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Wikipedia and Plagiarism 267

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the less-than-college-papers dept.
Spo22a writes "Daniel Brandt found the examples of suspected plagiarism at Wikipedia using a program he created to run a few sentences from about 12,000 articles against Google Inc.'s search engine. He removed matches in which another site appeared to be copying from Wikipedia, rather than the other way around, and examples in which material is in the public domain and was properly attributed. Brandt ended with a list of 142 articles, which he brought to Wikipedia's attention.... 'They present it as an encyclopedia," Brandt said Friday. "They go around claiming it's almost as good as Britannica. They are trying to be mainstream respectable.'"
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Wikipedia and Plagiarism

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  • Doesn't Wikipedia have over a million articles (not in English alone, I know)? That would mean that's less than .1% of the articles are plagiarized. Seems reasonable to me that that amount would get by into unnoticed. All it takes is for the original author then to deal with it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sprins (717461)
      Apparently Wikipedia has over 1.5 million english articles alone. So your calculation of the percentage of 'problematic' articles is even more favourable. Of those 142 eledgedly 'problematic' articles only a few really seem to be a problem as the others originated from the public domain to begin with.

      Sounds like much ado about nothing once more. *yawn*
      • by aquaepulse (990849) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @10:42AM (#16725101)
        Well that 142 was found out of his search of 12000, if his methodology was sound you could expect the proportion plagiarized within the 1.5 million to be about 17750. About 1.18%.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tomhudson (43916)
          ... and after an investigation of some of those by Wikipedia, it was found that some were in the public domain, some were culled from government sites, and some were copied from the wiki, and not the other way around. Of those 12,000, we can now say that the wiki is at least as clean as Ivory soap (99.44%).
          • by sbaker (47485) *
            Some are also instances of people writing something on their own web site and then later deciding to put it on Wikipedia - so even the instances where the other web site predates the Wiki article may not be copyright violations. Without discussing the matter with every single original author, it's hard to know.

            I guess the only thing this study tells us is that an UPPER limit on the number of plagiarisms is of the order of 1%. That's still an alarmingly high number.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by tomhudson (43916)

              Considering that an audit of dead-tree encyclopedias hasn't been done, we can't say. What we CAN say is that its foolish to make a comparison with Britannica, when an audit of Britannica found 10% of 600 articles to be non-factual. The sources cited in those 10% disavowed the articles' contents.

              This isn't all that surprising either, when you think about it. People cite people who cite people, and someone somewhere will mis-interpret what someone else wrote, or come to different conclusions while still ci

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by kkwst2 (992504)
              Alarmingly high? You find it alarming that 1 of every 100 articles on a free web-based encyclopedia has plagiarized material. You are clearly much less cynical than I am. I would have guessed at least 5%, probably more.

               
              • by sbaker (47485) *
                If it were (as many people assume) just a case of people sitting down and writing articles which remain in that state for all time - then, yes, I'd guess closer to 5% too. But that's now how Wikipedia works. Pick an article at random - hit the history button - see how many people have worked on it? For plagiariasm to stand, it requires that none of the subsequent editors noticed it. That's much less likely - but still possible - but in addition to that, the general churning up of text tends to change se
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Jazon Bladen (938809)
        It's a wiki. If you find a problem with it, you fix it. Complaining about a wiki is like yelling at a puzzle with a single piece not in place: you can easily solve the problem, you're just stupid.
        • by user24 (854467) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @12:26PM (#16726197) Homepage
          "It's a wiki. If you find a problem with it, you fix it."
          no, it's a wiki. If you find a problem with it, you add a template telling everyone that someone else should fix it.
          • by TheCarp (96830) *
            wow that made me laugh so hard, I am practically crying.
          • Actually the Wikipedia procedure for weeding out the copyrighted work is to flag the article as a possible copyright violation (add a {{copyvio}} template to the article) along with the source and then inform the editors about that problem by adding the article into the list of articles with possible copyright violations.

