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Down the Rabbit Hole

By March Hare

Today’s story began when we investigated one of the usual Wikipedia feuds. A Wikipedia editor with a background in science criticized the work of a more prominent editor, claiming that many of the articles she created or embellished contained “made up information, inaccurate information, random pieces of information that give undue weight to what she has added, and plagiarism”. After the usual shouting and insults on both sides, some credentialled editors stepped in and determined that the critic was right. In one article, which received a million views a year, the editor had written that the average winter temperature in polar deserts like Greenland and Antarctica was between –2 and +4 °C. The mistake had been there for almost a year. She had written that birds in cold deserts avoid “the problem of their feet becoming chilled by maintaining their lower limbs at external temperatures”, even though penguins’ feet would freeze solid if they dropped to -30 °C, and the poor things would die of frostbite and gangrene. Nearly all the articles selected for review showed problems. The problem was the editor’s use of published sources. She could not use them verbatim, because of copyright violation, and so she changed the wording. But in changing the wording, in many cases she managed to change the meaning also.

She is extremly hardworking, patient etc. but the fact she is constantly peppering articles with mistaken paraphrases, original research and other factual errors is extremly worrying, especially because she is completely blind to the errors she is making.

The critic was right, but on Wikipedia it is considered bad manners and bad faith to criticise the work of an editor in good standing. The editor was popular in the ‘Good Article’ group on Wikipedia, and contributors lined up to defend

…continue reading Down the Rabbit Hole