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How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia

By Andreas Kolbe

On Reddit last week, an anonymous user said, It’s time for the truth to come out. The post, made in the AdviceAnimals subreddit and garnering over 2,700 upvotes, linked to the following memegenerator image:

Me and my friend used to make fun of an Arabic classmate called Azid. We edited the Wikipedia page for Chicken Korma so that his name would appear as an alternate name for the dish or an optional ingredient. Four years on, it has been cited by many cooking sites and publications.

It turned out that it wasn’t quite four years ago that the edit was made, but otherwise, the poster’s claims were found to be correct. A Wikipedian checking the history of the Korma article in the world’s foremost reference source traced the first insertion of the term Azid to this edit made on May 8, 2012. The change attracted no attention from other volunteer editors whatsoever, and there was no further activity in the article until over a month later.

The rise of Azid

Over time, editors apparently innocent of any involvement in the joke ensured that the spurious term Azid made it into the lead sentence of the article where it was listed as a synonym for Korma. The edit that moved the term into the lead section was made in August 2013 by a ten-year veteran of Wikipedia, an editor who has made close to 20,000 contributions to the site; in this edit, the Wikipedian added etymological detail about the word “Korma” to the article, citing no lesser authority than the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as a reference for the term Azid: a post on an amateur cookery blog named namitaskitchen.com which had copied the vandalised paragraph from Wikipedia.

This is Wikipedia in a nutshell: genuine research mixed with completely unreliable information in such a way that looking at any Wikipedia article the reader never knows what is correct and what is made up. It’s the fabled wisdom of the crowds!

The process whereby spurious information added to Wikipedia is blindly copied by other publications that are then added to the Wikipedia article as sources, cementing the spurious information in place (after all, it now has a footnote!), actually has a name: it’s called citogenesis. The term is based on an amusing – or chilling, if you care at all about education and the value of accurate knowledge – xkcd cartoon of that name.

The Reddit poster further remarked, in a discussion comment on Reddit,

For the curious, just google phrases such as ‘creamy azid’, ‘roasted azid’, ‘korma (azid)’ – etc.

Even if the Wikipedia page is corrected, the alteration will live on, cited by many cooking sites, blogs and possibly a rushed recipe book or two.

Indeed, there are now any number of websites that link the term Azid to Korma dishes, both as an alternative name and as an ingredient. And that will no doubt remain so for some time to come. (Namitaskitchen.com has since removed the erroneous information, but it can still be viewed in the Internet archive’s version of the page as it stood in 2013.)

In typical Wikipedia style, the Korma article contained a mention of the prank for a few hours, but this has now been deleted, as has the term Azid itself (although some commenters on Reddit and Wikipedia inevitably wondered whether Azid was now actually a correct alternative term for Korma, given how widespread the word had become thanks to Wikipedia).

Who invented the hair straightener?

Just how long-lived misinformation originating from a corrupted Wikipedia article can be online is well illustrated by another, similar case that occurred a few years ago. By sheer coincidence, this case also concerned a matter primarily of interest to people who do not fall into Wikipedia’s dominant demographic, i.e. young white males of European descent.

The sequence of edits that led to the rise of this particular bit of misinformation is itself instructive about the culture of Wikipedia.

On 14 August 2006, an editor who did not use a Wikipedia account, and whose posts are identified by a Washington DC IP address, edited the Wikipedia article on the hair iron, changing the name of the inventor of the hair straightener from Madam C. J. Walker to Erica Feldman. Next, the same IP address added “the poopface” after the Erica Feldman name. Then another IP (probably a classmate who’d just been told about this on Facebook!) turned the name into “Yo Mama” and added some more scatological humour, followed by “HI MARTA!!!!!!!”. There followed some image vandalism.

