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.
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Filed Under: germany, logic, wikipedia


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  1. identicon
    Grouchy prof, 13 Feb 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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