Adventures with Wikipedia

September 14th, 2010 by Jack Styczynski

Usually, weeks pass without Wikipedia playing any role in my research, but I had two experiences in recent days that I thought worth passing along.

First, last Friday, seconds before MSNBC’s Chris Jansing was about to go on the air with a story about boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s latest foray into the news, she asked if he had been a champion.  I immediately answered yes, and then knowing I had precious little time to check any details, Googled him.  Watching me, Chris asked to view the Wikipedia link that appeared in the results, and we saw Mayweather had won nine championships in five weight classes.  I said we can’t vouch for Wikipedia, and she agreed, making sure to couch what she ultimately said on the air with the words “something like” nine championships in five weight classes.  I felt pretty good with her disclaimer.  With more time to check it out later, it essentially turned out to be correct (boxing championships are not as black and white as championships in most sports, so it’s debatable).  Let me add that most research I do is not under that tight of a deadline.  Given even 10 minutes, I wouldn’t have checked Wikipedia at all.

Then today, I got a research request at the Times asking for an article in the Pensacola News Journal from June 31, 2003.  Of course, there is no such date as June 31st, and the requester said the citation came from a Wikipedia entry on Judge Roger Vinson.  It was supposedly an article about the judge having stuffed bear heads above the door to his courtroom and removing them under pressure.  Checking Nexis, I found no stories like that in the Pensacola paper or elsewhere, and told the requester I thought the entry may be false.  He called the judge’s chambers and found out it was completely made up.  The judge’s wife had even heard Rush Limbaugh repeat it and freaked.  Minutes later, Wikipedia had been revised, with the passage in question removed.

I guess you can consider this an update to the Wikipedia video Barbara Gray shared at the Nexis orientation.

2 Responses to “Adventures with Wikipedia”

  1. Steve Strasser Says:

    Wikipedia is evil and seductive.

  2. Tinamarie Vella Says:

    I read this article a while back — I meant to post it, but I never did.

    But, a case in the Philippines was thrown out b/c the government cited Wikipedia

    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100829-289336/Govt-loses-case-for-citing-Wikipedia