Wikipedia's Circular Logic Pops Up Again

from the where-does-truth-come-from? dept

Germany has a new minister of economic affairs, named Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. That's a mouthful, and apparently a number of German media outlets went to the guy's Wikipedia entry for some help. But some prankster had added a "Wilhelm" in the middle, which got printed in several places. The change on Wikipedia was noticed and corrected, but then reverted to the incorrect Wilhelm version -- with one of the press stories cited as the source. So, somebody inserts an incorrect "fact" into Wikipedia, the "fact" gets reprinted elsewhere based on the Wikipedia entry, gets correctly removed from Wikipedia, then incorrectly reinserted using one of the incorrect articles as "proof" of its veracity. That sounds pretty similar to establishing your newsworthiness for inclusion in Wikipedia by getting a newspaper article written about how you're not in Wikipedia. All's well that ends well, though, since the minister's correct name now appears in his entry. But as Wikipedia continues to be perceived by more and more people as a very authoritative source, this sort of incident is likely to happen again.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Jean, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:41am

    The same sort of things happen in academe too. Put an incorrect information in a publication, it then finds its way to a newspaper article which will quoted as a source in another academic publication. But this publication is here to stay. There is only so much academic procedures can do to keep false information from being spread around. In my opinion, Wikipedia appears to be a useful complement.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:44am

    that case is the main reason why allot of ppl are "against" Wikipedia or say its not accurate.

    IMHO problems like these can be taken care of once wikipedia sets a standard for there citation/proof.

    as far as the "not famous enough" case i did enjoy the irony in the case of the Band but i don't see a problem in it, there wasn't enough ppl in the Wiki crowd that new said band which was evidence that they weren't famous enough, and the newspaper article showed them there error (some might say it made them famous enough) and they got added.

     

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  3.  
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    Paul, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 4:25am

    I blame his parents for giving him such a ridiculously long name.

     

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  4.  
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    Roger, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 4:32am

    Sickipedia: gaming Wikipedia for fun or for profit

    Your article highlights Wikipedia's greatest and insuperable flaw. By having a free-for-all editing system, the online encyclopedia is open to being gamed by anyone who sees a need to manipulate the information.

    It works fine while we have diligent editors willing to correct and update. What happens when those editors get sick, lost interest or shuffle off this mortal coil? When there is no watchdog, who decides which articles are "locked" and which remain open for free editing?

    Wikipedia as it is today is not a sustainable model for a repository of human knowledge into the indefinite future IMHO.

     

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  5.  
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    Wilhelm Von Schtickinthemud, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    Fifth Edition

    Prepare yourselves for the onslaught of self rightous who will proclaim once again how this demonstrates why all wiki are bad, should be banned, etc.

    Because other sources of information are so much more reliable and fact checking is therefore not needed.

     

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  6.  
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    Skippy T. Mut, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:19am

    And yet...

    when I updated the Wikipedia page about one of my family members my entries were removed because they know better than me...Fuck Wikipedia and the horse it road in on

     

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  7.  
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    Roger, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:26am

    Re: Fifth Edition

    Actually, it is Wikipedia editors (many of them anyway) who are self-righteous, believing they are the authoritative sources who have a monopoly on truth.

    Wiki technology is powerful and incredibly useful in many applications. But Wikipedia's reach and influence runs the risk of perpetuating inadequate or flawed research and knowledge. This derives from its model, but does not mean all wikis are at fault.

    Just because Wikipedia has problems does not mean that "other sources of information are so much more reliable and fact checking is therefore not needed." Such a supposition is frankly ludicrous and this kind of sarcasm does not contribute to a meaningful argument.

    ALL sources of information should be considered suspect until proven otherwise.

