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The Joys of Wikipedia (Part II, I believe)
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Alex Paquin
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 4:57 am    Post subject: The Joys of Wikipedia (Part II, I believe) Reply with quote

There's nothing I like better than talk about Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, which is in my view the Internet's quintessential noble failure. The concept is interesting but fatally doomed because a handful of malicious people is enough to destroy the works of well-intentioned thousands of writers, so in the end it's not really reliable as an encyclopedia and not at all trustworthy on any controversial subject (read: Middle East, George W. Bush, etc.). In the end, it's good only for entertainment purposes, or for relatively minor trivia like lists of Star Trek episodes, but an academic resource it is not, and should not be. (See, for instance, this excellent New Yorker article for some of the reasons: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060731fa_fact )

And I'm pretty sure someone could write a doctoral thesis on the epistemology of Wikipedia, but that's another story. But today I have discovered that Wikipedia also has a Simple English version
, but I am wondering for whom it is intended. Non-English speakers are likely to read Wikipedia in their native language (if it's available), and because the Simple English version only has 13,000 articles (as opposed to 1,5 million for the ordinary English version, 500,000 for the German version, 400,000 in French, about 250,000 in Dutch, 200,000 in Swedish and even 55,000 in Danish) chances are that if you can't read a version in your language (because there isn't any) it won't be in the Simple English version either. I can understand it's a work in perpetual development, but I'm also wondering how a bunch of untrained people (as opposed to educational specialists, who also have to make arbitrary decisions but at least can point to earlier instances) can determine what constitutes "simple language". Someone might also make the case it is what George Orwell used to warn against. As a learning tool and as a means to an end, fine, but not an end in and of itself.

Besides, I get the impression that all nuances are getting lost in the process. Just as you can't be as specific in a 300-word review as in an 800-word review, you can't deal with ambiguities on a restrained vocabulary. Consider this entry: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada

At least it's better written than the city of Montreal's version of its website for people with learning disabilities, which not only made the writing simple (and simplistic), but also decided to make it fonaytickal. A sample: http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/accessimple/alt/planet.shtm

It's in French, so here is what the first paragraph says in English (it's about the Planetarium): "How the Planetarium visit takes place: You will be seated in a room. You will be watching images on the ceiling of the room. The show will talk about stars and planets. There are many shows during the year."

Now here is the way the site spells it in French:

Quote:
Koman se pas la vizit o Planétarium
Vou z’alé êtr asi dan z’une sal .
Vou z’alé regardé dê z’imaj sur le plafon de la sal .
Le spêktakl va parlé dê z’étoual é dê planêt .
Il i a pluzier spêktakl duran l’ané .


How it's actually written in French:
Quote:
Comment se passe la visite au Planétarium
Vous allez être assis dans une salle.
Vous allez regarder des images sur le plafond de la salle.
Le spectacle va parler des étoiles et des planètes.
Il y a plusieurs spectacles durant l'année.


It used to create a minor scandal when it was unveiled, but the worst part of it is that it was probably created by learning professionals.

Any thoughts?
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laura
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As for Wiki's integrity...

Wiki has its flaws, but at the same time, it's a great starting point for research -- find information in a simplified, organized way and then test it against other more reliable sources.

Saying that, I pretty much have studied for every history course exam with Wiki as I don't really ever attend class and I've done well on all those exams (I did have text to work with too, but I basically substituted lecture with Wiki and it seemed to work out just fine).
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David Cornelius
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All I know is, the elephant population has tripled in the past six months.
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laura
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Haha
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UDM
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wikipedia is great as far as it goes, but it's absurdly unbalanced in a way that reflects the trash-culture obsessions of the people who contribute to it. So you have incredibly long and detailed entries for obscure pro wrestlers, while Nobel Prize winners have two-line entries. Then there are the occasional, shall we say, glitches, like when we all learned a while back that Pope Benedict XVI got his current job by blowing the other cardinals. But I guess that's part of the fun.


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Ben
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

HBS used to have a wikipedia entry (I have no idea who created it) but it was deleted for "no assertion of notability"
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TheAngryJew
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Someone once tried to add me to Wikipedia. It didn't take.
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laura
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 1:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That was me who tried to add you! Remember? I did a whole bio and everything.

