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Topic: Wikipedia - A Reminder Locked Post Reply | Post New Topic
Al Cook
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 21 December 2004
Posts: 12736
Posted: 01 September 2008 at 8:07am | IP Logged | 1  

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is a fine read. Enjoyed it immensely.
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Philipp Lenssen
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 18 October 2006
Location: Germany
Posts: 94
Posted: 09 October 2008 at 3:09pm | IP Logged | 2  

I'm chipping in way too late, but wanted to add my two cents:

- Usually, the more attention a Wikipedia article gets, the more accurate it becomes. Wikipedia works on "human computation" if you want -- its CPU is our attention. Sometimes, when articles becomes extremely hot topics of the day or become controversial, than the article improves because many eyes watch out for what they perceive to be neutrality. As a counter-example, take a look at the project Simple English Wikipedia, which has far less eyeballs, and a quality that is often ridiculously bad.

- Following above general point, more specifically speaking, anything directing attention to the John Byrne entry on Wikipedia -- be it a link, or a ban as here -- has the power to improve the article.

- Wikipedia admins or "Wikipedians" are often non-transparent in the ways they admit errors, and they have an elitist touch at times, but their whole system builds on human input, so that makes the site human too, including human flaws, jealously, attacks, but also great, great content. I guess it can be a 90% thing, so if you'd like to lift it up to 100%, you'd have to shut down the site, but it's often tough to find any other article which has the scope many Wikipedia articles have.

- Following above point, if you happen to find yourself in an article and then you end up having the article be one of the more rare but existing problems -- false accusations of being a "sex offender", as John mentioned, and accusations that stay in for a long time without being unedited (because while trolls often try it, their slanders are also often... but not always... quickly removed) -- than that may feel to that person as if the whole project is doomed.
You'll often find a similar arguments from opposing sides in regards to such Wikipedia flaws. One side may say, "Well you can just change it to correct it, what are you complaining, at least at Wikipedia it's much easier changing a flaw than in a paper encyclopedia or in an online news report. So there's no problem at all." And another side may say, "Well, anyone can insert a ridiculously false statement into Wikipedia by the click of the Edit button. This is just not as fact-checked as a news report or paper encyclopedia. So the problem is unsolvable." Both arguments are on the extreme sides of the issue, but Wikipedia is more of a gray area that is not perfect but also not doing too bad either on average.

- As a reader, there's a simple guideline: you may read Wikipedia content but you must absolutely add a grain of salt. You must understand, and I think many (but likely not all) people do understand, that if there's a random sentence about "person x being a sex offender" popping up, that you must not just blindly believe it. The more specific the article gets, the more you need to find verifiable other sources for a statement. Then again, that kind of reading makes sense in any context, be it that you're reading a newspaper article and what-not...
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Steve Horn
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 26 February 2008
Location: United States
Posts: 636
Posted: 24 December 2008 at 3:59am | IP Logged | 3  

Looks like Wikipedia might be going down hill and is having trouble rce=2008_jimmy_letter_r&utm_medium=sitenotice&utm_ca mpaign=fundraiser2008#appeal
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John OConnor
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 01 August 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 1109
Posted: 02 January 2009 at 10:51am | IP Logged | 4  

Here's hoping 2009 brings a better class of celebrity
death hoaxes.

On Wednesday, former "Mad About You" star Paul Reiser
became, ever so briefly, the latest star to be
prematurely killed off by the Internet when two new
ominous and unverifiable sentences popped up in his
Wikipedia biography, according to E!

"On December 27th, 2008, Reiser was discovered dead in
the Squallahassee River where he reportedly enjoyed fly
fishing," the amended entry read. "No foul play was

The offending passage, along with the actor's supposed
date of death, was removed within several hours.
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Jim Muir
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 26 June 2007
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1372
Posted: 31 March 2009 at 2:46pm | IP Logged | 5  

Microsoft accepts defeat to Wikipedia and kills off Encarta

source: Times Online

So, the encyclopedia using real facts is killed off by the encyclopedia using made up facts.


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Jeremiah Avery
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 27 December 2008
Location: United States
Posts: 2431
Posted: 03 April 2009 at 12:30pm | IP Logged | 6  

I hope that was a bad "April Fool's Day" joke.
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Ken Smith
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 30 August 2009
Location: Canada
Posts: 2
Posted: 31 August 2009 at 9:32pm | IP Logged | 7  

Warning: Sermon Ahead

Disclosure: I am a university professor who loves Wikipedia

Now, on with the show.

