Wikipedia becomes a "trusted source" for Ebola information
Noam Cohen reports in The New York Times (October 26) that Wikipedia's "Ebola Virus Disease article has had 17 million page views in the last month," an indication of the public's reliance on the online encyclopedia. The day a second nurse was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, the article had 2.5 million views, 60% of the 3.5 million views the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported for their portal on the topic. A Google search for Ebola listed the Wikipedia article first until recent tweaks placed it below the CDC. Cohen's article shows a screen shot from Bing that also places the Ebola Virus Disease article prominently.
In noting that Wikipedia has gone from "the butt of jokes for being the site where visitors could find anything, true or not," to a source of trusted information, Cohen quotes one of the 2004 founders of WikiProject Medicine, Dr. Jacob de Wolff (User:Jfdwolff): "It is because Wikipedia is such a recognized brand — obviously the C.D.C. is still much more authoritative than we will ever be — that people will click on that (Wikipedia) link."
Cohen also quotes Dr. James Heilman (User:Doc James), a Canadian emergency physician and president of the Wiki Project Med Foundation: "Wikipedia is a do-ocracy. Those who do the most, do have a greater influence. A key group of us keep an eye on articles that have become more popular to make sure that Wikipedia’s most-read content is of a reasonably high standard."
Cohen notes that early in Wikipedia's existence, many questioned how much trust could be placed in an "encyclopedia that anyone can edit." However, as it improved over time, Wikipedia has instituted more controls as well. For instance, the Ebola virus disease is semiprotected so that only autoconfirmed users can edit it. Those who are unregistered or non-confirmed users can suggest edits at the "separately maintained page," which is the article's talk page, "where (confirmed) editors ... review them and decide whether to incorporate them." He also notes that editors' scrutiny for the article's sources is more thorough than other articles, and that many "newspaper articles, for example, do not cut it."
A dissenting note came earlier this year from a study in the May issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association which found "many errors" in Wikipedia articles about the ten most costly medical conditions in the US. KAITreported (October 3) on the study and the comments of Dr. Shane Speights of St. Bernards Medical Center. Speights cited unspecified errors in Wikipedia's Ebola article and objected to the article's use of sources other than "journal articles and studies".
Wikipedia study cited as example of government waste
CNN, Bloomberg News, and Buzzfeed are among the media outlets highlighting the appearance of a Wikipedia study on US Senator Tom Coburn's annual "Wastebook". Coburn, a Republican who represents the state of Oklahoma, has been dubbed "Senator No" for his strident opposition to government spending, at times even objecting to otherwise widely popular allocations of government funds, such as relief aid for the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy or funds for the investigation of crimes involving child pornography and civil rights.
Coburn's office annually releases a compilation of government spending on what it dubs "silly, unnecessary, and low priority projects", with attention-grabbing descriptions that often make their way into news headlines. This year's Wastebook, which will be the last due to Coburn's retirement next January, announces on its cover "Monkeys Gambling With Your Money" and "NASA's Out of this World Golf Clubs".
Opening up the Wastebook always leads to a variety of hilarious-sounding government-funded research projects, the kind of spending that, regardless of the merits, makes good fodder for Senate floor speeches and campaign criticism, and even perhaps of late night comedians.
Research grants from the National Science Foundation have been a frequent target for Coburn and the Wastebook. The NSF has a $7 billion annual budget, which is about 0.18 percent of US federal government spending. Coburn's Wastebook has described projects and experiments funded by the NSF with colorful phrases like "gambling monkeys" and "mountain lions on a treadmill". Scientists charge that Coburn's descriptions lack "nuance" or are outright misleading, by inadequately describing, omitting, or misrepresenting their scientific value. One scientist targeted by Coburn toldLive Science "It is unfortunate and sad that public safety and well-being is being threatened by politicians' hasty efforts to promote their political agendas."
Biography of teenage footballer becomes viral sensation
Yahoo! Eurosport UK marveled (October 27) at the lengthy Wikipedia article for nineteen year old footballerFraser Hobday, goalkeeper for Highland Football League team Huntly F.C.. Media outlets noted that the article, at 3271 words, was longer than Wikipedia articles for notable professional players like Joe Hart. The article contained minute details of his football career dating back to primary school and biographical details such as his current job as a trainee chef. Following the story's publication, Hobday's Wikipedia article was heavily edited, repeatedly vandalized, reduced to two sentences, and proposed for deletion. The article also went viral, making Hobday "something of a folk hero on social media" according to the Daily Mirror (October 28). The Mirror noted the many favorable tweets about Hobday's article, including one from BBC journalist Jeremy Vine: "Far and away the best entry on Wikipedia, ever ever". Hobday spoke to the Daily Mail (October 28), saying that the article was written by his older sister Heather because "We knew Wikipedia doesn't allow you to add your own entries so I can't write it." While many journalists thought that some of the details in Hobday's article were presented humorously, Hobday insisted that the article was a serious one: "it's basically an online CV." Despite this, he said it was the subject of teasing from his teammates: "They'd say 'what's Fraser doing tonight?', 'probably updating his Wikipedia page'." The Daily Telegraph (October 29) noted the irony that while Wikipedia's rules prevent self-promotion such as Hobday's, the article has made him famous, at least temporarily.
Editor's note, November 1: Hobday's article has been deleted by an English Wikipedia administrator after a short deletion discussion.
Pakistani Twitter bot: Anum Pasha from The Express Tribuneprofiles (October 26) Irfan Ahmed, operator of the Twitter bot PakistanEdits. Unlike similar Twitter bots that have been in the news in recent months which retweet edits from particular governmental bodies or organizations (see recent Signpostcoverage), PakistanEdits tweets edits from any IP address located within Pakistan. Ahmed hopes to promote the creation of quality Wikipedia content related to Pakistan.
Another sticky wicket: At Wimbledon this summer, when Maria Sharapova said that she did not know who legendary Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar was, she set off a wave of nationalistic internet ire, which has also targeted others who admitted they were unaware of Tendulkar, including actress Hansika Motwani. The Deccan Chroniclereports (October 25) on how Jimmy Wales, unaware of Tendulkar or the controversy, got caught up in it. Wales was posed the question on Quora and replied "I don't think we have ever met. I had to Google his name to find out who he is. I would imagine he'd have to do the same to find out who I am." Wales soon won over outraged commenters by replying to another question by posting the YouTube video of the song "Sachin Anthem" by Dhanush.
Photographing the gender gap: Following an outcry regarding a list of 100 contemporary photographers published on the blog of Selektor Magazine that only included eight women, photographer Tammy Mercure produced her own list of 70 women (October 15) and wrote "I've been slowly making Wikipedia pages for notable woman photographers and it has been really eye-opening on what Wikipedia considers credible resources and how few are available online for undeniably notable women."