back to article Irish Wikifiddler hoaxes worldwide journos

In a case of Wikihistory repeating itself - again - a 22-year-old Dublin student has made a mockery of both Wikipedia and the world's news media, fooling another army of brain-dead obituarists into repeating a load of Wikinonsense. When film composer Maurice Jarre died at the end of March, The Irish Times reports, University …


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  1. Andy
    Thumb Down

    Not the problem

    The fact that anyone can edit "the encyclopedia anyone can edit" is not the problem. Lazy Journalism is the problem.

    Flagged Revisions aren't the solution. Journalists checking their facts, is the solution.

  2. Toastan Buttar

    Still a Wiki fan, here

    It's an invaluable resource for helping the kids with their homework, or just spending an afternoon expanding your knowledge. It's great for getting an overview on a subject and supplying you with key words to search for using Google. You've just got to be careful NEVER to repeat anything indiscriminately, without following up references and getting confirmation from secondary sources.

    It would have been a simple matter for the journalists in question to have looked elsewhere for confirmation that Jarre actually said that. They didn't and they were caught out.

    Mine's the one with the dog-eared reporter's notebook in the pocket.

  3. currynut

    isn't it obvious?

    Agree with Andy wholeheartedly. As long as you understand what it is, then Wikipedia is no problem. It appears that the better paid editors aren't doing their jobs. Sack the journalists who get caught out but I'm afraid this will not rid us of the lazy crap dished out every day as "fact".

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    'False information on Wikipedia is not the problem, people using false information from Wikipedia is the problem' Mate, if the false info didn't get there in the first place...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Andy

    Could not agree more - what idiot would trust Wikipedia without checking the reference?

  6. Andy Bright

    Undermine the tenants of Web 2.0

    Which as we know means history and science should be altered so that no one is mean to anyone, every major historical figure was politically correct and dumbed down sufficiently so nothing takes longer than 3 minutes to learn.

    How else would we know that the Spanish Armada (Spain's co-ed 5x5 Arena team) would have beaten the British (represented on this occasion by the English, but with full recognition that Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland were equal partners and should therefore each receive a trophy too) if it hadn't been for the text message Francis Drake received telling him to re-spec his Pally as Holy. My favourite anecdote reminds us that if resilience had been a factor in those early matches, we'd probably all be speaking Mexican today.

  7. Steve Roper

    @ Andy Bright

    "the text message Francis Drake received telling him to re-spec his Pally as Holy"

    You, sir, owe me a keyboard; the bill is in the post ;)

    BTW, did you mean "Undermine the *tenets* of Web 2.0"? Yes, your title is valid, given that the "tenants" of Web 2.0 are all the people giving undue credibility to sites like Wikipedia, but the impression I get from your post is that you meant the "tenets", being the doctrines and principles behind Web 2.0 - "Which as we know means history..." etc. Is that what you meant?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apportioning the blame

    It seems to me that the bulk of the blame and opprobrium should go to the newspapers, who after all (supposedly) are paid professional seekers out of the truth. I rather resent the idea of paying for a newpaper and then finding out that all they are doing is grabbing stuff from some free website...I can do that myself easy enough. I would want my money back if I was paying. Fortunately I am a cheapskate and read the one the bosses provide in the lunchroom for free, so I suppose I can't really complain.

    For Wikipedias share of the blame, well it has been pretty well publicised by now that anyone can edit it. It would not hurt for them to make it a bit more obvious just how recent the changes are. I know you can follow the history easily enough but something on the page itself that flagged up recently edited content might be useful. But really, the whole thing is just "what someone said on the Internet". Which is not to say that it is not sometimes useful, or at least entertaining. But you should not put any more trust in it than is warranted by what you pay for it.

    As for the student...well, that sort of prank is what students do, they have a sort of license for it in the same way that court jesters did. Not to do any real damage of course, but to point up the failings and contradictions of society. I say well done.

  9. Andrew Norton

    wikis and news...

    they already have one, it's called 'wikinews' - and having spent some time talking to them over the last few months, they seem to have more journalistic integrity, and a better dedication to the facts than most journalists these days.Its actually a partner project of wikipedia....

