Wikipedia would prefer the lie, apparently

Were you aware of this Wikipedia rule?

Misuse of primary sources

Exercise caution in using primary sources. Do not use trial transcripts and other court records, or other public documents, to support assertions about a living person. Do not use public records that include personal details, such as date of birth, home value, traffic citations, vehicle registrations, and home or business addresses.

Where primary-source material has been discussed by a reliable secondary source, it may be acceptable to rely on it to augment the secondary source, subject to the restrictions of this policy, no original research, and the other sourcing policies.

What this means, in practice, apparently, is that say there was a false birthdate on an article about a living person, and you knew it was false because you had, say, a bankruptcy record for that person with the correct date. Guess what? It cannot be corrected, because that document cannot be uploaded or relied on in any way. Whereas if it were claimed on some anonymous webpage that the false date was correct, that would be acceptable as a source.

Now, of course Wikipedia should not publish a living person’s address, or the other material listed at the end of the first paragraph. And if the subject has an issue with his or her full date of birth being used, then clearly the year – but the CORRECT year – would be appropriate. But refusing to accept primary evidence when there’s a dispute about what that correct year is? That’s just crazy.

Oh, and also, if you know enough about the subject to know that the birthdate is wrong? You’re conflicted and shouldn’t correct it, anyway.

Keep that in mind any time you’re about to rely on some data in Wikipedia because you assume that if it was an outright lie somebody would’ve corrected it by now. Maybe they’ve tried.

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38 responses to “Wikipedia would prefer the lie, apparently

  1. narcoticmusing

    This reminds me of the awesome experiement Stephen Colbert ran where he got all his fans to support a change to the wiki page on elephants, saying they were overpopulated and that the African governments were meeting to discuss kullings… he had them use his website, which disclaimed that it was totally bogus, as the source.

  2. How is an independent Wikipedia author to know the bankruptcy record is correct either? If someone supplies an incorrect date by accident, e.g. US-style MM/DD/YY instead of Australian-style DD/MM/YY, it isn’t the end of the world as far as the bankruptcy proceedings are concerned. But relying upon that value for other purposes may cause issues.

    Similarly with court transcripts – unless the case is explicitly related to the date of birth, a scribbled date on a traffic violation shouldn’t be held up as authoritative without some further corroboration. Hence the need for secondary sources.

    It gets even trickier with claims of fact. A primary source, Frank, might claim “I am the greatest ping-pong player”, but Wikipedia should probably err towards a secondary source, the Ping Pong Almanac or whatever, to report “While Frank personally claimed to be the greatest ping-pong player, that title can only be sustained if one were to limit the set of players to those in Birdsville during the 1960’s”.

  3. Splatterbottom

    It seems the point is that Wikipedia is not a place to publish original research:

    “If you discover something new, Wikipedia is not the place to premiere such a discovery.”

    As to secondary sources Wikipedia requires that those sources be “reliable”. Clearly an anonymous blog or Colbert’s page would not fall into that category.

    Nevertheless Wikipedia should be approached with caution, particularly in highly politicised areas. For example fanatical alarmist William Connolley corrupted Wikipedia’s coverage of global warming until he had his administrator privileges removed for evident bias.

  4. narcoticmusing

    Unique – the policy exerpt wouldn’t accept a court transcript, or say, Hansard for example. But it’d be fine with someone just saying ‘oh, I heard my aunt tell my couisns dog that the PM said…’ – just don’t dare look it up in Hansard, a primary source.

    Is this a case of a different definition of primary and secondary sources? In law, primary sources have a well defind meaning.

  5. narcoticmusing

    Colbert’s page

    [gasp!] are you suggesting he isn’t credible? ;)

  6. Looking at the Wikipedia page Jeremy linked to, and the links to Wikipedia’s meaning of “primary source”, they are using it in the sense of historians not lawyers. I’m not qualified to judge whether that makes a material difference (I’m neither a lawyer nor a historian), but they are quite clear as to what definition they are using. If they are not applying their own definition correctly, then that would be something to complain about.

  7. “Nevertheless Wikipedia should be approached with caution, particularly in highly politicised areas. For example fanatical alarmist William Connolley corrupted Wikipedia’s coverage of global warming until he had his administrator privileges removed for evident bias.”

    Dear oh dreary dear SB strikes again! How does that song go “Spinning Wheel” You really can’t make this stuff up. SB jumps right in to try and prove a point, with a load of schlock.

