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How a Raccoon Became an Aardvark (newyorker.com)
192 points by jrochkind1 on May 20, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments



The article claims this is an example of a falsehood starting on Wikipedia, percolating to external sources, then perpetuating on Wikipedia because it's in those external sources. That's interesting.

But what's more interesting is that this may be an entirely different case: a falsehood starts on Wikipedia, percolates to external sources, and then becomes true because it is pervasive. Then it remains on Wikipedia because it is true. And that's only possible because informal names can be adopted, and hey, that thing does look like an aardvark. Nick names are sticky like that.

Of course, I don't know if this is the case. But I don't think this article acknowledges it as a possibility - and nor do I know enough about the informal names of this kind of raccoon.


Actually, the final paragraph of the article directly addresses this point:

"Taxonomically speaking, this is unfortunate. The coati has no more relation to an aardvark than to any other vertebrate, so the name is misleading. But language, unlike taxonomy, is particularly susceptible to Wikiality. The nickname began because Breves wanted to retroactively prove that he had seen some kind of aardvark at Iguazu Falls. He was more successful than he ever could have imagined. Search YouTube for “coatis at Iguaçu Falls,” and you’ll get an amateur video, posted by someone Breves has never met, titled “Coati - (Brazilian aardvark) at Iguaçu Falls, Argentina.” Breves made his own reality, and, thanks to Wikipedia, we’ve all accepted it."


Pedantic clarification: Argentina spells it "Iguazú" not "Iguaçu", since you're talking about the Argentine side of the falls. Spanish vs. Portuguese.


Speaking of racoon-related creatures, the miner's cat is also not a cat[0]. Wikipedia is not implicated here.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-tailed_cat


> But what's more interesting is that this may be an entirely different case: a falsehood starts on Wikipedia, percolates to external sources, and then becomes true because it is pervasive. Then it remains on Wikipedia because it is true. And that's only possible because informal names can be adopted, and hey, that thing does look like an aardvark. Nick names are sticky like that.

This is exactly what happened to the red panda, where for years the Wikipedia page mentioned "firefox" or "fire fox" as a valid name. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_panda&oldid=3... https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_panda&oldid=1... https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_panda&oldid=7... https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Red_panda&oldid=4...

Given the overlap between Wikipedia editors and proponents of Firefox, there was a strong echo chamber effect.

Thankfully the page has now been fixed.


I was curious about that so I checked it out a bit. According to the discussion page there, there are many references to the name "fire fox" that predate Mozilla (mainly in Chinese though some people found English citations as well). But the name has been removed from the article anyway due to over-zealous Wikipedia editors (but I repeat myself).


is it an actual falsehood? it just says also called a Brazilian aardvark, which is true for at least one person in the world and became true for a lot more after reading it. it seems like the name stuck because people liked the name.


Stylistically it's a textbook example of weasel words, which are claims that appear to represent the views of an authoritative source but which don't cite such a source. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style/Words...

The "by whom" tag should be added to these unsupported claims. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:By_whom


I disagree.

Weasel words are a way of introducing opinions disguised as facts while absolving yourself of the need to make a specific, verifiable (or falsifiable claim). "Some say Hacker News is the the most important website about startups." The actual information in that sentence is that 'some people say this thing' but it reads like 'this thing' which is misleading. It's misleading regardless of citations.

There is nothing wrong with saying 'this thing' if that is what you mean to say. 'The Arripis is also known as the Australian Salmon' is a true and relevant statement. It's common for fish to have different names in scientific, culinary and angling contexts as well different places. Wikipedia needs to address that to be useful.

That's the reason weasel words are a hard problem. It's subtle. Sometimes opinions are important and relevant and they should be included (with citations) on their own merit. "Commonly referred to as.." is an important fact about lots of animals.

What this is is basically just a simple case of falsehood. Nobody called anything a Brazilian Aardvark at the time of the edit. It wasn't true. It's an interesting story because it became true.

Every common name for an animal had to be invented at some point. Here, because of the magic of wikipedia' revision history we can see exactly when that happened.


