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How Many Hoaxes Are On Wikipedia? No One Knows 186

An anonymous reader writes The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey has written a lengthy feature covering one of Wikipedia's most intractable problems: carefully inserted hoax information that is almost impossible to detect. Dewey's investigation starts with the recent discovery of the nonexistent Australian god "Jar'Edo Wens" (which lasted almost ten years), and discusses a Wikipediocracy post about a recent experiment by critic Greg Kohs, in which 30 articles received cleverly-chosen minor falsehoods. More than half survived for more than two months. Included is also a chart showing that editing participation in Wikipedia has "atrophied" since 2007. It is quite rare to see a feature in a major media outlet as critical as this, of Wikipedia and its little-known internal problems. Especially on the heels of a very favorable CBS 60 Minutes report. As Kohs says, "I think this has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it's not fair to say Wikipedia is 'self-correcting.'"
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How Many Hoaxes Are On Wikipedia? No One Knows

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2015 @08:55AM (#49484583)

    It would be interesting to see them compare to other sources.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:02AM (#49484623)

    ... Included is also a chart showing that editing participation in Wikipedia has "atrophied" since 2007 ... As Kohs says, "I think this has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it's not fair to say Wikipedia is 'self-correcting.'"...

    I could have told you that, and have been telling you that.

    The big problem with Wikipedia is that in spite of what the publicity says, it is only a small number of people who contribute, and a surprisingly large number of those people have an agenda for what they edit.

    imo, with Wikipedia, truth is not the goal. A certain point of view is the goal.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:09AM (#49484681)

      Woo-hoo! Slashdot beat Wikipedia. Slashdot didn't atrophy until 18 Sept. 2012 [].

    • by Neil Boekend ( 1854906 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:11AM (#49484701)

      Technical subjects usually have quite clear and correct wikipedia pages. As soon as politics enter it wikipedia is not reliable.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2015 @10:37AM (#49485431)

        As soon as politics enter it, nothing is reliable.

        • I guess nothing is reliable then, because we've pretty much had politics wrapped up in everything we've done since we left caves.
      • Technical subjects on wikipedia are never clear. They are jargonated, use obscure notation and never have a simple illuminating example.
        • Never is almost always wrong.
          For example, the wiki page on lenses []. I think it is quite clear. It offers examples, formulas and the way of thinking when calculating a lens.
          Do you feel that that is jargonated? Is the notation obscure?

      • As soon as politics enter, no source is ever reliable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      imo, with Wikipedia, truth is not the goal. A certain point of view is the goal.

      Truth is explicitly off the table on Wikipedia
      Wikipedia:Verifiability, not truth []

      Wikipedia's core sourcing policy, Wikipedia:Verifiability, used to define the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia as "verifiability, not truth". "Verifiability" was used in this context to mean that material added to Wikipedia must have been published previously by a reliable source. Editors may not add their own views to articles simply because

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The "Verifiability" policy hinges on the definition of "reliable sources". On Wikipedia, that overwhelmingly means "Newspapers" and "News websites". You can take the rest from there.

        Outright falsehood can and will be published on Wikipedia as long as they are told by "reputable sources".

        Meh, I just write what I want, then I Google for a book title that looks related and add that ISBN number as a source.
        It's not like someone will buy every book listed as a source and read through only to find out that the book never says anything about the subject.
        "Verifiability" doesn't mean that it is practical to verify, just that it is technically possible.
        Interestingly enough they don't allow original research, so testing something yourself and providing a method for others to repeat the experiment isn

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @11:26AM (#49485889) Homepage

          Two classics. :)

          1.Proof by ghost reference:
                  Nothing even remotely resembling the cited theorem appears in the reference given.

          2. Proof by reference to inaccessible literature:
                  The author cites a simple corollary of a theorem to be found in a privately circulated memoir of the Slovenian Philological Society, 1883.

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            The best though is the self-generating reference. Wikipedia article goes up, magazine publishes article using Wikipedia. Said article is used as a citation to satisfy [citation needed].

