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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Booker Long-lister has Long Battle with Wikipedia


While I said there were few surprises with the long list for the Booker Prize, one of the new names has an interesting and thought-provoking background.

Ed O'Loughlin is a debut novelist but a seasoned writer, accustomed to being under fire as the Middle East correspondent for major Australian papers, including The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age. His book, Not Untrue and Not Unkind (and this is not a surprise) is a war correspondent's reflections on his years of reporting from Africa.
What is a surprise is that he has been fighting a battle of his own for some years - a battle with giant internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, which flourishes from contributions by anonymous writers, many (if not most) of them amateur. According to the internet magazine The Millions, he was attacked for his so-called bias against Israel by critics who targeted his Wikipedia page.
It's no good looking it up. The page has been removed. O'Loughlin requested them to do it, in a letter addressed to "Dear whoever you all are.
"My name is Ed O'Loughlin," he wrote; "this is my real name, I stress - and I am the subject of this article.
"The article as it has appeared in its various manifestations in recent months is a starkly one-sided attack on my personal and professional character which is based entirely on highly partisan sources and falsehoods. The moving forces behind it are anonymous people who do not have the integrity to reveal their identities or interests, and whose malicious intent is quite clear ..."
Wow. Follow the link above to read the rest of the letter yourself.
Personally, I have been very suspicious of Wikipedia, starting from the time I looked up Captain Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), commander of the great United States Exploring Expedition, and found that the contributor had confused him with the social activist and British radical politician John Wilkes (1727-97). I corrected the page and went away, never to visit again.

3 comments:

Carter said...

You're right, Joan--this is indeed interesting. Good for O'Loughlin!

I use Wikipedia for a quick look sometimes, but never accept what they say as gospel.

When I was a kid here in the States, I used to hear this all the time: "Trust your mother, but cut the cards." And these guys are not even kin to me. :-)

Shel Horowitz, author, Principled Profit said...

I find Wikipedia a good starting point, especially since it often shows up in Google and is usually clearly written. While I've only actually caught one error, I do tend to seek independent confirmation of what I find there.

Joan Druett said...

Enjoyed both your comments, e hoa ma -- but have to admit it worries me when I read student essays, and find that they have been citing Wikipedia. Teachers in high schools are apparently recommending it as a first resource, and evidently their students are too naive to follow the links (if there are any) or check the facts. Obviously, they have not been warned of the pitfalls. And I believe juniors are using it as an easy route to doing their homework. If we are not careful, it will lead to an uncritical semi-intelligentsia in the future.

("e hoa ma" means "my friends" -- down here we are all recovering from Maori language week, which was hailed with great enthusiasm this year.)