Thursday, August 16, 2007

You can't trust anyone these days

Of course, there are people and institutions that you could never trust - politicians, for instance, or journalists or the United Nations or the memoirs of anyone important. But we all assume that we can trust encyclopaedias and dictionaries. What would happen if we couldn't? The earth will fall off its axis.

This trust has been, by and large, extended to Wikipaedia, even though it is considerably less trustworthy even than the Britannica. Anyone can post and anyone can edit or counter-edit. In fact, anyone does.

On the whole Wikipaedia is a useful tool and a good deal of it is reasonably accurate. But large amounts of salt are required and when it comes to anything even remotely controversial, it is wise to double check and triple check.

A number of rather entertaining stories have been developing in connection with Wikipaedia and the various organizations that have had a hand in editing entries.

Charles Johnson on Little Green Footballs has been having a wonderful time writing about them all. The point is that people do not seem to realize that if they use computers at their workplace, even if they do so anonymously or from their own address, such as Hotmail, their IP number can be traced, not to their desks necessarily but to their organizations. Even a complete non-techie such as the author of this posting can understand that. What is the matter with all these people?

So, we have an example of someone from the New York Times editing the entry on Condoleezza Rice to add the odd deeply unpleasant and insulting word. Moving on from there we have our own BBC whose employees have been putting their own inimitable touches on various entries.

This story, needless to say, has been covered extensively by Biased BBC, an excellent blog that allows me to know everything about that noxious organization without owning a TV set or, consequently, a licence. (Heh! It's not my money that pays for those bozos.)

It is worth reading the entry and following the links. And don't forget to go through the comments. There are some fascinating ones, especially from the usual mob of Beeboids, as they are known on that blog.

This is a wonderful example from an employee of that august institution:
Oh dear. Well the George W bush incident isn't very clever. Perhaps it was a work experience kid with access to a computer? Perhaps a dramatic example someone was making of the problems of Wikpedia? And perhaps someone was being an idiot.But otherwise a quick glance shows most of these edits are pretty much for the greater good and in the spirit of Wikipedia. I know Nick who posts here contributes.And of course it's not just the BBC who's been at it...
A work experience kid? Sheesh. Why not the plumber who came to mend the kitchen sink?

There are also several fairly good-humoured comments by Nick Reynolds of the BBC, who has apparently spent a great deal of time editing Wikipaedia entries, making them more accurate, objectively rather than subjectively speaking, to use the marxist terminology every Beeb employee should be familiar with.

His opinion is that this is a brave new world in which everybody can be Winston Smith. He can edit, I can re-edit, he can re-re-edit and so on.

Not to be outdone the BBC has produced its own shock horror disclosure, noted by Biased BBC that Wikipaedia shows evidence of CIA editing. No mention of the BBC's own efforts in that direction but one or two other interesting examples.

Meanwhile Little Green Footballs has written up another story about somebody using a UN account to edit the entry on Orianna Fallaci by inserting the words "racist whore". Wonderful what our money is being spent on.

I am certainly looking forward to more revelations of Winston Smith or his various alter egos tampering with that highly regarded institution, Wikipaedia.


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