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Long-Term Wikipedia Vandalism Exposed 313

Posted by kdawson
from the pseudoscience-and-self-promotion dept.
Daveydweeb writes, "The accuracy of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, came into question again when a long-standing article on 'NPA personality theory' was confirmed to be a hoax. Not only had the article survived at Wikipedia for the better part of a year, but it had even been listed as a 'Good Article,' supposedly placing it in the top 0.2-0.3% of all Wikipedia articles — despite being almost entirely written by the creator of the theory himself."
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Long-Term Wikipedia Vandalism Exposed

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  • by nukem996 (624036) on Monday November 06, 2006 @03:45AM (#16732343)
    Personally I think wikipedia should be treated as any other source, you should have at least one other, independent, source that backs up the first. I've found mistakes in the college text books that I pay hundreds of dollars for, so if your only going by one source your bound to get screwed. What I really like about wikipedia is that it gives you great sources that you can use, check up on those sources as well.
    • by AgNO3 (878843)
      1 back up source? back in my day we had to have 3 sources for all material. Damn
      • by nukem996 (624036)
        Thats why I said at least one other source. I agree you should have more, especially for long papers. But short 2-3 page papers two is usually fine.
    • by Pavan_Gupta (624567) <`pg8p' `at' `virginia.edu'> on Monday November 06, 2006 @04:08AM (#16732465)
      nukem996, you are not wrong in suggesting that people should use multiple sources when writing things, but the truth is people should never cite wikipedia as a source. It's not because the information is wrong, but it's because the information has not been vetted in a process that can be methodically demonstrated. Even peer-reviewed journals can fail, and they do, but the truth is the information contained in those journals is being vetted by people with backgrounds in related fields and the information is being analyzed in a way that is methodically laid out. If Wikipedia was designed in that way -- where the process was highly moderated, then it would be a legitimate source, not unlike how a book or a journal is a legitimate source. (Although old books and journals are wrong in the worst kinds of ways... sometimes)

      I've written several articles on Wikipedia on obscure things (Phosphatidylmyo-inositol_mannosides [wikipedia.org]) which was just an exercise in me understanding my own research, but the stuff I've written, even if heavily sourced on Wikipedia is so obscure I could just make up anything about that and it would likely fly. And the truth is, if I write anything that seems correct, for the most part it will last because it seems correct And therein lies the problem that an unmoderated system cannot solve for. Wikipedia assumes honorable and intelligent users and gives enormous privileges to these users, when just one bad apple can go around slowly obscuring fact with fiction.

      Anyway, I've ranted here which is not what I really wanted, but my point is simple: Wikipedia is a good starting point, but should never ever be used as a cited source. Find the information you discover in Wikipedia in another source and use that. And, because you should be a good wikipedia user, put that source into the article.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Anyway, I've ranted here which is not what I really wanted, but my point is simple: Wikipedia is a good starting point, but should never ever be used as a cited source. Find the information you discover in Wikipedia in another source and use that. And, because you should be a good wikipedia user, put that source into the article.

        Good post. I'd like to elaborate on one important reason for this.

        One of Wikipedia's policies is that no Wikipedia articles should contain any original research. And so any ideas
      • I wish I had MOD points.... I think you are 100% correct

        I sometimes use Wikipedia as a place to get some information that I will have to carefully verify using other sources. I would never trust anything on Wikipedia to be right and would never cite it as a source in a paper. You just never know on Wikipedia when you're going to run into some BS (for the reason you described).

        A number of Wikpedia articles are great, but I've noticed too many misleading articles, or articles with just tons of crap in t

      • by DingerX (847589)
        Wikipedia should never be cited, not because of some academic mumbo-jumbo like "hasn't been through a peer-reviewed process". In my field, most of the stuff I cite hasn't been through peer-review -- it's just too expensive, and suited only to the lucrative sciences (like those where they give a damn about Phosphatidylmyo-inositol mannosides).
        Nor should the "doesn't contain original research" rule be used -- it's perfectly fine to cite a source that's a rehash of stuff for background information. Encyclopedi
        • by 1u3hr (530656)
          the basic problem with Wikipedia is also its strength: it's mutable. There's no static text you can refer to. The whole article can change from when you cite it to when someone reads it.

