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Unwriting Wikipedia

So Wikipedia has been in the news – big time – lately. There was the Seigenthaler stink, in which bogus information was inserted into the Wikipedia entry of John Seigenthaler Sr., former assistant to former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, alleging Seigenthaler’s role in the assasination of both Kennedy’s. The spurious allegation made its way into supposedly authoritative sites like Answers.com and Reference.com. In response, Seigenthaler wrote a vitriolic editorial in USA Today damning Wikipedia and the practice of wiki as a legitimate venue for public record. In the aftermath of Seigenthaler and other stories of erroneous Wikipedia content, Nature comes out with an expert-led, peer-reviewed investigative story that lauds Wikipedia as near on par with Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of accuracy of its science content. Where Britannica exceeded Wikipedia, the differences were not great. So I bring all this up as context to the delicate and critical position that the publicly-recorded record holds and why the latest story on Wikipedia – its infiltration by congressional staffers – is alarming.

According to the Lowell Sun:

The staff of U.S. Rep Marty Meehan wiped out references to his broken term-limits pledge as well as information about his huge campaign war chest in an independent biography of the Lowell Democrat on a Web site that bills itself as the “world’s largest encyclopedia,” The Sun has learned.

The Meehan alterations on Wikipedia.com represent just two of more than 1,000 changes made by congressional staffers at the U.S. House of Representatives in the past six month. Wikipedia is a global reference that relies on its Internet users to add credible information to entries on millions of topics.

This wholesale wikiwiping is more than vanity cosmetics or a malicious hack – as intolerable as such transgressions are – it is the publicly-recorded record of our public servants unwriting itself.