The Practical Idealist

Something wiki this way comes

Shakespeare's three witches

Something wiki this way comes,

by Neil C. Olsen.

“There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and marketing.” Neil C. Olsen, c. 2000

“By the pricking of my thumbs / something wicked this way comes. ” Shakespeare, Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 1, c. 1605

Like everyone else, and to my peril, I overuse Wikipedia, though I don’t over-trust it. Today I searched Google for “Peer Gynt”, the poetic play by Ibsen, and found that the first indexed result, the Wikipedia article on Henrik Ibsen’s verse play Peer Gynt, contains a quote that the critic Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson admired the play’s “satire in Norwegian egotism, narrowness, and self-sufficiency” and described it as “magnificent, ….”

The author clearly mistyped the on as in. It should have been “satire on Norwegian egotism, narrowness, and self-sufficiency.”

The source of this quote might be a Michael Leverson’s book Henrik Ibsen: The farewell to poetry, 1864-1882 (Hart-Davis, 1967, p. 67), which has the correct “on” instead of the incorrect “in”. There is no shame in this error;  Wikipedia is designed to allow a large number of creators and editors un-vetted access to its entries, and asks and expects that readers fix such errors as they are found. The quote is not sourced, however, which is a violation of Wikipedia’s verifiability policy. So in (or on) September 14, 2013, I fixed it, and added the reference.

But this post is not about editing. As a left-handed mild dyslectic who is one of the worst editors around, I cast no stones in that glass house. It is about how a stupid mistake goes on and on in the web, and the dangers of copying.

I did a Google “verbatim” text search on the erroneous quote and found 55 other sites had taken it intact. Clearly they did not read it. Everyone knows that you are supposed to rewrite Wikipedia, but do you not know you should read it as well? Most of them were “duplication sites” that apparently automatically copied original content. This is why Google put in the “dupe penalty” in their infamous “Panda” release in 2011; it was an attempt to lower the index ranking of copycat sites.

Only one site fixed the quote. Of all people to get it right, a young girl named Katlin suppossedly the niece of the blog creator –  avoided the error in a gushing tribute to the dreaminess of an NHL player.  But Katlin didn’t put it in quotes. It starts over the top and climbs higher from there:

“OMG TAYLOR HALL TAYLOR HALL TAYLOR HALL!!! He’s like the Justin Bieber of the NHL and he’s so dreamy….”

It continues under the bold headline “In the (Taylor) Hall of the Mountain King:

“Taylor Hall and his awesome fantasticalness are totally coming to the Bell Centre tonight at 7:30. And you can totally watch it live or PVR it from RDS or TSN and then tweet about it or IM me or whatevs!!! BTW, if you don’t totally luv Edvard Grieg’s haunting, seminal orchestral piece In the (Taylor) Hall of the Mountain King written for Henrik Ibsen’s bewitching satire on Norwegian egotism, narrowness, and self-sufficiency Peer Gynt, OMG I totally am going to unfriend you and never speak to you again, like I did to that bitch Ashley.”

One suspects this mix of totally awesome fantasticalness prose with suddenly serious text plagiarized from Wikipedia is the wave of the future. OMG!!!  And one suspects that “Katlin” is the invention of the burly author of a popular post on American professional hockey, though Katlin is no Mrs. Silence Dogood.

At least young and happy pseudo-Katlin fixed the error and gave us a good pun; if she learns not to plagiarize but put borrowed text in quotes, she may have a future in writing copy for the New York Post.  If not, she might totally find a place at The Huffington Post. Or writing blogs in the persona of a valley girl who watches hockey. In any case, you can’t trust blog posts either, including this one, I suppose.

As the Wikipedia entry was apparently created in October 24, 2012, in less than eleven months, 55 copies were made of the error. This is a sad lesson in the rapid dissemination of error, the prevalence of useless dupe sites, and the dangers of quoting and trusting Wikipedia.  Or tongue in cheek blogs:

A more dangerous error is found in the text just before the above erroneous quote.  There is a claim that Peer Gynt is “the most widely performed Norwegian play.” As the author of a verse play myself, God’s Spy, I fervently hope that is true. However, I piously added a {{Citation needed}} reference to the claim in the hopes that the original author of the article will add the source of the claim.

I have written before, that there are lies, damn lies, statistics, and marketing. Add Wikipedia to this, and you get:

“There are lies, damn lies, statistics, marketing, and Wikipedia.” Neil C. Olsen, September 2013

Finding truth is hard work, and ever getting harder to find.


Note: The image of the three witches from Macbeth is from Wikipedia Commons.


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