          Citing_Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

          "The citation should normally include the full date and time of the article revision you are using... the URL include[s] a unique identifier such that you can tie your reference back to the exact version of the article you are referencing."

      • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Monday November 06, 2006 @07:16AM (#16733309)
        but the stuff I've written, even if heavily sourced on Wikipedia is so obscure I could just make up anything about that and it would likely fly.

        People frequently make the mistake of thinking that this problem is exclusive to wikipedia. That is false. That problem plagues every aspect of Academia that it isn't even funny. Everyone who spent his fair share of research hours in any university library already stumbled on contradictory information, incorrections and even outright lies on publications adopted by the libraries and in even cases by the courses themselves. These are publications which were heavily edited and in some cases even reeditions.

        Moreover, academic fraud is always popping up. Things like falsifying results and messing up with the research variables pop up from time to time. If that type of fraud happens on academic circles where the scientific method is intensely applied and revered, why does it shock anyone when someone makes stuff up in a wiki? But thankfully in a wiki there may be quite a few eyes monitoring the development and, when necessary, edit the text and correct that. That doesn't happen with a book.

    • by gbulmash (688770) *
      Let's not forget that the accuracy at major, respectable news organizations is often crap. In an article on the Washington Post's "newsbytes" news service, back in the '90s, they said my name was Dave (it's Greg) and that I ran the Internet Movie Database (at the time I was an outside contractor providing a weekly column). It was flattering in that they named my column as one of their top three reasons to get a modem for Christmas, but... Dave's not here.

      A few months earlier, I was getting nasty letter
  • How many times... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KeiserSoze (657078) on Monday November 06, 2006 @03:51AM (#16732375) Homepage
    ... does Wikipedia have to be written off as a be-all-end-all 100% accurate encyclopedia? With just short of one and a half million entries, I'm sure there's at least 10,000 partial or even complete fictional articles. Does it affect the encyclopedia as a whole? Not at all. The only people it affects clearly believe *everything* they read on the internet, irregardless of source.

    Saying that a certain percentage of articles undermines the whole encyclopedia is likening everybody to criminals just because some of us are.

    I just can't believe people are still beating this drum - when will individual cases like this stop making /. news?

  • Not a Hoax (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sangreal66 (740295) on Monday November 06, 2006 @03:55AM (#16732399)
    Correct me if I am wrong, but I just read the AfD page and it doesn't appear that this was a hoax or vandalism at all. What it was, was a well written article on a theory that did not meet Wikipedia's notability requirements. It was also written by the creator of the theory which is against Wikipedia's policies on original research.
    • Exactly my thoughts. It's not a "hoax", it's just not up to standards. If someone else had written about this little-known/accepted theory, it would be a fine article.
      • by McDutchie (151611)
        It's not a "hoax", it's just not up to standards. If someone else had written about this little-known/accepted theory, it would be a fine article.

        Well no, because it would still have been little-known/accepted, violating the notability requirement.

    • by Jugalator (259273)
      Yes, it's considered a "bad thing" for good reasons (allowing original research would introduce a heck of a lot of weirdness and has to be prevented), but it's not really vandalism as in "intentionally attacking articles and introducing inaccuracies" or whatever a normal definition would be. I wonder if the author even knew of Wikipedia's stance on original research as newcomers to Wikipedia can miss out on some things. It's pretty hard to find and read up on all documentation that's available scattered aro
    • by Duncan3 (10537)
      If you write about your own work it's removed. You have to write about 2nd hand information. Which leads to a whole lot of stub articles that just point to the actual work/site/references.