Along then came the first vandalism reverter. She or he took out “HI MARTA!!!!!!!”, but left the article with the Erica Feldman name and “the poopface” in place. Five days passed, during which questionable edits were made to other parts of the article. Then, another IP editor finally removed “the poopface”, and the fate of Madam C. J. Walker was sealed. One of history’s most notable African American businesswomen had been written out of history, by a Wikipedian prankster – because, all obvious traces of vandalism having been removed, the article now read like an authoritative text:

“The first hair straightener was invented by Erica Feldman using chemicals of scalp preparation and lotions to straighten the hair. Unfortunately, using this invention soon led to damaged, scorched hair from all the chemicals that were added …”

It’s a perfect illustration of Kozierok’s First Law:

“The apparent accuracy of a Wikipedia article is inversely proportional to the depth of the reader’s knowledge of the topic.”

At any rate, from now on, the internet believed that Erica Feldman invented the hair straightener. At one point, the information was even quoted in a book on hair care (the title is no longer listed in Google Books).

A year later, the kids had another go, and changed Erica Feldman into a Mr Gutgold. Again no one noticed or cared. And thus Mr Gutgold too came to be widely credited on the Internet with having invented the hair straightener. While this particular hoax was discovered and fixed on Wikipedia some five years ago, to this day, popular internet sites such as ehow.com credit Erica Feldman or Mr Gutgold (in this case, both of them!) with this particular invention.

Virtual Unreality

A book published last month, Virtual Unreality – Just because the internet told you, how do you know it’s true?, by New York University Professor of Journalism Charles Seife, describes in more depth and with a wealth of examples how easy it is for spurious information on the internet to capture people’s imagination and propagate much like a viral infection. Using epidemiology’s R0 index as a simile (the higher R0, the faster a disease will spread), Seife writes,

Digital information has an unbelievably high R0. [...] Once it escapes into the wild, it’s all but impossible to stop its spread. This is wonderful, so long as the information is correct and useful. But if it’s wrong, if it alters our brains for the worse, if it makes us make mistakes and think incorrect things, it’s a scourge.

Bad information is a disease that affects all of us – a disease that has become unbelievably potent thanks to the digital revolution.

A recent case, covered in May 2014 in The New Yorker, provides a good illustration:

comparison

In July of 2008, Dylan Breves, then a seventeen-year-old student from New York City, made a mundane edit to a Wikipedia entry on the coati. The coati, a member of the raccoon family, is “also known as … a Brazilian aardvark,” Breves wrote. He did not cite a source for this nickname, and with good reason: he had invented it. He and his brother had spotted several coatis while on a trip to the Iguaçu Falls, in Brazil, where they had mistaken them for actual aardvarks.

“I don’t necessarily like being wrong about things,” Breves told me. “So, sort of as a joke, I slipped in the ‘also known as the Brazilian aardvark’ and then forgot about it for awhile.”

Adding a private gag to a public Wikipedia page is the kind of minor vandalism that regularly takes place on the crowdsourced Web site. When Breves made the change, he assumed that someone would catch the lack of citation and flag his edit for removal.

Over time, though, something strange happened: the nickname caught on. About a year later, Breves searched online for the phrase “Brazilian aardvark.” Not only was his edit still on Wikipedia, but his search brought up hundreds of other Web sites about coatis. References to the so-called “Brazilian aardvark” have since appeared in the Independent, the Daily Mail, and even in a book published by the University of Chicago. Breves’s role in all this seems clear: a Google search for “Brazilian aardvark” will return no mentions before Breves made the edit, in July, 2008. The claim that the coati is known as a Brazilian aardvark still remains on its Wikipedia entry, only now it cites a 2010 article in the Telegraph as evidence.

After publication of the piece in The New Yorker, a Wikipedian removed the “Brazilian aardvark” moniker from the article. Following the familiar pattern, this removal was followed by an edit war about whether the Wikipedia prank should be mentioned in the article (at the time of writing, it is not).

How Wikipedia helps the spread of knowledge

Like the vast majority of these cases, the creation of an alternative history of the hair straightener never made it into the press. But there is a steadily growing corpus of documented cases of judges, doctors, politicians, writers and journalists being embarrassed by having been found to rely on Wikipedia. And bearing in mind that most of Wikipedia’s hoaxes and pranks lie unsuspected and undetected, buried in its vast bulk of crowdsourced content, this kind of public shaming is virtually the only way some small proportion of these errors are stopped from endlessly propagating further.

Maurice Jarre

Maurice Jarre

When composer Maurice Jarre died in 2009, the world’s press were fooled into repeating a made-up and somewhat cheesy quote which a sociology student by the name of Shane Fitzgerald had added to Jarre’s Wikipedia article. As the Associated Press reported later:

The sociology major’s made-up quote – which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer’s death March 28 – flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.

They used the fabricated material, Fitzgerald said, even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia quickly caught the quote’s lack of attribution and removed it, but not quickly enough to keep some journalists from cutting and pasting it first.

A full month went by and nobody noticed the editorial fraud. So Fitzgerald told several media outlets in an e-mail and the corrections began.

“I was really shocked at the results from the experiment,” Fitzgerald, 22, said Monday in an interview a week after one newspaper at fault, The Guardian of Britain, became the first to admit its obituarist lifted material straight from Wikipedia.

“I am 100 percent convinced that if I hadn’t come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up,” he said. “It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact.”

In another case reported in October 2012, the Asian Football Confederation was forced to apologise to the United Arab Emirates football team after one of their writers had referred to the team as the “Sand Monkeys” – a racist slur that had been added to the Wikipedia page on the team as its purported nickname.

In December 2012, Lord Justice Leveson suffered major embarrassment when it was found that his high-profile report examining the culture, practice and ethics of the UK press named an unknown Californian student as one of the founders of the Independent newspaper. The source of the error was, of course, Wikipedia, where the misinformation had stood undiscovered for over a year.

The Glucojasinogen case illustrates that even lazy medical writers are not immune to the Wikipedia bug.

Yet despite copious evidence to the contrary, there is still no shortage of tech writers repeating the old adage that a 2005 Nature study proved that Wikipedia is as reliable as Britannica. The Nature piece in question was no rigorous scientific study, but a piece of journalism, and it focused on a very specific subset of quite specialised science articles. As the world found in early 2013, when the Bicholim conflict hoax attracted global amusement, not even arcane topics are free from interference by Wikipedia hoaxers.

There is no man behind the curtain

As mentioned in last week’s blog post, the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual revenue from donations now exceeds $50 million. Little to none of this money is spent on measuring or improving the quality of the volunteer-generated content of Wikipedia. Most of the money goes to fund additional jobs for software engineers and programmers, with many of the hires being Wikipedia volunteers apparently selected not for their software engineering expertise, but for their loyalty to the site’s leadership.

Going by spending priorities, Wikipedia looks like a social media company rather than the worldwide educational project it purports to be, with software engineering dominating expenditure. The governing mentality around Wikipedia content is much the same; when pointed to errors in Wikipedia, many contributors will shrug their shoulders and say, “So Fix It! Anyone can edit Wikipedia. If you see an error, just put it right!” The focus is on the social aspect of participation, rather than the quality of the product.

The very set-up of Wikipedia discourages and avoids responsibility, among contributors as much as in the Wikimedia Foundation. The vast majority of contributors hide all or some of their activity behind pseudonymous accounts. At heart, it all seems a bit like a game, a viewpoint that is betrayed in references to IRL (“in real life”) in Wikipedians’ discourse. Wikipedia, you see, for all its impact on the real world, is not part of real life to many of them.

Yet Wikipedia’s real-world impact is apparent from governments’ interest in manipulating the site. A year and a half ago, Wikipediocracy reported at length on efforts by the authorities in Kazakhstan to become actively involved in the development of the Kazakh language version of Wikipedia – efforts that were successful, and garnered the Kazakh Wikipedia accolades rather than condemnation from figurehead Jimmy Wales.

In 2013, the Croatian minister of education took the unprecedented step of warning the country’s pupils and students to avoid relying on the Croatian Wikipedia, as much of its content, especially on the country’s history, had been falsified by a clique of right-wing extremists.

And in the wake of the recent launch of several Twitter bots listing Wikipedia edits by various government IP addresses around the world, the Telegraph reported last week that a Russian government IP address had been found to have edited Wikipedia content related to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, while RT (formerly Russia Today) in turn reported that someone using the IP address of the US House of Representatives had edited several Wikipedia articles on Russia. Wikipedia conveniently serves as a reputation-laundered propaganda machine.

Of course, only Wikipedia amateurs will edit through their naked IP address. Wikipedia pros use pseudonymous accounts named Rocketman12 or something like that in order to effectively hide and protect their identities, an effort that Wikipedia administrators will actively support them in. It’s part of the culture of the place.

For example, when it transpired a few years ago that a senior Wikipedia administrator and leading Wikipedia light known only as “Essjay” had misrepresented his qualifications to The New Yorker as well as to the entire Wikipedia community, passing himself off as a tenured professor of religion rather than the 24-year-old college drop-out he was, Jimmy Wales, the sole remaining co-founder of Wikipedia, could see no problem with such deception. He was happy for his Wikia for-profit company to hire Essjay and vigorously defended his protegé, saying in a video interview that is well worth viewing [see Editor's note below],

“Even to this day I defend it. This is a young man who made a mistake. In the grand scheme of things what he did is pretty minor. Having a pseudonym, sort of fleshing it out with some traits, that’s really no big deal. I mean that’s part of online life.”

Truth does not seem to matter much in Wikipedia. It is leadership comments such as this, along with the way that Wikipedia serves as a key vector for the spread of misinformation and propaganda, that place the site squarely in the field of internet culture, rather than the field of genuine scholarship, education and enlightenment it flies on its marketing flag.

The Harvard Guide to Using Sources includes a stark warning about Wikipedia, along with documentation of yet another hoax that has become a permanent part of the internet’s knowledge of the world. Wikipedia is the world’s foremost reference source today, and it is free. It is also probably the single most unreliable foremost reference source humanity has ever had. I guess that is progress.

Editor’s Note (July 25, 2014): Shortly after publication of this blog post, the “Truth in Numbers” video containing the quoted Jimmy Wales interview was pulled from YouTube. At the time of writing, the video is still available at The Huffington Post for internet users in the US. For internet users elsewhere, the best we can offer is the Russian version of the film (with Russian voiceover added), currently available on YouTube, Vimeo and the Russian DailyTV platform. The relevant time code is around 15:00.

Image credits: memegenerator.net, Wikimedia Commons

29 comments to How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia

  • Radiant Orchid

    It may be full of hoaxes and propaganda, but you can’t beat the price!!!

  • simsa0

    A nice piece, Andreas, thank you for putting it together.

    Just two minor comments:

    re: Nature study from 2005 :
    In fact, I don’t hear the argument any longer that WP is as good EB, if not better. Nowadays the saying rather goes: WP has no more errors or even less errors than, say, EB.

    re: Harvard Guide to Using Sources:
    You’re a bit tweaking its content. The Guide doesn’t warn against the use of WP in general, in fact, for a quick ‘n’ dirty search WP may be ok. The Guide just warns against using WP in “academic research” — by which I understand it to mean using it in authoring essays, even using it as a basic reference source. But it should be clear that usually one does’t cite any encyclopaedias (specialized or general) in an essays. They are starting points for reserach, not pillars on which a claim or argument rests. In that sense, singleing out WP as a no-go for citation in an essay would be a bit unfair.

    • HRIP7

      Thanks. :)

      As the Harvard Guide points out, what sets Wikipedia apart from other reference sources is that WP contains intentionally planted misinformation as well as simple errors of fact made by people who lack expertise. These sorts of shortcomings are far less likely in other general reference works (which might also be inappropriate for detailed academic research, simply due to their superficial but essentially correct treatment of a subject).

      To me that was the main thrust of what the guide says about using Wikipedia, and why it says people should be extremely cautious about using Wikipedia for anything that matters – and why it points its readers to various specialist encyclopedias available in its libraries even for basic research.

      To me that caution extends beyond academic research. If you’re a journalist writing for a national publication, for example, anything you write matters a great deal, because the reputation of your publication is at stake.

      At any rate, the Harvard Guide is linked in the text, and I’d invite readers to click on it and review it.

      • simsa0

        @HRIP7

        Andreas, I agree with all the critique you mention, esp. that WP differs from other encyclopaedias in that it contains intentionally planted misinformation, not just factual errors. It is this that makes WP untrustworthy (on the grand scale, for me) even with regard to areas or articles where it happens to be correct.

        But I differ a bit in the reading of the Harvard Guide. It doesn’t say: Due to deliberate hoaxes (my words), we recommend not to use WP. In fact, it states in the first sentence (and its parenthesis) that one may “get what you want” if “you want to get a basic sense of what something means before starting more in-depth research”. It just warns against the use of WP in academic research, for a number of reasons (hoaxes, outdated info, not properly reviewed).

        Also, I don’t see that it recommends to use other, basic or specialized reference works because they are less prone to error and because they avoid intentional misinformation as happening in WP. It only says that the fact that WP is unreliable doesn’t mean that in general it is wrong or dangerous or misguided to use basic or spezialized reference works. That is, just because this encyclopaedia isn’t reliable doesn’t mean one shouldn’t use other encyclopaedias or surveys at all.

        So I guess the Harvard Guide says less than you seem to think it does. Which, of course, doesn’t diminish your main argument I very much agree with.

        Best
        -Konrad

        • Ed

          @Konrad, I am really not seeing your point about Harvard. In the second paragraph (perhaps you didn’t get that far) it states “you should be extremely cautious about using Wikipedia”, and it gives the reason as “information that is outdated or that has been posted by someone who is not an expert in the field or by someone who wishes to provide misinformation”. The last bit covers ‘deliberate hoaxes’, no?

      • Scott

        Cartographers are as likely to include false data, albeit for money instead of fun.

  • Ed

    This is excellent. In the field of Wikipedia criticism, Wikipediocracy is still the only game in town.

  • SapiensIngentis

    A good list of Wikipedia’s value for it’s donation dollar. Fifty million in donations and stuff like this is still a problem, never mind software ‘upgrades’ that look like they were written as homework assignments for first year programming classes. I wish that your website could end the backbiting long enough to be taken seriously.

  • Wim

    Hi, I like your article, and probably Wikipedia is full of faults. But isn’t the rest of the internet much worse off?

    Probably our written history and the way we remember it, is full of pranks as well, and we have no way of spotting them.

    • HRIP7

      Hi Wim, the thing to remember here is that the rest of the Internet isn’t pretending to be an encyclopedia. Besides, there is a lot of material available on the Internet that is more reliable: after all, that is where a lot of Wikipedia’s appropriate references come from.

      To err is human, and there have always been errors and biases in historiography. But it used to cost money to publish something. Publishers had to protect their investment, so they ensured the research was done to a professional standard, as otherwise the work would not find readers who would repay that investment. In fact, if you could not convince your publisher that you were qualified to write something that would stand up to scrutiny, you wouldn’t get published.

      Publishing something on Wikipedia on the other hand costs nothing, and it has a potentially greater reach than any book, because it’s free and instantly available. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), the incentive and expertise to do the job right just aren’t there.

    • HRIP7

      The book by Charles Seife I mention in the article contains a wonderful summary of Wikipedia in its Appendix, “The top ten dicta of the internet skeptic”. Number 1 reads as follows:

      —o0o—

      Wikipedia is like an old and eccentric uncle

      He can be a lot of fun—over the years he’s seen a lot, and he can tell a great story. He’s also no dummy; he’s accumulated a lot of information and has some strong opinions about what he’s gathered. You can learn quite a bit from him. But take everything he says with a grain of salt. A lot of the things he thinks he knows for sure aren’t quite right, or are taken out of context. And when it comes down to it, sometimes he believes things that are a little bit, well, nuts.

      If it ever matters to you whether something he said is real or fictional, it’s crucial to check it out with a more reliable source.

  • For a lecture I delivered at a college some months ago, I pranked the Wikipedia article about the college with a paragraph about a fake facility at the school, which I just made up out of thin air, then cited to an official-looking federal document. The fake paragraph is still there, even though 15 students at the college were told about the hoax, and the article’s been viewed over 40,000 times since the hoax was inserted, and several Wikipedia administrators who are constantly looking for activity of mine on Wikipedia should have been able to figure out which college I had spoken at (since I’ve publicly mentioned it). It just goes to show that if you put a reliable-looking source to “verify” the nonsense you’re adding, Wikipedia will swallow it, hook, line, and sinker.

    • Tim Davenport

      Then again, another side of the coin, research that I am currently doing indicates that another college’s well-documented official “origins myth” is factually wrong at several points. Wikipedia will correct the errors and ultimately be more accurate than the school’s own account.

      There may be some mischievous misinformation inserted here and there, but there is also updated and corrected information being inserted at an even greater clip.

      “Trust but verify” is a reasonable approach for EVERYTHING one reads…

    • Tim Davenport

      If anybody is up to the challenge of finding Mr. Kohs’s hidden hoax, here is a useful place to start, an index of his articles on Examiner.com:

      http://www.examiner.com/wiki-edits-in-national/gregory-kohs

      t

      • Actually, a couple of days after I posted above, some Wikipedia admin figured out my hoax. It was in the Rollins College article, about fake radio station WRCC. This was the THIRD TIME that I’ve perpetrated the radio station hoax before delivering a lecture. First time was at Cheltenham High School; second time was at Rollins College in the Fall of 2013; third time was a return visit to Rollins in February 2014.

    • truenorthern

      So you intentionally inserted fraudulent information and took steps to make it difficult to identify.
      And then you blame WP.

      Maybe grow up and contribute quality, cited, useful info.

      Stop being a 13 year old asshole.

  • metasonix

    As posted on Slashdot:

    I’ve estimated that English Wikipedia contains thousands of hoaxes at any given time. Some of them are removed quickly as “vandalism”, some of them last for many years. It is simply not possible to make accurate studies of this situation, because the hoaxes are ever-changing, old ones removed while new ones are added.

    Part of the perverse subculture of Wikipedia is the absolute, near-religious certainty that Wikipedia does not contain false or malicious information, because it “simply isn’t possible”. This is the dark and slimy legacy of Jimbo Wales and his early supporters. By and large a very dishonest group. They are simply pathologically incapable of admitting that they are wrong, or that they ever make mistakes.

    • Curly Turkey

      “Part of the perverse subculture of Wikipedia is the absolute, near-religious certainty that Wikipedia does not contain false or malicious information, because it ‘simply isn’t possible’.”

      Mm-hmm. A popular meme at Wikipediocracy, but name one such person who believes anything resembling this statement.

      • HRIP7

        I agree that as stated, it’s not correct. The more common defences offered by Wikipedians are:

        1. Yes, there is vandalism and error, but it is almost always reverted very quickly.

        2. Even if there are hoaxes and errors, the argument goes, once they are discovered, they can be and are fixed immediately.

        3. Relative to the vast number of articles Wikipedia contains, hoaxes and errors are very rare.

        However, none of these defences are quite convincing.

        As for 1., it is quite clear that many hoaxes and errors do slip through the net, especially perhaps in articles that are not about mainstream Western culture.

        As for 2., this is little consolation to people who read the article in the intervening years during which it contained an error; in addition, it is just as easy to introduce new errors and hoaxes into Wikipedia as it is to fix them – as one is remedied, another is inserted somewhere else. (The “Flagged Revisions/Pending Changes” feature (successfully implemented in the German and some other Wikipedias) might have helped, but its introduction in the English Wikipedia was blocked by the volunteer community.)

        As for 3, there are now regular reports of high-profile people and organisations who relied on Wikipedia being publicly embarrassed when it is discovered that they fell victim to a prank or inaccuracy in Wikipedia. Reports of this kind are now far more common than they ever were for people who relied on professionally compiled reference sources.

  • HRIP7

    It may be worth mentioning here that the Rollins College article referred to in Gregory Kohs’ post above seems to receive well over 100,000 page views per year (35,827 in the last 90 days). The frequently made assertion that Wikipedia articles attracting high numbers of page views are unlikely to contain errors or hoaxes is patently false.

    To give an even more egregious example, Wikipedia’s Desert article is one of the site’s most viewed articles (currently ranked 4020 out of over 4.5 million). From 8 May 2013 to 8 April 2014 this article stated that the mean winter temperature in cold deserts, such as those found in Greenland and Antarctica, is between 4 °C (39 °F) and −2 °C (28 °F). Over the course of those eleven months, the article had 1.25 million page views, many of them probably from schoolchildren researching an essay on deserts.

    This was not a case of vandalism, but a case of a prolific and established Wikipedia editor, twice the winner of the WikiCup, citing a grossly unreliable source (an Indian website that had somehow gotten its texts mangled).

    The fact that a million people can look at a page containing such an obvious error (if those were the mean winter temperatures in Greenland and Antarctica, there would be no ice caps there) and that the error persists, even though every one of those million people could have clicked Edit to correct it or flag it, should give pause for thought, as should the fact that Wikipedia classed this article as a “Good Article” in October 2013, after a content review that failed to spot and correct this howler.

    • HRIP7

      Note that this error too has been propagated across many sites, such as the World Heritage Encyclopedia and a University of California, Berkeley (!) page on the Desert biome that confidently states:

      —o0o—

      Cold desert

      These deserts are characterized by cold winters with snowfall and high overall rainfall throughout the winter and occasionally over the summer. They occur in the Antarctic, Greenland and the Nearctic realm. They have short, moist, and moderately warm summers with fairly long, cold winters. The mean winter temperature is between -2 to 4° C and the mean summer temperature is between 21-26° C.

      —o0o—

      This is not the sum of human knowledge, it is madness.

  • Short john silver

    Ya gets what ya pay for!
    If ya climb aboard the free Wiki bus, ya never know where you’ll end up.

    Y M M V !

  • HRIP7

    Note also the Amelia Bedelia hoax uncovered one week after publication of this piece. Coverage in The Daily Dot, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Wikipedia Signpost.

    And another Wikipedia hoax discovered this week, inventing two works purportedly authored by Indian mathematician and astronomer Brahmagupta: the “Cadamekela” and the “Durkeamynarda”. It lasted over seven years, and has been widely copied since.

  • jannab

    Anyone remember a hoax called “Briefsism”, or a page called Craig Barber?
    Plus, who could forget Jocker City??

  • […] a Wikipedia page and saves a change thereby becomes a Wikipedia “editor”. See?) The results are a bit patchy, but who cares if it’s good enough for Wikipedia to be a top-10 […]

  • […] De cómo los bulos y bromazos arruinan la credibilidad de Wikipedia [Eng] […]

  • Seems to me Wikipedia is edited by children, biased spiteful children. They’ll do a “Speedy Deletion” on you if they simply don’t like the person or entity you’re writing about, despite having valid references and significant information.
    They themselves also “vandalize” in areas they think most Wikipedia officials may not notice.
    Wiki claims there are no designated “editors” or “monitors” in the Wikipedia site. But you just try to add a new article or edit an existing one… At least a couple editors (who were watching) will jump all over you, practically call you names, change your article around (a lot), then even threaten you that you’d “better not violate the site’s protocol” again or you’ll be banned from making contributions. This has happened to me more than once. Note: My contributions were right on point and inoffensive in every way. (Then they dare to ask us for donations!)

  • […] For the authors of astronomy books that use Wikipedia heavily. Sad what passes for scholarship these days. wikipediocracy.com/2… […]

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