        • I've seen some examples of Wikipedia editors refusing to accept books as sources, only accepting other online sources that anyone can access as passing the verifiable criterion.
      • It's more a case of editors selecting the sources that confirm their point of view, and attacking the ones that don't as either not reliable enough or by relegating them to an opposing view footnote somewhere.

      • As an example where "truth vs. verifiability" leads was actually discussed on Slashdot here: []

        Short version: Man is added to Wikipedia with wrong name. While he tries to get it changed, a usually reputable newspaper copies his wrong name from the Wikipedia article. Result: The wrong name can now be verified from a reputable source.
    • I gave up editing Wikipedia when it started to ban edits via proxy servers. Forcing editors to give up their anonymity only gives a false sense of confidence they would be more responsible since they now have a "reputation" to protect, even if their real identities are hidden by some lame pseudonym. This weeds out the casual vandals, but not the determined peddler of disinformation or serial practical joker.

      Wikipedia's problem with accuracy is a function of its size. It's become far too easy to hide in the

    • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @10:08AM (#49485097)
      The underlying problem is that it's possible for a single person to essentially "own" an article and reject any changes they don't like and perpetually block anyone else from contributing. This has led to a large collection of petty fiefdoms across the site and many of the local lords getting cozy with one and other so that if anything does get run a little further up the flagpole it still has a chance of being outright ignored or buried under bureaucracy and rule lawyering.

      Wikipedia needs to change how their system works to allow for more collaboration and participation. I'd suggest a system where anyone can propose changes that are collected over a period of time until a group of individuals can work together to create new revisions of an article. Have other teams that are devoted solely to improving the grammar or readability of articles and others that are just looking to fact check the existing information to recommend removal of fallacious information. Perhaps even go so far as to assign people randomly to different teams and articles to mix it up and prevent the same kind of agenda-driven article ownership that we see so often now.
      • Exactly. There is too much emphasis on the people as Wikipedia's problem, when in fact it's the software that's the problem. I write about problem of Wikipedia's software design in this blog post [], and have implemented the solutions you suggest (randomizing and mixing the editors to avoid the accumulation of power) in Newslines, my crowdsourced news site.

    • The big problem with Wikipedia is that in spite of what the publicity says, it is only a small number of people who contribute, and a surprisingly large number of those people have an agenda for what they edit.

      imo, with Wikipedia, truth is not the goal. A certain point of view is the goal.

      No, the big problem with Wikipedia is politics. Wikipedia is the reinvention of communism, and it's proceeding just like Animal Farm and other Communist nations down the path to failure.

      Heck, it's already at the "Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others" stage.

      That's the main problem - you have editors and higher ups who now patrol their part of Wikipedia who are not interested in the truth, correctness or other aspects - just in having little power struggles. Heck, for a time there were massive parts being deleted for arbitrary reasons (usually along the lines of "this content is not suitable for Wikipedia" despite having plenty of similar content around). And these days, well, edit-reversions by the same power-mad editors have basically rendered any reason to edit it moot.

      I mean, there's a small amount of contributors because everyone else got driven away. Try to fix a mistake and you'll et into an edit war with an editor who thinks their interpretation is completely correct even if it's obviously wrong.

      Yes, it's an encyclopedia anyone can edit. Except that if you do so, chances are someone will revert it in a few minutes because they don't agree with what you edited, even if all you did was fix an error. "Everyone has equal edit rights, but some people have more equal edit rights".

      The study of Wikipedia itself is quite fascinating, no many times you get to see political ideology put into play and see the results. Usually you end up with people getting hurt or humanitarian crises if you try to experiment.

    • Personally, I found a few things I wanted to correct, corrected them, and then didn't continue, because the things I wanted fixed either stayed fixed (not necessarily with my words), or my edits reverted in a way that suggests that putting them in again would be futile. A few years ago, I made another edit, and watched it be immediately improved. My experience has been positive, but I've mostly avoided hot topics (cf. my reversion comment above).