Wikibastards.
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Alex Paquin
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 3:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like the general idea of Wikipedia when dealing with a few matters for which discussion ought to be democratized (like discussing politics or talking about film, as long as it's done in all civility), but honestly would you take medical advice from, of all places, Wikipedia, especially when renowned places like the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health have websites just around the corner (and which, in all likelihood, were raided by Wikipedians for material in the first place)?

The greatest absurdity used on Wikipedia, however, is what is commonly referred to as NPOV -- Neutral Point of View. Anyone, especially partisan people, can invoke it as an excuse to delete anything they don't like in any entry, as though facts (like, say, a list of past controversies involving a politician) were not different from interpretation, and that just mentioning them (if it's done disproportionately, yes, perhaps) were a breach of NPOV.

But a more recent beef, to me, is the "Citation needed" bracket, which is used for anything, provable or not. I was looking at the entry for Richard Fleischer, and behold how the following sentence (don't know who wrote it) was greeted:

Quote:
He died in his sleep at age 89, after having been in failing health for the better part of a year. Coincidentally, it was the same age at which his father had died.[citation needed]


Okay, at least someone knows the difference between "ironically" and "coincidentally", but if you want a friggin' citation, why don't you go to his Internet Movie Database profile, which is listed at the bottom of the page, and look up his father's entry? It turns out it's accurate.

There are two particularly vocal critics of Wikipedia. The first is Andrew Orlowski, who writes for the British tech website The Register (sample column), and the second is a site called Wikitruth, which despite being too juvenile a time or two, manages to expose all the double standards, power trips (especially founder Jimmy Wales') and the like going on at Wikipedia. Good reading, if you're into that sort of thing.


As for the deleted Hollywood Bitchslap entry on Wikipedia, I remember reading it when it was up a few months ago. It was something like 4 lines long, and mostly dealt with the Nick Swardson controversy. But then, if we're wondering who the fuck is Nick Swardson, shouldn't the the corollary be, what the fuck is Hollywood Bitchslap? Cool
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David Cornelius
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 1:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wikipedia is fun for one reason: reading the discussions. The Wiki folk get way too worked up over the littlest things, and it's hilarious. And then they delete us because we're "nobodies." Ha!

Also: I am, for some reason, a source on Wikipedia. Somebody read an off-the-cuff remark I made in a review of High School Musical for DVD Talk, took it as gospel truth, and now the HSM page on Wikipedia links to me. I can't trust any website that would trust me.
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Alex Paquin
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2007 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

David Cornelius wrote:
I can't trust any website that would trust me.


And I can't trust people who paraphrase Groucho Marx either. Cool
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 08, 2007 5:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As for Wikipedia, there is also one baffling rule that says "No Original Research", and it can lead to such stupid discussions about what is original research and what is not. Of course the purpose of the thing is to act as a first-level bulwark against libellous statements, but I have seen cases where "original research" was extended to any matter which had not been published (which, in the case of Wikipedia, means "not available on the Internet").

I remember a case of someone who went through court records, official papers and the like, to write a profile of a politician, only to be chided for including "original research" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Raymond_Samuels ). Here is how one Wikipedian put it:

Quote:
Although court records exist in the public domain, they are not widely available unless specific requests are made. The case numbers you've cited may be accurate (and I have no reason to disbelieve you), but I'm not certain these are appropriate sources if they have not been reported elsewhere.


In other words, if it can't easily be proved by people with the attention span of a cat, that's not worthy of being included on Wikipedia. The fact that the person who added the information about the court cases was one of the parties involved in them is ethically problematic, but a court ruling is a court ruling, and it's worthy of mention.