    Of course the man SB refers to is more than able to have yes, unbelievable as that may seem, yes! An opinion. And being a Green and an expert on the said subject just may make him a tad biased. Never, tell me it aint so.

    Bwaaaaaaha. So next time a judge sends some schmuck down for a crime he can say, But wait your honour you’re biased Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

  8. Splatterbottom

    Narcotic: “are you suggesting he isn’t credible”

    “Reliable” is what Wikipedia is looking for in its sources.

    Connolley had his wings clipped, not because he had an opinion, but because he is an intellectual thug – he didn’t want anyone else to express an opinion. Typical of his kind really.

  9. How is an independent Wikipedia author to know the bankruptcy record is correct either?

    Sure, there is the possibility that it is wrong as well, but it’s a hell of a lot more likely to be right than some random website.

  10. “Connolley had his wings clipped, not because he had an opinion, but because he is an intellectual thug – he didn’t want anyone else to express an opinion. Typical of his kind really.”

    SB the only thing right, pardon the pun, in that paragraph is ” intellectual”

  11. narcoticmusing

    Narcotic: “are you suggesting he isn’t credible”
    SB – “Reliable” is what Wikipedia is looking for in its sources

    I was trying to be funny.

    I’ll stop now.

    <———–funnies fail.
    :(

  12. Splatterbottom

    Sorry Narcotic. Subtle humour doesn’t stand much of a chance in blog comments.

    Maybe that is what Lynot is trying for!.

  13. “Maybe that is what Lynot is trying for!.”

    Au contraire SB I bow to the master. You don’t live in Mt Mee Qld perchance do you?

  14. Just understand, lynot, that there is no thread at this openly left-wing blog that should not or will not be co-opted to SB’s relentless, obsessive left-bashing. We must all accommodate the fact that he can’t control himself and is too lazy to start his own blog.

  15. Splatterbottom

    Buns: “Just understand, lynot, that there is no thread at this openly left-wing blog that should not or will not be co-opted to SB’s relentless, obsessive left-bashing.”

    My approach is to think critically about each issue and reach a view independent of any ideology. Ideology corrupts logic. This blog tolerates differences of opinion and that makes for a healthy and interesting discussion. Someone of your sensibilities might be better off at an ‘amen corner’ blog that banishes those who don’t toe the party line.

    The last three threads I have commented on are:

    (i) Nuclear proliferation – where I agreed that it is a bad thing (and linked to a n interesting point about why the world uses uranium today)

    (II) The piracy thread where I agreed that the issue isn’t piracy per se but rather the failure of copyright owners to provide a decent service to their customers.

    (iii) This thread where, in passing, I gave an example of intellectual thuggery. I didn’t mention “the left”. I don’t even know if Connolley is a leftist, but his is the most egregious case of subverting Wikipedia that I know of so I used it as an example.

    As you can see, I call it as I see it. It seems that your problem is that you get upset when someone points out something that a leftist has done wrong. Don’t be such a cry-baby.

  16. narcoticmusing

    Just remember Buns, the world is a better place with debate and critical discussion. I don’t always agree with SB and don’t have to. Nevertheless, I appreciate his willingness to contribute to what can be a hostile environment.

  17. You’re the one crying as I see it, SB. Clearly, I wasn’t talking to you, but addressing lynot. Why does it matter to you what I think or say about you?

    My approach is to think critically about each issue and reach a view independent of any ideology.

    You have an anti-left obsession and 90+% of your comments here reflect this. Your opinion of yourself isn’t reflected by reality, as demonstrated by your commentary here.

  18. jordanrastrick

    SB is sometimes amusing when he trolls, and is usually intelligent and occasionally very interesting when he actually engages seriously with an issue. That’s more than can be said for a lot of his most frequent opponents around here.

  19. “Just understand, lynot, that there is no thread at this openly left-wing blog that should not or will not be co-opted to SB’s relentless, obsessive left-bashing. We must all accommodate the fact that he can’t control himself and is too lazy to start his own blog ”

    Indeed. His thought patterns reflected in his comments fit the wingnut stereo type to a tee. Long on flowery rhetoric, revisionist history, and a good dose of incredulous bollocks. However, I don’t take him too serious, His example of the Wikepedia topic reflects his obsession with left wingers like other extreme wingnuts in the blogosphere they’re good sport. He is only too aware that throwing up commentry that is a total anathma to a lefty, is like throwing a starving dog a bone.

    who have the temerity of being intelligent.

