In this section:
Wed, 21 Mar 2018
A couple of years ago I was reading Wikipedia's article about the the 1943 Bengal famine, and I was startled by the following claim:
It was cited, but also marked with the “not in citation” tag, which is supposed to mean that someone checked the reference and found that it did not actually support the claim.
It sounded like it might be the sort of scurrilous lie that is widely repeated but not actually supportable, so I went to follow it up. It turned out that although the quotation was not quite exact, it was not misleadingly altered, and not a scurrilous lie at all. The attributed source (Tharoor, Shashi "The Ugly Briton". Time, (29 November 2010).) claimed:
I removed the “not in citation” tag, which I felt was very misleading.
Still, I felt that anything this shocking should be as well-supported as possible. It cited Tharoor, but Tharoor could have been mistaken. So I put in some effort and dug up the original source. It is from the journal entry of Archibald Wavell, then Viceroy of India, of 5 July 1944:
This appears in the published version of Lord Wavell's journals. (Wavell, Archibald Percival. Wavell: The Viceroy's journal, p. 78. Moon, Penderel, ed. Oxford University Press, 1973.) This is the most reliable testimony one could hope for. The 1973 edition is available from the Internet Archive.
A few months later, the entire article was massively overhauled by a group of anglophiles and Churchill-rehabilitators. Having failed to remove the quotation for being uncited, and then having failed to mendaciously discredit the cited source, they removed the quotation in a typical episode of Wikipedia chicanery. In a 5,000-word article, one sentence quoting the views of the then-current British Prime Minister was deemed “undue weight”, and a failure to “fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources”.
Further reading: In Winston Churchill, Hollywood rewards a mass murderer. (Tharoor again, in last week's Washington Post.)
Thu, 08 Dec 2016
An earlier article discussed how I discovered that a hoax item in a Wikipedia list had become the official name of a mountain, Ysolo Mons, on the planet Ceres.
I contacted the United States Geological Survey to point out the hoax, and on Wednesday I got the following news from their representative:
This week we cleaned up a few relevant Wikipedia articles, including one on Italian Wikipedia, and Ysolo has been put to rest.
I am a little bit sad to see it go. It was fun while it lasted. But I am really pleased about the outcome. Noticing the hoax, following it up, and correcting the name of this mountain is not a large or an important thing, but it's a thing that very few people could have done at all, one that required my particular combination of unusual talents. Those opportunities are seldom.
[ Note: The USGS rep wishes me to mention that the email I quoted above is not an official IAU communication. ]
Thu, 24 Nov 2016
Wikipedia has a list of harvest festivals which includes this intriguing entry:
(It now says “citation needed“; I added that yesterday.)
I am confident that this entry, inserted in July 2012 by an anonymous user, is a hoax. When I first read it, I muttered “Oh, what bullshit,” but then went looking for a reliable source, because you never know. I have occasionally been surprised in the past, but this time I found clear evidence of a hoax: There are only a couple of scattered mentions of Ysolo on a couple of blogs, all from after 2012, and nothing at all in Google Books about Albanian eggplant celebrations. Nor is there an article about it in Albanian Wikipedia.
But reality gave ground before I arrived on the scene. Last September NASA's Dawn spacecraft visited the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of the harvest, and so NASA proposed harvest-related names for Ceres’ newly-discovered physical features. It appears that someone at NASA ransacked the Wikipedia list of harvest festivals without checking whether they were real, because there is now a large mountain at Ceres’ north pole whose official name is Ysolo Mons, named for this spurious eggplant festival. (See also: NASA JPL press release; USGS Astrogeology Science Center announcement.)
To complete the magic circle of fiction, the Albanians might begin to celebrate the previously-fictitious eggplant festival. (And why not? Eggplants are lovely.) Let them do it for a couple of years, and then Wikipedia could document the real eggplant festival… Why not fall under the spell of Tlön and submit to the minute and vast evidence of an ordered planet?
Happy Ysolo, everyone.
[ Addendum 20161208: Ysolo has been canceled ]
Fri, 11 Nov 2016
I think I may have found the single worst citation on Wikipedia. It's in the article on sausage casing. There is the following very interesting claim:
That was exciting, and I wanted to know more. And there was a citation, so I could follow up!
The citation was:
I had my work cut out for me. All I had to do was drive up to New Haven and start translating their 45,000 cuneiform tablets until I found the cookbook.
(I tried to find a better reference, and turned up the book The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. The author, Jean Bottéro, was the discoverer of the cookbook, or rather he was the person who recognized that this tablet was a cookbook and not a pharmacopoeia or whatever. If the Babylonian haggis recipe is anywhere, it is probably there.)