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 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 in the article in 2016 one of the books.
  • 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]
  • 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.[7][failed verification]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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".[9] 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.[10]
  • Invention of the butterfly swimming stroke: credited to a "Jack Stephens" in The Guardian (archive), based on an undiscovered joke edit.[11][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: 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.[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][12]
  • 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 it was deleted, 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" ("hold the coat up to the dog") 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 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.[24][12]
  • 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, Vice Media-owned food website published the confession of the original authors.[26] 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.[12]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[27][28][29][30]
  • 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.[31][32]
Incorrectly labeled images misinform users
  • Fake Siamese Cat scandal: 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. Individual users should take care to share correct information on Wikipedia to avoid errors such as this.
  • 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.[33]

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 c ""How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia". "Wikipediocracy". 20 July 2014.
  8. ^ Butterworth, Siobhain (3 May 2009). "Open door: The readers' editor on ... web hoaxes and the pitfalls of quick journalism" – via
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Were QALYs invented in 1956? by Dr Panik, The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 9 May 2014
  11. ^ Bartlett, Jamie (16 April 2015). "How much should we trust Wikipedia?". The Daily Telegraph.
  12. ^ 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.
  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. p. 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. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2017. He once hitchhiked around the Pacific Rim countries
  22. ^ 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".
  27. ^ Special:Diff/966969824
  28. ^ Special:Diff/967708571
  29. ^ "YouTuber Poppy Is Engaged To Eric Ghoste". Access Hollywood. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  30. ^ Special:Diff/967760280/968057663
  31. ^ Dickson, EJ (29 July 2014). "I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  32. ^ Okyle, Carly. "Librarians React to 'Amelia Bedelia' Hoax". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  33. ^ State of the Vulf 2016