  10. Me Meeson
    Dead Vulture

    Secondary sources = bad

    Really, Journalistic integrity has a lot to do with confirming any source that isn't primary. I see the same problem here as when the NY Times (for example) rip a story near verbatim from an indian (for example) newspaper.

    The worst bit is that many "reputable" news agencies don't even credit a lot of the stories they rip from "lesser known" news agencies. This can be seen on an almost daily basis by tracing news stories through Google news.

    Many journalists today are forgetting that primary sources are the really the only ones worth researching. If you're getting your info from secondary sources, you're using the work done by someone else and you thn need to check all of their "facts" as well as your own.

    Tombstone: 'Cause El Reg woudn't know a primary source if it crawled down the interweb and bit them on the NIC ;-)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Of course now

    The quote is now in news sites - so will be used as a future reference to prove correct!

  12. Anonymous Coward

    The Stupidity Of Herds

    > The fact that anyone can edit "the encyclopedia anyone can edit" is

    > not the problem. Lazy Journalism is the problem.

    A typical Web 2.0 booster response - blame the users for being so stupid as to trust Wikipedia, not dare to lay the blame at Wikipedia itself.

    It is well known *in the tech community* that Wikipedia is a fundamentally broken collection of prejudices, stupidity, wilfull misrepresentation, and downright fabrication. The fundamental flaw in the principle of the stupidity of herds is laid plain to see every time Wikipedia gets caught out hosting some spurious nonsense like this.

    However outside, in the rest of the world, the assumption is still basically made that 'if it's on the Internet it must be true'.

    The front page of Wikipedia doesn't say 'a sort-of wannabee encyclopedia but you'd better check everything twice', it says 'encyclopedia'.

    Journalists work on tight deadlines and are bound to revert to a bit of online research: there just aren't the resources available for every news organisation to maintain their independently-verified database of information on everyone and everything, so they rely on Google, and (again through the stupidity of herds) Wikipedia often appears right at the top of Google searches.

    Until everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that Wikipedia is fundamentally flawed, deeply unreliable, and any information on it should be treated with about as much caution as a Mexican with a nasty cough, this sort of nonsense will carry on. And that is not the fault of the end-users, it is the fault of the owners and management of Wikipedia.

  13. frymaster

    re:still a wiki fan

    "It's an invaluable resource for helping the kids with their homework, or just spending an afternoon expanding your knowledge. It's great for getting an overview on a subject and supplying you with key words to search for using Google. You've just got to be careful NEVER to repeat anything indiscriminately, without following up references and getting confirmation from secondary sources."

    but the point that's being made, time and again, is that if even those who are supposed to make a living from information are getting incorrect data from wikipedia, what chance do schoolkids have? If I want to expand my knowledge, what good does a source whose validity I don't yet have the knowledge to evaluate do me?

    The furthest I go is checking out the sources/references on a wikipedia page, and that's _after_ checking the discussion page for signs of wikiDrama: but evidently lots of other people aren't. This may be a problem with people, rather than with wikipedia, but humain nature ain't gonna change.

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    OH YEAH?

    "And it's worth noting that the New York Times doesn't give anyone and their brother the freedom to rig stories towards their particular point of view - or post fake quotes to its web page."

    Maybe not "anyone and their brother" nor to "web pages" but if it's politically expedient to stoke the fire for a hit job on the Middle East by inventing Iraqi WMD from whole cloth and "anonymous well-informed sources" - GO FOR IT, JUDITH!

    A NYT article seems to demand as much salt as a Wikipedia article when being consumed.

  15. Tom


    I'd trust Wikipedia over most of the mainstream media any day.

  16. spider from mars

    Better something that I know is dubious than something that pretends not to be

    *All* information is biased, partial and possibly innacurate. Personally I think the fiction that news sources are balanced and unbiased is much more harmful.

  17. Winkypop Silver badge

    Wikiwhacky, Facebook or Myspace

    I'm finding that many main-stream TV news shows are now sourcing prime-time stories* from all of these highly unreliable content providers.

    Stop it!

    * Stories is all they all too.

  18. currynut

    @ Michael

    Absolutely not! Wikipedia is in no way a complete waste of time as a source of facts - just understand what it is.

    Treat anything regarding politics/politicians/people more generally (especially living and in the public eye) with extreme caution.