  • So what? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    1 - publish false claims on wikipedia about about things that matter to people and see if they still go unnoticed for 10 years. ("Sir Anonymous Coward, the inventor of world wide web")
    2 - I could write a book with nothing but false information in it and publish it (so long as there is a publisher willing to do so), it would be up the readers to decide to trust my book or fact check it. I know of one that such book that has gone unnoticed for a couple thousand years

  • pointing to corrections that haven't been done yet doesn't mean anything. if something is obscure and unimportant it can persist for years, with no impact. and then it's corrected. if it's important, it will probably be corrected in days or minutes

    can anyone point to any other media that this isn't true about? (i'm not talking about corrections, that may never be made, simply that all media has a backlog of errors that need correcting)

    and questioning wikipedia's veracity, alone, has no value

    judge it against other options and their veracity

    the traditional encyclopedia is subject to the editorial whims of professionals, and professionals can have agendas and are not automatically superior to a mass of impartial folk. emphasis on "mass." as thousands of editors, even if there's been a drop in participation, is superior to an overworked few with questionable biases

    and please note we're talking about brief introductions to topics, not deep dives into esoteric academic specialties. wikipedia is never intended as a replacement for serious texts on topics. and if someone is relying on wikipedia alone for vital topics, that's the reader's fault, not wikipedia

    wikipedia's innate superiority is the same reason we have juries instead of professional judges. professional judges can start deciding cases based on having something to prove: "i'm finding this guy guilty because i made the previous guy innocent" or "this guy is clearly innocent, but it's important to send a message, so i'm finding him guilty"

    certainly, a million examples of bad juries can be found. we can find problems with the jury system that are truly horrible

    as if that means anything. because all other options are worse

    this is classic form of propaganda, half-truth, cognitive fallacy: criticism in a vacuum

    outside of the context of other choices, anything can be made to look like shit

    for example, we can criticize all sort so problems with democracy. there are many problems with democracy and they are real and major. it's just that our other options are clearly worse

    likewise with wikipedia: you can list thousands of things wrong with wikipedia, some truly horrendous

    but it's still superior to what came before and other current options

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Thursday April 16, 2015 @10:23AM (#49485267) Homepage Journal

      What you say is only true if lots of people can participate equally. Wikipedia has a lot of cliques and groups with agendas where editors support each other to promote a particular view or bias, so it's just as bad or worse than having a single editor writing the material.

    • pointing to corrections that haven't been done yet doesn't mean anything. if something is obscure and unimportant it can persist for years, with no impact. and then it's corrected. if it's important, it will probably be corrected in days or minutes

      The vandalism saying that pain from inflammation is caused by rhyolite, a volcanic rock that the body produces, lasted for over 6 weeks, toward the top of an article that got over 100,000 page views in that time period. Nine different subsequent editors modified the article, but none of them thought to question volcanic stone in the human physiology. I'm convinced that had I not terminated the experiment and reported on it at Wikipediocracy, that misinformation would have persisted still longer. Your cri

    • With wikipedia, you get what you pay for.

      What good is a source of truth if it's not accurate?

      Wikipedia was not meant as an existential discussion on the meaning of truth; it was meant as a crowdsourced source of truth. What details do you consider important or unimportant? Why would one detail be not worth correcting?

      The last thing I read about faking information on wikipedia was some life detail about an author - that even her relatives believed! It wasn't important, except that it was.

      If Wikipedia cared,

    • There's a sampling bias issue if you fairly compare the site to a print encyclopedia. Encyclopedia editors have a job where they write about everything. On average, they'll have little personal connection to the articles they write. That's even part of the job description--the less biased you are, the more your writing will be judged as positive by that industry.

      The universe of Wikipedia editors is self-selected. The people going to the trouble of editing.things is strongly correlated with people who ha

  • by jlowery ( 47102 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:05AM (#49484647)

    Maybe it should be "Wikopidiocracy"? TFTFY

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:06AM (#49484651)
    The popularity of Wikipedia is due more to the convenience of citing an article in it, and not necessarily the accuracy of those articles. You can usually be assured that, no matter the topic, there's an article on the topic in Wikipedia, and that google will return a link to that article near or at the top of search results.