      It's easier to say you're an encyclopedia that way... I guess? Seems to limit the completeness of articles if you ask me. Wikipedia is just another source, as likely to be wrong at 3:27PM as it is to be right at 3:26PM.

      Sure is great though - but it is NOT an "encyclopedia".
      • by pfafrich (647460)
        Indeed its not a hoax, its more an insertion of a little known theory into the encyclopedia. Yes there is a lot of this sort of stuff in wikipedia, something like 1000 articles are deleted daily and they are often of some not notable band, theory, or person. This is probably a bigger problem than vandalism on wikipedia. The exposure of wikipedia now makes it a honey pot for those who wish to push their pet theory. Currently there a big arbitration debate on how to handle psudoscience articles. For the most
    • I can understand that there are some reasons why we wouldn't want the creator or a 1st hand source editing the wiki for it, but does it truly outweigh the benefits of allowing them to add information?

      Sometimes a 2nd hand source can leave out information which is critical to understanding the whole article. If the article was about something I did, I should be allowed to edit the wiki and add or edit any information which I think is missing or is incorrect. Some may have a tendency to exaggerate, but that's
      • You are allowed to add information as long as you write it from a neutral point of view, in the third person, and you cite reliable published sources.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original _research#Citing_oneself [wikipedia.org]
      • no real need to get someone to do it for you as you are pretty anonymous on the web anyway.

        fact is while wikipedia can't stop people writing about subjects they have a personal interest in, such works are generally pretty easy to spot as they are generally hugely biased and are generally candidates for deletion on notability grounds.

        If one research paper is really the only point of view that exists on a subject then it probablly isn't notable enough for wikipedia anyway.

    • "Vandalism" is the destruction of something. Nothing was destroyed by this silly article. Was it the submitter or editor who decided to sex up this tedious story by headlining it as if it was wholesale deletion or falsification of Wikipedia? Why are there three similar stories on Slashdot denigrating Wikipedia today?

      It's as much news as "Troll gets FP on Slashdot!" Big deal. Slashdot trolls are modded down, Wiki trolls are fixed or deleted.

    • by Khalid (31037)
      Well it seems to be just a case a sensationalist journalism in Slashdot again. Anyway Hoax happens even in peer reviewed journals. "Sokal Affaire" anyone ? which has shaked a hole area of human sciences : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_Affair [wikipedia.org]
      • by Khalid (31037)
        Sorry After reading the WP entry I noticed that the publication journal had no peer review process, I believe that a such article could not pass the WP peer review as it is now. The article has generated a lot of controversy especially in Europe.
  • by theLOUDroom (556455) on Monday November 06, 2006 @03:55AM (#16732403)
    I'd say it's more like proof that the system works.

    Sure you can create a false article. It's not like scientists have never falsified their research and published it in a journal, for example.

    The proof is whether they're caught and the mistakes are corrected. In an obscure subject this may take a while in ANY format.

    People need to learn to apply good research skills across the board, not just to wikis.
    Considering the source is one of these.
    • I'd say it's more like proof that the system works.

      Sure it works - but not even remotely to specs. Wikipedia consistently claims that 'problem articles' are (supposedly) caught and fixed in fairly short order. (Minutes to hours is the figure most often bandied about.) Yet here, and in the Siegenthaler Affair, is a case of a problem article that persisted for months.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by catbutt (469582)
        I think a more meaningful metric for how much harm was done was how many people were exposed to the article. If only 500 people visited it in that year, that's pretty much equivalent to a more prominent "bad article" that was only up for 10 minutes, if 500 people visited it during those 10 minutes.
      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        Yet here, and in the Siegenthaler Affair, is a case of a problem article that persisted for months.

        Both articles about uninteresting subjects, rarely accessed by anyone except the original authors. Instead of "minutes" vs "months", probably a better metric would be number of times a dubious page is read before it's noticed and fixed. Perhaps a few dozen in each case I'd guess.

