John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Presented without comment

An Irish student inserts a bogus quotation in the Wikipedia entry for a recently deceased French composer —“to show how journalists use the internet as a primary source” — and discovers that newspaper and blogs around the world pick it up and use it without making any effort to verify its authenticity.

Wikipedia’s editing does not effectively remove the bogus item, and the fraud is disclosed when the student himself writes to newspapers after a lapse of weeks to inform them.

9 comments:

  1. I wondered how long it would take for you to note this.
    Congratulations on your restraint. Any glee would be understood.

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  2. If only everyone would insert fake information. Then maybe the beginning of Wikipedia's end could, well, begin.

    More of this needs to happen, unfortunately, and on a larger scale, before people learn their lesson. I wouldn't be surprised if those same newspapers fall into the same trap again.

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  3. I think Wikipedia is useful; you just have to confirm everything with another source.

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  4. Minor gripe: In the future, would you please link directly to the article you're discussing, rather than using a "facebook share" link? It'll make it so that readers can tell where your links are going before clicking on them, and for the few like me who aren't FB members, we'll be able to avoid these confusing "now leaving facebook" pages.

    Thanks! I love the blog!

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  5. @Mike:
    Or have a way to sift the wheat from the chaff...and that sounds precisely like the process of trying to buy a book or any other product.

    If I recall correctly, there was a project at the University of Southern California to figure out which parts of Wikipedia are probably more wheat and which parts are probably chaff but I do not know if anything came of it.

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  6. Because I have gotten this late-night call from the nocturnal copydesk at The Sun so many times, it is my turn to ask if you meant "bogus quotation," instead of "bogus question" at the top of the post.

    :)

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  7. See yesterday's Dilbert and the comments it has provoked.

    (I do hope the Wikipedia controversy is not going to be long-running again, but I have to say that, whatever its failings, I don't see how Wikipedia can be blamed for the indolence of journalists.)

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  8. I believe that my views about Wikipedia do not require further elaboration.

    My views about "the indolence of journalists" are even more emphatic.

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