    It is easy to use Wikipedia,

    It is that ease to use, rather than accuracy, that has made Wikipedia as popular as it is.

    • The popularity of Wikipedia is due more to the convenience of citing an article in it, and not necessarily the accuracy of those articles.

      This. Wikipedia is a great starting point for research, but it should not be the end point.

    • This is the exact point I used to make to my high school students and now to the teachers I work with. The real problem is not whether or not Wikipedia is an "accurate" source. We should never trust one source as being the perfect model of accuracy. Instead we should look at multiple sources. But overall, as I told my high schoolers, it's a quick reference and should be treated as such. You shouldn't cite Wikipedia in a research paper. Not because it's unreliable, but because it's an encyclopedia.
      • My opinion was always that Wikipedia should be treated as a single interview with an expert in a field. It is generally accurate, but almost certainly wrong on a few details, that other unrelated sources should be used to verify.

        From that perspective, it's certainly a good starting point for learning about the "unknown unknowns" in a field, and getting a path for further study. It might even be suitable as the main source for a select few kinds of research.

  • This is basically crowd sourced media in general. The great achievement of web 2.0 is that PR companies etc can now pretend to be 'the people' while feeding us with the messages they want to broadcast. I find this very dishonest. At least when Scarlett Johansson tells me I should buy a soda stream on TV I'm not sitting there wondering if she is actually an expert in carbonated beverages and should be trusted.

    For a master class in how ridiculous it is, just go read any comment page on the Guardian associated

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:09AM (#49484683) Journal
    The obnoxious cliques of senior editors with god complexes make it virtually impossible to correct anything of substance. And Jimbo cares fuck-all about it as long as enough people click the donation button.

    Sure, you can get into revision wars over whether to use the word "which" or "that" in a given context; but fixing a factual error? Good luck!

    "Citation needed!"
    "But the old, wrong version didn't have a cite either."
    "Doesn't matter, it stays, and my minimum wage burger flipping ass has just banned you for daring to challenge me, you pompous PhD-wielding expert in this particular field!"
    • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:29AM (#49484799)

      ..."burger flipping ass has just banned you for daring to challenge me, you pompous PhD-wielding expert"...

      Burger-flipping and PhD aren't mutually exclusive.

  • A few years prior to his death, I was looking up some obscure entry to be startled to discover that Norman Wisdom, a nonagenarian British comedian, was alleged to have invented a key device referenced within the article. Corrected and thought no more.

    However, someone had big plans for Norman, as after his death, similar sets of spurious facts had been seeded all over Wikipedia, some making it to his published obituaries - see []

  • by BlackHawk-666 ( 560896 ) <> on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:10AM (#49484695) Homepage

    In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Wikipedia has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

    First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words Don't Panic inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:11AM (#49484699)

    I know of at least one hoax from the 80's, invented for local political purposes, that made the local papers, got a memorial built to it, and now appears in several web pages and at least one documentary as fact, with all kinds of made-up details filled in. No Wikipedia page yet, but I'm sure that eventually will come.

    And I guess most people here are too young to remember how seriously UFO's and Bigfoot used to be treated back in the 70's.

    The only thing really special about hoaxes appearing on Wikipedia is that they can get thoroughly debunked when/if they get found out, and this is much more likely to happen with enough eyes on the issue. Without a user-maintained knowledge base, hoaxes used to be pretty much unkillable.

    • The internet is a great thing for hoaxes, just because they spread so fast. My favorites all exploit some form of social, religious or political confirmation bias - they spread because people read them and assume they must be true because they reenforce what they already believe. Like the story of how the Plymouth colony was almost destroyed by an attempt to practice a communist economy leading to mass-starvation until the reintroduction of private property saved everyone, or any one of the many free-energy

  • Encyclopedias are meant to be descriptive. Some of this problem is people who think an encyclopedia defines truth. Some of the problem is people who think if it's in Wikipedia it must be true. (A subtle but important difference). And some of the problem is biased editors within Wikipedia itself.

