Cory Doctorow recently quit his job and poured a little of that extra time he’s got to write this devastating attack against the world’s worst pseudo-journalist, The Register’s Andrew Orlowski. Orlowski is so wrong so often you have to wonder if The Register doesn’t encourage him to make gross errors of fact simply because the resulting controversy leads to more page views for the online rag. Orlowski’s the sort who will lambaste Google over what turns out to be a misspelling that he couldn’t be bothered to check.
In late December, Orlowski ran one of his fact-free articles in which he claimed that Doctorow posted thing on Wikipedia related to his own Wikipedia entry that Doctorow had, in fact, never posted,
Orlowski put me in the vain and foolish camp because I had taken part in a discussion of my entry in which I spoke of myself in the third person, e.g. “‘Since these issues are inextricably linked to the way Doctorow has chosen to present his books to the world, I do think it is at least somewhat appropriate,’ Doctorow adds.” He also implied that this somehow tricked Wikipedia’s volunteer moderators into letting me correct the record where others had been denied.
He’s at least part right — people who talk about themselves in the third person do look pretty foolish. But he was completely wrong on the factual assertion that I had talked about myself in the third person, and so his speculation that this was the magic trick necessary to allow people to edit their own entries was invalid.
I had indeed taken part in the message-board for my Wikipedia entry, and some months later, a Wikipedia editor reorganized the page, grouping the discussions by topic. To an untrained eye it was unclear who had written what, and if you hold the kind of low opinion of me that Orlowski clearly has, it might be possible to believe that the entire message board had been written by me alone.
The worst thing is how the Register chose to correct the errors once pointed out. They simply removed part of the nonsense that Orlowksi had written as if it had never been there. No note that the page had been altered due to errors that Doctorow brought to their attention, and certainly no apology for the Register’s continued employment of someone who makes Nigerian 419 scammers look like dedicated truthseekers.
Doctorow is wrong, however, in claiming that given the two, Wikipedia’s sort of errors are superior to Orlowski’s sort of errors,
Wikipedia’s transparent approach to the truth lays out all sides of the debate where all can see them and judge for themselves what the fact of the matter is. The Register’s approach hides the negotiation of truth behind invisible, silent edits, and behind the whims of writers who are free to correct, (or not correct) the record as they see fit.
I couldn’t disagree more. When I visit a Wikipedia page, I have no idea about who wrote any given assertion nor how reliable that person is. It could be the most accurate article ever written on the topic, or it a piece of self-serving garbage, but it is very difficult for me as a casual Wikipedia user to ascertain authorship or reliability.
With Orlowski, however, people who encounter his work a few times know that pretty much everything he writes is bogus. Similarly, someone can visit this blog, look around, and form an opinion about how reliable they think I am. By eliminating any sort of easily traceable authorship, an important clue to how accurate the article is becomes unavailable.