      • by Sique (173459)
        No. It didn't. A problem only exists, if it is spotted. If no one cares or knows, then it is not a problem. It may still be a fault though.

        In this case the fault was lurking in Wikipedia for nearly a year. But when the problem arised (Hey, guys, look at this article. Doesn't it look suspicious?) it was dealt with on short notice. It's the same with bugs. Of course bugs exists everywhere, but one of the main problems with existing bugs is, that they aren't discovered, until someone stumbles on it and can nai
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      What most are getting hung up on is the long duration for which this article existed. However, "the better part of a year" is about as much as long as a revision for a regular paper encyclopedia. I agree this is an unusually notable case as it was an article marked as Good Article with all original research, but one also have to keep in mind the timescale of fixing more or less notable problems in competing encyclopedias.
    • I have to disagree with "The proof is whether they're caught and the mistakes are corrected.". By that logic, proof that the system doesn't work can't even exist. If nothing is caught, then you can't say there is a mistake that isn't corrected... by reporting on a mistake, it will be caught and corrected. Let's say I've caught articles with inaccurate facts, have not reported or corrected it. Is that proof the system doesn't work? Only so long as I don't report on it...

      The system is self-reinforcing in
  • Nobody's claiming that Wikipedia is 100% accurate. Even closed encyclopedias though can contain errors. The point is that those errors are less likely to be detected since very few people have access.
    • by _Ludwig (86077)
      Very few people have access to encyclopaedias?
      • by nigham (792777)
        Very few people have access to encyclopaedias?
        Compared to the number of people who have access to the Internet.
    • by mark-t (151149)
      The main reason why "proper" encyclopedias can be trusted to contain more accurate data isn't because they actually _do_, it's because encyclopedia companies can actually be held responsible if the information they publish is libelous. Wikipedia has no real legal accountability to be factual, in spite of best efforts by a vast majority of its contributors and editors, so Wikipedia's credentials are inherently dubious.
      • by vadim_t (324782)
        Libelous, that I can see, but how about factually incorrect?

        Britannica isn't the only encyclopedia around. There's a lot of much smaller ones. What would be the result of exposing something similar in any other encyclopedia? My best guess is that if you contacted one with a correction you'd be likely to be silently ignored. The press would probably ignore as well, unless you had something really juicy for them.

        I only remember hearing of one of those cases on TV: 12 year old found several mistakes in an ency [timesonline.co.uk]
      • by nigham (792777)
        The main reason why "proper" encyclopedias can be trusted to contain more accurate data isn't because they actually _do_, it's because encyclopedia companies can actually be held responsible if the information they publish is libelous.
        I'm not too sure about this. Have you ever seen the EULA for an encyclopedia? Given the vast amount of dynamic information that an encyclopedia has, I'm sure the authors will indemnify themselves.
    • by dave420 (699308)
      Some encyclopaedias contain errors on purpose, to see if they turn up in rival encyclopaedias. If they do, then obviously said encyclopaedia has been copied from by said rival. Same goes for maps with made-up streets, "Who's Who"-type listings with made-up people, etc. That's why it's of the utmost importance to use a second (and a third) source to verify any information you find online, if you think it's that important.
  • ....surely the creator of a theory is the most qualified person to write about that theory?
  • by ymgve (457563) on Monday November 06, 2006 @03:57AM (#16732415) Homepage
    Is it possible to read deleted articles on Wikipedia in any way? I know articles are deleted for a reason, but it seems like a Bad Thing that once an article is judged unworthy, all its history and edits disappear into a black hole.

    I know that right now I can use caches or Wikipedia mirrors to access the article, but imagine if somebody ten years into the future want to read the offending article. (It had to have some interesting stuff, since it had been picked out as a Good Article earlier.)
    • Is it possible to read deleted articles on Wikipedia in any way?

      Wikipedia admins are able to view deleted edits and deleted articles. General users cannot, however. As a rule, very few things ever completely disappear from Wikipedia--someone, at some rank, can access past and deleted versions.