    Broken? I think not. Then again, I don't use Wikipedia to enlighten myself about the lives of twunts.

  19. lglethal Silver badge

    Sack the Journalists

    Simple elegant solution. Sack any journalist who uses Wikipedia as a primary reference source without checking the facts as they are obviously not a proper journalist and so should not be reporting on anything at all.

    When word gets around that it costs you your job to use it, journalists will stop using it, an studying relearning the age old art of proper Journalism.

    This may not fix wikipedia but it might at least bring some respectability back into the media, which i think most of us would agree is now sorely lacking...

  20. Mike Plunkett

    Well Duh...

    "I know that more or less the same mistakes can be found in the New York Times,"

    Probably because they were copied word for word from Wikipedia...

  21. Toastan Buttar


    "if even those who are supposed to make a living from information are getting incorrect data from wikipedia, what chance do schoolkids have?"

    Well, that's why I said "It's an invaluable resource for helping the kids with their homework, or just spending an afternoon expanding your knowledge."; I meant that a responsible adult should be on hand to demonstrate /how/ to use the Internet (including Wikipedia) to research rather than just blindly copying the first hit they get from Google and treating that as gospel.

    Sorry if I wasn't clear enough in my initial post - maybe I should have put it like "...invaluable resource for when you are helping your kids with their homework". As Elly said in 'Contact' - "'I don't know' is a good answer"; a great follow-up is "Let's find out".

    According to Wikipedia, Tux was created by Larry Ewing in 1996, but it was actually James Hughes who later named him.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    are F*king useless...

    (BTW everyone knows that the Vulture Central is staffed buy obedient servants of the moderatrix so the're exempted...)

    After all wiki has a feature called History its friggin obvious if you look..

    "hmm someone changed this three minutes after the story broke.. it must be true.."

  23. Elmer Phud
    Thumb Up

    Why sack the journos?

    Isn't this not a sign of lazy journalism but of the dramatic reduction in journalists and editors? Owners and bean-counters latch on to things like Wiki as a way of removing the need for employees spending time checking things out. They still need to fill the pages but now the staff has been cut several times and even the sub-eds don't have enough time to look things over. There will be the lazy sods who knock up copy while caffiene-loading in Starbucks but, as with all middle-management, it seems that a vague hint of the possibility of cuttng staff is always jumped on without much thought of the consequences.

    On the other hand it's only the modern phenomenon of tall-tales being re-told as facts. Newspapers have done this as long as there's been newspapers.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But you have the problem...

    ...when false info is on wikipedia for any length of time, of other people quoting it on their blogs, twits, and websites, or in newspaper articles etc., and then, due to wikipedia policy, these 'sources' of information being used as citations to verify the accuracy of the false information...

  25. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Journalists

    Well, I am actually a journalist of sorts, y'know.

    And that was a bit of a sweeping statement. Journalists have many uses. Only this morning one of them changed a fiver for me.

  26. TeeCee Gold badge


    Yes, but getting your bollocks firsthand doesn't make it anything more than bollocks.

    As it's the 50th anniversary of the Mini this week, I suppose I'd better finish that reference on how John Lennon won the RAC Rally in 1968 driving a 1275 Cooper S.....

  27. Shell

    @Andy Bright

    Too much WoWTime? (Or, applied to me, for knowing!)

    I agree with the other comment re: WikiP is what it is - it's a great place for finding information that you're not to worried about the validity of - or a place to start if you're research a subject. But it should NEVER be taken as "fact". The journalists involved should be fired. What other lazy reporting for these authors has slipped by without being noticed?

    Jacket because... I'm late for am Ulduar raid.

  28. Random Noise

    Dead Tree Press

    Newspapers have been suffering for a while now. Many blame online news sites such as El Reg.

    I'd recommend anyone who wants a good insight into exactly why many hacks are being reduced to using information they only just read themselves minutes before to read 'Flat Earth News' by Nick Davies.

    Also series 5 of 'The Wire' shows some of the inner workings of a news room quite nicely.

    That's actually why I value The register as a good source of news- it seems that you guys quite regularly come out with new & insightful stories you don't read anywhere else because you have actually researched them yourself rather than copy & pasting from a news feed. On occasion I see the odd story which is pretty closely word for word what is on BBC news but you cant investigate every story fully.