    I think as a society we need to maintain paid content reviewers for a competitor to Wikipedia. Field experts who aren't doing it for power or to push a POV but because someone is paying them to fact-check. I'm not e
  • by neilo_1701D ( 2765337 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:33AM (#49484819)

    If people want to monkey with Wikipedia, have at it. We're told over and over again that Wikipedia is not a suitable reference; however the references on the page can sometime be useful.

    And then there's []

    The person in the story inserted a little fake factoid into an otherwise proper article. This little factoid ended up very quickly
        - cited in a lesson plan by a Taiwanese English professor
        - cited in a book about Jews and Jesus
        - cited in innumerable blog posts and book reports, as well as a piece by blogger Hanny Hernandez, who speculated that Amelia Bedelia’s tendency toward malapropisms was inspired by Parish’s experiences in Cameroon, as “several messages can be
          misinterpreted between a Cameroonian maid who is serving an American family.” One blogger even speculated that Amelia Bedelia wasn’t a maid, but a slave.
        - cited in the Amelia Bedelia entry on the website TV Tropes and Idioms, and Peggy Parish’s Find-A-Grave page
        - cited by Mr. Amelia Bedelia himself: Herman Parish, Peggy’s nephew and author of the books after his aunt passed away in 1988, who apparently told a reporter from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that his aunt based “the lead character on a French colonial
          maid in Cameroon.”

    Once again, Wikipedia can be a useful overview of a subject and a launch-pad for further research. But after all these years of Wikipedia hoaxes (and Wikipedia maintains a list of hoaxes; []), the mantra must be "trust but verify".

    Because, in Wikipedia's own words:

    Misinformation on Wikipedia misleads readers, causing them to make errors with real consequences, including hurt feelings, public embarrassment, reprints of books, lost points on school assignments, and other costs. With some articles, like medical topics, they could lead to injury or death.

    • Well said. Here is another example of Wikipedia re-writing history [] with the new, Wikipedia-based version, being regurgitated by Associated Press, among many others. Never mind that an innocent basketball player was defamed.

      The Bhutanese Passport hoaxer, by the way, also worked on other "projects" [] that promptly infected Google's "Knowledge Vault", like all these Wikipedia hoaxes do.

      Some of these hoaxes have entered academic literature []. In such cases, Wikipedia actually destroys knowledge.
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:35AM (#49484829) Homepage
    Having worked on this problem for a while, ive found exactly 5 total hoaxes on wikipedia (no more.) Please remove the following articles:

    1. Edward Snowden: is not actually a person, this is an old wives tale. E. Snowden is a hybrid cultivar of the genus Aechmea in the Bromeliad family.
    2. 9/11: Although commonly thought of as a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of several thousand americans, this too is just a silly rumour. 9/11 is a town and municipality located in the province and autonomous community of Navarre, northern Spain.
    3. Barack Obama: This fools several laymen and scholars alike! Obama isnt a president, but was a motor race set to Formula One rules, held on 30 July 1950. The race was won by Argentinean driver Juan Manuel Fangio after a distance of 68 laps.
    4. Christmas: Again, not a holiday at all. He was actually a Polish Air Force Captain and Allied double agent during World War II, using the codename Brutus. After having been offered safety by the Germans, he was sent to England as an agent. However, he made himself known to the British authorities. He was de-briefed by the British (MI6) and Polish authorities about the security lapses of his organization in France. And thats why we have Christmas trees today!
    5. Computers: could NEVER have been real, and most of us know this one to be true. The computer is actually a Ukrainian professional football coach and a former player. As of 2009, he works as an assistant coach with FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
  • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:39AM (#49484859)
    What source of information is flawless and can be believed without question? Why do people exhibit good critical thinking skills when it comes to Wikipedia, but swallow wholesale what they get from Encyclopedia Britannica, CNN, Fox News, the Bible, etc?
  • by invid ( 163714 )
    Any historical media that is exclusively digital can be forged. Once we have molecular level 3-D printers, all physical historical artifacts can potentially be forged and altered. We have to look at a possible future where there in no way to verify any historical fact, an historical fact being anything that happened more than a nanosecond ago.
    • You're not quite right about the molecular printers. To forge historical artifacts needs molecular printers that can also print in defined isotopic ratios. Alternatively you could disassemble an artifact of similar composition from the desired location and date and reuse the material.