> 'The Arripis is also known as the Australian Salmon' is a true and relevant statement.

Sure, but it's still weasel words unless it is accompanied by a citation from an authoritative source. If some random guy knows that fish as the "foobar fish," you could say "The Arripis is also known as the foobar fish." In this case, a Wikipedia contributor could rightful add the "by whom?" template tag. If there's no source cited, the statement should be removed, and if the source were cited, it would say that this name comes from some random guy, not the community of biologists, and would therefore be removed due to being irrelevant.

> Nobody called anything a Brazilian Aardvark at the time of the edit. It wasn't true.

From my understanding, the person who added that claim probably did call it a Brazilian Aardvark, so a claim like "it's called the Brazilian Aardvark" technically is true. But that's irrelevant to the weasel word diagnosis. Regardless of whether any human actually does call it that, there needs to be a source cited.


It's also more pronounceable and appetizing, like the chilean seabass.


Though I don't think anyone is selling them to people trying to buy aardvarks.


or kiwi fruit, no one was buying chinese gooseberries.


"Appetizing"? Brazilian Aardvark - it's what's for dinner!??!


Isn't that just social constructionism?

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


Don't worry, it will turn out to be, in fact, an aardvark. Please see the "panda bear is a racoon, oops, no, he's a bear," controversy.

The fundamental problem is that Wikipedia's editorial policies great drag on the memory hole.



Perhaps, but it's not what anyone actually calls them. I mean I doubt it's spread into anyone's common everyday language. All of the uses were likely just using Wikipedia as a reference for writing their article.


I feel like there are actually quite a few things that many people know are "also known as", but nobody actually knows them as that. I've often read that chickpeas are also known as garbanzo beans, but I've never actually heard or read anyone calling them that (obviously in Spanish they're called garbanzos, but I mean English speakers speaking/writing in English). Similarly, do people really call a herd of boar a singularity, or do they just know that it's "called" a singularity.


I think you're right, but personally I have heard the word "garbanzo beans" before. A boar singularity sounds cool.


In the German Wikipedia in 2009 one joker added "Wilhelm" inside of the name of the politician Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg.

He did it exactly at the time it became newsworthy to introduce him to the readers, so the media took it and the wikipeida entry feedback loop (the citation was there, it was written in the news!) was extremely fast. Some writers even claimed that the name that includes "Wilhelm" the politician told them directly. They lied, of course. Practically nobody fact checked.

http://www.bildblog.de/5704/wie-ich-freiherr-von-guttenberg-...


So what. At least with The Internet, Google and Wikipedia, we can see this happening. I would bet money the same sort of thing happened in 1880, the Golden Age of Authority. Some intern at Encyclopedia Britainica slipped in a minor edit, The Time cited it, and then (10 years later) E.B. cites The Times to "prove" the "truth" of the minor edit.

This has the stench of old line, mainstream media getting upset about The Internet. Too bad it's so late in the process of demolishing old line, mainstream media, and that it's so level-headed. We could use some Moral Panic to leaven the day.


This is too pat a dismissal – it's intellectually akin to the way “all bugs are shallow” aphorism which is pithy, optimistic and wrong.

While in theory Wikipedia becomes more correct over time, it's not a given and there are many articles which never receive enough expert attention to catch non-flagrant errors. Wikipedia also has the unique problem that it can become less correct over time, whether due to error or deliberate attempts to subvert it for amusement, political or religious reasons, etc. You can verify an article for correctness – itself an uncommon and involved process – and link to it, only to have someone introduce an error by the time your reader visits the page.

It's almost certainly still the case that Wikipedia gets corrected faster than the older review processes but it's not clear that the error rates are as dramatically different as you suggest or that the future for Wikipedia is as uniformly rosy as you assume. Wikipedia might continue to improve or it might fall apart as the hostile culture continues to scare away editors at the same time as it comes under increasingly sophisticated attacks. Subject matter experts often have conflicting time demands and aren't paid to improve Wikipedia while marketers, political operatives, etc. actually can make it their official job.


