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Relying on Wikipedia: voters, scientists, and a Canadian border guard

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By Bri and Smallbones

US elections

"Hail to the Chief" has been associated with both the U.S. President and the President of the Confederacy (Hail to the Chief#History)

Media recognized Wikipedia's role in providing neutrally sourced information to citizens preparing for the U.S. November elections. In particular, Wikipedia's community-based model (versus the top-down control of other social media platforms) was shown as an effective way to forestall potential problems by adding extra protection to elections-related topics. It wasn't all positive, though, with some sources pointing out continuing issues around women's biographies, and potentially politically-motivated vandalism. B


Reviews and extracts of Wikipedia@20, a thick book of essays about Wikipedia's first twenty years, have started coming out. The essays are written by academics and by Wikipedians and are aimed at the same groups.

The creation, rejection, and disappearance of the Sept. 11 memorial wiki’s content remains an underappreciated cautionary tale about the presumed durability of peer-produced knowledge: This content only persists when it remains integrated with the larger common project rather than being relegated to a smaller and more specialized project. Wikipedia’s peer production model is not immune from "rich get richer" mechanisms.

Don't mess with a Canadian border officer armed with Wikipedia

Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei was detained at the Vancouver airport on December 1, 2018 with the help of a Canada Border Services Agency officer who prepared for an interview with her with an "open-source query" – reading Wikipedia for 5 or 10 minutes. Meng is facing possible extradition to the U.S. and her detention soon became a major international incident. In "Wikipedia was source of security concern questions for Meng: Border officer", The Canadian Press reported on the in-court testimony of Sanjit Dhillon, a CBSA supervisor at Vancouver International Airport.

Before Meng's plane landed, Dhillon said she was flagged in an internal database for an outstanding warrant in her name.
Anticipating her arrival, Dhillon testified he found a Wikipedia page about Huawei that said the company doesn't operate in the United States because of security concerns and that Huawei was suspected of violating U.S. economic sanctions with Iran. [...]
Dhillon asked Meng what she did. She said she was the chief financial officer of a global telecommunications company, he told the court.
He asked where the company did business. When she listed countries without including the United States he asked her why.
"She said we don't sell our products in the United States," Dhillon said.
He asked if there was a reason why and Meng responded she didn't know. Dhillon said he then reframed the question.
"Since she's the chief financial officer of this telecommunications company, I would assume that she would know why her company isn't able to sell its products in one of the most lucrative markets in the world," Dhillon said.
"She was quiet. She didn't respond right away. And eventually she said there was a security concern with the product the U.S. government had."
He testified Meng didn't say what those concerns were.
Dhillon said his questions were based on his own online search and he was not directed by anyone to ask her questions.

The South China Morning Post reported the story similarly, adding the detail that "Dhillon said he spent five to 10 minutes reviewing the Wikipedia article."

Business in Vancouver added that Wikipedia was the only source he used!

The Signpost can confirm that on December 1, 2018 the Huawei article contained a large section about Iran, espionage, and security concerns in the US, consistent with Dhillon's testimony. S

Lockdown 1.0 – following Wikipedia?

BBC Two reportedly had an excellent hour-long documentary "Lockdown 1.0 - Following the Science?" airing on November 19 about the UK government's handling of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately those of us outside the UK cannot view the online version due to licensing restrictions.

The Guardian provided a detailed review of the documentary, giving it 4 stars, and surveying the many facts presented, including one about Wikipedia:

"The public may be surprised to hear we were using data from Wikipedia very early on – but it really was the only data publicly available." — Dr. Ian Hall of Manchester University, deputy chair of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling

Several UK tabloids have featured this quote in their reporting on the documentary. B, S

In brief

Anarchisch und chaotisch

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Looks like CNET has not figured out that Ryan Merkley is Canadian - not that it matters much, and I am sure he is fully qualified to answer their questions about the US elections.--Ymblanter (talk) 11:16, 30 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]

but it really was the only data publicly available - meaning laziness of this person. Wikipedia articles are based solely on data publicly available. And if there were no references in wikpedia article they used then they are an naive idiots.Lembit Staan (talk) 21:42, 30 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]

But it wasn't really just him - he was helping to run a major advisory group to the UK government. Of course knowing there are sources out there and actually checking and recording the sources are two different things. So the point of the criticisms was that Wikipedia was doing a better job than the UK government. The speaker was probably coming at it from a different angle - the UK govt wasn't providing them any official data that was any better than Wikipedia's. Smallbones(smalltalk) 00:31, 1 December 2020 (UTC)[reply]

On a whim, I wrote a Letter to the Editor about that New Yorker column. This was the meat of it:

Louis Menand's entertaining column ("Wikipedia, “Jeopardy!,” and the Fate of the Fact", 23 November 2020) misrepresents Wikipedia in a few ways. When it comes to citations, peer-reviewed journals and blogs are not treated the same. Blog posts, social media and other self-published sources can only be used in restricted circumstances. In medical matters, a blog would virtually never be an acceptable source, and even many peer-reviewed journal articles would not make the cut, as Wikipedia values review articles that summarize and contextualize over initial reports that might not hold up. Menand is correct to say that Wikipedia functions as "in essence, an aggregator site", but long experience has taught its community that there need to be standards for what is aggregated.
Menand describes Jimmy Wales as the project's "grand arbiter", but the vast majority of day-to-day decisions about when editors get the boot are made by the volunteers themselves. Community members who successfully run a gauntlet of a nomination process become "administrators", who can then block editors temporarily or permanently, as well as impose various types of editing lock-outs upon individual articles. Similarly, when Menand writes that Wales "doesn't care whether some of the editors are discovered to be impostors", this elides the fact that "pretending to expertise" is only one kind of imposture. One way for an editor to get booted and their contributions deleted is to be unmasked as a paid shill.

The wiki-links here were hyperlinks in my email. I doubt I'll hear back, but it was fun to use imposture in a sentence. XOR'easter (talk) 18:12, 12 December 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for that. I'm not sure it comes thru in what I wrote about the New Yorker piece, but it was my 2nd favorite (after the Canadian border guard articles) of everything I read about Wikipedia last month. Very informative, and entertaining, and a very interesting style. That said, yes, journalists who don't specialize in Wikipedia make a lot of mistakes. Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:29, 15 December 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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