      • by invid ( 163714 )
        I don't think defining specific isotopic ratios will be out of the question for molecular printers. If you want to make a block of wood that seems like it's a thousand years old you just fill your carbon cartridge with the correct ratio of carbon 14.
  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @10:09AM (#49485115) Homepage

    When I was in grade school I was taught that the speed of sound increased with density. The examples were air, water and steel.

    Actually, the speed of sound goes *down* with density, for the obvious reason that there's more atoms to get through. It goes up with springiness, which transmits the motion more rapidly. The science textbook from school simply selected three examples where the later was true - steel is much springier than air.

    This utterly wrong "fact" is still being taught today.

    The wiki took two weeks to correct carefully hidden wrong information? I'm supposed to be worried about this?

    • by Bongo ( 13261 )

      I'm supposed to be worried about this?

      Kinda know the feeling. When I was 7 I drew a picture of a dog in a space capsule. The teacher said that dogs haven't gone to space.

      It was a little early in life to conclude that teachers can't be trusted. Sigh.

    • Actually, the speed of sound in air is independent of density and instead varies with temperature. Feynman covered that in one of his lectures.

  • I dunno . . . more than half of "cleverly-chosen minor falsehoods" inserted into 30 articles are corrected within 2 months? That sounds more like **is** self-correcting than **is not**.

    Nothing is perfectly self-correcting and that holds up here, too. But through the mid-2000s we kept a shelf full of encyclopedias dating from the 1980s or so. I'm pretty sure that thing was packed with various bits of incorrect, erroneous, outdated, and incomplete information, and strangely enough, not one snippet of it ev

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      In my house we had a set of encyclopedias from around 1952, the year my mom was born, plus about ten addenda for the years 1953-1962. In 1988 I needed to do a report on nuclear power plants, and was first confused and then very amused when I realized my encyclopedia didn't even have an entry for those things. It was one of the first times the encyclopedia had completely failed me.

      I do suppose the addenda made it partially self-correcting.

      • At least one school I know of still has some encyclopedias still predating the fall of the soviet union. There's no reason to replace them, because no-one ever reads them.

  • On the rare occasions that a "hoax" article such as "Jar'Edo Wens" stays around, it's because no one is visiting it.

    No visits means it wasn't actually fooling anyone, so there was no hoax. It was just a dusty page, so dead and forgotten that no one had even thought of tagging it for deletion yet.

    Truth is that there are very few people in the world who will bother inserting 30 hoax factoids into Wikipedia, and most people that try would get spotted quickly. It's very easy to spot suspicious contributors, a

    • On the rare occasions that a "hoax" article such as "Jar'Edo Wens" stays around, it's because no one is visiting it.

      No visits means it wasn't actually fooling anyone, so there was no hoax. It was just a dusty page, so dead and forgotten that no one had even thought of tagging it for deletion yet.

      Truth is that there are very few people in the world who will bother inserting 30 hoax factoids into Wikipedia, and most people that try would get spotted quickly. It's very easy to spot suspicious contributors, and once you do then it's easy to check their other contributors.

      Some of the misinformation that I inserted in the experiment was persisting on pages that got tens of thousands of page views. Granted, not every page-viewing session means that the specific misinformation will be read and cognitively evaluated by the reader, but let's just say that even 5% of page views led to a reader acquiring the misinformation. This still means that little old me was able to misinform a few thousand readers with an experiment that took me about four or five hours to set up. Had I no

      • Your guesses and theories about "intake of knowledge" are waaay off.