I think the problem is that something is considered a verified fact if you link to two separate places on the web. Bloggers have been posting complete garbage and lies for the past 7 years now and even "mainstream" news outlets sometimes believe the garbage and actually re-print the lies making it even easier to get the garbage on Wikipedia.


Note that you can permalink to every version of a Wikipedia article using the history tab, e.g. the first version of the Hacker News article [1].

There's also flagged revisions which allows users to 'flag' a revision as the 'accepted' version [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hacker_News&oldid... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Pending_changes


This mechanism actually sounds like it could solve this problem. By making it policy that citations used in periodicals must link to these versioned pages, there is at least a traceable record about when something cited incorrect information.

I could also see this being a service to inform authors when their citations have been invalidated. A truthiness score of an article or blog post could be based on citation accuracy and could be assessed by a third party that specializes in fact checking, but initially it could be done by measuring when a particular like in a Wikipedia article has changed and whether or not that change affects the meaning.


Wikipedia has a page explaining how to cite Wikipedia according to various styles[0]. Additionally, when clicking "cite this page" in the sidebar of an article, all links use oldid= fields. (MLA citation is an outlier, as it doesn't link to anything.)

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_Wikipedia


This is true but it's hardly common and has certain drawbacks (ugly URLs, extremely slow performance due to cache misses, and lack of future updates).

It's great for a journalist citing sources but it doesn't help with the problem where a writer on deadline checks Wikipedia quickly without exhaustively verifying the content and uses the information to inform their writing without directly quoting it.


This has likely been discussed on Wikipedia already, but I wouldn't mind having a note on the page stating that an expert has verified a specific revision of a wikipedia article. It looks like there's a process for reviewing articles (see the talk page for today's featured article, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Thomas_Ellison), but these don't seem like first-class citizens in the main article page.


I bet the average Wikipedia article gets vandalized more often than the average Britannica article did. Probably orders of magnitude more often, even counting only the instances that weren't caught.

I'd take Wikipedia over Britannica any day of the week, but it has its downsides. Two nines of reliability over millions of articles is better for my purposes than three nines over a hundred thousand, but that doesn't make two greater than three.


"I would bet money"

The point is that this sort of feedback loop, and similar pollution of knowledge by the fake authority of Wikipedia, is routine. There's even a joke: "If you don't believe my claim, just check Wikipedia -- but wait 15 minutes before you do."

So I'm not interested in taking up your monetary wager, but can you come up with one example where this happened with Britannica?

"Stench"

The New Yorker is well known for something called "fact checking", where they have a staff that tries to make sure that any claim appearing in the magazine is actually true. Wikipedia has random volunteers who might or might not eventually get around to checking some things that are on the site.


I would bet money the same sort of thing happened in 1880, the Golden Age of Authority. Some intern at Encyclopedia Britainica slipped in a minor edit

...and an editor with knowledge in that topic area removed that edit before publication. Which is the part of the process Wikipedia lacks.


> and an editor with knowledge in that topic area removed that edit before publication.

A study in Nature actually found comparable error rates in both Britannica and Wikipedia.

Naturally, there's additional context in the Wikipedia article, "Reliability of Wikipedia:" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia

I don't necessarily agree with bediger4000 that all errors have become transparent. Some lay dormant for years without notice. I am sympathetic to his general point though, because I do think we were putting a dangerous amount of faith in "authoritative references" before Wikipedia. We shouldn't just question Wikipedia, we should scrutinize all sources of authority.

It's important to recognize that reliability of information isn't a binary, it is on a scale. And the best way to move up that scale is to rely on a variety of authoritative references for any given claim.

The biggest reason I find Wikipedia reliable (on those occasions when I do) is because the sources for any given article are fairly transparent. If I find a dubious claim, I can immediately dig deeper by scrutinizing the cited expertise. Many times I don't need sources. Many times when I need more certainty, I scroll to the bottom and find no reassurance (or references to printed publications that require more legwork to verify). But Wikipedia at least allows me some foothold to calibrate my trust in a given article, because editors are encouraged to "show their work."

