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back to article Reg hack gives forth in Wikipedia doco

Those of you who had the misfortune to miss the recent Wikimania 2010 - Wikipedia's annual love-in which this year graced Gdańsk with its presence - also missed the opportunity to catch Reg San Francisco bureau big cheese Cade Metz giving forth on the popular fount of all human knowledge. Cade wisely chose not to attend the …

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Pint

Baffling

I've never understood why some of The register's people have such an obsession about Wikipedia. It's as if they define themselves in terms of their hatred of the website... and it causes me to think they're probably not much fun to meet in pubs (unless you happen to share this obsession). It certainly can't be good for their blood pressure.

Wikipedia is free, and is as good as free usually gets. Not everything that's free gets to be as good as the Linux Kernel, but then, not everything that is free has to keep planes in the air, or bank transactions running flawlessly, and so on.

It's actually really really good at the kinds of trivia that used to nag at the back of your mind during the working day and clutter your thoughts. The cast of soap operas, the first broadcast dates of sitcoms, the history (model by model) of long bankrupt car manufacturers... You use it intelligently - asking yourself how likely it is, that anybody could have been arsed to tamper with the information, being presented to you, any more than the person who typed it in, in the first place, was enthused enough, to make sure it was correct, in the first place.

Today's featured article is about some Canadian teen Sci-Fi soap opera: I have never heard of it and I have no intention of ever watching it (the very thought of it fills me with horror, in fact) but I'm sure Wikipedia's page on the thing is the best available about it, anywhere.

If you're going to write about Proust or Rousseau, then you don't start with Wikipedia (or if you do, you don't even deserve a Liberal Arts degree), and if you use it, as a journalist - as the basis of some article you are being paid for - then you don't deserve your job. However, the problem, there, resides with the user, and not the source (and as such, the source could even be said to be doing the rest of us a favour).

So, yes, parts of it are inaccurate, full of speculation, prejudice, and stuff that has been cut&pasted from elsewhere on the web - but it is said that you only really hate the things you hate about yourself, so perhaps the Register would be wise to stifle it's next brain-fart about Wikipedia - lest people start to think it protests too much?

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Completely Agree

Well said.

People who are overly critical of Wikipedia seem to take this line:

I believe Wikipedia should be *this* (whatever standard they personally expect/require/imagine)

however it is below this standard (which I myself imagined)

therefore it has zero value and should be endlessly criticised

That's just plain stupid.

If it's useful - use it.

If you need a proven authoritative source - then find and pay for one.

I've found for an introduction/overview of an important topic/subject it's useful - and tends to point to more authoritative/trustworthy/recognised sources of information if you want to go beyond this.

For modern popular culture it appears unrivalled as a general source.. and again typically links to more specialist (sad!) sources as required.

Taken for what it is.. it's great.

Looking to the future the potential is even greater (quality, breadth, depth of information).

Why the hate from El Reg?

Feeling threatened?

Ideologically opposed?

Just want to be "different"?

I don't understand it!

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Joke

Erm...

"I've never understood why some of The register's people have such an obsession about Wikipedia. It's as if they define themselves in terms of their hatred of the website... and it causes me to think they're probably not much fun to meet in pubs (unless you happen to share this obsession)"

How much did you just write in its defence? Is that what you talk about down the pub?

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FAIL

Wankopedia

Having repeatedly tried to edit a demonstrably incorrect 'fact' only to have it reverted I simply walked away.

This was not some subjective matter -- it was the technical specification of a product our company manufactures.

Apparently wankopedians know better than we do how our product performs and have given it greater capabilities than we ever could. "Truth" becomes whoever gets the last edit in, who shouts loudest.

Wankopedia is often as useless as the circle-jerk of propagandising bloggers who link to one another to support the essence of a claim which has no foundation in reality. A good idea, but a failed one.

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@ AC ("Wankopedia")

You are correct that it is easy to edit and/or revert an edit. That is one of the strengths, and weaknesses of Wikipedia. Did you try contacting the person doing the reversion? In your edit, did you provide links to articles to reinforce what you said (the infamous "citation needed")?

I have made a number of updates and corrections, mostly pertaining to obscure '80s hardware, and they're still there.

However... The thing with Wiki is that there is no specific agenda. The agenda present is everybody's agenda. As compared to, say, documents maintained by so-called experts. To give an example, how much to Germans know about the holocaust? Ask Americans who won the Battle of Britain. Do little Frenchies learn about Algeria at school? Are Apple telling the truth about their latest baby's reception? If you leave the truth in the hands of the elite, it is liable to become corrupted to suit the agenda of the day, and loads of little niggling trivia will be dropped as useless, much like so many nursery rhymes. Do kids even know "ring'o'round the roses" these days? Do they know what it means?

With Wiki, it is a free for all. This is a great problem as anybody can edit pretty much any thing in whatever words, quality of writing, and fact/hearsay/heresy (!) they feel like, leaving it to others to provide corrections or demand references. But on the other hand, making it open to everybody takes the power of the editing process away from the select few and gives it to us all. That, combined with WikiLeaks, means that sweeping little annoyances under the carpet is no longer a possibility. Power to the people, and all that.

I use Wikipedia heavily, and I have no real reason to disbelieve what I read - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_Experiments_Lain is a reasonable write-up of the series. There may be factual errors, but nothing I can see that would be outright bull. However, my trust in Wiki is about as good as my trust in printed media. If it is important, it is essential to find collaborating information. Sometimes ("are mobile phone transmissions harmful?") it is damn-near impossible to reach any conclusion, but then society as a whole has not done so either. And, if in doubt, always refer to the datasheet.

I don't think by continually referring to it as Wankopedia, you are really that much different to the circle-jerk bloggers you mentioned. It is NOT perfect, but it could be argued it serves society a more useful latter-day purpose than the hallowed halls of the OED (and for saying that, my mother will kill me...). Wiki is both a good idea and a working one. It isn't working 100%, but then many people reading this would profess to being a "geek". Look it up in a dictionary. It originally means "fool", and was later a freaky circus sideshow act, and in recent times it is the good sort of nerd. So why do dictionaries write things like "a peculiar and dislikable person"? Maybe it is because WE have Wikipedia and they...don't. An agenda at work?

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Unhappy

@heyrick

You know, some people - rare people - can develop and cultivate a sense of objectivity about almost any subject. These special people can even apply that objectivity to themselves or topics that under normal circumstances they care a great deal about. Large chunks of science, justice and the humanities are devoted to trying to achieve this objectivity on a professional level.

Those who do achieve it, most especially those who have obtained a great deal of knowledge about one or many topics are truly experts. The hive mind is not objective. The hive mind is instinctual and moody. It has passions and flights of fancy and these cloud the judgement of the masses.

A dictionary may refer to someone as “a peculiar and dislikable person" because in truth they are. You could argue that such a statement should never be made because there is a measure of subjectivity, however even something subjective can be qualified given enough data. Objectivity is the art and science of extracting signal from the noise, and Wikipedia simply doesn’t have it.

It has its uses. It is a great starting point for any research and a treasure trove of pointless trivia. That said, it is not now and it never will be the equal of carefully studied objective information on any topic. There is a requirement for expert opinions and information, most especially if they disagree with you, me and the hive mind itself. “Because the masses believe it to be true” does not in fact make something to be true. Conversely, “that the masses believe something to be true” can be worth reporting and be important information of it’s own right.

“A peculiar and dislikable person” conveys in one very short sentence the information that, on the whole, this individual did not adhere to the social norms of their time. It also indicates that for whatever reason the majority opinion of their personality was negative. I do not see in it an absolute statement (all people find them to be disagreeable) but merely a conveyance of the general perception of society towards them.

Where Wikipedia diverges, and the hive mind’s passions and predjudices set in is at exactly these points of trying to quantify subjective information. The ability of individuals to “own” articles, popular opinion (as opposed to learned expertise and objectivity) used to determine the veracity of differing citations and quite a bit more ensure Wikipedia can never be a trusted source of information.

At best, Wikipedia is useful because other people have done the drudge work of getting links for a topic together for you. (All those citations.) Reading the source material, and travelling back through the source material’s references all the way to the original works is always the best course. Learn about the origins of the information. Was the scientist or historian who gave them truly objective? Are the links/citations pointing to utter rubbish websites with no real tracability? Was there any real expertise or professionalism, or was it aught but the partisan ramblings of someone with an axe to grind?

Give me primary source material any time.

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Stop

@ Trevor_Pott

Whilst we may wish to strive for objectivity (and fail repeatedly - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/16/dab_promotion_fail/), one of the strengths of Wiki is that peer review is built into the system. Anybody can question/correct material that it posted, and while there are plenty of examples of silliness and stupidity (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/14/blatter_order/), the general order of the day is verifiable source trumps opinion.

“A peculiar and dislikable person” colours the judgement. There are many ways to say that somebody is a non-conformist without leading the readers emotions. Indeed, there are many who fit into society's norms who are likely to prove to be more dislikable people. To that end, it is - as you say - a short and concise definition, but it is also a bad definition.

You are correct that Wikipedia can never be a *trusted* source of information, however for all of the day to day questions, Wiki is just fine. To give an example, if I am bitten by a mosquito and it hurts like hell, I'd like to know why it hurts once the little critter has up and left. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosquito#Feeding_habits_of_adults

This is not the same as trusting something written in Wikipedia in a legal or technical sense. There are differing levels of trust depending upon what the information is and how important it is to what you plan to do with said information. To put it another way, I have a copy of the original "A Brief History of Time", some parts of which have since been retracted and other parts revised and refined. Is this one man's heart over his head, or is it simply a consequence of attempting to explain what we don't fully understand and thus revising these explanations in the light of new evidence? Given discussions that take place on these very forums, I wonder what Wiki says about climate change... This all leading to question the objectivity of scientists and experts in print, never mind Wiki articles. Are we looking at the truth? Are we looking at a pet theory the author doesn't want to let go of? Are we looking at manipulated figures chosen to reach a predetermined conclusion (ClimateGate is all about this; as is much of the history of the "smoking [doesn't] kill[s]" tests and examinations). Or are we looking at what is merely a best guess? The entirety of human knowledge is not infallible, in fact it is riddled with myths, hoaxes, and inaccuracies, perhaps the biggest of which is the desire to slave to please an omnipotent master. There isn't so much as a shred of actual solid evidence, yet followers will happily point to their own self-published guidebooks as both evidence and a life manual, some willing to take it to the degree of ostracising (or even harming) those who do not fit into their "norms". Given this sort of thing runs rampant in humanity, it is really no surprise Wiki is what it is. It may strive to be the best of collected knowledge, and it may fail epically at times. At least it offers means to revise, update, question, discuss. This is where it wins over a dictionary. It is more interactive. Sure, slobbering masses may point at an article and say "if it is in Wiki, it must be true", the slightly better of us would consider Wiki to be a ground research tool useful for covering the basics before lauching into more involved research; pretty much like your high school maths teacher would have taught you plane geometry before invalidating much if it when it comes to three dimensional objects...

You ask for primary source material. The first question is how do you know this material is correct, or are you placing more trust in it because it is in print? The second question... sometimes said source material is difficult to find. My mother is a great believer in old-fashioned research, but there was only so much that would fit into Woking library. The Intenet annoys her as looking up specialist articles (i.e. causes/treatments of certain medical issues (for friends, she was a nurse way-back-when)) often brings up websites with totally different, contradictory, opinions. I do wonder, however, if she was in Woking library, if she found her answer in a book, would this suffice, or would she carry on looking in other books to verify the acuracy of the information. The thing is, actually going to a library and actually finding information and actually looking over and over to confirm said information is quite a time consuming task; this coupled with many people *trusting* something that is in a textbook or reference (even if it is wrong or only tells a half-truth). It is much easier to clicky-clicky but doing so has the danger of providing contradictory information. Are some people just plain wrong, or is it a subject about which we don't know as much as we like to believe we do? If the latter, how often does a printed reference book point out its own level of accuracy?