     

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  8.  
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    Droslovinia, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:39am

    Wikki wikki wow wow

    Actually, this shows Wikipedia's strength. Eventually, the information was corrected and they got it right. If they had published the wrong information in a print encyclopedia, how long do you think it would have taken to correct? Yes, there are pranksters and other folk who deliberately sabotage the system, and there are times when people just plain get it wrong. Over time, however, Wikipedia has proved to be a good concept. Incidentally, if you only use one source in your research, you deserve to be exposed as a hack.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:42am

    Re:

    Nothing wrong with Wikipedia being less than perfectly accurate. The benefit of Wikipedia is its accurate *enough* to get the job done in a pinch.

    Actually, what it really is best at is pointing you at good sources. Because lets face it, unless you know already what you are looking for or have a great librarian you aren't going to find all of these sources easily in a library.

     

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  10.  
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    Wilhelm Von Schtickinthemud, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: Fifth Edition

    Rodger -> "ALL sources of information should be considered suspect until proven otherwise."

    -- Yes, my point exactly.

    ""other sources of information are so much more reliable and fact checking is therefore not needed." Such a supposition is frankly ludicrous and this kind of sarcasm does not contribute to a meaningful argument."

    -- Oh but it does, for those with a sense of humor.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:30am

    I think this more effectively highlights the decline in the media's reporting standards. I rely on Wikipedia as fact almost every time I use it without checking the sources but I'm using it to find out how old Jenna Haze is and an incorrect entry isn't the end of the world. Since when is it acceptable for the news media to half-ass their research like this. I know it's only the guys name but it would seem that this information would be readily verifiable through more dependable sources... I don't maybe they could have checked with Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg's assistant, mother, official record keeping, or maybe just pick up the phone and give Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg himself a call.

     

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  12.  
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    Dan Rather, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:33am

    I knew I should have double-checked. That's the last time I run to press with a digg.com story.

    Too soon?

     

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  13.  
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    chris (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 7:05am

    Re: Sickipedia: gaming Wikipedia for fun or for profit

    It works fine while we have diligent editors willing to correct and update. What happens when those editors get sick, lost interest or shuffle off this mortal coil? When there is no watchdog, who decides which articles are "locked" and which remain open for free editing?

    what happens when the pranksters are more committed than the "watchdogs"?

    have you ever read the discussions behind an article that is being contested on it's neutrality? it all comes down to who is the most committed to seeing their writing survive.

    the editors of the "authoritative" publications can be biased due to political or financial reasons, and it becomes a contest of wills between the writer and the editor. usually the editor wins, but we almost never see that discussion.

    wikipedia is a great tool, but it's just one tool. you use wikipedia the way you use any other encyclopedia, at the beginning of the process to get a bird's eye view of the subject matter.

    if you only use one tool in your research, you are asking for trouble. it's the same with news outlets, relying on just one paper or show leaves you vulnerable to inaccuracy and propaganda.

     

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  14.  
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    Francis Burdett - of Ulm, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 7:06am

    Nearly a full morning- and No Python Reference?

    what kind of geeks do you call yourselves :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDPqB9i1ScY

    "Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern -schplenden -schlitter -crasscrenbon -fried -digger -dangle -dungle -burstein -von -knacker -thrasher -apple -banger -horowitz -ticolensic -grander -knotty -spelltinkle -grandlich -grumblemeyer -spelterwasser -kürstlich -himbleeisen -bahnwagen -gutenabend -bitte -eine -nürnburger -bratwustle -gerspurten -mit -zweimache -luber -hundsfut -gumberaber -shönendanker -kalbsfleisch -mittler -raucher von Hautkopft of Ulm."

     

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  15.  
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    Fabio Prudente, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:11am

    Wikibooks has a major problem

    This is just a minor issue, and things tend to stabilize at long time. I think the real problem is happening with Wikibooks.

     

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  16.  
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    Ron (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:17am

    Re: Nearly a full morning- and No Python Reference?

    I think it's "von Ulm". If I was home I could check the script.

    I was wondering when the Monty Python material would show up.

     

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  17.  
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    Pitabred, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:24am

    Re:

    Abbreviating things like "ppl", completely random capitalization and gross crimes against grammar with words like "allot" and "there" do nothing to help people take you seriously, or even comprehend whatever the hell you're trying to say. Please show some respect for yourself and the people who would read your comments.

