Wikipedia's ability to correct errors quickly was mentioned in recent German media coverage of a surprising blunder that has permeated most reference works, school books and even government publications for decades. A basic fact about one of Europe's most important rivers was discovered to have been incorrectly reported: Generations of school children in Germany and the whole world have learned that the Rhine is about 1320 km long. However Bruno Kremer, a biologist at the University of Cologne, found this number to be inconsistent during his research for an upcoming book (ISBN 978-3874634564). According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, at the beginning of the last century the length was still stated correctly to be around 1230 km by the major encyclopedias (the Brockhaus encyclopedia of 1903, the Herder lexicon of 1907 and Meyers Konversations-Lexikon of 1909). Later editions such as the Brockhaus editions of 1933 and today give numbers around 1320 km, an error that Kremer conjectures to have been caused by simple transposition of digits. Encyclopædia Britannica's Rhine River article is even further off, giving a value of 1390 km.
"Cleaning up will take a while ... while atlases, school books, web pages and brass plates have to be changed. At the moment, the online lexicon Wikipedia is ahead of everybody: In January, a pensioner from Leutesdorf near Koblenz [de:Benutzer:Frila, a former inland navigator] has inserted Bruno Kremer's length information into the "Rhein" entry."
That correction on the German Wikipedia was made after a local newspaper had mentioned Kremer's research, and German Wikipedians had reviewed many other sources. On the English Wikipedia, the correction was made on 27 March.
The corrections were noted in a number of follow-up articles published later that week. The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad ran a brief article on page 4 which mentioned the changes, there was a full-page article in the world news section of the Norwegian paper Aftenposten which went into more detail, and there was a brief mention in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.
Conference examines Wikipedia from a "Critical Point of View"
Felipe Ortega: New trends in the evolution of Wikipedia. Summary, Slides - Ortega presented his quantitative research about participation on the ten largest Wikipedias, some interpretations of which had been controversial last fall (see earlier Signpost coverage).
Joseph Reagle: Wikipedia and Encyclopedic Anxiety. Summary, slides - Reagle aimed to "make sense some of the criticism Wikipedia receives in a historical frame", arguing "that reference works can serve as a flashpoint for larger social anxieties about technological and social change", giving historical examples for criticism of reference works such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Webster's Dictionary.
The CPOV conference was preceded by a small Wiki Analytics Workshop held by the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam.