The Wikipedia Fact Police

Gene Weingarten, a humor writer for the Washington Post, has apiece titled “The joys of writing your own Wiki-bio“(carried by several other papers, including the National Post herein Canada) . In this article he describes a series of edits he madeto hisown biography on Wikipedia, testing whether the factpolice of Wikipedia — a nebulous group of usually young males withan excess of free time — would catch and retracthis distortions.

He was creating a “Wikiality“.

We don’t have to take his word for it — look at the edits yourself (Gene’s edits are apparentlythe ones coming from 69.255.218.128 – he didn’t set up anaccount, or attempt to create even a cursory history ofcredibility). While Gene starts off small, he very quickly resorts to makingoutrageous claims.

By the end of his experiment, he had made a string of absurd changes, including “In 1984 andagain in 1986, Weingarten competed in the Alaskan Iditarod, eachtime assembling a team of mongrel dogs rescued from local shelters,and one very large house cat. He finished third and sixth,respectively.“.

27 hours later, a Wikipedia defender reverted his vandalism.Seeing even the last edit, it was painfully apparent that it wasvandalism, so they just reverted back prior to that user’s stringof alterations.

Gene ends off his article with the paragraph “All in all,the system worked. I’m impressed, and a little disappointed. Therewas more that I wanted my biography to say.

Gene is hardly the first to perform such an experiment,distorting Wikipedia with outrageous (or widely publicized, as inthe Stephen Colbert episode) changes, then declaring that the”system works”, and that the wisdom of crowds concept has beenproven out.

This has proven nothing of the sort.

In essence it’s a TSA inspector declaring that homeland securityworks because they couldn’t carry a poseidon missleon their shoulders through airport security. Using examples likethis for a sense of security, or accuracy, is grotesquelymisleading.