How good is Wikipedia? Well, a professor at a college in Buffalo, NY tried to test Wikipedia’s credibility by deliberately inserting some false information into the online encyclopedia, including a fictitious account of a Canadian politician done in by a sex and drugs scandal. To do this he used a false name (Dr. al-Halawi) and false credentials. Did he succeed? For about three hours before he was caught. Here’s a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education on Dr. Alexander Halavais’ experiment:
Some of the errata he inserted — like a claim that Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, had made Syracuse, N.Y., his home for four years — seemed entirely credible. Some — like an Oscar for film editing that Mr. Halavais awarded to The Rescuers Down Under, an animated Disney film — were more obviously false, and easier to fact-check. And others were downright odd: In an obscure article on a short-lived political party in New Brunswick, Canada, the professor wrote of a politician felled by “a very public scandal relating to an official Party event at which cocaine and prostitutes were made available.”
Mr. Halavais expected some of his fabrications to languish online for some time. Like many academics, he was skeptical about a mob-edited publication that called itself an authoritative encyclopedia. But less than three hours after he posted them, all of his false facts had been deleted, thanks to the vigilance of Wikipedia editors who regularly check a page on the Web site that displays recently updated entries. On Dr. al-Halawi's “user talk” page, one Wikipedian pleaded with him to “refrain from writing nonsense articles and falsifying information.”
Mr. Halavais realized that the jig was up.
Read the full story at: The Chronicle: 10/27/2006: Can Wikipedia Ever Make the Grade?.