            Regarding the article, there is already a very active community weeding out Wikipedia of possible copyright violations. I don't know how this can be considered news.
    • by nomadic (141991)
      Except the story specifically says he checked only about 12,000 of wikipedia's articles, so that would make it about 1% are plagiarized if you extrapolated. Still not horrible, but I'm guessing it's a lot higher than Brittanica.
      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Right now we can just watch and see how this story end. I doubt this automated procedure could take into account contributor copying their own copyrighted materials insode wikipedia. I think this has already happened, I don't say that 100% of the 142 articles are in this case, but I think he raises an interesting point. Let's now see how this ends
      • Except the story specifically says he checked only about 12,000 of wikipedia's articles, so that would make it about 1% are plagiarized if you extrapolated. Which would make sense to do if it was a systematic random sample, rather than a selection conducted by someone who has been on an anti-Wikipedia crusade for quite some time, as this one is. Of course, there is the question of the trustworthiness of the original number, as well, as the material was never independently reviewed, and Wikipedia's own revi
    • ...especially to any math articles. 142 is 1.183...% of 12000. Not "less than 0.1%"
  • Impressive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Solder Fumes (797270) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @10:36AM (#16725045)
    Wow. Only 142 articles in which average Joe Wiki forgot the proper way to attribute a source. I'm actually amazed there were so few occurrences. This article has the effect of heightening my opinion of Wikipedia's quality.
    • In high school while doing term papers at least 1/3 of most of my papers weren't written by me. They were quotes from other sources. What's the difference? It's only plagiarized if you don't cite the source properly. Legally you are allowed to take small quotes and use them in a publication as long as you cite sources. I'm guessing many of those offenders could go legit just by citing the source alone without removing the quote.
      • I ask because apparently You did not actually graduate high school yet if you can't understand what the difference is between cited and uncited text.
    • First, there's a ton of information which is "common knowlege"; This means that plagarism doesn't apply. Second, unless someone makes a direct quote of something they read, it wont show up as plagarism even if it is. The 142 count just means that all of them were flagrantly plagarized. This still seems rather low, but it makes a little more sense.
  • by Chairboy (88841) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @10:36AM (#16725049) Homepage
    What's missing from the summary is that almost immediately upon getting the list, the articles in question were dealt with and the offenders were blocked or warned.

    Wikipedia is written by a large community, and people make mistakes. I have read about other reference tomes that have been caught plagiarizing (for example, some encyclopedias or atlas's will put in a fake piece of data or a fake street so that they can easily determine if they're being copied from), and the turnaround time for fixing it can be years depending on the publishing cycle.

    This isn't a condemndation of Wikipedia, despite Mr. Brandt's best efforts, it's a confirmation of why WP works.
  • 142 out of 12,000, some of which aren't really a problem, and that's numbers generated by a critic?

    Yes, it's a problem, but that's actually not a bad score at all. You probably get more plagiarism than that on college papers at good schools. How many of these articles cite what they "plagiarize," even if they don't put it in quotes? Also, to make it legal plagiarizing, all you have to do is re-write each paragraph in your own words.

    I see 1.18% of articles as potentially having text lifted from somewhere
    • 142 out of 12,000, some of which aren't really a problem, and that's numbers generated by a critic?

      And a very... dedicated critic, too [crank.net].

      I must admit there's a certain recursive appeal to the idea of someone being notable enough for a Wikipedia entry purely because of his vehement attempts to avoid being mentioned on Wikipedia.

      As usual, the talk page [wikipedia.org] has lots of entertaining dirt.

      (Uncyclopedia has the real low-down [uncyclopedia.org], of course.)

  • The proof of the pudding is in the eating; consider Mr Brandt comes up with a computer generated list of potential problematic articles. These are scrutinized and where needed problematic content is removed. The wiki methodology works thanks to Mr Brandt.

    Conclusion; the best way of improving Wikipedia is by showing where it has a problem. Mr Brandt disproved his opinion. Live and learn. :)

    Thanks,
            GerardM
  • by alienmole (15522) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @10:49AM (#16725195)
    Brandt is doing a great service to Wikipedia — checking for and reporting plagiarism. That takes dedication and hard work. It's ironic that he feels the need to present it as criticims of Wikipedia's model, when in fact he's demonstrating the power of contributions from many people with different motivations. Even if the motivation is anti-Wikipedia, Wikipedia just absorbs the input and grows stronger.

    "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine..." -- Obi Wiki-nobi
    • by Pharmboy (216950)
      I posted an article on Wikipedia that a copy of a webpage I had written (and own) on another site. It was taken down on Wikipedia within 24 hours until I posted on the FIRST site that the information was under the GPDL, which took me all of 5 minutes, then the article was restored. No harm, no foul, the editor was just taking no chances. I would say they are pretty good at catching potential copyright issues, at least from MY experience.

