Saturday, August 29, 2009

You mean you can check things for accuracy?

Expecting me to rise to the bait, a number of readers have sent me links to announcements that Wikipedia is going to be engaging editors to review revisions of entries before they can be made public.

Everyone loves a repentant sinner, but it’s not clear that the conversion is complete. The review of flagged changes is to be limited to entries about living people, and the qualifications of volunteer editors and the quality of their editing remain to be seen.

Still, after being challenged repeatedly over posts about the limitations of Wikipedia*, I was interested to see Michael Snow, chairman of the Wikimedia board, quoted thus in The New York Times:

“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”

A-men, Brother Snow.

Now, if it would be possible to spare one of those volunteer editors for a moment or two to look at the Jaipur entry on Wikipedia, something might be done about this sentence that a reader brought to my attention:

Mansarovar housing colony is the largest housing colony in the entire universe.

*No I am not going to provide links to all those posts. A search on Wikipedia at this site and at the previous site will turn up as much as you ever want to see.


  1. To forestall the why-don't-you-fix-it-yourself question about the Jaipur entry:

    Since December 2005, I have made available 846 posts, many of them about the craft of editing, many of them things that students at Loyola pay tuition to hear from me. You have them for free.

    That is close to the limit of my pro-bono work. People who have learned the skill of editing should be paid when they edit, just as you should pay your doctor or your plumber for performing the work they have laboriously learned to do.

  2. Those who can't edit think they can write and those who edit know they can't.

  3. So, in other words, Mr. McIntyre, you already have a bias against the fact that Wikipedia is free?

  4. Just curious, Mr. McIntyre. Do you edit menus whenever you eat out? A very good writer I used to know would leave his menu heavily marked up. No charge.

  5. 1. I think that it is a grand and generous thing that Wikipedia is free; I think it would be even grander if it were reliable.

    2. I am not paid to edit menus, signage, advertisements, or conversations, so I don't.

  6. And a few comments transcribed from Facebook:

    David Craig
    Are they paying? Are they hiring experienced copy-editors?

    Susan Z. Swan
    Why would they want expert copyeditors? When experts edit over there, the non-experts come along and change it (and "it" includes anything from inconvenient facts to structure and grammar). Some articles have a few gatekeepers who have such a stranglehold on information that there isn't a hope of getting accurate information -- and if one tries to protest, one is abused. Nice.

    David M Ettlin
    You worry too much. In another 20 years, no one will know anything anyway.

  7. OMG. I love the comment from David Ettlin. Sorry my brain is too fried (second day of 103 temp w/o air-conditioning) to respond with anything better than that. But thank you Mr. Ettlin for making my afternoon.

  8. This is just the Wikimedia Foundation trying to protect itself from the massive libel suit that someone's going to file someday against them. So far they've been lucky.

  9. John,
    this is no longer there. re; "Mansarovar housing colony is the largest housing colony in the entire universe." I looked all over the site. It was removed. However, someone just added it again, in two places. Ouch.

  10. wikipedia is such a difficult thing to edit anyway that it's not worth the trouble. you try to fix things that are clearly wrong/biased/poorly written, and the changes get reversed by nobodies who act like they're the gods of wikipedia. it's like one of those bad dreams when you are so CERTAIN that you're right, and everyone else says you're wrong, and you start to feel like you're going crazy because nobody can help you. I think it's that feeling of helplessness that makes me not edit wikipedia anymore. There's no way I can convince other people that my change is correct, because they're more stubborn than I am, and they're *wrong*. it's like something you'd see in the Twilight Zone. A big conspiracy just to piss you off.

    so. i've given up hope on wikipedia as a reputable source long ago. however, that's not to say i don't spend hours reading it for fun... i just make sure to check the sources if it's something i think i might reference later in life.

  11. What saves Wikipedia (if it is at all redeemable) is the bibliographic information at the end of the really well-written well-researched articles (and yes, there are a few).
    The best research is based on itself, i.e. on other research that points to so-called "valid sources."

  12. Just in case you haven't seen it before, a good parody of Wikipedia is Mark Rosenfelder's Wekipaijua.