In the news
Free culture conference, "The Register" retracts accusations, students blog about Wikipedia, and more
Free Culture Research Conference
On October 8/9, the 3rd Free Culture Research Conference took place at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, with Wikimedia Deutschland as one of the supporting co-organizers. Several presentations featured Wikipedia and Wikimedia as important examples of free culture. A talk by Shun-Ling Chen examined collaborative authorship on Wikipedia and in indigenous music, arguing that neither is adequately covered by the joint authorship clause in current US copyright law.
A "Wikimedia Panel" (summary on the conference blog) focused on efforts in several countries to make government works available under a free license. The panel was moderated by Mathias Schindler from the German Wikimedia chapter, who has been involved in such efforts, including negotiations that resulted in a donation of around 100,000 images from the German Federal Archive (see Signpost coverage). At the panel, Tomer Ashur from Wikimedia Israel reported on the chapter's progress in lobbying for a law that would release government works under a free license that includes permission for commercial reuse (earlier Signpost coverage: Rumble in the Knesset, Israeli "Wikipedia bill"). He expressed cautious optimism that the chapter will be able to announce the passing of the law at Wikimania 2011 (which is to be held in Haifa, Israel).
A presentation by Leonhard Dobusch and Sigrid Quack compared the Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons regarding both organizations' relation to the corresponding informal community, and endeavors to internationalize their development – in the case of Wikimedia, with respect to the increasing number of chapters.
Wikipedia vandals and The Register mislead readers
On October 5, The Guardian reported that wrong information from the Wikipedia article about Norman Wisdom had made it into the actor's obituaries in several UK newspapers – the Daily Mirror, The Independent and The Guardian itself. The statement in question claimed that Wisdom co-wrote the World War II song (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover; it appears to have first been added on August 24 by an anonymous editor, without a reference.
On the following day, British IT news website The Register, long known for its negative coverage of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation, also reported on the incident ("The curse of Wikipedia strikes Norman Wisdom", WebCite archive: ), adding the claim that the wrong fact:
- "was inserted not by a drive-by vandal, but by a Wikipedia Administrator – a high Operating Level Thetan in the Wikipedia bureaucracy. [... He] was making cosmetic changes to an earlier edit of his, but slipped in the bogus information without anybody noticing, on September 2nd."
The article by "Register" author Andrew Orlowski included personal details and a photo of this admin. However, the diff he cited did not support the accusation, as it included several intermediate revisions. Orlowski's article was changed on the same day, in which the passage above became:
- "Attempts to remove the factoid were made, but a Wikipedia Administrator – a high Operating Level Thetan in the Wikipedia bureaucracy – stepped in to preserve the bogus information."
Both the admin's personal details and his photo remained.
Five days later, on October 11, The Register issued a correction, signed "Team Register", retracting both versions of the claim about the admin (which was removed from the original article, too):
- "We accept that both of these statements are incorrect, and apologise for any inconvenience or embarrassment caused."
Students blog about Wikipedia
Students on the "Introduction to law and technology" course by Elizabeth Stark and Brad Rosen at Yale University have blogged about Wikipedia: "How Wikipedia will save politics", "Wikipedia: The next political battleground?", "Conservative collaboration and the Wikipedia model", "Two love letters to Wikipedia", "Are we wikiaddicts?", "Wikipedia: creating a generation of thinkers".
Also last week, nearly 60 students from Geert Lovink's "New Media Practices" course at the University of Amsterdam blogged about their experience writing a Wikipedia article, as part of their coursework. Lovink reports that "about half the students ran into trouble, either having their entry deleted or having to rename it, change topic and so on", and that "only 2 or 3 [of them] had ever edited a Wikipedia page" before .
Company sells 54,000 German Wikipedia article collections on Amazon
The German press recently reported on the print-on-demand publisher "Bucher Gruppe" (apparently the German arm of Books, LLC, using a mangled version of the German word Bücher, "books") which sells some 54,000 books on Amazon, all low-quality machine-created collections of articles from the German Wikipedia.
The books are usually just alphabetically ordered dumps of Wikipedia categories, with a machine-translated general introduction about Wikipedia and a machine-created index of poor quality, and without images.
The newspaper articles had been prompted by a web page by Andreas Weigel where he details his experience of buying a book from Amazon only to find that it contained six Wikipedia articles that he had written himself.
Süddeutsche Zeitung also reports that German, Swiss and Austrian scientific libraries have bought at least 417 books from Bucher Gruppe and related publishing houses.
See also Signpost coverage of similar publications in English: "Alphascript Publishing sells free articles as expensive books"
- Swiss award for Jimbo: Jimmy Wales has been awarded the 2011 Gottlieb Duttweiler prize, worth SFr 100,000 ($103,000). The Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, based in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, said Wales was being honored for "his contribution to the democratisation of the access to knowledge". The prize will be presented on 26 January, along with a tribute by Roger de Weck, the director designate of swissinfo’s parent organisation, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The prize is awarded at irregular intervals; the last recipient, in 2008, was former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
- Wikipedia plagiarism leads to retraction of biotech papers: As noted by Retraction Watch, the research journal Biotechnology Advances has retracted a 2008 review by researchers in India who allegedly copied parts of their manuscript from Wikipedia, StateMaster.com (a statistics clearinghouse), and other journal articles. According to the notice, the article, "Microbial production of dihydroxyacetone" has been retracted at the request of the editors, who found that "from a limited, non-exhaustive check of the text, several elements of the text had been plagiarised". According to Web of Knowledge, the paper had already been cited 11 times.
- Teacher's guide plagiarizes Wikipedia: As reported by the BBC (Baccalaureate board probes Wikipedia plagiarism claim), some marking guides for the International Baccalaureate exam appear to have plagiarized from Wikipedia. The IB is a degree taken by teenage students; the plagiarized example answers concern history essays.
- Wikipedia on xkcd map: The webcomic xkcd published a humorous Map of online communities last week, featuring a "Wikipedia talk pages" island between the "Troll Bay" and the "Sea of Memes", complete with an "Edit war memorial". The island is considerably smaller than in the 2007 version of the map, where land mass was based on member count rather than activity. Another version of the 2007 map, published in August by Ethan Bloch as an homage to Xkcd ("The 2010 social networking map"), showed the "United Territories of Wikimedia" which, oddly, included islands named Wikileaks and Citizendium.
- "WikiWars" videos: Video recordings of the "WikiWars" conference, held in January 2010 at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, were made available online last week. The event was the first of the "CPOV" series, the third of which recently took place in Leipzig, Germany (Signpost coverage), and the second in Amsterdam in March (Signpost coverage).
- Weird medieval claims wanted: The blog "Got Medieval" has announced a "Weird Medieval History contest" to find "the weirdest claim about the middle ages on Wikipedia". Both true and false statements are eligible, but the claim must have existed on Wikipedia before October 4. There is a $75 gift certificate from Costumes, Inc. as a prize.