        Thing is, wrong info is only likely to stay wrong if it gets no attention. Change Hugo Chavez's date of birth and it will be fixed in 2 minutes. Change the date of the marriage of one of his kids and then you have a chance of a lasting "hoax". The article about his kid might get a few thousand hits, but few reads and no one cares about the date of the kid's marriage. Your guess: "Bwaa hahah, thousands of people are convinced Ramon Chave

  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @10:50AM (#49485553)

    Yes, there are pitfalls to using the Wikipedia. Many of those pitfalls can be avoided if you know how to use it. Examples include examining the history page, which is available for each article. It will give you an idea of the maturity of the article, if certain details are under contention, and whether something is likely to be a hoax or agenda driven. In many cases, sources are provided. Examine those sources. Determine whether the sources are reliable, and have been interpreted in a reasonable manner.

    Oddly enough, people question the Wikipedia when it gives more information about the providence of the writing and content than virtually any other source, yet people insist upon making blanket statements about how unreliable it is. All that really says is that people want an authoritative source rather than a verifiable source. They want someone to tell them what is "true" rather than giving them the tools to assess what they are reading. That is dangerous, because it is far too easy to put yourself in a bubble of misinformation by choosing inaccurate sources that cannot be assessed.

    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @09:42PM (#49490593)

      Oddly enough, people question the Wikipedia when it gives more information about the providence of the writing and content than virtually any other source, yet people insist upon making blanket statements about how unreliable it is. All that really says is that people want an authoritative source rather than a verifiable source. They want someone to tell them what is "true" rather than giving them the tools to assess what they are reading.

      I get tired of reading apologetics for Wikipedia that present false dichotomies.

      "Oh... but things used to be so much worse with other sources which were so bad and evil and... so be grateful for the crap that is Wikipedia today!!"


      Look, just because other things may have been bad or worse in some ways doesn't mean we should accept the stupidity that is Wikipedia.

      For example -- there are already vetting processes in place (somewhat) for getting articles approved on Wikipedia as having "good" status, etc. These review processes generally involve doing such things as checking to see sources actually correspond to what's in the article, etc.

      Here's the obvious question -- why not actually create "stable" version of "good" articles, and have that be the default page for that article? Make it so such articles can no longer be edited directly -- instead, anonymous editors and random users can edit an "unstable" or "testing" or whatever version of a page that can be easily accessed through a tab (like the talk and history pages, etc. can be now). Periodically an established editor can clean up such proposed edits and migrate the good ones to the "stable" page.

      Ideally, approved edits to the stable page should be approved by a consensus of editors for that particular page, some of whom may actually be experts in a subject. I know a LOT of academics who spent a little time here or there and tried to edit Wikipedia, because they actually would like to see it made better, but they get driven away by the politics and bureaucratic nonsense. What if we could actually get them involved? What if they could actually be verified and help to determine what makes it into the "stable" versions of articles that they actually know something about... you know, like old-style encyclopedias used to.

      But there could always be checks and balances -- edits need to be approved by 2 or 3 editors with an appropriate level of "clearance" for that page, for example. There are many ways of working out the exact details, but something like this could raise the quality level of central articles significantly -- those stubs on the fringes can still operate as the "wild west" where anybody can edit the live page until someone creates a stable good version.

      You don't need to give away authority completely to experts -- have mixtures of experts and other editorial staff able to approve edits. You don't need to lose the tracking information. In fact, you get even MORE tracking information, and you get a "sandbox" for stable pages for better versions to be worked out and incorporated into existing articles.

      Or whatever. I don't claim to have all the answers. But I do know that there are serious and legitimate criticisms of Wikipedia's model, and some aspects are just going to get worse (and some have been for some time). Anonymous "wild west style" editing for just about anything was a great way to crowdsouce and build a resource... but it's time to hone this into something better, and that requires people with real skills: subject matter experts, experts in editing, etc.

      We should never shut the contributions from crowdsourcing out -- but we can still improve the Wikipedia model while not falling back onto old crappy models either.

  • by MetalliQaZ ( 539913 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @11:00AM (#49485643)

    The problem is that there are a few, very active, and very stubborn power users that know how to use Wikipedia and navigate it's internal processes. They posses incredible power to make all their favorite articles conform to their own vision.

    Every time I go to edit something, it immediately gets reverted by a major contributor, who cites some rule or process that is described on a page I've never seen before and don't know how to find.