  20. jordanrastrick

    Lynot,

    “Obsession with left wingers”

    This is a bit rich, even though he obviously spends way too much time thinking about certain left wing people and groups he despises.

    If we want to talk about obsession, though, lets consider, for one, instance Buns. I went back and tallied up (heaven help me) the comments made by Buns in the most recent topic threads, until I got to a total of 15.

    Of those 15 comments:

    * 12 were straight rejoinders to something SB wrote that added nothing to the conversation
    *2 were indirect rejoinders to SB, in response to someone else replying to him, that added nothing to the conversation
    *1 was a rejoiner to Truefamiilies. This one did have the saving grace of employing a mildly witty turn of phrase, “straw football team”.

    So literally all of Buns’ recent comments are troll food, according his own standards of what constitutes trolling. SB is partially obsessed with an assortment of the world’s left wingers; while buns is, apparently, entirely obsessed with SB and SB alone.

    I imagine looking back further would reveal only a vanishingly small percentage of comments that weren’t direct, and generally dull and repetitve, responses of this kind (I think I remember a single interesting thing he started to say once, about Pauline corruption of Christianity, but I don’t think that line of conversation went anywhere). So he contributes absolutely nothing to the conversation at this blog except encouraging SB’s (and if we prove unlucky, Truefamliles’) trolling side, which actually of course detracts from the quality of the comments.

    We really, really need a karma system here if threads are going to be worth reading on an ongoing basis….

  21. “We really, really need a karma system here if threads are going to be worth reading on an ongoing basis….”

    Are you serious? This is I presume a is left of centre blog hence I would have thought, comments construed as utter B.S. or just trolling were fair game for ridicule. You do not need a PhD in English nuance to see when it is clear, that the true intent of a comment is being veiled in a load of irrelevant twaddle.

    If SB had said the right to edit Wikipedia was withdrawn because it was factually incorrect that would have been fine. But he went on to accuse the said author of being 1. Alarmist 2. A green. 3. To expect that of his type. All irrelevant to the topic.

    If one goes back over SB’s past comments he has inferred I and other lefties who have commented here, to be a Stalinist, Maoist, or any ist or ism you can mention from the homicidal maniacs from the mists of time. If that is not as Buns said, an anti left obsession I don’t know what is.

  22. narcoticmusing

    really need a karma system here

    I take it my humour fail doesn’t qualify. I will have to come up with some better jokes. Ok, ok.

    Three reporters are on the top of a building. The first reporter goes,
    “I bet I can jump off this building and just bounce off the ground back up.”

    The second reporter looks at him wryly and nods, “I’ll take that bet.” The third reporter remains silent.

    So, off he goes – the first reporter jumps off and as he predicted, he bounds back up. “Wow!” shouts the second reporter. “Double or nothing!” The first reporter nods and jumps. Again he bounds back up. “That’s incredible, I’m going to try.” the second reporter says and he jumps.

    Splat.

    At this point the third reporter looks at the first and shakes his head and says “that’s a cruel trick to do to someone Superman.”

  23. ” I take it my humour fail doesn’t qualify. I will have to come up with some better jokes. Ok, ok. ”

    That’s a paper joke, terrible. Or a fortnight joke, too week.

  24. jordanrastrick

    Are you serious? This is I presume a is left of centre blog hence I would have thought, comments construed as utter B.S. or just trolling were fair game for ridicule

    Of course its a left of centre blog, and has a broadly left of centre audience and comments.

    Ridiculing bullshit might be worthwhile if it were done in an amusing way. But half the comments these days are:

    * SB says a couple of things including one clearly idiotic over the top provocative statement
    * “OMG SB you’re such a stupid right wing troll”
    * “You’re such a mind dead left wing sheep”

    Without any especially funny lines and certainly without any genuinely insightful commentary into the actual original topic being “debated.” Its really fucking boring.

  25. “Ridiculing bullshit might be worthwhile if it were done in an amusing way. But half the comments these days are:”

    Um interesting. So now we have to be funny and amusing to call B.S….BS.

