Wikipedia:List of citogenesis incidents

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The relationship between Wikipedia and the press?

In 2011, Randall Munroe in his comic xkcd coined the term "citogenesis" to describe the creation of "reliable" sources through circular reporting.[1] This is a list of some well-documented cases where Wikipedia has been the source.

List of known incidents[edit]

  • Sir Malcolm Thornhill made the first cardboard box? A one-day editor said so in 2007 in this edit. Though it was removed a year later, it kept coming back, from editors who also invested a lot in vandalizing the user page of the editor who removed it. Thornhill propagated to at least 2 books by 2009, and appears on hundreds of web pages. One of the books was cited in the article in 2016, by a one-edit editor.
  • Ronnie Hazlehurst A Wikipedia editor added a sentence to Hazlehurst's biography claiming he had written the song Reach, which S Club 7 made into a hit single. The information was reproduced in multiple obituaries and reinserted in Wikipedia citing one of these obituaries.[2]
  • Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg incident Wikipedia editor added "Wilhelm" as an 11th name to his full name. Journalists picked it up, and then the "reliable sources" from the journalists were used to argue for its inclusion in the article.[3][4]
    Diffs from German Wikipedia: [2]
  • Sacha Baron Cohen was an investment banker? Wikipedia editors added fake information that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen worked at the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, a claim which was picked up by news sources and then later added back into the article citing those sources.[5]
  • The Brazilian aardvark Beginning in 2008, when an arbitrary addition to Coati "also known as....the Brazilian aardvark" by an American student resulted in many subsequently citing and using that unsubstantiated nickname as part of the general consensus, including published articles in The Independent, The Daily Mail, and a book published by the University of Chicago.[6]
  • Chicken Korma: A student added 'Azid' to Korma as an alternative name as a joke. It began to appear across the internet, which was eventually used as justification for keeping it as an alternative name.[7]
  • Roger Moore: A student added 'The College of the Venerable Bede' to the early life of Roger Moore, repeatedly editing the page to cause citogenesis. This has been ongoing since April 2007 and is now so widely believed that it has been published and is available in material in the university bookshop.[8][failed verification]
  • Maurice Jarre: When Maurice Jarre died in 2009, a student inserted fake quotes in his Wikipedia biography that were picked up by multiple obituary writers in the mainstream press. "He said his purpose was to show that journalists use Wikipedia as a primary source and to demonstrate the power the internet has over newspaper reporting." The fakes only came to light when the student emailed the publishers, causing widespread coverage.[9]
  • Invention of QALYs, the quality-adjusted life year. An article published in the Serbian medical journal Acta facultatis medicae Naissensis stated that "QALY was designed by two experts in the area of health economics in 1956: Christopher Cundell and Carlos McCartney".[10] These individuals – along with a 3rd inventor Toni Morgan (anagram of 'Giant Moron') – were identified on Wikipedia long before the publication of the journal article which was subsequently used as a citation for this claim.[11]
  • Invention of the butterfly swimming stroke: credited to a "Jack Stephens" in The Guardian (archive), based on an undiscovered joke edit.[12]
  • Glucojasinogen: invented medical term that made its way into several academic papers.[13]
  • Mike Trout's nickname: Mike Trout's article was edited in June 2012 with a nonexistent nickname for the Major League Baseball player, the "Millville Meteor"; media began using it, providing the article with real citations to replace the first fake ones. Although Trout was surprised, he did not dislike the nickname, signing autographs with the title.[14]
  • Founder of The Independent: name of student added as a joke found its way into the Leveson Inquiry.[15][16]
  • Jar'Edo Wens: fictitious Australian Aboriginal deity (presumably named after a "Jared Owens") that had an almost ten-year tenure in Wikipedia and acquired mentions in (un)learned books.[17]
  • Inventor of the hair straightener: credited to Erica Feldman or Ian Gutgold on multiple websites and, for a time, a book, based on vandalism edits to Wikipedia.[18][7]
  • Boston College point shaving scandal: For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man, Joe Streater, as a key culprit in the 1978–79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. When Ben Koo first investigated the case, he was puzzled by how many web sources mentioned Streater's involvement in the scandal, even though Streater took part in only 11 games in the 1977–78 season, and after that never played for the team again. Koo finally realised that the only reason that Streater was mentioned in Wikipedia and in every other article he had read was – because it was in Wikipedia.[19]
  • The Chaneyverse: Series of hoaxes relying in part on circular referencing. Discovered in December 2015 and documented at User:ReaderofthePack/Warren Chaney.[20]
  • Dave Gorman hitch-hiking around the Pacific Rim Gorman described on his show Modern Life is Goodish (first broadcast 22 November 2016) that his Wikipedia article falsely described him as having taken a career break for a sponsored hitch-hike around the Pacific Rim countries, and that after he deleted it, it was reposted with a citation to The Northern Echo newspaper which had published the claim.[21]
