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12 February, 2009

Another nail

According to Slashdot, a Wikipedia 'prankster' added an additional middle name to the genuine eight of a German politician, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.  The inaccuracy was widely quoted by such mainstream newspapers as Der Spiegel before anyone noticed and the Wikipedia entry was amended.

Then the amendment was reverted, restoring the false name and citing documentary evidence that it's true: Der Spiegel.

My immediate response was to wish the glorified discussion board would just acknowledge that it's totally unreliable and close outright, but that's a little – but only a little – extreme. Wikipedia is a fair starting point for research, but no more than that: a guide to search terms one could use when searching for more reliable information elsewhere (anywhere). It's certainly not a quotable information source itself.

I discovered this as an aside in a report of a similar issue. Yesterday in Parliament, the Conservative Party leader 'corrected' the Prime Minister's claim that Titian died at the age of 90 by saying he actually reached 86. Shortly afterwards, a user located in Conservative Central Office, seemingly mistaking Wikipedia as a meaningful publication, amended Titian's death date to support his/her leader's unfounded claim (Titian's true lifespan isn't known, but 90 is considered* more likely). So that's tweaking a web page in order to 'confirm' a preferred opinion, in order to use that web page as supporting evidence of the original claim. I despair.

*: By 'considered' I mean by qualified experts, not the meaningless consensus of amateurs, whose opinions don't remotely matter.

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