Genesis 1.1... Citation needed... :-)

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@heyrick

You are making big assumptions. I don't "trust" primary source material. I want to know what the primary source material is so that I can investigate the individuals or organisations responsible for generating it. I can then use my own judgement to determine if that source of information is valid.

Wikipedia as a whole is not valid. It is sourced largely form people who have no expertise attempting to interpret a summary of a summary of a summary of a primary paper or work of research. Not only that, but time and again it has been proven that those in the upper echelons of Wikipedia hold far too much influence. They can (and do) control certain topics; how are you to know if they are doing so to the one you are researching?

Without professional objectivity, I have no way of even beginning to establish trust in the sources of information. Let’s take a random topic: Pollution of Alberta’s lakes and rivers.

Should I trust my government’s official reports? Should I trust independent scientific bodies? Individual scientists with decades of experience? Lobbyists for the oil, mineral, forestry and agriculture industries? SnakeEater_0005 the Wikipedia contributor? Should I place my faith blindly in any of this, or should I go as close to original research as my education allows me to understand, while doing research into the backgrounds of the originators of that information and asking critical and sceptical questions?

Wikipedia doesn’t tell me anything about who is contributing the information beyond their posting history. I can’t tell who they work for, who might be paying them, what they were raised to believe, nothing. There is simply no way to make a reasoned assessment as to the conscious or unconscious biases the individuals involved with a given Wikipedia article might be, and thus there is no way to gague the validity of that information.

At least with a dictionary, encyclopedia, scientific journal or other traditional reference material I can (generally) hunt information on the author. Learn who they are, and what their credentials might be. That the information is in print has NOTHING to do with trusting it. That I can determine the biases of the authors does.

Anonymous contribution leads to nothing but massive astroturfing and social engineering. I’ll have no part of it.

The closest compromise I have ever found between “ease of use and contribution” and “actually close to reliable and /TRACABLE/ information sources” is Citizendium.

It doesn’t have (yet) the breadth of articles that Wikipedia does, but I can trace the information a little better. It’s not good enough, but it’s still better than Wikipedia.

http://en.citizendium.org/

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@Trevor_Pott

Wikis often cite their sources and with a few you can dig deeper. Which page(s) exactly are you consulting for info on 'Pollution of Alberta’s lakes and rivers'? cos I want to see which citations are missing.

Wiki is free, it's not perfect, it's made by humans, it has its faults. It works for me. I wonder if you definition of an expert is too constrained (not flamebait, just wondering, there are many dimensions to expertise, often orthogonal).

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@BlueGreen

MY definition of expert is "someone with extensive experience in [subject]." It does not necessarily require formal education in that field, though it is the most common way to begin obtaining that experience.

In science, art or the humanities there is a requirement for practical experience in the field before expertise can be declared. You can't learn everything from a book; real experience is earned, not merely learned.

Citizendium is also made by humans, but it is far more thoroughly vetted. Again, it isn’t perfect, but I consider it much closer to an authoritative source on anything.

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Me too..

I help run a help site for UK cable customers. We have our own Wikipedia entry that is maintained by one of the site owners. Until recently, we also had problems with an ex-member with a grudge altering the page and putting in his own (potentially libellous) opinions.

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Why AC - and where's your links to demonstrate your point?

You sound angry.

Why not link to your article edit-history so we can judge for ourselves?

Why post anonymously if you have been a Wikipedia user... show us your work.

Oh - and using "Wankopedia" isn't clever, funny or grown-up. It makes you sound silly and unhappy.

So.. come on - fix this and show us the links :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Sorry

But I have no desire to bring the potential wrath of anyone down on myself nor my company and no desire to reveal personal information which it would.

"Angry" - only so far as despairing that some people seemingly believe Wikipedia is infallible.

"Unhappy" - yes, it's a ridiculous state of affairs that doesn't need to be.

"Isn't clever, funny or grown-up" - each to his own - I call it how I see it. I believe suppressing fact with falsehood is wank, is not a service to anyone.

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Unhappy

AC Again?

Is that the same person posting.. or someone else posing as the same AC guy?

How can you be credible being anonymous?

I respect your right to privacy... but how does anyone know you're not just a troll... with no real insight, experience or evidence which supports your view.

I sympathise if you feel your company wouldn't be proud of and back up your views (if expressed openly) - however why should anyone take your allegations seriously?

Best you can hope for I guess is "benefit of the doubt" - which you'll likely get from the people who support the view you seek to promote.. and likely won't get from those who disagree with you.

An overall neutral impact... so what's the point in posting it?

Note: Not a personal attack - meant as a legitimate question. Again - you have my sympathy for not feeling confident/able to express yourself properly (here). :-)

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here we go again...

> But I have no desire to bring the potential wrath of anyone down on myself nor my company and no desire to reveal personal information which it would.

If you're not prepared to back up your claims, don't make them. You'd hammer wiki if it's posts were as non-justified as yours. Also, you're not asked to put your id here (although most anti-wiki posts do seem to be from ACs). How big's your company anyway? Why would correcting info bring anyone's wrath down. This is just odd.

> ... some people seemingly believe Wikipedia is infallible.

I've never met one, never heard anyone saying so.

> ridiculous state of affairs that doesn't need to be.

quite possibly you're right, but you aren't making your case. Where's the info? Show it or we can't decide.

I like wiki, it works for me. I've found the admins there very balanced (from my little contact with them).

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Happy

@AC ("Sorry")

Sorry, can't resist: "Citation needed".

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@ Steve Adams

It occurs to me to wonder why exactly a commentator would be willing to want to edit a Wiki article to correct a fact about one of the products of a company he works for, which was apparently reverted, yet is unwilling to provide any sort of reference to this process; out of some sort of fear of upsetting his employers, who you'd have thought would have wanted information on their products to be accurate.

If we *assume* it is a genuine story, perhaps the basis is not so much proving a technical fact about a product as trying to suppress information about an undesired issue?

Just a thought...

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Welcome

It's the law!!!11!!!1!1!11!!111!!!!!

As police and expert witnesses are now allowed to use wikipedia as fact gathering source when testifying in court, surely wikipedia is 100% accurate without a single fabrication? I'm sure that US congress were correct when they made their thousand edits http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-6033082-7.html

I for one welcome our wikipedia overlords and look forward to the day when we can all benefit from the cancer cures that Brad&Angelina are currently working on in their top secret laboratory bunker next door to Madonna who is producing an anti-zombification-serum.

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Anonymous Coward

Some courts allow polygraph evdence.

So the fact that a court allows Wikipedia doesn't say a lot for its accuracy.

.

That being said, I do use Wiki quite a lot for general knowledge trivia and the like but I wouldn't go near it when verifiable factual evidence was required.

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Sorry

You lost me at mention at "wikipedia"

I slipped into a coma for a while.

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Judge by the cover

"..I mean reasonable in tone and made by respectable-looking people. For example, I was really surprised to see Cade Metz on screen;.."

Can we see a picture of Cade Metz so we can judge for ourselves if he is 'respectable-looking'?

I for one do not want to read articles by ugly or 'eyes-too-close-together' people. If he has a beard then forget it.

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Dead Vulture

Am I the only one...

...who finds the Reg's scorn for user-generated content ironic given their penchant for pure trollbait 'news' ? They're like the Daily Mail, scandalised by paparazzi photos which they then just /have/ to publish.

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Not

sure I understand what you are saying here. Are you saying they publish "troll bait news" simply for people to comment/generate content on?

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My impression is that Wikipedia articles on technical and scientific matters

usually do a good job of presenting current views on the matter at hand, even if quality naturally varies from article to article and from language edition to language edition. I know of no alternative which performs the same public service in anywhere near as adequate and comprehensive a manner. If, however, one is searching, for example, for biographical information on certain political figures, in particular ones from the US, a strong caveat lector is in order ; thus the article on Ronald Wilson Reagan in the English-language edition has more to do with hagiography than with unbiased biography - it could have appeared as the (overly long) entry for 6 February in a latter-day edition of The Lives of the Saints. Just where Reg articles by Cade Metz would fall between these two poles is here perhaps better left unsaid....

Henri

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