw the first five minutes of Sneakers??? Essentially, the information provided by WikiScanner is about as dependable as WikiPedia.

"Could be meat. Could be cake. Looks like MEATCAKE!" - George Gershwin
posted by ZachsMind at 7:40 PM on August 14, 2007


ZachsMind writes "'Could be meat. Could be cake. Looks like MEATCAKE!' - George Gershwin"

That Gershwin was one wacky dude.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:04 PM on August 14, 2007


Maybe I shoulda said DiMaggio?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2007


Wikipedia-haters always like to point to these mythical people who believe every word in wikipedia is true, but I've yet to run into such a person.

Try teaching an undergrad political science course -- you'll meet one every time you grade a paper.
posted by aaronetc at 8:38 PM on August 14, 2007


Try teaching an undergrad political science course -- you'll meet one every time you grade a paper.

Isn't that the point of the course - that they learn this stuff - you fail them, leave comments as to why they failed, and they learn.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:00 PM on August 14, 2007


That was certainly the point of the mushroom thread.
posted by ryanrs at 10:29 PM on August 14, 2007


Isn't that the point of the course - that they learn this stuff - you fail them, leave comments as to why they failed, and they learn.

Sure, but the fact remains that people who believe Wikipedia is a reliable primary source do exist. Some of them take classes for which they write papers citing it, and get poor grades as a result; some don't take such classes, and presumably go on thinking of it that way.
posted by aaronetc at 11:32 PM on August 14, 2007


But the latter group is probably best served by secondary sources anyway. And what's a "reliable primary source" anyway? I thought we were discussing accuracy.
posted by ryanrs at 4:05 AM on August 15, 2007


ZachsMind: If you're a hacker, or otherwise Net Saavy individual smart enough to cover your tracks, and you want to go in and change something in WikiPedia just to be an expletive about it, wouldn't you purposefully fake your IP address and make it look like the CIA did it?

You might. But you probably wouldn't.

Or as Griffith puts it in his FAQ:
Won't these edits just make people be more sneaky about how they edit Wikipedia (using 3rd parties, etc.)?
Not necessarily. Even though dusting for fingerprints is well-known and has been around for decades, police still dust for prints at crime scenes, and it often works!
Interestingly, he doesn't say anything about whether he's doing anything to detect IP-spoofing. (probably not, seems to be just an IP database.)
posted by lodurr at 6:34 AM on August 15, 2007


what's a "reliable primary source" anyway?

Wikipedia is unreliable in a definitional sense -- it may not be the same when someone checks your cite as it was when you cited it. What's more, even really well done Wikipedia articles are not primary sources, they cite primary sources. None of which changes, or even has anything to do with, the fact that people exist who believe what they read at Wikipedia is true.
posted by aaronetc at 8:39 AM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, BBC News is now actually running a story on this.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2007


Wikipedia is unreliable in a definitional sense -- it may not be the same when someone checks your cite as it was when you cited it.

In the left margin of every Wikipedia article is a link labeled "Cite this article". Click that.

Your phrase "reliable primary source" could be construed as suggesting primary sources tend to be more reliable than secondary sources. Just because Wikipedia isn't a reliable primary source doesn't mean it's not a reliable secondary source (though it may not be that either).


None of which changes, or even has anything to do with, the fact that people exist who believe what they read at Wikipedia is true.

Can't be helped. Some people will believe anything. But Wikipedia is mostly true and thus pretty useful.
posted by ryanrs at 9:54 PM on August 15, 2007


You should have quoted from that BBC article, it's awesome!
On the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the tool indicates that a worker on the CIA network reportedly added the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" before a section on the leader's plans for his presidency.
posted by ninebelow at 3:23 AM on August 16, 2007


be careful when you start talking about links between 'x' and violence, krrrlson, because the most consistent and conclusive statistical link ever established between violence and any 'x' factor, is the one established between violence and male gender.

Who gives a shit? The statistical correlation is a *fact* and therefore deserves the same protection you (pretend to) give to other inconvenient facts.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:12 PM on August 16, 2007


lodurr: "Interestingly, he doesn't say anything about whether he's doing anything to detect IP-spoofing. (probably not, seems to be just an IP database.)"

I'm not saying that every IP was faked any more than I'd say Wikipedia is 100% accurate. I'm saying an unknown percentage of them were faked.

Years ago it was popular (and I bet this is still used a lot) to send emails under a false email addie, so who could ghost a nasty email to someone, or participate in spam, and the recipient would think you are "bill@microsoft.com" or "president@whitehouse.gov". In fact I remember there were once web forms out there where you could post an email to anywhere and it'd look on the surface that you were anyone other than who you were.

I'm not saying it happened a lot, but the fact it could have happened at all makes WikiScanner as undependable as Wikipedia. Many will presume that WikiScanner tells the truth, and they might be right half the time. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Ultimately, all this does is add one more reason why I no longer actively contribute to Wikipedia content.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2007


I'm not saying it happened a lot, but the fact it could have happened at all makes WikiScanner as undependable as Wikipedia.

So, would you have perfection be your only goal? Should people like Griffith just give up, because they can't achieve that?
posted by lodurr at 2:19 AM on August 17, 2007


...and another one from Fox News.

Now that they’ve been caught editing Wikipedia entries, Fox News is attempting to discredit Wikipedia.
posted by ericb at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2007


Now that they’ve been caught editing Wikipedia entries, Fox News is attempting to discredit Wikipedia.

Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch must be getting soft in the heads — FOX must never show any editorial weaknesses, and responding to the Enemy on his terms is definitely a sign of weakness. What about all those violent Muslims that are being ignored by libruls? Ailes and Murdoch just need to jackboot their viewers' heads with other inane derails, like they used to back in the day.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:20 AM on August 17, 2007


"So, would you have perfection be your only goal?"

Oh God no! Heaven forbid! Quite the opposite. I'm all for imperfection in my realities. Makes them far more interesting.

I'm simply saying how laughable it is that some people look at this WikiScanner as some firestorm burning away the lies and revealing what actually happens, when the "truth" is more like this: the curtain behind the curtain reveals another curtain with a curtain behind it.

Sometimes the IP addresses are gonna be accurate. Sometimes they will have been placed there by people smarter than me, which ain't hard to do; be smarter than me I mean. I have no idea how to ghost IP addresses. I just know that it happens. Come to think of it, I don't know now this happens. I may have read it somewhere -- maybe in Wikipedia! ROTFLMAO!

Sometimes the IP addresses are gonna be accurate. You have no way of knowing how often and which time. There is an unquantifiable percentage of times when the IP address in question is genuine. So with regards to illumination on the unknown, we're right back where we started. Our eyes have adjusted but we still don't know where we are. Ain't it great!??


"In a surprise announcement, the Republican National Committee has revealed it is bankrupt. A spokesman said they had plenty of money in their accounts last week but today they just don't know where the money has gone. But not everybody's going begging. Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the United Negro College Fund announced record earnings this week due mostly to large, anonymous donations."


Am I really the only one in this thread who saw Sneakers???
posted by ZachsMind at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2007


Very possibly. Most of the people I knew who saw it regarded its only saving grace as the fact that they use an actual Cray 1 as furniture.

I have, however, read the odd Jim Thompson novel, not to mention grinding my way through Mitnik's tedious Art of Deception and the much more entertaining (and more practically useful) Secrets of a Super Hacker. So the basic resemblance of everything to do with truth v. lies to a con game is not lost on me.
posted by lodurr at 7:50 AM on August 20, 2007


« Older You might recognise him from just about every Amer...  |  What, no Bill & Ted? NY Magazi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments