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Press Releases

  • Please click here for recent Wikipediocracy press releases.

Wikipedia: as accurate as Britannica?

By Andreas Kolbe

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A factoid regularly cited in the press to this day is that a 2005 study by Nature found Wikipedia to be almost as reliable as Britannica. While the study’s (if that is the right word – it wasn’t a peer-reviewed study, but a news story) methodology and conclusions were disputed by Britannica, the result of the Nature comparison has become part of received knowledge for much of the media. As the saying goes, a lie told often enough becomes the truth.

A meme is born

The problems really began as soon as the Nature piece was published. Many news outlets failed to mention that in its survey, Nature looked at hard science topics only – subjects like physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and paleontology – despite the fact that Nature clearly said so, in the very first line of its piece. The following headline and lead from c|net will serve as an example:

Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica.

Wikipedia is about as good a source of accurate information as Britannica, the venerable standard-bearer of facts about the world around us, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature.

Few observers were astute enough to note, as The Register’s Andrew Orlowski did, that restricting the comparison to hard science articles was what “gave the free-for-all web site a fighting chance – as it excluded the rambling garbage and self-indulgence that constitute much of the wannabe encyclopedia’s social science and culture entries”. Another notable exception was Bill Thompson, writing for the BBC, who noted Wikipedia’s problems in “contentious areas such as politics, religion or biography”, and how easily Wikipedia can “be undermined through malice

…continue reading Wikipedia: as accurate as Britannica?

Wikipedia: re-writing history

15253561470_d6e5af7e0c_oBy Andreas Kolbe

For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man, Joe Streater, as a key culprit in the 1978–79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. Thanks to the detective work of Ben Koo at sports blog Awful Announcing, the world now knows (again!) that Joe Streater had no involvement in the affair. He couldn’t have, because he didn’t even play for the team in the 1978–79 season.

Entering the Wikipedia wormhole

In his article, Guilt by Wikipedia: How Joe Streater Became Falsely Attached To The Boston College Point Shaving Scandal, Ben Koo describes how he fell “down this wormhole” that ended at an anonymous Wikipedia edit made over six years ago.

It began like this: Koo had reviewed a 30 for 30 documentary on the Boston College point shaving scandal for Awful Announcing. In this review, he remarked on the curious fact that one of the four players eventually tied to the scandal wasn’t mentioned in the film at all.

This prompted a puzzled email inquiry from a former Boston College player who’d been involved in the affair: Which player did Koo mean? Koo replied that he had found it curious that Joe Streater hadn’t been mentioned in the documentary, given that all the articles he had read as part of his background research had named Streater as one of the sportsmen involved. The reply he got from the former Boston player astonished him:

“Joe Streater wasn’t even on the team that infamous year as he had left school the year before.”

At first, Koo was incredulous. How could this be? Streater was mentioned in Wikipedia and so many other articles on the web. But

…continue reading Wikipedia: re-writing history

Flagged Revisions: how Wikipedia could have prevented anonymous defamation. And didn’t.

By Andreas Kolbe

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One of the worst things about Wikipedia is how it provides a platform for malicious, anonymous slander. It did not have to be this way.

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy’s dad was recently defamed as a Nazi collaborator in Wikipedia, and the hoax spread instantly to other websites, including one news website which reported that the spurious information had been removed, and now claimed the article was “censored”. Levy had to employ Haaretz’s lawyer to have the article withdrawn, an option not open to everyone, as he rightly observes:

Wikipedia had published, for one day apparently, information planted there, that my father, Dr. Heinz Levy, had collaborated with the Nazis and therefore was awarded the position of district legal adviser under that horrific regime. When he came to Israel, he changed his name from Heinz to Zvi in order to blur his past, it added. All of this was reported by Rotter and a picture was added of the page in Wikipedia before it was “censored.”

I was in shock. I have been the subject of quite a few aspersions before but never anything like that. What can be done about slander of this type? How does one start to refute a revolting lie which in another second will spread like wildfire among the virtual thorn fields of the Internet? […]

Wikipedia published the information, even if only for a very short time. Only the decisive intervention of Haaretz’s lawyer, attorney Tali Lieblich, who sent a sharply worded letter to the management of Rotter, led to the (immediate) removal of the slanderous item. Not everyone has a lawyer, or a friend who brings to his attention the fact that he has been slandered on the Web. From my point of

…continue reading Flagged Revisions: how Wikipedia could have prevented anonymous defamation. And didn’t.