Britannica doesn't allow me to continue my research, or verify their conclusions. I have no idea what their editors are relying on. That's not to say I "assume false," but there are limits. I trust them proportionately to their track record, which is good, but not impeccable. They're never going to be as reliable as the sum of their hidden references would have been.


Yep, I think it's important to recognize that, but probably still interesting to compare and contrast that to the age of wikipedia.

It isn't just the same. The differences as well as similarities seem interesting, not neccesarily in a 'sky is falling' way, just in an understanding our social world way.

While Britannica definitely included plenty of accidental errors, the fact that wikipedia can be edited by anyone probably makes it more often include intentional falsehoods -- although maybe not, we can only guess without some attempt at investigation.

The fact that wikipedia changes at a higher velocity than Brittanica ever did probably changes it's effect, and the nature of the social feedback loops we're talking about here (for good as well as ill).

And finally, wikipedia is more comprehensive than any Britannica, and more accessible than any Britannica (to anyone with an internet connection, for free), and it probably gets used a lot more than any Britannica ever did! Wikipedia probably has more of an ability to propagate inaccuracies by virtue of it generally being better in several ways!

There's more to say about it than this, it would require some actual investigation and research and thinking. I think there's plenty of interesting compare and contrast to be done along those lines beyond just saying "Yeah, but errors in Britannica probably ended up accepted as fact too", although that's probably true and a good start. (I would be interested to hear about an actual example of an inaccuracy or falsehood in Britannica that wound up accepted as true by virtue of inclusion in britannica).


Don't know about Britannica, but somehow a 'Steinlaus' slipped into a very respected german dictionary. They even had to reinsert that article after removing it for one edition.

http://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steinlaus


I once edited the Wikipedia entry for "boma" to add that the word (which in much of Anglophone East Africa denotes the seat of a district administration) derives from the acronym British Overseas Management Administration. I did so after having seen this acronym listed in numerous government and NGO-issued reports in Malawi, so theoretically I'd have been able to add citations to back me up.

It turned out that this etymology is a popular myth believed by foreigners traveling in the region, some of whom must have acted as consultants for local government and civil society organizations and written their "knowledge" into official publications in this capacity. Nobody edited their dead tree reports to rectify their fallacy, but on Wikipedia somebody jumped in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boma_(enclosure)#Etymology_and...


It certainly exposes a flaw in Wikipedia, but perhaps not the expected one. Namely, it's not so much that anyone can edit the encyclopaedia and introduce false information, but that Wikipedia's faith in "Reliable Sources" like newspapers, magazines, and other forms of big media, is so entirely misplaced.

Evidently you can't trust "proper journalism" to actually be true or correct, since many/most articles are written by untrained, unskilled, or uninterested staffers blindly re-writing whatever they can find on Google. And that is perhaps the most concerning aspect of all.


The flaw isn't so much that they trust those sources, because then which sources can they trust at all? The problem is that they treat all sources equally, and that once a few non-reputable sources cite something as fact, it will be hard to remove the entry from Wikipedia even if a few other, more reputable sources, gainsay the same. The 'rules' of Wikipedia are such that if you can get some consensus, even if that consensus is among a minority of disreputable sources, then you have a claim to the truth even if the entire world outside that consensus loudly proclaims the opposite.

And, if some idiot Wikipedia admin (but perhaps I'm repeating myself here) decides to stake his reputation on this falsehood, you are fucked. The falsehood may as well be written in stone at that point, as far as Wikipedia is concerned (cf Jimmy Wales birthday).


I'd consider this more of a flaw in humans, and manifest in Wikipedia, but definitely something not Wikipedia-specific. The basic problem is that people 'believe' something on the basis of collective consensus - whether its true or not, if everyone else believes it, individuals are motivated to believe it too - because of course, the group of believers is bigger than the individual. Thus, even if its not a truth, it is something to be believed - because everyone else does.

