Sunday, August 19, 2007

This Made Me Chuckle Today

The whole endless debate over Wikipedia and the so-called democratization of information has seemed more than a bit tiresome to me over the years. The extreme edges of both camps seem about equally clueless to me--both the critics who seize on every Wikipedia shortcoming to make a larger (brainless) critique that nothing found anywhere online can be trusted, and the hard-core Wikipedia defenders who try to argue that a mob can somehow cobble together information that's every bit as dependable as that which is compiled by rigorous, learned and professional editors and subject specialists. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

Yet another log got thrown on that endless raging debate with the publication of this front-page piece in today's Sunday New York Times. Stop the presses: companies and institutions with an interest in various bits of information have themselves gone in and changed many entries. That this should even be news speaks to the Wikipedia community's wishful naivete: how shocking that corporate and other moneyed interests, when given the chance, would try to look after their interests in this way, just like they do everywhere else.

But in addition to those weighty issues, there were a couple of details embedded in the story that really made me chuckle. "Last year, someone using a computer at the Washington Post Company changed the name of the owner of a free local paper, The Washington Examiner, from Philip Anschutz to Charles Manson...And The New York Times Company is among those whose employees have made, among hundreds of innocuous changes, a handful of questionable edits. A change to the page on President Bush, for instance, repeated the word 'jerk' 12 times. And in the entry for Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, the word 'pianist' was changed to 'penis.'”

Who says old-fashioned newspaper hijinx died along with the migration from hot type?


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

This Made Me Puke Today

Any real news organization would hang its head in shame to have this tripe printed on any of its pages. It was on WaPo's page one.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think that like a lot of us, you have a bad case of Bush fatigue, an advanced case of terminal embarrassment and outrage that this clown still represents you around the world. All I can say is that this too shall pass.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

My question would be, if hte Wikipedia pages on Dada or Surrealism vandalized, would anybody notice?

A good Dada would probably approve in fact.

As my sister likes to say: CTS.

Consider The Source.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

CTS is truly a motto to live by. Doubly so when it comes to the web, isn't it, Art?

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Bush fatigue and big media fatigue, too.

Exhibit A - comments on the WaPo's comments on the comments of this story:

The original article drew 80+ pages worth of angry reader comments.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Just so you don't think I'm ignoring the actual subject of this entry, I have done my share of edits to Wikipedia. It has been found to be comparable to Britannica in the domain of science:

I find it useful. Wikipedia does attract would-be martinets as editors, which makes it aggravating sometimes.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Bluster, I know too many people (like you) whose smarts and expertise I respect and who have gotten involved in Wikipedia to dismiss it as a valuable tool. But I also have too many concerns about the ease with which idiots can gain access to hold it in too high a regard. And I think that oft-mentioned Nature article/comparison hasn't held up too well under closer inspection. Britannica and the like are flatly more dependable on a factual basis than Wikipedia. The only debate is how much--slightly or substantially.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Random idiots and cranks aren't the biggest threat to Wikipedia, it seems.

Now that the Wikipedia Scanner's existence is known, business and government will need to use proxy servers to avoid being ID'd when they make their alterations.

The registration requirements will probably need to be tightened. It's likely to be a running battle.

Have you heard of the Conservapedia? ( From Wikipedia: "...stated purpose of creating an encyclopedia written from a socially and economically conservative viewpoint supportive of Conservative Christianity and Young Earth creationism. Andrew Schlafly, the site's creator and son of noted conservative Phyllis Schlafly, stated he founded the project because he felt Wikipedia had a liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-American bias."

You know that's got to be good.

WaPo's Peter Baker, the reporter who wrote the Bush puff piece yesterday, does some actual reporting today: "White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters"

At 2:26 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're right about the scanner problem. But this is shaping up like a lot of other things: it will be a continuing arms race, with Wikipedia putting up increasingly better defenses, with the other side getting increasingly better at getting around them. There's no real end to that game.

The Conservapedia thing made me laugh. I know there will be an audience for that kind of stuff, just like there's an audience for snuff films. I just won't be among them.

Anyway, thanks as always for your attentive reading and especially for regularly adding to the conversation in such intelligent ways.

I'm curious, if I can ask: are you from my region (Northeast Ohio), or from elsewhere? Can't tell from your comments.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Thanks. I am from a notably red state in the midwest.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Even more interesting. Of course, until recently, that could have described Ohio. But that has changed in a relatively short period.


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