Not that the ban on original research has prevented Wikipedia from being sued. The problem is with libel law that anyone reprinting a libellous statement as is (without asking for a rebuttal by the person concerned or something of that sort), even if it's originally from a renowned publication, could be sued. That's why some prominent people known to be particularly litigious have been blazing legal guns at Wikipedia, even though everything in their profile could be corroborated (and, in all likelihood, proved) by other sources. And of course there was the John Seigenthaler affair, about whom one poster wrote that he lived in Russia for 12 years and killed both Kennedys, all of which was fiction and, according to the perpetrator, was written as a "joke". Seigenthaler didn't sue, but made his case public and in doing so did more than anyone else to raise questions about Wikipedia's reliability.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And still on the subject of Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contradiction

And there, perched on top of the page, the inevitable warning label:
Quote:
This article appears to contradict itself.


Boy, do I love irony. (And I will leave aside the entire matter that claiming someone/something is contradicting him/her/itself is a highly subjective judgement to begin with, and one that is often abused -- see "men, straw".)

And you, dear Bitchslap forum readers, did you encounter something on Wikipedia that made you want to pull your hair out?
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 11:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A few discrepancies I noticed over at Wikipedia:

-The actress Amy Adams is listed as being born in 1975, while the IMDb has 1974.
-Although Agatha Christie was born in 1890 (a few sources say 1891), a page dedicated to the TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot includes information on how "Agatha Christie's: "Poirot" has moved from being just a television series. Several DVDs have been released including 'Death on the Nile', 'After the Funeral' and 'Taken at the Flood'. A magazine series has also been released in America, Australia and Great Britain with 33 DVDs expected to be released with the magazines. Starting with 'Death on the Nile' and ending on 'The Adventures of Johnnie Waverly' the magazines provide an insight into the case, the world of the thirties and a brief chronological look at Agatha Christie's life starting from her 1895 birth until her death."
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 12:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And yet more Wikipedia stuff in the news: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070307.wwiki0307/BNStory/Technology/home

Quote:
Following revelations that a high-ranking member of Wikipedia's bureaucracy used his cloak of anonymity to lie about being a professor of religion, the free Internet encyclopedia plans to ask contributors who claim such credentials to identify themselves.


Quixotic, all this. The problem is, when you start asking some Wikipedians to identify themselves, where do you draw the line between those who can remain anonymous and those who can't? If a Wikipedian says on his personal page that he graduated from college, is it worth pestering him to scan his diploma and send it to Wikipedia's board of oversight (and who would that be anyway)?

Sure, if you're pretending to be a Nobel Prize winner that's a hell of a difference, and if you're bragging about it, yes, you should be asked to back it up, because when you make such claims you can't invoke the right to privacy to hide your identity. But most of the stuff written about complex fields on Wikipedia asks for little more than college-level education to understand (and write), and besides, it doesn't take a PhD in political science to name the PM of New Zealand. And a friend of mine, who is only now attending university, has been reading philosophy for years and could rival with any of those MA holders in the field, but if you asked him to produce any piece of paper before he could write anything on Nietzsche (his favourite, I think), well, he couldn't.

More importantly, I am not sure what is the genuine motive behind the announcement. Sounds to me like they want to avoid another Seigenthaler, but it might be worse than that -- they could use this to placate the neutral-point-of-view standard-bearers. Take two of the most credentialed constitutional jurists, but one who is a stickler for original intent and the other in favour of a liberal interpretation of the law, and you'll never find common ground between them -- they'll bring forth their own set of legal precedents to back up their own view, and both would make sense, but lock them up in a room until they have produced an article together and you have a recipe for trouble.

But who is looking bad amidst all this, apart from Wikipedia (for which I have expectations so low that I can't be disappointed)? The New Yorker and its renowned fact-checking department, who failed to expose the guy. In fact, it took Daniel Brandt, who researched "Essjay" probably out of his distrust for Wikipedia, but who hit bull's eye in this case.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anyone seen the Conservapedia?

It's hilarious. Here's the listing for 'kangaroo':

Quote:
According to the origins model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos, like all modern animals, originated in the Middle East[1] and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood. It has not yet been determined by baraminologists whether kangaroos form a holobaramin with the wallaby, tree-kangaroo, wallaroo, pademelon and quokka, or if all these species are in fact apobaraminic or polybaraminic.

Also according to creation science, after the Flood, kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[2] -- as Australia was still for a time connected to the Middle East before the supercontinent of Pangea broke apart[3] -- or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters.[2]


Funniest site I've seen in months, and none of it is intentional.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oz wrote:
Funniest site I've seen in months, and none of it is intentional.


