My insidious lies
A short paper of mine was just published in First Monday. The abstract is this:
A number of studies have assessed the reliability of entries in the Wikipedia at specific times. One important difference between the Wikipedia and traditional media, however, is the dynamic nature of its entries. An entry assessed today might be substantially extended or reworked tomorrow. This paper assesses the frequency with which small, inaccurate changes are quickly corrected.My methodology was to introduce fibs into the Wikipedia entries on the lives of philosophers and watch the entries for 48 hours. If they had not been corrected, I removed them after that time.
The gist of it is that 10 out of 28 changes (36%) were either flagged or reverted within 48 hours. This is an adjusted number, but I think the more informative one; see the paper for all the whingeing and analysis.
It would have done no good to insert the very same fib into a great many entries, because that might have alerted someone to the systematic nature of the endeavor. So I had to make up a lot of different fibs. That part of the study was kind of fun, and I thought I'd provide a bit of colour commentary that would have been inappropriate in the list of data. None of the following were flagged or corrected.
Of Gottfried Leibniz: "Many of his manuscripts are written in a shorthand of his own invention which uses binary numbers to encode sequences of characters." As Cristyn was quick to mention, there is no way that a binary encoding could be a shorthand. It provably maximizes the number of characters required to encode information!
Of Jeremy Bentham: "As a child, he wrote a series of imaginative dialogues between an unnamed boy and wisdom incarnate in the form of a tiger. These were never published, but reflected the author's early interest in writing and philosophy." I originally wrote this with Thomas Hobbes in mind.
Of Friedrich Nietzsche, in the context of his book not selling well: "In a letter to Victoria Regina, Nietzsche even entertained the possibility of burning the remaining copies to collect on insurance." I was tickled by the thought of despondent Nietzsche writing the Queen of England about his troubles. It is like the premise for a romantic comedy. The fib about Thomas Hill Green's writing to the Queen was caught and corrected, for what it's worth.
In the entry on Rudolf Carnap: "The Vienna Circle was also a tightly-knit social group. They regularly met to play cards, including a bridge-like game of their own devising called Whistenschaft." Ha! I crack myself up.
Of Gilbert Ryle: "After retiring, Ryle bought a small farm. He tinkered with automated processes to care for livestock, although they never proved to be commercially viable." That would explain why Ryle was so down on the goats in the machine.
Of Karl Popper: "[H]e lived on a cooperative farm. He later claimed that nothing prepares the mind for philosophy like milking a cow." There is nothing especially Popperian about this bon mot, but I was tickled by it.
Of GE Moore: "His influence outside philosophy includes a reference to him in the signature line of the musical Oliver." Please, sir... I'd like some Moore. (groan)
I had enough fun conducting this study that I worried a bit that it was silly and petulant. As I mention in the conclusion of the article, there are systematic issues that should discourage anyone from doing a larger-scale version of this study. And probing the Wikipedia should not be used as an excuse for haphazard vandalism. Yet I do think that the study was worth doing, and using less entertaining fibs would not have improved it any.
UPDATE 7Sep: Fixed the link to the complete list of fibs and added mention of the GE Moore pun.
Fri 05 Sep 2008 05:04 PM
from: Administrator (P.D. Magnus)
Hmm... a software bug ate some comments. I've pasted them back in.
whistenschaft = awesome. Would you consider actually devising rules?
Greg: Perhaps it's a trick taking game in which only some tricks have cognitive content and thereby are worth winning. Those would be real tricks, and the others would be pseudotricks. That could make it more of a parody than a real game, however, and it may be funnier just to let it be a one-liner.
Mon 08 Dec 2008 03:18 PM