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Wikipedia comes clean quick

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on how an assistant professor deliberately posted a number of errors in Wikipedia in order to see how long it would take for them to be noticed.

As anyone can contribute to this volunteer encyclopedia, we assume the material therein can be easily corrupted, either by ignorance or bias (or both, as this whimsical article in McSweeney's Internet Tendency illustrates). And that this volunteer-written encyclopedia has so many pages (well over 1.4 million at last count), we also have to assume that not even an army of volunteers could possibly double check all the entries for accuracy.

The fibs that professor Alexander Halavais slipped in were deviously subtle: that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, lived in Syracuse, N.Y. for four years, and that the Disney film The Rescuers Down Under won an Oscar for film editing. Both are false, but would you have doubted these "factoids"?

Halavais hypothesized that the obscure errors would "languish online for some time," the Chronicle reported. Instead the Wikipedia volunteers eliminated all the fabrications within three hours of being posted. And the volunteer checkers even admonished Halavais for making stuff up. We've written about both the potential power of and the uncertainties surrounding group-led network projects before, but this Halavais' little experiment certainly does bode well for the form.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Oct 28, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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Reader Comments

Thu, Sep 17, 2009 t.rex http://www.4abetteryou.netau.net/

I love the wikipedia.But like ANY online information source(or any information source PERIOD) it must be taken with the understanding that you need to check and verify any important or crucial bits of such information.Don't just accept ANYTHING as truth until you verify it yourself to your satisfaction.The wiki is pretty well self regulated and self verified by it's members and contributers as this post points out.MORE so than our mainstream american media I might add.Anyone who believes half of what our major news providers tell us is seriously deluded or criminally stupid.The media tells us the propaganda that their owners TELL them to tell us.At least with Wikipedia you can actually get information that WASN'T painted with a biased slant to profit the power elite of the USA

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 Bruce Wolper NY

Since the popularity of Wikipedia has grown, librarians have been spewing forth how horrible it is and should be avoided. This has primarily been to high school students.Wikipedia is a great tool as long as one understands exactly what it is and how it works.Most sources are cited. When the source needs to be cited, it says as much.The fact it took only three hours or so for the corrections to be made speaks very highly of wiki as a system for information.Hurray for Wikipeida!!

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