    Wikipedia should just stop with the charade. They should stop saying it's open to everyone. It's more like an open source project that only accepts edits from it's developers.

    Wikipedia's biggest problem is the brain drain. They're no longer relying on the wisdom of the masses. In this case, if you get a prankster who puts in the time to get some Wikipedia cred, then they can put in pretty much any hoax they want.

  • And I'm not telling you where...
  • Until I found the entirely-serious non-hoax article claiming that most of the leading Nazi party members were gay, and the holocaust was actually the homosexual agenda's plan to exterminate the jews for refusing to accept their sinful nature. That's when I realised that nothing I could possibly make up would be one-tenth as silly as what they actually believe.

  • by Andy_R ( 114137 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @12:35PM (#49486577) Homepage Journal

    The Coati (a small member of the raccoon family native to Brazil) is also known as the Brazillian aardvark. The reason that it's known as the Brazillian aadvark is that someone made the phrase up and added it to Wikipedia - but the coinage gained traction, because journalists copied it, and this led to a citation for that name being added to the article. Now wikipedia is in a quandary... there are, thanks to lazy journalists, people who know the coati as the Brazillian aardvark, because they read that in a newspaper... so is the hoax now true?

    Does it become true if the dord of references to that name reaches a certain level?
    Does it become false even though people do use the term, just because the etymology of the word was a hoax?

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @01:30PM (#49487179)

    This is the same old elitist bullshit being smuggled out through the back door.

    Fundamentally, there are a lot of people out there who don't want Wikipedia to be part of the answer. Whatever standard Wikipedia achieves, the bar is raised at least a hook higher.

    I was brought up with "Gerry Germ". This is how insanity was introduced into my grade three class back in the 1970s.

    Some of my unfortunate classmates probably grew up to become the adults who try to spray the entire world with 99.9% germicidal carcinogens. Aside from the shocking innumeracy (readily vaccinated in just five inquisitive minutes wielding your dad's miraculous eight-digit calculator, during which one discovers the small difference between zero point zero repeating and 0.001 as multiplicands), there are about six other layers of illiteracy here. We have subsequently learned that our own bodies are outnumbered 10 to 1 (if you count cells) or 100 to 1 (if you count genes) by our personal Gerry Germ symbiotes.

    Nevertheless, we continue to hold wacky beliefs about our standards of personal hygiene, and absolutely ludicrous beliefs about what we ingest or acquire from the external environment. Yet somehow we live.

    The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of information we encounter in daily living has never been up to to the germ-free standards of my grade three Gerry Germ indoctrination.

    Common sense is the human ability to walk past something yummy that's being lying on the sidewalk for an hour that you just stepping on, and not licking it off the bottom of your shoe.

    Yet with information about the world, the idea is that the ignorant and uniformed are just going to stick any piece of information into their mouth that they pass by, so all information in the world needs to be currated by food-safety professionals (aka all the authors dripping with expertise and credentials who might have succeeded in authoring Nupedia before the heat-death of the local universe).

    Fundamentally the reason that this cloaked nonsense in Wikipedia is lying there undetected is that it's almost entirely immaterial. If a person holds a transient belief in the Australian god Poopoocaca, how much does that affect this year's RRSP contribution level? About 0.00000001 times as much as the five minutes with dad's expensive 8-digit calculator they unfortunately bypassed as a young child.

    And you know what? The lunacies these people believe make 99.9% of the content on Wikipedia look like an oasis of sanity by comparison.

    Wikipedia needs to bump that up to 99.99% exactly as badly as the germicidal soap in my bathroom needs to bump itself up to a 99.99% bacterial kill rate. As if the human condition is nothing but 1000 lb sand-dampened power supplies with a -100 dB bullshit noise floor at 60 Hz.

    Now if I can just find an industrial-strength soap (so far recognized as safe []) to rid me tout sweet of all the preening assholes from which this elitist crap originates in the first place, I might start clicking the "buy" button.

Ask five economists and you'll get five different explanations (six if one went to Harvard). -- Edgar R. Fiedler