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Posts by Darrin Fox

When fact-checking means a lot

This post is available in 2 languages:
Italiano Italian • English English

This is a guest post from Maurizio Codogno (Wikimedia Italia).

In English:

Last weekend, Italy held its general elections. It is not important to state who won, after all, Wikipedia is nonpartisan. However, what I do want to talk about holds a certain importance, and it is closely related to Wikipedia. A few days before the elections, Oscar Giannino—a journalist and economist at the head of the list Fare per fermare il declino (“To act to stop the decline”)—resigned as the leader of the movement after it was discovered that the master’s degree in economics he had claimed to have achieved from the prestigious Chicago Booth university was nonexistent. Doubts over Giannino’s master’s degree had been discussed before, but what caused the story to explode was, in all probability, a post written by Wikipedians Jaqen and Tooby. The post made the rounds of social networking sites and contributed to the first public disavowal of Giannino by the co-founder of the movement, Luigi Zingales, ultimately leading to Giannino’s resignation. I recently interviewed the two authors about their scoop.

 
When did you start writing on Wikipedia? Are you also involved in other WMF projects?
Jaqen: I have been an editor on Italian Wikipedia since 2006 and a sysop since 2007. I recently became a sysop on Wikimedia Commons as well.
Tooby: I discovered Wikipedia in 2005, and I became a member of the community almost immediately. My first edit is dated 24 April 2005. I have also been very active on Italian Wikinews, where I still act as an administrator and bureaucrat.
 
Why did you start working on the Wikipedia article about Giannino?
Jaqen: I think I added it to my enormous watchlist after listening to his radio program.
Tooby: I don’t remember if I ever edited the article: I just followed the discussion.
 
Can you describe how you searched for your sources?
Jaqen: When the master’s degree of Giannino was first questioned in 2011, I found sources that I considered reliable, and they confirmed that Giannino had indeed received it from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. One of the sources was the website of the Bruno Leoni Institute. Then a Wikipedia user said that he had written to Chicago Booth, and they could not find Giannino in their database. So I wrote to the school too. I got the same answer, but they also asked when did Giannino had received his master? That made me think that they had an unreliable database. So when a user removed the information I did not oppose, even if there was no published source against it. In 2013, Oscar Giannino came under attention as the leader of the “Act to Stop the Decline” list. Eventually, an anonymous Wikipedia user published an email from the Bruno Leoni Institute admitting that they were wrong, Giannino did not have a master’s degree in economics. I wrote them an email and they confirmed it. They eventually changed the information in his online biography.
Tooby: I limited myself to “professional” and organizational support: I have been a political and economic blogger for five years, and I have conducted other investigations as an amateur, though not with so much media coverage. However, I feel that I have played an especially moral role in this saga. Both of us appreciated the movement led by Giannino, but Jaqen was hesitant, fearing what eventually actually happened. But we are long-time users of Wikipedia, and we know that even if we do not like them, the facts are the facts, and the reader has the right for them to be presented in an objective, neutral way. Also, thanks to the experience gathered with Wikipedia, hesitations quickly disappeared and we decided to publish all of the material as soon as it was ready and supported by the appropriate sources.
 
Did you expect such a reaction to your discovery?
Jaqen: Has there been? :) It was not our discovery that led to the reaction, but rather the fact that Luigi Zingales publicly denounced Giannino and left the party. What did provoke some reaction, however, was the fact that questions over Giannino’s master’s degree were on the Wikipedia talk page since 2011.
Tooby: I expected a good response, but not this much! Even if we cannot be certain, I believe that our article helped to precipitate the events. We know that there was another journalist who was trying to verify the existence of Mr. Giannino’s master’s degree, and around February 14 it seems that Luigi Zingales had some knowledge of that. However we were able to anticipate all with our reconstruction: we published the article on the morning of 18 February, and it was shared very well before the abandonment of Zingales, announced in the early afternoon. In a way, I feel that we popped the cork.
 
