The great thing about the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it…and the bad thing about the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it. At the same time the project invites members of the online community to share their knowledge and contribute their expertise, it also attracts the cranks, hooligans, and outright fraud come out of the woodwork to alter, falsify, and flat-out vandalize articles. The latest incident appears to have targeted the 50 year-old U.S. comedian Sinbad (real name David Adkins), when someone altered the Wikipedia entry on him to say he’d died of a heart attack the morning of March 14.
Sinbad, who has appeared in several television series and movies, is alive and well.
Wikipedia caught the error and corrected the article fairly quickly, but news about the false article was already spreading via email, prompting several (probably well-intentioned) users to change the article throughout the day as they sought to add this “new” information.
Wikipedia has been the subject of several well-publicized vandalism incidents, including cases where political activists have altered articles on their opponents or key issues and where hooligans have inserted false (and even patently offensive) material into articles on apparent larks. Wikipedia has been attempting to introduce policies which lock down articles which seem to be getting inordinate amounts of attention, and acts quickly to roll back obvious incidents of vandalism and falsification, but the ongoing incidents still cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the online resource, since perhaps subtler errors or falsehoods could go undetected for longer periods, or even linger indefinitely. Wikipedia recently endured another public relations fiasco after it was revealed one of the organization’s editors—known as Wikipedians—was outed as 24 year-old Ryan Jordan, a Kentucky man with no higher education credentials. He’d passed himself off as a tenured professor of religion specializing in canon law at a private university.
On the flip side, last year the accuracy of Wikipedia’s science articles have been found to be approaching the accuracy level of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the project includes content on subjects unlikely to be considered significant by the editors of print encyclopedia’s—like the comedian Sinbad.