      Besides, 142 out of 1,500,000 articles is only 0.009% of the content
  • I used to be a wikipedia administrator, before resigning due to time constraints. However, we would catch a lot of the copyright issues. I mean, when you're reading an article, and part of its plagerized, it's usually really obvious. The plagarized part usually doesn't fit into the rest of the article.. and you can just tell that the average editor didn't write that copy. (Just as I'm sure a teacher can tell one of his/her students didn't write a plagerized essay) Once you found the possibly infringin
  • 142 articles out of 12,000 is certainly a problem, but actually not much of one. I'm sure it he made his script public (I have no idea if he did so. In the /. tradition, I did not RTFArticle) and the wikipedia were to use it, it would be of benefit. Not to automatically tag articles as plagiarism, but at least tag them for further evaluation by an editor.

    Buy, hey, 142/12000 is less than 2%. I would have thought the percentage would have been at least 5%.
    • I am quite sure the ratio would be the same or even higher if the wiki critic managed to compare published books with existing copyright material. Many so-called experts are no exception to this especially when they are writing "supportive chapters" for their books (e.g. the video hardware technology review for a software research/professor writing a book about OpenGL vs DirectX)....
  • US Gov copyright? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by julesh (229690)
    Articles with offending passages have been stripped of most text. An entire paragraph in Alonzo Clark's entry, for instance, was deleted, leaving the article with the bare-bones: "Alonzo M. Clark (August 13, 1868-October 12, 1952) was an American politician who was Governor of Wyoming from 1931 to 1933."

    The original article, Brandt said, was copied from a biography on the Wyoming state government site.


    Err... I thought works of the US Government were generally free from copyright...?
    • by athmanb (100367)
      Only those of the federal government. Those of most states aren't.
    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Sunday November 05, 2006 @11:53AM (#16725857)
      Err... I thought works of the US Government were generally free from copyright...?


      (1) The Wyoming state government is not the US government: state government works are not generally free from copyright.

      (2) Plagiarism is separate from copyright violation, anyway. Using material that is not subject to copyright or is in the public domain that is from one unique identifiable source without crediting the source is plagiarism, as is using copyright material in a way that does not violate copyright without attribution (say, fair use.) Plagiarism isn't a violation of the law, but a violation of commonly accepted standards of integrity when it comes to not claiming other's work as your own.
      • by imsabbel (611519)
        But seeing that the policy of wikipedia FORBITS original reseach or works to be presented, i dont think that plagiatism isnt really that much of a violation here.
        Everybody with half a brain can suggest that the knowledge didnt manifest itself out of thin air, even without citations given.
    • by asuffield (111848)
      Only in theory. They figured out a way to work around that pesky law a long time ago - a private contractor is given the task of 'producing' the work, with assistance supplied by the government. "Assistance" here means that the government supplies all the people who do the actual work on it. The contractor then sells the copyright to the government. This little legal fiction results in a work that was produced entirely by government employees and using government funds, that is copyrighted and owned by the
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 05, 2006 @11:16AM (#16725463)
    It's very lazy of of the Wikipedia authors to enter the same biographical information as other sites.
    They should write new and interesting histories for all these people rather than using the same old worn out ideas that are on so many places on the net.
    All it takes is a little imagination.
    A new birth place, better achivements (why could hitler not have discovered the cure for cancer and be the first man on the moon? It's better than the depressing story on Wiki at the moment.) and some creative editing would solve this problem once and for all.

    Some Wiki articles are already better and contain things about people that have never happened, but sadly these often get put back to the same old boring stories almost as soon as the changes are made.
    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)
      why could hitler not have discovered the cure for cancer and be the first man on the moon? It's better than the depressing story on Wiki at the moment.


      I also understand he was responsible for trippling the population of African elephants during his lifetime.
    • I always found this biography on Hitler less dull than the one from wikipedia:
      http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler [uncyclopedia.org]
  • In this kind of study, basing the conclusion on the presence of few hits would characterize the study as faith based science.

    First, the sample size was 12,000. Where did that number come from? Were the samples picked randomly? Assuming so, is 12,000 a statistically an effective sample size? And if the samples are random, and the size is sufficient, is that 142 articles statistically significant, that is, are the number of matches outside the margin of error? In other words, does the sample size, sele

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      12,000 is easily enough to be statistically effective. Election polling gets acceptable results with samples of about 1,000.

      Assuming that it is a binomial distribution then p=142/12000=0.0118, q=0.9882, n=12000 which means the standard error is sqrt(npq)=11.5 (approximately). Thus a 95% confidence interval is that the true number of plagiarised articles in the sample lies between 165 and 119.

