Monday, November 12, 2012

Could Wikipedia 'affect', rather than 'reflect' the information present in reliable sources, and create a feedback loop?

Consider the term planned obsolescence. The New York Times, in May'11, said this of the term in the context of Brooks Stevens:

"A speech he gave at an advertising conference in 1954 was titled “planned obsolescence,” and while he didn’t coin the phrase, he is said to have popularized it. More significant, he had faith in the concept; for that he was reviled by some." - From the Pen of a Giant of Industrial Design, NYT, May'11

The current version of the Wikipedia article on this term does not cite any source for this claim [that the term was first popularized by Brooks Stevens]. Consider for a moment that the author of the NYT article, in May'11, was looking at this Wikipedia article before he wrote his story on Brooks Stevens, in order to both get a feel of the topic and also to smell test his article. And assume that based on his reading of the Wikipedia article of that time, he included the rather vague statement "he is said to have popularized it" in his article.

Because the current version of the Wikipedia article includes a notice at the top saying "This article needs additional citations for verification", it means that it is possible that someone will eventually pick up the May'11 NYT story as a reliable source, and will cite that story as a published evidence for the claim - in the Wikipedia article - that Stevens first popularized the term.

The set of events described above is entirely possible in real life. And if this happens, it will mean that unverified stuff on Wikipedia going into so-called reliable sources can eventually become verified, just because the so-called reliable source happens to publish it now.

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