On New Year's Day, an article by Tim Sampson published in The Daily Dot and republished shortly after on Mashable covered the currently ongoing medical disclaimer RfC. The RfC is designed to answer the question whether Wikipedia should provide a more prominent disclaimer template for medical and health-related content, drawing readers' attention to the fact that articles' content can be changed by anyone at any time.
We all know the shortcomings of Wikipedia. The encyclopedia that anyone can edit is a frequent victim to hoaxes and trolls who litter it with misinformation that can sometime last as long as a half-decade. Most of us use it anyway.
But what if you rely on Wikipedia for medical advice? As Wikipedia exerts a growing influence on our common knowledge of medicine, some Wikipedians are wondering if the site should do more to warn users about the quality of the advice they're receiving.
As a crowdsourced work, Wikipedia already has a medical disclaimer. However, this is very much hidden away: users wishing to read it first have to click on the "Disclaimers" link present in the small print at the bottom of each Wikipedia page, and then click on the "Medical disclaimer" link at the top of that page. As a result, the medical disclaimer is typically viewed less than 100 times a day.
"I encounter people in real life who do not understand that Wikipedia articles are not necessarily 'vetted' in any way by experts, and medical content on Wikipedia may be written by JoeBloe your next-door neighbor."
The RfC offers four options for more visible disclaimers to be added to medical articles. While there is currently a slight majority in favour of adding such a disclaimer, other Wikipedians including James Heilman, an emergency room doctor, are opposed, fearing the disclaimer might drive away editors while having little effect on reader behaviour.
An RfC wishing to institute such a highly visible change in Wikipedia would need to end in fairly clear consensus and have the benefit of broad participation, something not many policy RfCs achieve. The Wikimedia Foundation acknowledged the debate via its spokesman Jay Walsh, but did not take a side: "The outcome may be no outcome, but the Foundation recognizes that the conversation is happening," Walsh said. Even so, Sampson noted,
... supporters hope a change can be effected before a calamitous medical error is attributed to bad information originating from Wikipedia. As one user put it: "To those who say that no real harm has ever come to anyone as a result of Wikipedia, why should we wait for an incident to happen?"
Capitol Hill edits Wikipedia: The Dallas Morning News (24 December 2013) reported that the biographies of various Texan representatives appeared to have been edited by Capitol Hill staffers. The article gave examples of edits made and quoted Phil Gomes, co-founder of Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement: "All most people know about a given topic is what they can find in search. In that sense, Wikipedia is incredibly powerful. ... There's an incredible incentive to make sure it's accurate."
Fake Wikipedia ads: The Atlanticreported (27 December 2013) on an instance of template vandalism that caused racist ads to be displayed on entries such as Mahjong and Hong Kong. The story was also covered on canada.com. According to Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Jay Walsh, the vandalised template was live for approximately half an hour.
Judge's biography vandalised: The International Business Times (27 December 2013) reported that the Wikipedia biography of Judge William H. Pauley III had been vandalised after he ruled that the NSA's phone data collection did not violate the U.S. constitution.
QR codes planned for Alappuzha: eturbonews.com reported (28 December 2013) that Malayalam Wikipedians are planning to introduce plaques with QR codes in Alappuzha (Kerala, India). It will be the first QRpedia project in India. "A tie-up with the state's Department of Tourism is also on the cards," the article says.
The Top 10 Wikipedia Stories of 2013: William Beutler's blog "The Wikipedian" featured a two-partround-up (31 December 2013/2 January 2014) of the year's most important stories in and around Wikipedia.
Edit wars: MIT Technology Review (3 January 2014) revived a story published some months earlier, covering Wikipedia's most intense edit wars, under the heading "Best of 2013".
Disputed F-bomb record: The International Business Times (3 January 2014) expressed doubts that the entry for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013 film) in Wikipedia's List of films that most frequently use the word "fuck" is reliably sourced. The Wikipedia list asserts that no other non-documentary movie has more occurrences of the word. However, upon contacting Matt Joseph, the author of the source cited in Wikipedia (a blog post on wegotthiscovered.com), Joseph admitted, "I can't remember which site I found it on, to be honest ... I just stumbled across it while reading about the film on the Web."
Wales interview: RT, previously known as Russia Today, featured a video interview (3 January 2014) with Jimmy Wales under the title: "Wikipedia co-founder: U.S. should be actually seeking out criminals, not wasting money on snooping". In the interview, Jimmy Wales called for people to "condemn unnecessary and invasive snooping into people's privacy. [...] How we do that? Well, it's a democratic country, it's a democratic process. I think it's time for us to demand change—I mean, if you look back just two years ago, we did a protest against proposed internet laws in the US—SOPA, PIPA—and we had over 10 million people contact congress that day, and it killed the bill in its tracks. I think that it's entirely possible for the public to band together and say, 'Actually, it's not OK, these programs are intrusive and they are unconstitutional and it's time to shut them down.'"