Editor's response to Roth draws internet attention: Oliver Keyes' (User:Ironholds) defense of Wikipedia against the recent Philip Roth controversy has drawn a significant amount of attention over the last week — "took Roth’s explanation as the truth and launched into a lengthy discussion of how we Wikipedia handle primary sourcing."
Oliver Keyes' (User:Ironholds) defense of Wikipedia against the recent Philip Roth controversy has drawn a significant amount of attention over the last week.
The problems between Roth, a widely known and acclaimed American author, and Wikipedia arose from an open letter he penned for the American magazine The New Yorker, and were covered by the Signposttwo weeks ago. Keyes—who wrote the piece as a prominent Wikipedian but is also a contractor for the Wikimedia Foundation—wrote a blog post on the topic, lamenting the factual errors in Roth's letter and criticizing the media for not investigating his claims: "[they took] Roth’s explanation as the truth and launched into a lengthy discussion of how we [Wikipedia] handle primary sourcing."
The post quickly drew large amounts of attention, in no small part due to a tweet from Jimmy Wales ("Attention journalists: worth reading."), who has over 74,000 followers on the site.
Keyes found four major problems with Roth's piece, with most being based on factual differences between the chain of events, as documented in the article's history, and Roth's account. The fourth issue was more touchy, with Keyes asserting that Roth did not use "the normal channels"—i.e. the Open-source Ticket Requests System (OTRS)—which he claimed is on the "contact us page that readers are linked to every time they open any wikipedia page ever" (emphasis in original), but the actual email address is buried in subpages.
Keyes concludes that Wikipedia's processes worked in this case. He believes that allowing article subjects to simply email Wikipedia and have us change something, just because they said so, is wrong, because verifiability cannot be compromised—or in Keyes' words, "[we try to] ensure that readers have a hope in hell of actually checking the accuracy of our information. ... We don’t want readers to trust us. We want readers to think and be able to do their own research."
He elaborated on this view in a follow-up blog post, setting up a hypothetical situation where Wikipedia has instituted an email notification system for article subjects to provide the 'real' facts for their articles. While Keyes acknowledges the potential benefits, especially when given our current policy that values verifiability over 'the truth', he quickly showed why any model of this sort is untenable: what if an article subject wanted to falsely 'correct' their article to make themselves look better?
In what may have been the strongest language used by Keyes, he finished the post by condemning the media for simply accepting Roth's claims with no investigation of their own:
[P]eople should perhaps start having a debate about the way authors are treated in "proper" sources. The New Yorker, the Guardian, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times – all respected bodies. And all, without being able and/or willing to do their own research, happily published or republished Roth’s assertions. We rely on these organisations for reporting what our politicians do, what our armed forces do, how entities with the power of life and death over humanity are accountable to the people. And they happily gulp down the glorified press releases of anyone who offers to let them touch his Pulitzer.
And you think Wikipedia is what we should be concerned about? Fuck. That. Noise.
Baltimore Sun journalist and copyeditor John E. McIntyre has published a blog post critical of Wikipedia, urging readers to "have serious misgivings about Wikipedia as a reference." His column follows a recent story by McIntyre focusing on "sham editing" as part of the Roth controversy, and is in line with opinions he has expressed in 2007 and January2009.