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.

Known incidents[edit]

  • Sir Malcolm Augustus 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. A one-time editor cited one of the books in the article in 2016.
  • 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: A 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]
  • Sacha Baron Cohen: Wikipedia editors added fake information that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen worked at the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, a claim which news sources picked up and was then later added back into the article citing those sources.[5]
  • Coati: Beginning in 2008, when an American student's arbitrary addition to Coati, "also known as....the Brazilian aardvark", 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 the University of Chicago published.[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]
  • Is the radio broadcast where Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's WWII surrender referred to as the "Jewel Voice Broadcast" in English? Google Books search results and the Google Books Ngram Viewer reveal that this moniker appears to have been non-existent until a user added this literal translation of the Japanese name to the Wikipedia article in 2006[8] (and another user moved the article itself to that title in 2016[9]). Since then, the usage of this phrase has skyrocketed[10] and when it was suggested in 2020 that the article should be moved because this "literal translation" is actually incorrect — a better translation of the original Japanese would have been "the emperor's voice broadcast" — it was voted down based on it appearing in plenty of recent reliable sources.[11]
  • 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 was so widely believed that reporters kept asking him about it in interviews.[12]
  • Maurice Jarre: When Maurice Jarre died in 2009, a student inserted fake quotes in his Wikipedia biography that multiple obituary writers in the mainstream press picked up. "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.[13]
  • 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".[14] 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.[15]
  • Invention of the butterfly swimming stroke: credited to a "Jack Stephens" in The Guardian (archive), based on an undiscovered joke edit.[16][17]
  • Glucojasinogen: invented medical term that made its way into several academic papers.[18]
  • 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.[19]
  • Founder of The Independent: the name of a student, which was added as a joke, found its way into the Leveson Inquiry report as being a co-founder of The Independent newspaper.[20][21]
  • 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.[22][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.[23][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.[24]
  • The Chaneyverse: Series of hoaxes relying in part on circular referencing. Discovered in December 2015 and documented at User:ReaderofthePack/Warren Chaney.[25]
  • 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 it was deleted, it was reposted with a citation to The Northern Echo newspaper which had published the claim.[26]
  • The Dutch proverb "de hond de jas voorhouden" ("hold the coat up to the dog") did not exist before January 2007[27] as the author confessed on national television.[28]
  • 85% of people attempting a water speed record have died in the attempt: In 2005, an unsourced claim in the Water speed record article 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.[29][17]
  • 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 repeated in sources such as the BBC, The Guardian, and Bloomberg, before finally being corrected in June 2019 thanks to vintage watch enthusiasts.[30]
  • 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, Vice Media-owned food website published the confession of the original authors.[31] The article was subsequently moved to the Wikipedia: namespace.
  • Karl-Marx-Allee: In February 2009, an anonymous editor on the German Wikipedia introduced a passage that said Karl-Marx-Allee (a major boulevard lined with tiled buildings) was known as "Stalin's bathroom". The nickname was repeated in several publications, and later, when the anonymous editor that added it as a joke tried to retract it, other editors restored it due to "reliable" citations. A journalist later revealed that he was the anonymous editor in an article taking credit for it.[17]
  • 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.) Later (around October 2015), at least one third-party source picked up this claim. 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.
  • In June 2006, the English Wikipedia article Eleagnus was edited to include an unreferenced statement "Goumi is among the "nutraceutical" plants that Chinese use both for food and medicine." An immediate subsequent edit replaced the word "Goumi" in the statement with "E. multiflora". An equivalent statement was included in the article Elaeagnus multiflora when it was created in August 2006. The version of the statement in the article Eleagnus was later included in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, a collation of Wikipedia articles MobileReference published in January 2008. In May 2013, after the statement in the article Elaeagnus multiflora had been removed for the lack of a long-requested citation, it was immediately reinstated with a citation to MobileReference's The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs.