    • by Mike Peel (885855)
      From what I understand, they aren't actually deleted - they're hidden from non-admins. So you can request to view a deleted page if you wish, although you might not always be given access to it. For example, if a page contained personal information about someone that they didn't want available, then you shouldn't get access to it. If a historian in the future wanted access to it, then they'd probably get a copy of it. See this page [wikipedia.org] for more information.
    • by AxelBoldt (1490)
      Wikipedia admins can read deleted articles and can provide a copy if you ask nicely. Deleted articles remain under GFDL so distribution is legal.
    • There are quite a few wikipedia mirrors on the net that usually update from the main site with delays

      For instance http://www.answers.com/topic/npa-personality-theor y [answers.com]
  • Misleading Summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BeeBeard (999187) on Monday November 06, 2006 @04:12AM (#16732481)
    Now I'm just convinced that even the people who submit articles don't read them first. This wasn't "vandalism" per se so much as it was shameless self-promotion by Anthony M. Benis, who invented the same psychological theory that he would later write about on Wikipedia. While his knowledge and authority on the theory are not in question (what with his being the creator of it), the notability of the theory in the field of psychology is in question.

    It seems that the true nature of the article is far, far more boring than what the summary leads you to believe.
  • The basic complain is that the NPA Personality is not really a widely accepted theory that was promoted on the Wikipedia by the author of the theory himself. Notable or not, the NPA Personality theory was published, thought not accepted. That doesn't make the article vandalism or a hoax. The author is self-promoting on Wikipedia and violates the no primary research rule. It doesn't really say anything about the Wikipedia system. The fact that it was caught and then voted for deletion means the Wikipedi
  • I fail to see how this is a black mark against Wikipedia. The theory is genuine, just not really worth mentioning. If you read the deletion discussion, you'll see that Wikipedia is working just fine. A whole bunch of people had an intelligent, generally respectful discussion about the merits of the piece, then decided to remove it after due consideration. 'Vandalism'? I think not.
    • by BeeBeard (999187)
      A priest, a rabbi, and buddhist monk all walk into a bar. They enjoyed each other's company and had a wonderful time.

      *yawn*
  • I have to ask - is this Slashdot Anti-Wikipedia day? There have been three anti-Wikipedia articles in the last 24 hours or so.
  • I read a few comments on the talk pages. It was interesting to see how the problem was approached and dealt with. My conclusion is that Wikipedia needs releases like Linux distros.

    The user could indicate in a profile whether she wants stable/testing or unstable pages, maybe even sections/volumes whatever could be separately specified.

    The stable version could only be edited by assigned editors and mostly for typos and broken references and such. If an error is found it could be indicated with a note of di
    • The problem is who is going to do the review? Finding an expert for every topic who's willing to spend his/her time on hundreds of pages isn't going to be easy. Not to mention that not everything is an unquestional fact. Differend experts can have very differend oppinions. I think Wikipedia is doing just fine now.
  • We're all tired of various "experts" and "specialists" attacking Wikipedia's accuracy.

    If a "classic" encyclopedia was to be examined for accuracy, you can be sure you'll find multiple instances of brutal inaccuracy. We're friggin' human, nothing we create is perfect, and we're not perfect, and the world isn't perfect. Deal with it.
  • Seriously. Wikipedia is going to have growing pains like any other online medium where public input is involved. To pretend that a couple of sources are misleading in anyway is a little silly. 98% of Wikipedia by these standards is an OK source. Most likely, verifiably. Seems like a good working system, and I know it is already, because I USE IT. Now if I want to double check facts, an extra source is never a bad idea, which is why I'm so into project gutenberg (sp?) and other sites like that as well.
    • Even better, let's make sure wikipedia has a note somewhere on the front page that links to something about BASIC INFORMATION THEORY. Unless they do already. People should be easily notified that double checking facts in life is always a good idea! Apparently they need it more than their getting it!
    • by Archon-X (264195)
      I have found one of the handiest uses for Wiki, in a research context, is to use the article as general background - and then use the sources for your reliable information.