First, I want to repeat (and expand on) a point that a couple of folks have already made. Namely, that Wikipedia is valuable precisely BECAUSE we know that it can be biased/inaccurate/etc.

This is (for instance) in contrast to how many of us regard academic scholarship. We may think it is boring (and, oh god, it is often so very, very boring!). But if pressed, most of us would probably also admit that we usually regard scholars to be as reliable a source of information as we are likely to find. After all, they've put in YEARS to become experts in their fields, right? They're not just a bunch of uncontrollable internet vandals and lunatics!

However, as I made my way through grad school I was surprised to learn just how common it was for academic work to be flat-out wrong, even work by world-renowned scholars. And a good deal of this work--unlike Wikipedia--can go unquestioned for many years.

For anyone who is interested, in my field (religion), there are two really interesting books that explore examples of this phenomenon. One is Drudgery Divine, by Jonathan Z. Smith; the other is Storytracking, by Sam Gill. I won't bore you (any further!) with the details, but essentially each author demonstrates, with scrupulous attention to primary sources, that academics in certain areas of religion and anthropology have been perpetuating misinformation for decades.

I seriously doubt that a mistake on Wikipedia would last that long.

Which brings me to my other point, namely that Wikipedia is, in general, as accurate as just about any other "authoritative" source. This, at least, is my personal experience, as well as the experience of many of my colleagues. It was also apparently demonstrated in a 2005 comparison between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica involving science entries: opedias-put-to-the-test/2005/12/14/1134500913345.html

Yes, you can find mistakes in Wikipedia. And yes, this should keep us on our toes. But more often than not, Wikipedia is actually correct -- and in any case you will find important mistakes in just about any work you delve deeply into.

So: not only does Wikipedia's nature inherently invite us to question the information it presents (hence the existence of this entire discussion thread!), but this information is in any case about as reliable as any we're going to find. All of which makes it, in my view, a MUCH better place to turn to for information than any other single source I have yet uncovered.

Plus it is possible now to see the history of each entry, what changes were made and by which user, as well as debates (=multiple viewpoints!) concerning contentious topics. How is this not fabulous?

And finally: instead of telling our students NOT to use a source like Wikipedia, doesn't it make better sense to show them HOW to use it? Teach them about bias, about human error, about validating sources, etc., etc., etc. For the foreseeable future, sites like this are going to be the way that most people search for information. Why not train our students how to do so responsibly?

Thus endeth the sermon.

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Ken Smith
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 30 August 2009
Location: Canada
Posts: 2
Posted: 31 August 2009 at 9:38pm | IP Logged | 8  

Sorry, for some reason the link I posted above was broken in the middle.

Here's the article for real this time.

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Jeremy Shaffer
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 20 April 2009
Location: United States
Posts: 41
Posted: 20 September 2009 at 2:31pm | IP Logged | 9  

You know I added something to Wikipedia about my Top Secret missions for the government and they erased it. (heheheh)
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John Bodin
Byrne Robotics Member

Purveyor of Rare Items

Joined: 16 April 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 3911
Posted: 26 September 2009 at 1:29pm | IP Logged | 10  

My wife just mentioned that we have a friend who uses Wikipedia almost exclusively -- he's a very intelligent person, but he maintains that "if it's not on Wikipedia, it's probably not worth knowing." 

I immediately remarked about how Wikipedia is extremely flawed because it is so wide-open and there's always the potential for MIS-information.  I usually think of the notoriously libelous John Byrne entry that was up for a while, so since I was surfing the Web when my wife mentioned this I immediately clicked over to Wikipedia and pulled up the entry for John Byrne.  To my surprise, a quick scan of the content revealed that the current John Byrne entry (as-of a few moments ago) seems to consist solely of facts, details, and generally useful information that doesn't seem to consist of lies and falsehoods.

Definitely a nice change from what I was greeted with the LAST time I checked-out the John Byrne Wikipedia entry!
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John Byrne

Grumpy Old Guy

Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 132709
Posted: 29 September 2009 at 10:30am | IP Logged | 11  

Well, NOW you've done it. . . . !!!
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Wayne K Purdy
Byrne Robotics Member

Joined: 07 August 2008
Location: Canada
Posts: 844
Posted: 10 December 2009 at 6:25am | IP Logged | 12  

Ron Livingstone plans on suing an anonymous writer  for Libel. ues-anonymous-wikipedia-writer-for-libel
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