  • DrugBank: In 2019, Dr. James Heilman discovered a large amount of content on the online drug information database DrugBank had been copied from Wikipedia articles about drugs, while many such articles use DrugBank as a reference.[17]
  • Poppy posted a tweet in 2020 that showed only ring, party and bride emojis. Someone later edited her article by suffixing the last name of her at-the-time boyfriend, Ghostemane, to hers assuming she was married; it was reverted citing the vagueness of her tweet. The suffix was later restored, now citing an article from Access Hollywood which at the time said that was her legal name, though it has since been corrected.[32][33][34][35]
  • In 2009, the English Amelia Bedelia Wikipedia article was edited to falsely claim the character was based on a maid in Cameroon. This claim had subsequently been repeated among different sources, including the current author of the books, Herman Parish. In July 2014, the claim was removed from Wikipedia after the original author of the hoax wrote an article debunking it.[36][37]
Incorrectly labeled images misinform users
  • Not Siamese cat: In 2014 a user uploaded an image of a Ragdoll cat, and despite the original file having a correct label, the user changed the image name and description to "Siamese cat". Until correction in 2020, many languages of Wikipedia projects used this image incorrectly as an illustration of a Siamese cat. In 2016 the magazine Popular Science also used the image in their article. That magazine also presented the cat as Siamese, when Wikipedia was the origin of this mistake.[citation needed]
  • Origin of band Vulfpeck: Jack Stratton created the Wikipedia article for his band Vulfpeck under the name of Jbass3586 claiming that "the members met in a 19th-century German literature class at the University of Michigan" to add to the mythology of the band. "Billboard" picked this up in an interview article, and it was eventually added as a citation in the Wikipedia article.[38]
  • In 2020, an editor inserted a false quote in the article of Antony Blinken, chosen by then President-elect Joe Biden for the position of Secretary of State. The quote, calling Vladimir Putin an "international criminal", was repeated in Russian media like Gazeta.Ru.[39]
  • In 2007, an editor inserted (diff) an anecdote into Joseph Bazalgette's page about the diameter of London sewage pipes. The misinformation made it into newspaper articles and books - from the Institution of Civil Engineers, from The Spectator, from The Hindu, from the Museum of London (in modified form), two books these two, both about 'creative thinking.' Further details on the case can be found here. The information was not removed until 2021.
  • In 2016, an IP-editor added three unsourced statements to Chamaki, a place in Iran: that 600 Assyrian used to populate the village, that the language spoken was Modern Assyrian and that the local church is called "Saint Merry". [sic] In a 2020 article from the Tehran Times, these same three statements were repeated.[40] No other sources have been found for these statements. While sources in Farsi may or may not exist for the population and language, this is unlikely for the "Saint Merry" spelling. The Tehran Times article was briefly used as a source before the likelihood of citogenesis was realized.
  • It's well known that Zimbabwe experienced severe hyperinflation in 2008, but could you really trade one US dollar for 2,621,984,228,675,650,147,435,579,309,984,228 Zimbabwe dollars? A single-edit IP said so in 2015, along with reporting the country's unemployment rate to be 800% and quantitatively using the word "zillion". While the latter two remarks were innocently corrected within 3 days, the 34-digit figure stayed in place for 10 months before it was manually reverted, enough time to make it into at least one book.[41]
  • Wikipedia has claimed at various times that Bill Gates's house is nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 and many online articles have repeated the claim, some of which are now cited by Wikipedia. No articles quote Gates or another authoritative source, but the moniker was used as the title of a 1997 article about the house.
  • In 2006, an article entitled Onna bugeisha was added to English Wikipedia with the claim that it was a term referring to "a female samurai". The term does not exist in Japanese (it occasionally appears in works of fiction, referring to "female martial artists", onna meaning "woman" and bugeisha meaning "martial artist") and does not appear to have carried the meaning "female samurai" before the creation of this Wikipedia article. The article was translated into several foreign-language editions of Wikipedia—though not Japanese Wikipedia—and eventually the term started to appear in third-party blogs and online magazine articles, including National Geographic (both English and Spanish editions). In 2021, the article was moved to a comprise title, using a Japanese term that is used to refer to women warriors in pre-modern Japan, but seems to have been rarely used in English prior to 2020; within a few months, this term had also found its way into a number of online magazines in languages such as English and Polish.