  29. Andy

    Douglas Adams had it right

    Spider From Mars made the point first on this thread, but Douglas Adams said it in 1999 (

    ‘Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t “trust” what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do.

    For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back — like newspapers, television or granite. Hence “carved in stone.” What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust — of course you can’t, it’s just people talking — but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV — a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no “them” out there. It’s just an awful lot of “us”.’

  30. Charlie van Becelaere
    Thumb Up

    @Douglas Adams

    "there is no “them” out there. It’s just an awful lot of “us”.’"

    I respectfully disagree, sir. I am them, and they are not amused.

    "thumb for obvious reasons"

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Somebody heard him say that?

    For the quote in question, what would be a primary source?

  32. Stuart Halliday

    May it long continue

    I'm glad that all the silly pranksters are keeping their juvenile antics to the social and political Wikipedia pages.

    When was the last time you heard that the page on a particular type of rock, chemical or animal was in dispute or wrong.

    Let's not 'throw out the baby with the bath water' eh?

  33. Andy

    @"Somebody heard him say that?"

    I did post a link, in fact, to the entire article. I think he probably wrote it down.

  34. Richard Lea

    Free thinks not welcome to work here

    Love the fact that its always the guardian, do they employ the laziest journos in the world

  35. Andy Bright
    Thumb Up

    @Steve Roper

    Yes I did mean 'tenets' but the reason I left it as is was because I simply copied and pasted directly from the article. I figured (without properly understanding the meaning in the story perhaps) that the author had one of those spellcheck moments where the word was replaced by an incorrect one. Happens to us all and I saw no reason to point it out as I still had enough wits about me to recognise he might have been talking about something else.

    But I'm glad you saw the humour in the post >:). Nothing disturbs me more than the teenage attitude that any history before their birth date is irrelevant and therefore no history was possible that didn't feature IM, mobile phones, texting or the internet.

  36. Oninoshiko

    Poem on the Underground Wall

    well google does think that all media should be more wiki-like. Not really checking for proper sources is a great start!

    You know, I was talking to an english instructor a couple of years ago, who does not accept anything useing wikipedia as a source. These "journalists" who blindly except wikipedia as fact need to get their jobs revoked. I'm torn if it should happen before or after someone needs to go around google revokeing PhDs.

    This is about as reliable as citeing a Poem on the Underground Wall.

  37. Kevin Reader

    It is mostly lazy or nonexistent journalism

    If you watch any major story break and evolve - such as the "Landing in the Hudson" - you will see the news legitimately hits a very few sites and then propagates through the web media including the sites of "proper" newspapers.

    If you track the - often serious - errors that occur in the early reports, and their titles you can see the copying that goes on. Most of the sites appear (pretty clearly) to copy the story from site to site. Eg. wrong aircraft, wrong casualties and you see it spread, reported as gospel.

    Most day to day journalism (other than some tabloid-esk shock horror) is written from press releases, so as I see it most journo's no longer know how to do their jobs. On a fast breaking story they have no other choice/skill and its just copy, copy, copy!

  38. MarkMac

    Yes, the problem

    Er, /one/ of the problems is journos not checking their facts.

    The other is wikipedia claiming to be an encyclopedia but allowing itself to be used as a red-top tabloid complete with gossip and rumour.

    Encyclopedias contain _facts_. People making stuff up cause its funny, or provocative, or because they like poking sticks in ants-nests is not fact. People writing what they wish had been true or hope happened, is not fact.

    When will the "encyclopedists" at Wiki-world realise that humans can't be relied on to relate facts truthfully? Gil Grissom could tell you that everything is filtered through a mask of prejudice, faulty memory, post-event reconstruction and desire to please the audience...

  39. Dale

    Wikipedia passes, media fails

    Even as it stands, Wikipedia (English version) is much better than the mainstream media (as it should be). The proof is in the exact Maurice Jarre obit incident you mention. If you had read the article carefully you would have seen that Wikipedia took the fake quote down WITHIN MINUTES. Even when the hoaxer put it back up is was repeatedly taken back down.

    It is a myth that Wikipedia is nonsense because it is collaboratively edited. It is FAR more reliable than even the NY Times. As another article on this incident put it: "Wikipedia passes, media fails"

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