Feeds

Truths, half-truths and Wikipedia

Journalists play with loose facts

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Comment Wikipedia comes in for a fair amount of criticism these days from El Reg and other publications, but I can't help wondering if we're missing the real point regarding its status as an encyclopedia. Most of the arguments hinge on its accuracy, or lack of it. But if our criteria for an encyclopedia is a guarantee of 100 per cent accuracy, then there are no encyclopaedias now, and there never have been. So is Wikipedia an encylopedia, and, if not, can it ever be one? Reluctantly, I think the answer is a resounding 'no', and here's why.

This is a tale of personal experience, so a bit of background is needed. In the first place, I am a casual editor on Wikipedia under the username Tomandlu. I've contributed to articles on various novels, historical events, and so on (including, for reasons I fail to recall, the tuberculate pelagic octopus – don't you hate it when that happens?). So, I like Wikipedia, I really do. Besides, any resource that has anything as bizarre as the Death Star talkpage gets my vote.

My father is George Melly, the British jazz-singer and writer. Needless to say, I keep an eye on Wikipedia's article on him. I try to avoid any bias, although I did once suggest that a particular anecdote wasn't really noteworthy or accurate. (It was a trout not a salmon, and he didn't wank on it, just near it; besides, if a wank-adote is really required, then there's a far better one involving cat impressions and a plate.)

The closest I've come to censorship was when I removed "incontinence" from a list of his health problems. I didn't lose much sleep over it - it's your standard, old-man, incontinence, so, once again, not very noteworthy. I'd have removed "has wrinkles" or "thinks modern music is too loud and repetitive" on the same basis. However, lung cancer (an early member of the list), and emphysema (a later addition) were retained.

I had some concerns about this. Nevertheless, the information was accurate – albeit unreferenced – so I let it stand. At least no one else seemed to have heard that he had also been diagnosed with early vascular dementia, and that stayed off the list – I certainly wasn't going to add it in.

We can now fast-forward to earlier this year, when my father came out, so to speak, as a sufferer. I duly added "vascular dementia" to Wikipedia, and settled down to following the various news coverage and articles on my father's condition – for the most part sympathetic and accurate pieces, and often based around interviews…and then I came across an article in the Times by a Dr Thomas Stuttaford.

Now, you can take my word for it, or you can take a look at the article and compare it with the entry on Wikipedia, but large sections of it are obviously sourced from there and I was rather shocked. This wasn't, as far as I knew, what Wikipedia was for. Wikipedia was for... well what exactly? Or more accurately, who?

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
Bose says today IS F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.