  • Since May 2010 the Playboy Bunny article claimed that Hugh Hefner "has stated that the idea for the Playboy bunny was inspired by Bunny's Tavern in Urbana, Illinois. [...] Hefner formally acknowledged the origin of the Playboy Bunny in a letter to Bunny's Tavern, which is now framed and on public display in the bar". No sources have been cited to support it. This information spread to a 2011 book, an article of the New Straits Times dated 22 January 2011, and an article of The Sun written in September 2017 and titled "This is the real reason that the Playboy girls were called Bunnies" (copied by the New York Post, too). Oldest and more reliable sources proved that the costume has been inspired by the Playboy mascot used since 1953. A partially readable photo of the tavern's letter showed that Hefner did not "formally acknowledged the origin of the Playboy Bunny" at all. Unfortunately this information spread to the French, the Spanish, the Catalan, and the Italian Wikipedias. The Catalan Wikipedia used the 2011 New Straits Times article to support it, while on the Italian Wikipedia The Sun article has been used as source.

See also[edit]

References[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". Archived from the original on 11 January 2012.
  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. ^ "Hirohito surrender broadcast".
  9. ^ "Hirohito surrender broadcast".
  10. ^ https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Jewel+Voice&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2CJewel%20Voice%3B%2Cc0. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Talk:Hirohito surrender broadcast".
  12. ^ Whetstone, David (8 November 2016). "Sir Roger Moore remembers co-star Tony Curtis and reveals his favourite Bond film". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  13. ^ Butterworth, Siobhain (3 May 2009). "Open door: The readers' editor on ... web hoaxes and the pitfalls of quick journalism" – via www.theguardian.com.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Dr Panik (9 May 2014). "Were QALYs invented in 1956?". The Academic Health Economists' Blog.
  16. ^ Bartlett, Jamie (16 April 2015). "How much should we trust Wikipedia?". The Daily Telegraph.
  17. ^ a b c d e Harrison, Stephen (7 March 2019). "The Internet's Dizzying Citogenesis Problem". Future Tense - Source Notes. Slate Magazine. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  18. ^ Ockham, Edward (2 March 2012). "Beyond Necessity: The medical condition known as glucojasinogen".
  19. ^ Lewis, Peter H. (20 September 2012). "Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout is a phenom, but will it last?". ESPN.
  20. ^ Allen, Nick. "Wikipedia, the 25-year-old student and the prank that fooled Leveson". The Daily Telegraph.
  21. ^ "Leveson's Wikipedia moment: how internet 'research' on The". The Independent. 30 November 2012.
  22. ^ Dewey, Caitlin. "The story behind Jar'Edo Wens, the longest-running hoax in Wikipedia history". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Michael Harris (7 August 2014). The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-698-15058-4.
  24. ^ Ben Koo (9 October 2014). "Guilt by Wikipedia: How Joe Streater Became Falsely Attached To The Boston College Point Shaving Scandal". Awful Announcing.
  25. ^ Feiburg, Ashley (23 December 2015). "The 10 Best Articles Wikipedia Deleted This Week". Gawker.
  26. ^ Hardwick, Viv (9 September 2014). "Mears sets his sights on UK". The Northern Echo. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2017. He once hitchhiked around the Pacific Rim countries
  27. ^ Lijst van uitdrukkingen en gezegden F-J, diff on Dutch Wikipedia
  28. ^ NPO (23 March 2018). "De Tafel van Taal, de hond de jas voorhouden" – via YouTube.
  29. ^ Timmons, Heather; Yanofsky, David (21 April 2018). "Mike Pompeo's Gulf War service lie started on Wikipedia". Quartz. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Iris Bouwmeester (26 July 2017). "Door deze smiechten trapt heel Nederland al jaren in de Urker vistaart-hoax".
  32. ^ Special:Diff/966969824
  33. ^ Special:Diff/967708571
  34. ^ "YouTuber Poppy Is Engaged To Eric Ghoste". Access Hollywood. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  35. ^ Special:Diff/967760280/968057663
  36. ^ Dickson, EJ (29 July 2014). "I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  37. ^ Okyle, Carly. "Librarians React to 'Amelia Bedelia' Hoax". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  38. ^ State of the Vulf 2016
  39. ^ "Unreliable sources". meduza.io. Meduza. 27 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  40. ^ "Historical churches in West Azarbaijan undergo rehabilitation works". Tehran Times. 4 August 2020. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  41. ^ See "quotations" section: trillionaire