And this 'because everyone else does' is the #1 cause of problems in the world. If only we, as individuals, could resist this fallacy that something is true because others believe it. Wouldn't it be great if collectively-derived agreement was in fact an effective way to create a reality .. well, it is. And that's precisely the problem: we create the world we live in. Collectively.


Obligatory: Citogenesis XKCD http://xkcd.com/978/


Ladies and dudes, there's a solution:

http://www.everytopicintheuniverseexceptchickens.com/


I'm not familiar with the Wikipedia cite policy, but wouldn't this problem be relatively easy to solve by requiring citations from before the fact was added?

Granted, there might be some edge cases (like when a Wikipedian was very fast in adding the fact after it became known) but that would seem to stop the feedback loop dead in its tracks.


Wouldn't work. You'd need to find the first occurrence of the fact on Wikipedia. One example exploit (though there are others):

1. On Day Zero, write a falsehood into a Wikipedia article.

2. Wait for the falsehood to become popular through the process described in this HN story.

3. Delete the falsehood while performing other edits.

4. Wait a few days, making other edits.

5. Add the falsehood. Citations will all precede the day that the fact is added.

To detect this, you'd have to scan all past history for the falsehood for the _first occurrence that precedes all citations_, not an easy task.

If you decide to add a falsehood into a related article, then that complicates matters further. For instance, I once removed a 'fact' that Indira Gandhi (once Prime Minister of India) was named Gandhi for PR reasons. This was in an article on her husband Feroze Gandhi.


And it doesn't even need to be that elaborate. Wikipedia can be exploited recursively, i.e., by making up the same "fact" on two related pages, then linking to each other. If timed correctly, this can work for quite awhile before anyone unravels it.

Another tactic is to cite existing external sources as proof of a new "fact." If an article about, say, bananas has a few citations about the nutritional content of a banana, you can use one of those existing sources to cite the "fact" that bananas are descended from potatoes. Editors and bots usually won't question the authority of an existing source. It can be stretched and extended, like an umbrella, to vouch for new statements and information.


For well over three years, the Wikipedia article for Wildebeest stated the plural was Wildebai: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wildebeest&diff=48...

Of course this was false, but it took well over three years for a correction. In the meantime, many other sources still refer to the plural as Wildebai:

https://www.google.com/search?q=wildebai


I don't think your final link justifies your claim - those 8,800 results compare to 441,000 for "wildebeests", 25,700 for "wildebeasts" (a simple typo), or 9,090 for the totally niche joke wildebeets. (Wild beets)

And the 8,800 results aren't people using them in sentences (search "wildebai are" or "wildebai have" or "several wildebai" or any other search with quote marks and a good candidate for being a real sentence.)

I could personally find only a single page from 2009 that uses that - which is far fewer pages than just about any misspelling however absurd.


> "Taxonomically speaking, this is unfortunate. The coati has no more relation to an aardvark than to any other vertebrate,"

Being mammals, surely they are more closely related to aardvarks than they are to sparrows, carp, asps and axolotls.

Being placental mammals, they are more closely related to aardvarks than they are to kangaroos.

Looking into it further, Wikipedia claims that they are both Epitherians, which makes them more closely related to one another than to armadillos.


It seems a little funny to cite Wikipedia in a conversation about how Wikipedia is not always a reliable resource.


When this happens in dictionaries it's called a "ghost word" and dates back to the 1800's. Here's the wikipedia page on the topic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_word


I once changed facts on wikipedia.

We worked for a smartphone maker back when they were new, and we had smartphones and GPRS.

So when we did a treasure hunt for team building, where there was multiple-choice questions hidden in a forest, every team thought themselves clever by searching for the answers on the still-young wikipedia.

But my team was cleverer: we were editing wikipedia.

There were a lot of confused low-scoring teams after us... :)


But my team was cleverer: we were editing wikipedia.

Speaking as a game programmer: The thing about computer moderated games, is that they foster the idea that, "If the system allows it, it's alright." There are entire national banking systems that have fallen under such attitudes.