C'mon, you have to be pulling my leg... That has to be parody along the lines of the Landover Baptist Church.

Besides, if you look at the entry for Canada...

Quote:
Canada is a large country in North America, just north of the United States. It has the second largest landmass of any country, behind Russia. It was named Canada because when an explorer came to a Canadian Indian village he asked what this place was called, and they told him "Kanada", which meant "village" in their language. It borders the United States, and most of its population is in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

The capital city of Canada is Ottawa, Ontario.

Canada was founded in 1867 and its first Prime Minister was Sir John A. Macdonald.


That's quite accurate, though the etymology of "Canada" is not that firmly determined.

And on top of that, it manages to condense the entire history of France into a single concise paragraph:

Quote:
A country in Europe. Thrived during the middle ages. The capitol is Paris, France, which was founded in the Middle Ages.


Yeah, I didn't know the French capital was located in France... Rolling Eyes
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It ain't no hoax. It's just funny like one is all.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the subject of Conservapedia, allow me to pimp myself: "Something Wiki This Way Comes"

Trust me, you'll want to see the picture in that column.
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Oz
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Death-dealing Dinosaur Jesus AND a first rate destruction job on the Conservo-pee-dia.

I bow.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 6:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MrTinkles wrote:
On the subject of Conservapedia, allow me to pimp myself: "Something Wiki This Way Comes"

Trust me, you'll want to see the picture in that column.


Very good article -- that picture is so revealing of Conservapedia as a whole.

You know what bothers me above all about Conservapedia? Its name. Of course it's made clear on the front page that it's a conservative "encyclopedia", but then there are many facets of conservatism, and what seems to prevail here is religious (most specifically, Christian) conservatism -- if you're a fiscal conservative you have very little to do with this stuff.

Even old-fashioned Catholicism is apparently frowned upon, by looking at the discussion on that "dinosaur" page:

Quote:
"Very odd, I'd put in some relatively straightforward links to some Catholic views, and it seems to have been deleted by somebody named "Aschlafly" who deleted them with the comment "deleted incorrect Catholic doctrine about evolution" and then added a bunch of stuff from what looks like Southern Baptist websites. I don't know who this guy Aschlafly is, but I do not accept him as an authority on Catholicism. Is this conservapedia actually a "Southernbaptistapedia"? I would like to point out that not all conservatives are southern Baptists."


There are many things I don't like about the Catholic Church -- its position on gay marriage and reproductive technologies come to mind -- but if you're to ignore the position of the oldest Christian religion (I'm not getting into the Judaism debate here, which preceded it but remained clear of the whole "Christ, son of God" thing) -- which reminds me of the discrimination American Catholics faced as recently as the JFK presidency -- that sounds too much like old religious bigotry to me.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2007 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmmm.... More examples from Conservapedia:
http://jonswift.blogspot.com/2007/02/conservapedia.html

I'm still concerned over its limitations, though.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2007 4:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Love that Conservapedia:

Front Page: "1981 - Ketchup is made a vegetable, so public schools can include it in a balanced meal." Hmmm, nice, so ketchup is no longer a condiment but itself a vegetable, despite its main ingredient being the tomato, which is a fruit? But wait, fruits are so Wikipedia.

And from the Conservapedia's entry for "ketchup" (none for "tomato", by the way): "In 1981 the USDA passed a controversial law redefining the requirements for school lunches. The law did not mention "ketchup" specifically and contrary to popular impressions did not allow schools to serve lunches with no vegetables by substituting ketchup. [1] Nevertheless, the issue became politicized with many falsely claiming that President Reagan had defined ketchup to be a vegetable. Negative publicity was successful in getting the law reversed soon after. [2]"
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2007 1:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't get it. Okay, Conservapedia is unintentionally funny, but is it worth all the media attention it is currently receiving?

Consider: http://www.thestar.com/sciencetech/article/190501
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 7:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another reason why Wikipedia is full of it: just found this. It's sad as it is, but I can't stop giggling over the repetition of my name in a dopey attempt to look like legitimate research.
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