Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crowdsourcing again

A problem that I discussed earlier has now been escalated to Wikipedia’s ‘Arbitration Committee’. An editor called 'Jagged 85' had been systematically falsifying material in Wikipedia since he (or she) joined in 2005. The editor had a clear and consistent anti-Western agenda, systematically distorting source material in a way that untruthfully promoted Islamic and other non-Western intellectual achievements, usually by claiming that a scientific developments or invention or discovery was made or anticipated by some non-Western philosopher or scientist. A large amount of material was affected in Wikipedia, which is widely used as a reference work by millions of people, who trust it as a reliable source. The editor contributed to 8,115 pages, making 63,298 edits. Much of the problematic material seems still to be there.

The ‘case for the prosecution’ cites another example of this style of editing. The article “List of inventions in medieval Islam” contains the following assertion:

Central heating through underfloor pipes: The hypocaust heating system used by
the Romans continued to be in use around the Mediterranean region during late
Antiquity and by the Umayyad caliphate. By the 12th century, Muslim engineers in
Syria introduced an improved central heating system, where heat travelled
through underfloor pipes from the furnace room, rather than through a hypocaust.
This central heating system was widely used in bath-houses throughout the
medieval Islamic world.
The claim is cited, but the cited author Hugh N. Kennedy however writes something rather different:

In one respect, however, the early Islamic bath had more in common with the
classical one than with the later Islamic. Late antique and Umayyad bath
builders continued to use the hypocaust, though on a reduced scale, for
heating the hot chamber, whereas later Muslim baths used a simpler
system of underfloor pipes from the furnace room.
One of the arbitrators expressed surprise at the request, having been under the mistaken impression that Jagged 85 had been banned. “Who could have known that someone could get away with such behaviour on Wikipedia with only a single 24 hr edit-warring block”, he says. Yet there seems little chance that the committee will do something about the problem. Its terms of reference do not include ‘content dispute’. And there seem as many friends and supporters of the disputed editor as there are people who are concerned about the situation. On Wikipedia, which sources material from the crowd, anyone’s view counts the same as any other. Wikipedia: the encyclopedia that anyone with an agenda can edit.

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