    Just for the record it’s not really the B.S. that worries me. However if one wants to make the debate personal, a bit of snark is par for the course on most blogs. Besides it sticks out like the proverbial dogs nurries that some who comment here think they are the font of all knowledge. So if bringing a little irreverence, pathos, or just a little bit of taking the p!ss is required to bring out the true character of your opponent, what’s the problem?

    Finally humour like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As for this particular topic being boring, Jeremy covered it quite succinctly, he has made a comment that really leaves no room for debate. He is right, And!!!

  26. narcoticmusing

    I’m just suprised no one mentioned how the media inquiry might impact my (possibly very poor) joke.

  27. Splatterbottom

    Back to the main topic. My point is that Wikipedia has greater problems than the ‘no primary sources rule’. That rule is designed to reinforce Wikipedia’s policy that it is not a site for the publication of original research, and to that extent it makes sense.

    The greater problem is that Wikipedia can be, and in fact has been at times, hijacked by fanatics pushing their biased barrows. In order to make that point I referred to the most egregious case of this behaviour that I am aware of. This should be relatively uncontentious. The good thing about that case was that Wikipedia took steps to remedy the situation. Surely everyone would agree that this is appropriate and will only improve Wikipedia.

    I am constantly surprised that Wikipedia is as good as it is. It is not perfect and it is not the last word when it is necessary to nail down a particular point. It is, however, an amazing resource.

  28. narcoticmusing

    I am constantly surprised that Wikipedia is as good as it is

    Indeed, but problems arise when people rely on, what is basically, a bunch of other people’s perspective on the event, rather than primary sources. For example, the amount of students that cite Wikipedia as a reference is staggering. A friend of mine did this in a thesis – not to point out, say, the popular view of something, but treated Wikipedia as if it were gospel. While it can be an incredible resource it also breeds laziness and lack of rigour.

  29. Splatterbottom

    Narcotic the thesis use of Wikipedia seems odd. I use it casually, mainly for ancient history in conjunction with books I am reading at the same time. It really helps in getting an overview and putting things in perspective. The main thing is to be aware of its limitations. With ancient history a lot of the views seem to start with out of copyright texts which are not always updated to take account of more recent research.

  30. narcoticmusing

    Agreed SB. I use is similarly.

  31. Its really fucking boring.

    So sorry to bore you. Just skip over those comments. It’s the (as you described it) “clearly idiotic over the top provocative statement” that’s the obvious problem. They call it “trolling”, I believe. People should be free to call out trolling, whether or not they’re being funny in the process. If it wasn’t for the troll, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  32. “The greater problem is that Wikipedia can be, and in fact has been at times, hijacked by fanatics pushing their biased barrows.”

    Ahhhh the whole crux of the matter.

    I have entered SB’s comments in my enigma code breaker, and this is what he really meant to say.

    Wikipedia is a nest of communist sympathisers, and all facts and opinions found there should be ignored, if they have been entered by 1. Any qualified academic with any left wing ideology. 2. Any member of the Greens party. 3. Or people I don’t generally agree with.

    All references entered by right wing loons, should be taken as the gospel truth especially members of the fundamentalist Christian church who speak in tongues.

    There aint the truth so refreshing?

  33. narcoticmusing

    There are plenty of examples of fanatics hijacking wikipedia for their own ends on both sides (and other miscellaneous sides) of politics. To translate to assist with some who seem obsessed with referring to winguttery of either persuasion: The left aren’t justified in doing it because the person has a degree any more than the right are justified if some imaginary person told them so. The point is, if you have a primary source document, such as a transcript from Hansard, surely that should have merit over what, say, an agenda driven news print says about it who simply calls their source Mr Anonymous.

  34. “There are plenty of examples of fanatics hijacking wikipedia for their own ends on both sides (and other miscellaneous sides) of politics. To translate to assist with some who seem obsessed with referring to winguttery of either persuasion”

    Very good, now tell me something I don’t know.

    The topic I believe, was not about political point scoring.

  35. But obviously the dastardly and omnipotent Left has hijacked wikipedia. How else to rationalise the existence of conservapedia?

  36. “But obviously the dastardly and omnipotent Left has hijacked wikipedia. How else to rationalise the existence of conservapedia? ”

    Ah I see I’m not the only one with a B.S. scanner.

  37. I think someone should have a look at the highly POV edits being made by users BrandonFarris and Caterann.

  38. Pingback: Wanted: a hell of a lot of neutral Wikipedia editors | An Onymous Lefty

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