Irish Hoax Exposes Wikipedia Problem

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You’re toward the end of finalizing research for your senior seminar paper and are finding it difficult to get the required number of sources to back up your work. Your professor, indeed your university, are sticklers when it comes to citing sources, requiring that you use extensive footnotes or endnotes as you cite other people’s works.

WikipediaThese days it is so much easier for college students to come up with legitimate sources to support their work as the internet catalogs and categorizes papers, articles, news sources even some books including textbooks, author’s works, research publications, you name it. Instead of running down to the college library to see what you can dig up, much of the information you require to complete your papers are online.

Wikipedia And Your How It Can Be Gamed

One free and very popular source for doing research is Wikipedia, the online collaboratively built encyclopedia frequented by researchers the world over. Because anyone can edit the millions of articles displayed, Wikipedia has made it easy for the site to be updated, but also gamed. Recently, an Irish college student, Shane Fitzgerald, showed how vulnerable Wikipedia is to tampering as a quote he attributed to the late composer Maurice Jarre, was deemed to be a fake.

Fitzgerald’s fake quote was picked up by journalists around the world, who must have thought that the composer’s statement about his pending death was newsworthy. Fitzgerald, in attempt to do a little experiment on how journalists are prone to use the internet as their primary source of information, placed the following paragraph within the Wikipedia article about Maurice Jarre:

“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.”

No Citations, Please

Fitzgerald’s quote was posted without citation on Wikipedia, a clear warning flag to researchers. Thus, as reporters went with the quote, they overlooked something that they were taught in college – verify sources. But, as is customary these days, one major newspaper picked up the quote and others followed suit, demonstrating that the press will sometimes take a shortcut to get a story out. In this case, English speaking newspapers from around the world were caught looking stupid, later forced to issue retractions when the hoax was exposed.

So if you are planning to use Wikipedia or even any other online source, citing your work is one thing but verifying sources could keep you from falling into a trap much like the one that Shane Fitzgerald laid out for unsuspecting journalists.

Sources

“Maurice Jarre.” Wikipedia. 8 May 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Jarre>.

Miller, Jason Lee. “Irish College Student Dupes Media With Wikipedia Hoax.” WebProNews 8 May 2009 Web.8 May 2009. <http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2009/05/07/irish-college-student-dupes-media-with-wikipedia-hoax>.

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