[Paleopsych] NYT: Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar

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Thu Dec 8 02:20:55 UTC 2005

Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar

[An excellent summary of the issues. What the article didn't say is that 
votes can be taken on articles on issues that others would not like to see 
the light of day, such as Jewish ethnocentrism. I should think it unlikely 
for Jews not to have assimilated themselves out of existence without being 
ethnocentric, and indeed there have been books by Jews urging their 
co-religionists to have more children. The suitability of the article was 
discussed at length on a Wikipedia forum and was nixed, on the grounds that 
the topic should be handled in a general one on ethnocentrism.

[Regards Mr. Seigenthaler's alleged role in the Kennedy assassination, I 
would never take this to be an established fact and my have come to doubt 
the rest of the article as well. But, looking at it just now, the Kennedy 
reference having been excised, I see no reason to doubt its facts.

[What's really great is that I can get a good summary of reigning theories. 
I failed to find an article that answered a question I often ask, why there 
are emotions, but I just glanced at some entries. Nor was I successful in 
getting a rundown of the various theories of elites. Many articles there, 
and one of them may do the trick. But there are other cases where Wikipedia 
had just what I wanted.

[On the other hand, standard reference sources have their biases, too. I 
praise Jimbo for his work!]

    Rewriting History

    ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler
    Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in
    Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr.
    Seigenthaler's biography, true?

    The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about
    himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he "was thought
    to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of
    both John and his brother Bobby."

    "Nothing was ever proven," the biography added.

    Mr. Seigenthaler discovered that the false information had been on
    the site for several months and that an unknown number of people
    had read it, and possibly posted it on or linked it to other sites.

    If any assassination was going on, Mr. Seigenthaler (who is 78 and
    did edit The Tennessean) wrote last week in an op-ed article in USA
    Today, it was of his character.

    The case triggered extensive debate on the Internet over the value
    and reliability of Wikipedia, and more broadly, over the nature of
    online information.

    Wikipedia is a kind of collective brain, a repository of knowledge,
    maintained on servers in various countries and built by anyone in
    the world with a computer and an Internet connection who wants to
    share knowledge about a subject. Literally hundreds of thousands of
    people have written Wikipedia entries.

    Mistakes are expected to be caught and corrected by later
    contributors and users.

    The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the
    brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader
    who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance
    the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

    It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is
    now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of
    Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and
    offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of
    articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a
    month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

    Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find
    online, is: Can you trust it?

    And beyond reliability, there is the question of accountability.
    Mr. Seigenthaler, after discovering that he had been defamed, found
    that his "biographer" was anonymous. He learned that the writer was
    a customer of BellSouth Internet, but that federal privacy laws
    shield the identity of Internet customers, even if they disseminate
    defamatory material. And the laws protect online corporations from
    libel suits.

    He could have filed a lawsuit against BellSouth, he wrote, but only
    a subpoena would compel BellSouth to reveal the name.

    In the end, Mr. Seigenthaler decided against going to court,
    instead alerting the public, through his article, "that Wikipedia
    is a flawed and irresponsible research tool."

    Mr. Wales said in an interview that he was troubled by the
    Seigenthaler episode, and noted that Wikipedia was essentially in
    the same boat. "We have constant problems where we have people who
    are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites," he said.

    Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to
    tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which
    readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The
    reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show
    the site's strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to
    help them address the problems.

    In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered
    users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to
    edit them.

    The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming
    in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.

    All of this struck close to home for librarians and researchers. On
    an electronic mailing list for them, J. Stephen Bolhafner, a news
    researcher at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote, "The best defense
    of the Wikipedia, frankly, is to point out how much bad information
    is available from supposedly reliable sources."

    Jessica Baumgart, a news researcher at Harvard University, wrote
    that there were librarians voluntarily working behind the scenes to
    check information on Wikipedia. "But, honestly," she added, "in
    some ways, we're just as fallible as everyone else in some areas
    because our own knowledge is limited and we can't possibly
    fact-check everything."

    In an interview, she said that her rule of thumb was to
    double-check everything and to consider Wikipedia as only one

    "Instead of figuring out how to 'fix' Wikipedia - something that
    cannot be done to our satisfaction," wrote Derek Willis, a research
    database manager at The Washington Post, who was speaking for
    himself and not The Post, "we should focus our energies on
    educating the Wikipedia users among our colleagues."

    Some cyberexperts said Wikipedia already had a good system of
    checks and balances. Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford
    and an expert in the laws of cyberspace, said that contrary to
    popular belief, true defamation was easily pursued through the
    courts because almost everything on the Internet was traceable and
    subpoenas were not that hard to obtain. (For real anonymity, he
    advised, use a pay phone.)

    "People will be defamed," he said. "But that's the way free speech
    is. Think about the gossip world. It spreads. There's no way to
    correct it, period. Wikipedia is not immune from that kind of
    maliciousness, but it is, relative to other features of life, more
    easily corrected."

    Indeed, Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 and a longtime Internet
    analyst, said Wikipedia may, in that sense, be better than real

    "The Internet has done a lot more for truth by making things easier
    to discuss," she said. "Transparency and sunlight are better than a
    single point of view that can't be questioned."

    For Mr. Seigenthaler, whose biography on Wikipedia has since been
    corrected, the lesson is simple: "We live in a universe of new
    media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications
    and research, but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen

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