(Sometimes you just have to get real and handle dice and cards on a table top.)


We did revert the edits after.

I agree with your "this is why you can't have nice things" sentiment, but sadly I think the petty and the vandals and the cranks will always do it, and us techies have to design in protection as default :(


"this is why you can't have nice things" sentiment

This is why we can't have nice things. It's also the solution to the Fermi paradox. The aliens have been watching.


brilliant!


For the lazy curious, the offending commit: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Coati&diff=2251408...


How did the guy think they were aardvarkish anyways? I've been to Iguazu. They behave just like raccoons only even more fearless. From the moment I got there we thought of them as "daylight raccoons".


10 years or so ago, a friend and I created a person with a pretty distinctive name and started peppering him throughout obscure wikipedia articles. I just tried googling the name, this article reminding me of it, and sure enough, the name has spread to many many more sites. I guess I'm now a part of history (the name was done as an analog of my own).


I was once asked in a deposition if, in my opinion, was Wikipedia an authoritative source. Which I replied, "No, it is not." When asked how I came to that conclusion, I cited the 'birthday incident' and how Wikipedia rigidly held on to a non-fact as fact given its process. This really annoyed the opposing counsel who had submitted a number of Wikipedia pages as exhibits in support of their case.

I could not imagine that someone who was being paid top dollar for their services wouldn't do their own research. Wikipedia is a great place to get pointers to where people have found things but other than that, one really has to be careful acting on or drawing conclusions from the information it contains on any given day.


I wonder, isn't there some kind of way to measure "effective citations"? In biology, if you look at population size, there's the population measured in absolute number of organisms, and the population measured in genetic diversity[0][1]. For citations I can imagine measuring the number of citations from primary sources, and everything else just being citations to citations to... etc, including circular citations.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_size

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_population_size


There is a scholarly field occupied with the concept of citation and reference. It is called bibliometrics. The tl:dr is that citations are a very complex social phenomenon, which is difficult to describe fully even in the semi structured confinements of scientific literature. Both technical and, even more pressing, theoretical developments are needed before measuring "effective" citations could become anywhere near feasible.


Interesting, thank you!


Its not only Wikipedia that is vulnerable to this sort of proliferation of misinformation. In the developer community there are many myths that become canon simply because they sound plausible and are repeated often enough.

I am a user of Go, and when I go to Go meetups I often hear people say, Go is faster than Java, because Go is compiled. This is definitely not the case in all cases ... and may not even be the case for most cases. But it is repeated as truth, because programmers think compiled binaries must be faster than bytecode run through a VM ... it just sounds so plausible. Never mind the real benchmark numbers.

(I still use Go, even if its slower sometimes, because Java can blow me.)


That is a completely different phenomena. In your case something sounds plausible so people repeat it. in the Wikipedia case the phenomena happened because people essentially quote wikipedia, thus giving wikipedia citations to back up the fact. Now, if you are believing benchmark numbers...


Slightly related and because it has intrigued me since I read the paper I thought people may find IBMs "History Flow" project interesting?

The Project no longer appears to be documented on IBM site but the Wikipedia article has everything you need - including that lovely daily slice of (soft) irony. I prefer my irony hard, but what are you going to do.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_Flow


Interesting to see the authoritative power of Wikipedia and the sometimes lack of fact-checking from even reputable sources. I wonder to what extent experts believe (e.g., % of articles?) there may be such errors in Wikipedia, and what % of them get translated into reality.

Just thinking about how much fact checking I should commit myself to before now citing anything from the Internet.


And yet I couldn't get the moderators to acknowledge the existence of New Mexican/South Western Chili.


This is an ongoing problem. I live in Denver, Colorado, which Wikipedia says has the most Mexican restaurants per capita of any major metropolitan area. There's a small chain called "Little Anita's". People argue over whether there's a New Mexico version of Mexican or not, with respect to Little Anita's (I'm on the "yes, there is New Mexico Mexican" side). Bring me some sopapillas!


