Wikipedia Far More Accurate than Instapundit/Dinocrat (And That’s Not Saying Much)

For some reason, Instapundit is linking to someone who is flat out falsely charging the New York Times with plagarism. According to blogger Dinocrat (Jack Risko),

The New York Times copied an erroneous Wikipedia entry into its news pages today. From the NYT’s article on the Marburg Haemorragic Fever outbreak in Angola:

There is no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious virus. Victims suffer a high fever, diarrhea, vomiting and severe bleeding from bodily orifices and usually die within a week.

The Wikipedia entry on the virus:

There is no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious virus. Victims suffer a high fever, diarrhea, vomiting and severe bleeding from bodily orifices and usually die within a week.

Wikipedia mischaracterizes how contagious Marburg is, and the NYT copies the mistake. Consulting more authoritative sources would have avoided the problem. From the CDC:

This is a lie. Dinocrat apparently doesn’t have the first clue about using Wikipedia, and Glenn Reynolds is content just to take his word for it. The reality is that Wikipedia plagiarized from the New York Times story, not the other way around.

This is trivial to demonstrate. Here is the Wikipedia page on Marburg on April 8, 2005. It doesn’t include the two-sentences that Dinocrat claims the NYT copied from Wikipedia. Those two sentences were added later on April 9, after the New York Times story was published. Here is the page where the edit is made, listed at 15:28 (I have no idea what time zone Wikipedia is using).

The history page for the Marburg virus entry at Wikipedia also confirms that Wikipedia copied from NYT. There’s a notation made later in the day (after Dinocrat had made his post) at 23:31,

nyt link – phrase was copied from there, sorry for wrong summary

So the same text appeared at both Wikipedia and the New York Times. Rather than check the history at Wikipedia — where, after all, articles are being constantly updated and edited — Dinocrat chose to simply assume the NYT was copying from Wikipedia and then Glenn Reynolds ran with that ball, spreading the meme among those who read his popular blog.

Sometimes its not just the MSM who come off as rank amateurs who are more interested in playing “gotcha” than taking the time to get their facts straight. If you’re going to write stuff like . . .

We knew there was a problem with the NYT story right away, and it took only a few clicks to determine that the lazy use of Wikipedia was the source.

. . . you better make sure you’re not a lazy-ass yourself.

Reynolds isn’t much better. He warns that,

IT’S USUALLY A MISTAKE to copy things from Wikipedia without looking further into the subject.

So, its a mistake to take Wikipedia at face value, but any old blogger who makes a very serious charge with basically no evidence as to who was plagiarizing from who apparently can be trusted “without looking further into the subject.” Bah, nobody apparently gives a damn anymore. If it slams James Watt, Bill Moyers has no problem repeating a bogus quote from an online source without investigating further. If it slams the NYT, Reynolds has no problem spreading false accusations of plagiarism around the Internet (and I thought Glenn was supposed to be the voice of reason about accusations of plagiarism.

Oh, and one other point. Dinocrat is full of crap on the claim that Marburg is not highly contagious simply because it “require[s] direct contact with the bodily fluids or excreta of an infected person, so they are pretty easy to avoid.” First, since the virus can live on surfaces of objects for several days, according to the CDC, it might not be so easy to avoid contact with infected fluids. Second, just because you can, in theory, easily avoid exposure to an infectious agent doesn’t mean that it isn’t highly contagious.

Hepatitis A, for example, is also considered highly contagious, and it is usually contracted by consuming the fecal matter of someone who is already infected (it can also be contracted through sexual activity and IV drug use). I suspect most people would agree that this is something that should be, in theory, pretty easy to avoid. Like Marburg, however, Hepatitis A is generally considered highly contagious because of the very high risk of contracting the disease once a person comes into contact with the infectious agent. Contagion is not just the odds of being exposed to an infectious agent, but also about how likely that infectious agent is likely to cause the disease once exposure does occur.

Marburg and its deadlier cousin Ebola are considered highly contagious because exposure to the infectious agent is believed to produce a very high risk of infection. The only certain way to prevent the disease from spreading is isolating patients and having those who come into contact with patients, such as health care workers, use preventative measures such as face shields, etc., to prevent have any contact with the bodily fluids of those afflicted.

Risko should probably revise his title to say something like, “Note to Rest of the World: Don’t Use This Blog As An Authoritative Source.”

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1 Response

  1. xashruak October 15, 2008 / 3:45 am

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