      And this is only plagiarism from on-line sites that are indexed by Google. Plagiarism from dead tree sources could we
  • I'm confused by the concept of plagiarism on wikipedia. For example, the article describes a biography copied from a government website. Isn't the point of Wikipedia to catalog and assemble information? How is copying an openly published biography from a government website considered plagiarism? Wikipedia is not being sold. No one is taking credit for the articles. Most cases, the original info is cited anyway. Anyway, please let me know what I'm missing here (which is probably a lot).
    • by AxelBoldt (1490)
      Plagiarism is not a legal term, it's a term used in journalism and academia to describe taking somebody else's words or ideas and presenting them as your own, without attribution. In these realms, it is considered unethical.

      If you copy somebody's words, and these words are not in the public domain (for instance because the author is long dead or works for the U.S. government), and you can't defend the use as "fair use", then it's a civil offense and they can sue you (in some countries and severe cases it'

  • Authors of malware are trying to exploit the good reputation of Wikipedia to infect PCs with their malicious software. In a mass e-mail, recipients were told to download a "security update" for windows from a Wikipedia site.

    The attackers had used a Wikipedia feature that archives all previous versions of articles when changes have been made. The malicious page thus continued to exist in the archive, and the attackers were able to point to it in mass emails.

    See here [heise.de] , here [techworld.com] and here [theregister.co.uk].
    • There is a way to deal with this. If an article is deleted, the history gets erased. An administrator could copy the current, clean content of the article, delete the article, then recreate it from the clean version.
      • by tmk (712144)
        That is neither allowed nor effective. Administrators can purge single revisions of an article and keep the rest. By erasing the whole article they would erase all informations abiout the article authors, whoich is not allowed bei the GFDL.
  • They were just authored by Roland Piquepaille. His articles are always all his own work, so it must be a mistake in the program.
  • Is plagiarism an issue for Wikipedia?
    Wikipedia is not a PhD candidate. Wikipedia's job is to provide accurate information.
    Of course, sources should be provided as well.
    But legally, the real issue here is Copyright, isn't it?
    "Plagiarism" and "Copyright infringement" are not synonyms.

    There is no copyright in facts.
    Therefore, nonfiction works are open to have the facts used in Wikipedia.
    Where a verbatim transcription would not be fair use, someone needs to paraphrase.

    • Is plagiarism an issue for Wikipedia?

      Yes.

      ut legally, the real issue here is Copyright, isn't it?

      Not all issues are legal issues.

      There is no copyright in facts. Therefore, nonfiction works are open to have the facts used in Wikipedia. Where a verbatim transcription would not be fair use, someone needs to paraphrase.

      The issue here is verbatim use, anyway. An automated script is going to have more trouble finding use of "facts" from another source that aren't verbatim copies of the presentation.

    • Wikipedia's job is to provide accurate information.

      Not exactly. The job of Wikipedia (or for that matter any other general encyclopedia) is to provide verifiable [wikipedia.org] information from reliable sources. Verifiability > truth until the truth becomes verifiable.

  • It seems to be th3 c00l3ss to bash Wiki lately, but the bottom line is there is no encyclopedic reference that comes close. The media and other pseudo-pundits who seem to resent any influential source of information that doesn't have obvious corporate influence (read: money-based control) as a major threat and they do whatever they can to discredit Wikipedia. Aside from a tiny subset of controversial articles that routinely get vandalized, and another tiny subset of plagiarism, this issue is likely to be
  • I tend to check the citations on Wikipedia. If there is no citation and I can't find a somewhat reliable source on Google related to the information I'm looking at -- I know I can't trust that information.

    These people who ramble on that Wikipedia is inaccurate almost appear to me like they never sat history class in high-school. Where you have to verify your sources.

    I've also never heard of citing encyclopedias in research projects, ever. Good-grade coursework, also never seen them cite encyclopedia entries
  • Why is this news? Maybe because the Associated Press says it's news, and it's in hundreds of newspapers?

    Why should Slashdotters care? Because while AP doesn't use links, Slashdot should have the courtesy of linking to the original sources that AP used to generate the report. (Plus AP also checked with Jimmy Wales for a reply, which is expected from professional reporters.)

    The report is at http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/psamples.html [wikipedia-watch.org]

    Wikipedia's own newsletter reports on it here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W [wikipedia.org]
    • Is release the script or code that he used to generate his 142 plagiarised articles out of 12,000.

      Such a script, if tuned and more widely applied, could be extraordinarily useful in weeding out future instances of plagiarism.

      142 articles flagged, 142 articles fixed within hours. That's Wikipedia working as no dead-tree encyclopedia can.

      Of course, Brandt would never do anything as useful as that, but will probably content himself with continuing to "shoot from the hip" and claim this as a blow against

  • Brandt has a long-standing (well, year-old) beef with Wikipedia. You can read about it, ironically enough, in the Wikipedia article about him [wikipedia.org].