      Seems to be one of the more reliable ways to research.
  • Some of this is shooting the messenger. The truth is that throughout history much of the information available to human beings has been incorrect, lies, spin, and shameless self-promotion. One reason we have universities and the complex structures of peer review and official publication is to try and establish a gold standard for reliable knowledge and discourse about it, and it is clear from the way that universities have evolved that they have to have political independence to work.

    There are two special d

    • by Denial93 (773403)
      Allow me to use your post as a stepping-stone for my more general argument.

      In a long-running trend towards universal, free, correct, unbiased knowledge for everyone, Wikipedia the most recent step. Of course we are still far from the goal, but we are much closer than we were a few years ago. I believe Wikipedia is very far from perfect and must be modified/replaced in time. But overall, and including factors other than accuracy (esp. price, volume, topicality), it a better provider of knowledge availabilit
      • The problem I have, as a part-time researcher in a specific area, is obtaining information given that I have chosen to live in a rural area. To a certain extent the Internet has made this decision feasible, and Wikipedia helps. But I have to interpret it in the light of my own background knowledge. In the past we did not have quite so much uninformation floating around, partly because idiots (of whom there are many) had to make the effort to visit libraries and search paper books to support their ideas, and
  • My Observations:
    (1) Wikipedia has a tremendous amount of high quality, accurate information.
    (2) Wikipedia has a large amount of bogus info, misleading statements, and other problems.

    My Opinion:

    (3) Wikipedia could be made more accurate/better if articles were systematically reviewed by experts.
    (4) The only practical way for (3) to be accomplished is it were organized and run by an extremely well financed non-profit or a private company that could somehow recoup its investment by selling access, advertis

  • I wonder if all the subtle mirrors [about.com] will be fixed...

    I never liked how so freaking many website do more or less subtle mirrors of Wikipedia. Not for licensing reasons -- they have full permissions to do this if obeying the GFDL -- but because Wikipedia is often freaking unverified information. You'd think about.com and the likes would know better!
  • Usually these articles are spotted when the author in question links them to an existing article. See for example this piece of nonsense [wikipedia.org] which is working its way through AfD at the moment. I spotted it when it was linked to the existing Penal Colony article which is on my watchlist.

    Rich.

  • This just goes to show you that you should never believe anything you read on Wikipedia. I know this because I read it on Slashdot. :P

    This reminds me of the article that appeared in a couple of Australian newspapers today, mentioning Brandt's findings of 142 copyvio's on Wikipedia. By the time the newspaper article was published, Wikipedia admins had located and fixed all articles mentioned, plus another hundred or so. Good work dead-tree press!
  • And all of them negative to some extent. Is this just me, or does this sound odd?
  • Comrade Ogilvy sighted again [online-literature.com]!

    Why is anyone at all surprised that Wikipedia is stuffed to the gills with junk and propaganda?

    Oh, and let's get rid of another myth. You don't have to believe everything you read on Wikipedia - really? There are at least 965 domains that scrape Wikipedia's content and serve it up with advertising. Chances are, almost any factual subject searched for on Google will include Wikipedia and/or the scrapers.

    Most people are unaware of these scraper sites, and they don't realise that t
  • Damn! And in this of all possible years! Can we still celebrate [theonion.com] after such a scandal?
  • That's the best thing about Wikipedia: the debates are transparent, down to the boring nitty-gritty. No transparency at all with the Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia do with a firmer identity process, even if to just weed out the multitude of sock-puppets.
  • this one freak incident obviously means the ENTIRE project is utterly worthless. oh well, delete it all.
  • Some have expressed an interest in reading what Wikipedia called a "good article," the NPA personality theory article. Here it is, grabbed by Wikipedia-Watch from Google's cache, and stripped of junk added by Google: http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/npa.html [wikipedia-watch.org]

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