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.
"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."
This is exactly what happened to the red panda, where for years the Wikipedia page mentioned "firefox" or "fire fox" as a valid name.
Given the overlap between Wikipedia editors and proponents of Firefox, there was a strong echo chamber effect.
Thankfully the page has now been fixed.
The "by whom" tag should be added to these unsupported claims. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:By_whom
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.
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.
The fundamental problem is that Wikipedia's editorial policies great drag on the memory hole.
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.
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.
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.
There's also flagged revisions which allows users to 'flag' a revision as the 'accepted' version .
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
...and an editor with knowledge in that topic area removed that edit before publication. Which is the part of the process Wikipedia lacks.
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:"
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.
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).
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...
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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... :)
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.)
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 we can't have nice things. It's also the solution to the Fermi paradox. The aliens have been watching.
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 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.)
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.
Just thinking about how much fact checking I should commit myself to before now citing anything from the Internet.
A: It was yellow when I drove through it.
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.
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.
If you ask about my breakfast, I could be lying to you or recall yesterday's breakfast instead of today's or whatever.