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An Accidental Wikipedia Hoax 189

Posted by Soulskill
from the isaac-newton-invented-the-apple dept.
Andreas Kolbe writes: The Daily Dot's EJ Dickson reports how she accidentally discovered that a hoax factoid she added over five years ago as a stoned sophomore to the Wikipedia article on "Amelia Bedelia, the protagonist of the eponymous children's book series about a 'literal-minded housekeeper' who misunderstands her employer's orders," had not just remained on Wikipedia all this time, but come to be cited by a Taiwanese English professor, in "innumerable blog posts and book reports", as well as a book on Jews and Jesus. It's a cautionary tale about the fundamental unreliability of Wikipedia. And as Wikipedia ages, more and more such stories are coming to light.
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An Accidental Wikipedia Hoax

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @10:31AM (#47565791)

    Where people claim to have added information to wikipedia as part of a hoax when in fact they didn't.

  • re: 'unreliability' (Score:5, Interesting)

    by emagery (914122) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @10:33AM (#47565811)
    then again, a joke update written about something as obscure as jumping spiders by a coworker some years ago was found and removed within HOURS of its posting. Wikipedia still, due to the competitive nature of its maintenance, beats out well established entities such as encyclopædia brittanica, et cetera.
  • Re: 'unreliability' (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuietLagoon (813062) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @10:54AM (#47566015)
    The last time there was a thread here on the topic, someone posted an article and stated the article showed wikipedia was better than Encyclopedia Britannica. I must have been the only person who read the original article, because the numbers in the article showed that wikipedia had a 3% higher error rate than the encyclopedia.

    ...due to the competitive nature of its maintenance...

    This so-called "feature" has turned out to be more of a problem than a feature. You have competitive hovering mods removing any content they happen to disagree with, even if that content is accurate.

    Sorry, Wikipedia is good, but it is not all its fan-bois crank it up to be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @10:59AM (#47566065)
    I'm sorry.

    https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com]

    .
  • Re: 'unreliability' (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:03PM (#47566821)

    I also RTFA about that here, and yes, it was long but I read it all.
    It said that Wikipedia had more errors, but much longer and complete articles than the Britannica, so error rate was lower overall.

  • Re: 'unreliability' (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flyingsquid (813711) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @02:03PM (#47568077)
    These kinds of myths and frauds aren't unique to Wikipedia. For example, there's a myth out there that prior to the Vietnam War, soldiers were reluctant to kill the enemy, and that during WWII, about half of them would either refuse to fire their guns at the enemy, or would aim to miss. This story is repeated a lot, because it's an appealing idea. It paints human nature in a positive light, it says that fundamentally we don't really want to kill other people, and it takes a lot to get us to do it. In this narrative, people are fundamentally good, until the military corrupts us and turns us into killers. Unfortunately, it's a myth, based on academic fraud. The "discovery" is based on the work of a single researcher, who never published any of the primary data or interviews his conclusions are supposedly based on, and no one- certainly no military historian- has ever found even a shred of evidence to back it up. If you think about it for even a moment, it becomes obvious that it has to be a fraud. The Japanese fought to the death over those little scraps of coral in the Pacific, preferring to commit suicide to surrender. A group of Marines isn't going to be able to take those islands unless every single soldier is fighting with the willingness and intent to kill the enemy. Contemporary accounts of the battles make it clear they were bloody and vicious, and the behavior of American soldiers wasn't always merciful. One diary talks about machine gunners gleefully using parachuting Japanese aviators as target practice, and the skipper got pissed- mostly because they were wasting ammunition.

    Years ago, this myth was exposed by an article in the New York Times. And yet the myth keeps getting repeated. A couple of years ago, I saw this nonsense being perpetuated- ironically, in an article in the Times. I wrote the editor of the article to complain that he was repeating something that the Times itself had debunked, and that they should publish a correction; they never did (the Times are a bunch of smug, lazy hacks).

    I do think Wikipedia is probably worse for this than most other sources of information, but the bigger problem is that people are insufficiently skeptical. We assess information based on how well it fits what we already know, and what we want to believe- instead of trying to verify it. Slashdot is a perfect example of this- people constantly prefer to pull bullshit facts out of the air to support their opinions, rather than spend two minutes to read the original article or look up a statistic online.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @06:22PM (#47570449) Homepage

    It's a real problem, because Wikipedia's trustworthiness depends on its verifiability policy. Everything in Wikipedia is supposed to be traceable to a reliable source. Unfortunately, Wikipedia itself has become so trustworthy that supposedly trustworthy sources are becoming too uncritical about trusting Wikipedia.

    Back circa 2004-2005 a respected editor added a statement to an article saying that Rutgers had been originally been invited to join the Ivy League but had declined. This interesting, plausible, and credible statement was in the article for a while, but was eventually challenged.

    The editor originally had trouble providing a good source, but eventually came up with a newspaper article in a New Jersey newspaper, one that would usually be considered a reliable source. Other editors were inclined to accept, this, until one of them realized it was a fairly recent article, contacted the reporter, and asked for the reporter's source.

    The reporter replied that he had read it in Wikipedia and used it (without attribution).

    Now, it's not clear whether or not the statement is true. The last I knew, the editor said he had gotten it from an old issue of the "Targum," the Rutgers University newspaper, which would probably have qualified as a reliable source, but since he was unable to provide volume, issue, date, or page numbers, the statement was not verifiable at that time and was removed.

    But it is an clear example of circular reference--an unverifiable statement almost being kept in Wikipedia, based on support from a "reliable" source that had gotten it from Wikipedia.

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