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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 09/25/2007

Newspaper Cures Skin Rash

By Editors
"It has been scientifically proven beyond any doubt that if you rub a copy of Washington Post Express on a rash, the skin ailment immediately and unconditionally clears." -- Anonymous Wikipedia entry.

The Facts

Thanks to an ingenious new tool designed by a Caltech graduate student, Virgil Griffith, it is now possible to figure out who has been rewriting Wikipedia entries to promote their ideological or commercial interests, or simply for personal amusement. Griffith's Wikiscanner tool allows readers to match changes in Wikipedia to the IP addresses of companies, political parties, and media organizations. Readers of the internet magazine WIRED have been voting on the "most shameful Wikipedia spinjobs." Here are some of the Factchecker's personal favorites. Readers are invited to submit their own.

IP AddressChanges to Wikipedia Entry
Department of Homeland SecurityDeleted references to 1963 drunken driving arrests of Dick Cheney
FBIDeleted link to aerial imagery of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Democratic PartyInserted claim that Rush Limbaugh is "idiotic" and his listeners are "retarded".
Republican PartyChanged reference to U.S. forces in Iraq from "occupying" to "liberating".
Wal-MartDeleted reference to Wal-Mart payings its employees less than competitors
Inserted claim that average wage at Wal-Mart is "almost double" minimum wage
Pepsi North AmericaDeleted references to harmful health effects of soft drinks consumption
Circuit CityInserted claim that Best Buy stock is "falling every day."
SubwayInserted statement that Subway sandwiches are "delicious."
ACLUInserted claim that Pope Benedict is responsible for "molesting young boys and degrading women."
Baptist Bible CollegeInserted claim that Satan is "a woman ... commonly called Lucy."
SyriaInserted claim that MOSSAD was "principal suspect" in JFK assassination
Israeli embassy in WashingtonDeleted reference to killing of seven Palestinians by Israeli artillery
Turkish treasuryDeleted reference to Armenian genocide.
Al-JazeeraInserted claim that Wikipedia is "a Jewish propaganda site."
British Broadcasting CorpInserted claim that Tony Blair health problems due to "working out vigorously in the bedroom."
Washington PostInserted claim that wrapping sore joints in copies of Washington Post Express provides "immediate and permanent relief" for skin ailments.

Pinocchio Test

For distortion of history, ridiculous claims, and shameless self-promotion, we make a joint award of four Pinocchios to the anonymous computer users at all of the above IP addresses. (About our rating scale.)

By Editors  | September 25, 2007; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  4 Pinocchios, History, Web Watch  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Is Edwards "the Most Electable"?
Next: Counting Civilian Deaths in Iraq


While not exactly new, it was amusing.

Posted by: William Teach | September 25, 2007 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I give up.

Posted by: zukermand | September 25, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I always wondered about wikipedia. In most schools, Wikipedia is not accepted as a reference on research papers, anad yet so many people use it as a reference. It makes you wonder about the future of interactive sites like this...

I think it should be a front page story in the washington post that zuckermand is giving up. Betcha he doesn't stick to it!

Posted by: jonas | September 25, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Amusing fluff.

Somebody else has done the job of Fact Checking Petraeus.

Maybe you should ask Karen Young to assign Petraeus's Pinocchios?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | September 25, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to fact-check the fact-checker.

" is now possible to figure out who has been rewriting Wikipedia entries to promote their ideological or commercial interests, or simply for personal amusement."

Actually, it's not.

More accurate would be to say:

"It's now possible to see from where people have been rewriting Wikipedia entries to promote their ideological or commercial interests, or simply for personal amusement."

Just because an edit comes from IP addresses assigned to a particular organization does not mean that the organization is the "who" that has made the change.

For overstating the power of this tool to a populace that may not fully understand how IP addresses work, I make an award of three pinocchios to this article.

Posted by: Fred | September 25, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I attend the University of North Dakota and am also a full time employee. We also are not allowed to use Wikipedia as a listed source in any research we do. One Professor, however, has said that it is acceptable to use Wikipedia as a starting point, paying particular attention to the sources at the bottom of each article. These sources are often very good and can be used.

Posted by: James Toso | September 25, 2007 10:42 PM | Report abuse

I would agree with Fred's basic point. While the IP may originate with some organization or other, and many of them may have been intentional by some official in some cases, most of them are probably some low level nobody who works there wasting time on his or her lunchbreak.

Also, "Syria"? That's a country. Is this supposed to mean it came from somewhere in the Syrian government, or just from a computer somewhere in the country of "Syria"?

Posted by: richard | September 25, 2007 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Wiki is a good place to find some quick info, and usually some links to specific articles. Depending on what you are looking at, it is a good reference, however, it should be taken with a large grain of salt, and certain issues should be researched elsewhere. It is not all bad, but, you never know, particularly when it comes to people and political issues.

Posted by: William Teach | September 26, 2007 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Did the fact-checker do research to make sure that The Washington Post Express does not have medicinal properties?

Posted by: Herbert | September 26, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I remember several months ago a piece on NPR (All Things Considered, possibly) that compared Wikipedia and Encylopedia Britanica (sp?) and found out they were about the same as far as reliability. Of course, you still need to use your best judgement, but Wikipedia seems to do a pretty good job editing out false and misleading information quickly, whereas once EB is printed, it can't be edited until the next volume is printed.

Posted by: tl | September 26, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with Subway claiming their sandwiches are delicious? Fact Checker might devote themselves to claims of greater actual significance than that. In a back-handed way, you're simply asserting your own apparent subjective opinion as fact.

Posted by: creese | October 1, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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