Citation?: 25 Food Things Only A New Mexican Would Understand http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/new-mexican-food_n_...

A: It was yellow when I drove through it.


To be fair, it's not like the statement "called the Brazilian aardvark" is not true. If it looks like an Aardvark and someone calls it that, then it is called the Brazilian Aardvark. There are many species of animals which are misnamed with regards to their taxonomy.


In standard usage you would only say it is called something if that were commonly used by many people. We don't update the encyclopedia every time the crank at your local coffee-shop comes up with a new pet phrase.


Journalists have been, and continue to be the gatekeepers. In the days before Wikipedia it is easy to imagine a journalist visiting Brazil and talking with a friend in the local coffee shop about the raccoon-like creatures he just saw when the local crank slaps him on the back and tells him, "round here we call 'em Brazilian aardvarks." If the journalist believes him, you would see it in print.

Now, with Wikipedia it is easier for the crank to get to the journalist. If the journalists had fact checked and never reprinted the "fact", it would have eventually been removed from the Wikipedia entry.


True, but there is nothing "wrong" with a fact like that proliferating, since it doesn't hurt scientific knowledge and people clearly like the name.


Well, I've seen cats, dogs, shoes, streets, articles of clothing and abstracts concepts being called a "kajigger", but I'm not going to update the Wikipedia entry on felis catus to say "also known as kajigger". That would just be kajigger.



The article links to a wikipedia article about the circular reporting phenomenon, and I'm pleased to see that someone has added "vicious aardvark" as another name for circular reporting.

Brilliant.



Its going to take some time but I think we will figure this out. Within 5-10 years we will have learned to use Wikipedia and similar sources correctly. (I am an eternal optimist!)


That's what I said in 2004 [citation needed]



This seems obvious but sources should only be valid if they predate the claim.


How is this different from any other common name? Somebody made it up.


It seems to me the problem is that people think there even exists such a thing as an authoritative source.


Really? What if we were debating where nollidge was born and where he went to school. Would you not be an authoritative source of information on these subjects?


Not really. According to Wikipedia you are not an authoritative source on yourself, e.g. Philip Roth <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/07/philip-roth-wikiped... and <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BLPSPS>


I know. But Wikipedia's rules about authority only have bearing within their universe, and no bearing upon what is actually authoritative. Are you really saying that you are "not really" an authority about what you had for breakfast because Wikipedia wouldn't allow you to claim to be one?


IIRC, one of the first public Wikipedia "scandals" involved a guy who was irate because his Wikipedia entry was wrong and he was told he wasn't allowed to edit it. Cue much hemming and hawing.

Only the "wrong" was that it included "director" among a long list of accomplishments, on account of he had directed a film. The guy's beef was that he didn't like the film and didn't want to be noted for it, and he demanded sole authority over his own historical record.

Sometimes there are good reasons to not let people edit their own articles. Sometimes there aren't. But you need some sort of coherent policy.


Why would you be one? Maybe you don't know the difference between cilantro and parsley, but your omelet contained one of them. That mystery sausage in the back of your fridge that you ate and claimed was chorizo? Maybe the wait staff didn't like you so there was abnormally large amount of spit in your breakfast. Being Authoritative on your breakfast should only apply if you actually know what you ate, not just think you do.


Yes, that is absolutely what I'm saying. Obviously not because it's Wikipedia's policy, but because all information is provisional. All information should be regarded with varying levels of confidence never approaching 100%.

If you ask about my breakfast, I could be lying to you or recall yesterday's breakfast instead of today's or whatever.


How would you know I'm telling you the truth?


I wouldn't. Authorities can lie, and often have an agenda. But I can still cite you as an authority on things that you are an expert about. And if your lying ways become known, you will lose your reputation, and status as an authority who should be cited. If, however, you anonymously seed Wikipedia with lies, you have nothing to lose.


Even things as simple as identity can be tricky.


I don't see why you have to impersonate me to make this point.


Why are you impersonating noIlidge?




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