     

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  18.  
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    Pitabred, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:27am

    Re: And yet...

    Was it because they think they know better than you, or because you're nearly illiterate and you didn't meet the style guidelines?

    There are lots of reasons things go away on Wikipedia, sometimes it's political, but most times I've seen is because it just doesn't meet the guidelines they've set up. "Hearsay" is not considered verifiable or even accurate, even if you are a family member who knows it firsthand. And rightly so.

     

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  19.  
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    JB, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:33am

    Easy Solution

    I was taught to be very cautious of online information while doing research for my numerous projects in college. My professors insisted that we always verify our data by at least two sources that do not have a referential link (i.e. one article references the other in it's bibliography or quotes). This has served me quite well and I have used Wikipedia many times as a jumping off point for my research. Also, to prevent bias, it is beneficial to perform many searches on different platforms for similar information.

     

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  20.  
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    dkp, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:05am

    why where the papers even using wikipedia as a credible source

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    On the other hand...

    ....at least no one is citing http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/

     

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  22.  
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    Kirk, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    Bad Journalism

    The only problem with this that I can see is that which was pointed out above: a hack who didn't want to do his or her job. Trying then to point the finger at Wikipedia is a cheap diversion. Wikipedia has its own problem's that everyone should know about. As in, "Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." To fob off a lack of research onto a community effort like Wikipedia is an insult to logic. Wikipedia, as mentioned above, is a great way to find other more widely accepted sources, and its specialty is timeliness. Saying that Wikipedia is at fault for this mess because of its inaccuracy is like driving off of a pier and blaming your car for not floating. If traditional media want to be considered authoritative, they should avoid using sources that they consider un-authoritative. There's your circular logic.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    ChimpBush McHitlerBurton, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 10:28am

    Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg

    YO KARL!

    STOP BEING A DOUCHEBAG! TRY:

    "Karl T. Guttenberg"

    IT HAS A NICE RING TO IT...

    putz.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Re: Sickipedia: gaming Wikipedia for fun or for profit

    your comment just baffles me. You seem to think that responsible people will die out and pranksters will continue to multiply.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Phillip, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Holy crap! Not bad grammar on the internet! What's next? The coming of the Anti-Christ!?

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:41pm

    Re:

    "why where the papers even using wikipedia as a credible source"

    no no - you did it all wrong ...

    Wi we're tha papurs evin yousing wekepeededeeah az ah kreddobel soars

     

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  27.  
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    Grouchy prof, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 5:13am

    big problem with the media - information being copied around with no checking

    Same problem with journalism. Get a false news item into a newspaper, and, woah, it will be repeated elsewhere as fact. And when you wish it corrected and you contact the journalists, they'll point you to earlier articles.

    Problems could largely be avoided if the media took the academic habit of citing sources for their claims - which is possible with hypertext without using up space. Readers could then see that most news report are not original and are largely re-hash of newswires. Readers could see how two "independent" newspaper articles really took their information from one same Associated Press piece, for instance.

    "My professors insisted that we always verify our data by at least two sources that do not have a referential link (i.e. one article references the other in it's bibliography or quotes)."

    That's the main problem with today's press. The media largely copies fact from each other, with no attempt at independent verification. I've seen newspapers reprinting false information that would have been detected if only somebody there had taken the effort to launch a Web browser and run a Google search...

     

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  28.  
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    Peter Blaise (profile), Feb 13th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    .

    Wikipedia is not a source, it's a pointer to other sources. Wikipedia declines original research and reporting (yeah, right!). It's group-vetted testimony on other sources, and it's constantly in flux, so anyone using it should cite specific page versions and date.

    The newspaper deserves the bonehead award.

    .

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    But Seriously Folks, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 8:09pm

    Re:

    So academies become acadeMEMEs? Academic is acadeMEMEic?

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 2:48pm

    Anti-Christ

    The Anti-Christ has already been and gone, get over it! ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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