Truths, half-truths and Wikipedia

Journalists play with loose facts


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?


Other stories you might like

  • Tesla driver charged with vehicular manslaughter after deadly Autopilot crash

    Prosecution seems to be first of its kind in America

    A Tesla driver has seemingly become the first person in the US to be charged with vehicular manslaughter for a deadly crash in which the vehicle's Autopilot mode was engaged.

    According to the cops, the driver exited a highway in his Tesla Model S, ran a red light, and smashed into a Honda Civic at an intersection in Gardena, Los Angeles County, in late 2019. A man and woman in the second car were killed. The Tesla driver and a passenger survived and were taken to hospital.

    Prosecutors in California charged Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, in October last year though details of the case are only just emerging, according to AP on Tuesday. Riad, a limousine service driver, is facing two counts of vehicular manslaughter, and is free on bail after pleading not guilty.

    Continue reading
  • AMD returns to smartphone graphics with new Samsung chip for your pocket computer

    We're back in black

    AMD's GPU technology is returning to mobile handsets with Samsung's Exynos 2200 system-on-chip, which was announced on Tuesday.

    The Exynos 2200 processor, fabricated using a 4nm process, has Armv9 CPU cores and the oddly named Xclipse GPU, which is an adaptation of AMD's RDNA 2 mainstream GPU architecture.

    AMD was in the handheld GPU market until 2009, when it sold the Imageon GPU and handheld business for $65m to Qualcomm, which turned the tech into the Adreno GPU for its Snapdragon family. AMD's Imageon processors were used in devices from Motorola, Panasonic, Palm and others making Windows Mobile handsets.

    Continue reading
  • Big shock: Guy who fled political violence and became rich in tech now struggles to care about political violence

    'I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy,' billionaire VC admits

    Billionaire tech investor and ex-Facebook senior executive Chamath Palihapitiya was publicly blasted after he said nobody really cares about the reported human rights abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China.

    The blunt comments were made during the latest episode of All-In, a podcast in which Palihapitiya chats to investors and entrepreneurs Jason Calacanis, David Sacks, and David Friedberg about technology.

    The group were debating the Biden administration’s response to what's said to be China's crackdown of Uyghur Muslims when Palihapitiya interrupted and said: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, okay? ... I’m telling you a very hard ugly truth, okay? Of all the things that I care about … yes, it is below my line.”

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022