  • The Dutch proverb "de hond de jas voorhouden" did not exist before January 2007[22] as the author confessed on national television.[23]
  • 85% of people attempting a water speed record have died in the attempt: In 2005, an unsourced claim in water speed record noted that 50% of aspiring record holders died trying. In 2008, this was upped, again unsourced, to 85%. The claim was later sourced to sub-standard references, and removed in 2018, but not before being cited in The Grand Tour episode "Breaking, Badly."
  • Mike Pompeo served in the Gulf War: In December 2016, an anonymous user edited the Mike Pompeo article to include the claim that Pompeo served in the Gulf War. Various news outlets and senator Marco Rubio picked up on this claim, but the CIA refuted it in April 2018.[24]
  • The Casio F-91W digital watch was long listed as having been introduced in 1991, whereas the correct date was June 1989. The error was introduced in March 2009 and only corrected in June 2019, thanks to vintage watch enthusiasts.[25]
  • The Urker vistaart (fish pie from Urk) was in the article namespace on Dutch Wikipedia from 2009 to 2017. There were some doubts about the authenticity in 2009, but no action was taken. After someone mentioned in 2012 that Topchef, a Dutch show on national television featured the Urker vistaart, the article was left alone until 2017 when Munchies, a food website owned by Vice Media published the confession of the original authors.[26] The article was subsequently moved to the Wikipedia: namespace.
  • In May 2008, the English Wikipedia article Mottainai was edited to include a claim that the word mottainai appeared in the classical Japanese work Genpei Jōsuiki in a portion of the text where the word would have had its modern meaning of "wasteful." (The word actually does appear at two completely different points in the text, with different meanings, and the word used in the passage in question is actually a different word.) This claim was later (around October 2015) picked up by at least one third-party source. The information was challenged in 2018 (talk page consensus was to remove it in February, but the actual removal took place in April), and re-added with the circular citation in November 2019.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Munroe, Randall. "Citogenesis". xkcd. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  2. ^ McCauley, Ciaran (8 February 2017). "Wikipedia hoaxes: From Breakdancing to Bilcholim". BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  3. ^ "False fact on Wikipedia proves itself".
  4. ^ "Medien: "Mich hat überrascht, wie viele den Fehler übernahmen"". Die Zeit. 13 February 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  5. ^ "Wikipedia article creates circular references".
  6. ^ "How a Raccoon Became an Aardvark". New Yorker. 19 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b ""How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia". "Wikipediocracy". 20 July 2014.
  8. ^ "How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia". Wikipediocracy. 21 July 2014.
  9. ^ Butterworth, Siobhain (3 May 2009). "Open door: The readers' editor on ... web hoaxes and the pitfalls of quick journalism" – via
  10. ^ Višnjić, Aleksandar; Veličković, Vladica; Milosavljević, Nataša Šelmić (2011). "QALY ‐ Measure of Cost‐Benefit Analysis of Health Interventions". Acta facultatis medicae Naissensis. 28 (4): 195–199.
  11. ^ Were QALYs invented in 1956? by Dr Panik, The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 9 May 2014
  12. ^ Bartlett, Jamie (16 April 2015). "How much should we trust Wikipedia?". The Daily Telegraph.
  13. ^ Ockham, Edward (2 March 2012). "Beyond Necessity: The medical condition known as glucojasinogen".
  14. ^ Lewis, Peter H. (20 September 2012). "Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout is a phenom, but will it last?". ESPN.
  15. ^ Allen, Nick. "Wikipedia, the 25-year-old student and the prank that fooled Leveson". The Daily Telegraph.
  16. ^ "Leveson's Wikipedia moment: how internet 'research' on The". The Independent. 30 November 2012.
  17. ^ Dewey, Caitlin. "The story behind Jar'Edo Wens, the longest-running hoax in Wikipedia history". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ Michael Harris (7 August 2014). The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 48–. ISBN 978-0-698-15058-4.
  19. ^ Guilt by Wikipedia: How Joe Streater Became Falsely Attached To The Boston College Point Shaving Scandal, Ben Koo, Awful Announcing, 9 October, 2014 11:45.
  20. ^ Feiburg, Ashley (23 December 2015). "The 10 Best Articles Wikipedia Deleted This Week". Gawker.
  21. ^ Hardwick, Viv (9 September 2014). "Mears sets his sights on UK". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 30 August 2017. He once hitchhiked around the Pacific Rim countries
  22. ^ [1], Lijst van uitdrukkingen en gezegden F-J, diff on Dutch Wikipedia
  23. ^ NPO (23 March 2018). "De Tafel van Taal, de hond de jas voorhouden" – via YouTube.
  24. ^ Timmons, Heather; Yanofsky, David (21 April 2018). "Mike Pompeo's Gulf War service lie started on Wikipedia". Quartz. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  25. ^ Moyer, Phillip (15 June 2019). "The case of an iconic watch: how lazy writers and Wikipedia create and spread fake "facts"". KSNV. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  26. ^ Iris Bouwmeester (26 July 2017). "Door deze smiechten trapt heel Nederland al jaren in de Urker vistaart-hoax".