    He got into a dispute because he didn't like having his biography on WP (though it was constructed from publicly available news sources). He was generally combative and belligerent, and so was blocked and banned various times; check out the Talk archives for details. Afterwards he started a webpage where he attempted to list the real-world identities of the editors in
    • I'd never heard of Brandt before this, but he sounds like an ass. His namebase.org website is ranked low in google, so he starts google-watch.org. He doesn't like his wikipedia bio, so he starts wikipedia-watch.org. Any bets on how long it takes him to start slashdot-watch.com????
  • Daniel Brandt is against Wikipedia's portrayal of him not because of it being unflattering (it is, in my opinion, if anything oddly sympathetic to his position, despite his position being that it shouldn't exist at all), but because of his privacy concerns. He's a privacy activist with a particular focus on the actions of information organizing sites, and so he's not unexpectedly against the existance of unauthorized widely-available detailed biographies. He's gone so far as to complain about CIA and NSA we
    • From the Wiki article:

      "From the 1960s onwards, Brandt collected clippings and citations pertaining to influential people and intelligence matters. In the 1980s, through his company Micro Associates, he sold a database of citations of these clippings, books, government reports, and other publications."

      Pot, kettle, hello.....??!

  • Brandt's original paper is here [wikipedia-watch.org], explaining his methodology and giving the complete list of articles he found. Wikipedia's response is here [wikipedia.org], where people go through the list one by one and also check the other contributions of users who have added copyrighted content. Wikipedia also has a bot [wikipedia.org] which aims to detect newly added copyright violations by searching Google.
  • It's great this guy created a program to make it easier for them to avoid this problem.

    That's the great thing about open source and projects like wiki.

    You encounter a problem, it's very easy for people to fix it quickly.

    If those 142 items are real, they are probably already being fixed now if not all fixed.
  • "They present it as an encyclopedia," Brandt said Friday.

    Well, yes. Not that odd, really, given that it is an encyclopedia.

    "They go around claiming it's almost as good as Britannica."

    Actually, Wikipedians don't, in my experience. Most are quite sober when it comes to comparisons with Britannica. Brandt may be referring to the journal Nature, which did make such a claim for science articles.

    They are trying to be mainstream respectable.
    Wikipedia is already pretty darn mainstream, and if by "respectable" Brand
  • "They present it as an encyclopedia," Brandt said Friday. "They go around claiming it's almost as good as Britannica. They are trying to be mainstream respectable."

    Whether something is plagerized or not, doesn't really impact the quality of it. If someone copied a great article into Wikipedia, then Wikipedia has a great article - just through foul play. There's previously been comparisons which have shown Wikipedia to be just as accurate as Britannica. Now, it's been a while since I looked at a dictionary,
  • In the Encyclopaedia Britannica and other published, for-sale reference works, the articles' sources are not only attributed, but the author of the article is attributed and his/her credentials displayed as a guide to their qualifications in providing the article.

    Now, an article presenting facts can be written by someone who has no academic qualifications but still represents the facts fairly and accurately, so I don't claim that a person MUST be academically qualified to write a good article, nor do I clai
  • Plagarism shows up frequently in Wikipedia, but usually it's promotional. Typically, company X copied their "about" page into Wikipedia. Bands and musicians, usually ones that are a legend only in their own minds, try this. A new user associated with the thing being promoted is usually responsible.

    Then there are the people with a collector mindset. They create endless minor articles like "Indiana State Highway 22" and biographical articles of long-forgotten city council members. Often by cutting and

  • If I wrote an article on some subject and then decided to share that information with Wikipedia, I may well just copy my text verbatim. Does that make it plagiarism? If I wrote the text, why can't I reuse it? How does this guy know that's not what's going on here?
    • by interiot (50685)
      It's at least internal Wikipedia policy that there needs to be verification that the original author is posting the article (either by [wikipedia.org] modifying the original site to note that the article is released under the GFDL, or by sending an email to the Wikimedia Foundation confirming its GFDL status). Without more formal confirmation, it's difficult to say whether the off-wiki author is the same as the on-wiki one, either from a plagiarism standpoint or a legal one.
  • You might like to know that Daniel Brandt [wikipedia.org] founded Google Watch back in the old days to protest against page rank. Yes, Google Watch was originally just against how Google didn't give mr Brandt a good page rank. Now he added some bits about privacy but I think anyone should visit Google Watch now to see how childish Daniel Brandt is. And using Google to do datamining is against the acceptable use policy anyway.

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