How trustworthy is ‘Wikipedia’?

Wikipedia is one of the most popular and indeed one of the most trusted sites on the Internet, but just how trustworthy is it, in particular, how much information does it exclude?

The mission statement of the Wikimedia Foundation is “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally”.

No reasonable person could argue with the idealism of that statement, but does the reality match the rhetoric? My personal experience is that Wikipedia is a good starting point for research, but that of and in itself it is not to be trusted, and I try never to use it as a citation, certainly not for anything that doesn’t fall into the trivial category.

I first became aware of the shortcomings of Wikipedia when I looked at its entry for convicted murderer Satpal Ram. If you are not familiar with Ram or his crime, check out this article. The current Wikipedia entry about Ram and the murder of Clarke Pearce bears a semblance of objectivity, but earlier versions didn’t even come close. Here is a much earlier version which rubber stamps the lies of Ram’s campaigners

Very briefly: “It was at this point that six drunken white men also in the restaurant became angry and shouted” – there were no six drunken white men.

“no we don’t need any more of this fucking paki music” – it was not these imaginary six drunken white men but Ram who alluded to “paki music”.

“One of the white men, Clarke Pierce, smashed a glass and used this to attack Satpal”.

Although Ram suffered a small cut to his face, his victim was unarmed.

“Satpal acted in self defence using a small Stanley knife he had in his pocket, injuring Clarke Pierce.”

Ram said at the time it was a pen knife; it was actually a flick knife; the victim’s sister – who witnessed her brother’s murder – was adamant that he opened it with one hand.

“Clarke Pierce was later taken to hospital, however he refused treatment and discharged himself, he later died at his home.”

This is the vilest lie of all, one that Ram’s fanatical and totally dishonest campaigners managed to insinuate into Parliament in the form of an Early Day Motion.

I could write a lot more, but the reader should get the point. If I had not kicked up such a stink over these outrageous lies, that first entry would have prevailed. Even so, my later edits in particular about Ram’s recall to prison have been deleted, which begs the question, why?

Clearly, the people who edit some Wikipedia pages are not unhappy with spreading half truths and censoring objective comment or even thoroughly documented and irrefutable facts.

Another entry – which I will not discuss openly – concerns a well-known hatemonger and arch-liar. A few years ago he lost a libel action to someone who is now deceased. My edits concerning that libel action – including a copy of the actual court order – have been removed.

On a lighter note, I have often used Wikipedia as a first step to researching for Songfacts. At times, the lengths given by Wikipedia for specific recordings differ from the originals on YouTube, although this is usually only a matter of seconds. The release dates given are not necessarily accurate either. Again, I won’t be specific, but awhile back I found release date listed for a certain song in a Wikipedia entry, a date that was clearly wrong because I found an earlier reference to it in another, unimpeachable source. I corrected the entry, only to see it promptly deleted.

On the political front, Wikipedia has been severely criticised, indeed there is an entire if small website dedicated to this. Others go much further.

Indeed, Wikipedia acknowledges its own bias, albeit in the typically ludicrous terms of political correctness, thus it tells us: “Women are under-represented on Wikipedia, making up less than 15% of contributors. A 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey found that 8.5% of editors are women”. No, this is not the chimera of sexism again, because anyone with on-line access can contribute to Wikipedia, so if women don’t contribute as much as they could, that might just be because they have more important things to do with their time.

[The above was published originally July 28, 2013; the Wikipediabias website alluded to therein is currently defunct (October 2016), probably permanently.]

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