Daily Archives: August 21st, 2007

The Reason My Professors Told Me NOT To Use Wikipedia

The last time I was taking college courses, I was told by my professors NOT to use Wikipedia as a source for any of my papers. One of the reasons was that Wikipedia entries can be biased toward a certain editors point of view. Well, it seems that they were right:

A program called “Wikiscanner” designed to show the origination of Wikipedia edits is revealing the shocking, hilarious, shady, bizarre and often clearly biased origins of many Wikipedia entries. Some of the edits may be meant as harmless (albeit rude) pranks, but many others are a deliberate effort to misinform the public by rewriting “facts”, or by covering up the truth.

Central Intelligence Agency computers, for example, were found to be the sources of nearly 300 edits to subjects including Iran’s president, the Argentine navy, and China’s nuclear arsenal.

“While I cannot confirm whether any changes were made from CIA computers, the agency always expects its computer systems to be used responsibly,” CIA spokesman George Little said in response to the incidents.

A Vatican computer was used to remove documented evidence linking Ireland’s Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to a decades-old double murder.

Politics are also playing a big part in the “Wiki War”.  Recently, an edit traced back to computers at the US Democratic Party’s Congressional campaign committee changed a description of conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh to replace “comedian” with “bigot” and dubbed his listeners “legally retarded.”

“We don’t condone these sorts of activities and we take every precaution to insure our network is used in a responsible manner,” committee spokesman Doug Thornell responded.

A Republican Party computer was used after the US invasion of Iraq to change “occupying forces” to “liberating forces” in a Baath Party entry. A United Nations computer was identified as the source of an edit that referred to a respected Italian journalist a “promiscuous racist”. Those types of changes may seem small, but when they are specifically calculated to sway public opinion, the issue becomes bigger than the actual edits.

This is a shame. Wikipedia could be a valuable source of information if used right. But of course, human beings looking to get an upper hand over an adversary are willing to do anything they can to poison the well for others. And I’m sure Wikipedia has influenced public opinion in positive, and negative ways the past seven years.

I suppose if it wasn’t Wikipedia it would’ve been something else. Just wait until the Internet is run by intelligent software. Maybe it’ll be smart enough to filter out manipulation of any kind.

Or maybe it’ll do a little manipulation of it’s own.

Article from The Daily Galaxy