Questioning Words: Wikipedia Hoaxes?

Nice piece in the WaPo about some of the long-lived hoax pages in Wikipedia.

Well down in the piece, a wikipedian comes to its defense.

“The question is not whether Wikipedia is more or less reliable than a day at the New York Public Library,” Matetsky said. “The question is whether Wikipedia is more or less reliable than whatever other results top Google search.”

When there are no other Google results, of course, it’s hard to call either way. Or worse: When the other results spring from a Wikipedia error, a phenomenon named “citogenesis” by the Web comic xkcd. For years, the Internet record has claimed that “chicken azid” is another term for the dish “chicken korma,” and that Amelia Bedelia was inspired by a Cameroonian maid.

It remains a remarkable resource, and although the inevitable errors and vulnerability to hoaxes or being gamed are real, “citogenesis” certainly existed long before Wikipedia, Ossian springs to mind.

Piltdown Man Researchers
A pre-wikipedia hoax that snared many, including Arthur Conan Doyle.

Two interesting questions: what does and does not get fixed and why? (Even though I don’t know much about the subject, I bet the articles on video games are more accurate-if no more temperate-than those on religion. Secondly, seems like data science could–although it may not be worth it to them–find ever more powerful algorithmic approaches that show which edits or whole pages emit a “hoaxy” feel. Bias might be much harder to nose out, but the “H or NH problem” seems tractable. It’s parallel to the effort to police published research that big data is probably already taking on.

One Reply to “Questioning Words: Wikipedia Hoaxes?”

  1. Some great observations Arthur, and I would add that bias is not just within articles, but what is covered and to what depth. It’s well known that wikipedia editors are predominantly (I’ve heard 80%) male, which must make a difference. And there is the bias of emphasis – the article on Justin Bieber is about as long as the article on Descartes….

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