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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’s New Year begins with a hoax

By Andreas Kolbe and Tippi Hadron

[To view or participate in a forum discussion on this topic, please click here.]

On New Year’s Day, The Daily Dot reported that a “massive Wikipedia hoax” had finally been exposed, after more than five years. Wikipedia’s article on the “Bicholim Conflict”, listed as a “Good Article” for the past half-decade, had turned out to be a complete invention, the key sources cited in it non-existent.

As The Daily Dot put it:

Up until a week ago, here is something you could have learned from Wikipedia:

From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India’s massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.

Except none of this ever actually happened. The Bicholim Conflict is a figment of a creative Wikipedian’s imagination. It’s a huge, laborious, 4,500 word hoax. And it fooled Wikipedia editors for more than 5 years.

The Bicholim Conflict article was the creation of a Wikipedian known only as A-b-a-a-a-a-a-a-b-a. The user had succeeded in having his piece listed as a Good Article in 2007, a quality award given to no more than about 1 out of every 250 Wikipedia entries. Shortly after, he had even submitted his work for Featured Article status, Wikipedia’s highest quality award. That attempt failed – the reviewers’ opinion was that the entry relied too heavily on a small number of sources, and the review petered out.

However, the Featured Article reviewers did not spot that the key sources cited in the piece were entirely made up. Nor did they spot that the Maratha Empire

…continue reading Wikipedia’s New Year begins with a hoax