How do you think Wikipedia came out from this story? I’ve heard some people say, “Yes, Giannino made a mistake, but the fault was really of Wikipedia who inserted the false news in the first place.”
Jaqen: According to an article someone tried to say this at first, but it was clear to everyone that this was not true. Wikipedia was just reporting what sources were saying.
Tooby: I believe that Wikipedia will come out much stronger than before. Many Italian observers have recognized the work of Wikipedians in search of the facts in this case. The Wikipedians were stubborn, and wanted to look beyond the “pseudo-official” biographies, such as the one by Istituto Bruno Leoni. I wouldn’t say that all of the participants in the discussion were unbiased in their search for the facts—some people were driven by envy and anger at Giannino. But the important thing is the end result. The neutral point of view is necessarily a collective work, where personal views are filtered from those of other users, allowing only what is verifiable and reliable.

 

Maurizio Codogno
Wikimedia Italia

Italiano:

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The Impact of Wikipedia: Mike Cline

Wikpedia contributor Mike Cline discusses Yellowstone, fly fishing and the value of volunteerism on Wikipedia.

Vietnam vet, 28-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Counterintelligence Officer–it’s safe to say that Mike Cline is a not a slouch. The 65-year old resident of Bozeman, Montana retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1996, and although he is busy working in a strategy consulting business, he has found time to be an active Wikipedia contributor, with over 500 articles and 37,000-plus edits.

“Wikipedia is a unique way to volunteer—it’s also a great way to learn how to read, write, solve problems, and collaborate,” he said. “It’s a free engine to practice your communication skills.”

Wikipedia also affords Cline the opportunity to expound on his two greatest passions: the outdoors and fly fishing. Growing up in Pasadena, California, Cline was nestled right up against the San Gabriel Mountains. It was there that he developed a deep love and appreciation of the great outdoors, a subject on Wikipedia that he has contributed to extensively with his writings on the history of fly fishing and Yellowstone, among others.

“Even though I was growing up in a relatively urban environment, hiking in the mountains and fishing or catching snakes was very natural to me,” he explained. “My mother introduced me to fly fishing and I’ve been tying flies since I was 13-years old. Eventually, I started buying books about fly fishing and fly fishermen, and I have a library of about 600 books of fly fishing literature. It’s a wonderful history and the perfect place to write about that is Wikipedia.

Cline explained that it’s not as popular as American football, but it has “a lot of nuance to it. Plus, it’s a wonderful escape, great exercise, and when you’re wading knee-deep trying to catch fish, it’s about as close to nature as you can get!”

Cline spends 25 to 30 days a year in Yellowstone National Park, and he has written extensively on the park’s vegetation, trails and geography. “Writing about Yellowstone in Wikipedia allows you to get into the details, the intimate details, if you will, of exactly how the park was originally explored,” he said.

“I often take the same path that the Langford-Peterson expeditions took across the Gardner River and into Yellowstone for the first time in 1870. Even today, you can stand there and look one way to the north and you see Gardner and Electric Mountain, which wasn’t named in 1870, and you stand and look south to Rescue Creek, and it looks exactly the same as it did in 1870. It’s fascinating because there’s a connection of studying the history, being able to write about it, and actually experiencing it.”

It might seem that Cline’s obsession with the outdoors would run counter to sitting in front of a computer screen typing out articles and making edits. Not so, he said. “When I was in the Air Force, they put a computer on my desk in 1983 and said, ‘Here, use this as a tool.’ I’ve been using computers as a tool ever since. Wikipedia is nothing more than an opportunity to contribute to knowledge of things that I’m interested in, and it’s via the tool of computing.”

For Cline, Wikipedia’s non-profit status is key to its mission, and he feels that being unconstrained by the binds of share price and earning statements is the only way Wikipedia can flourish. “Wikipedia’s not out there trying to build up equity that somebody owns and puts in their pocket as profit, and I think that is very liberating,” he said. “Besides, volunteerism is important in the world, and Wikipedia is a unique way to volunteer 24/7. It’s not only a way to give back, but it’s fun as well.”

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

The Impact of Wikipedia: Q Miceli

Q Miceli contributes articles about baking to Wikipedia.

“Volunteering has always been important to me,” said 22-year old Wikipedian Q Miceli. “I believe volunteering generates good karma because it benefits more than just myself.”

Miceli, who hails from Byram, New Jersey, began her journey on Wikipedia when she researched a “tree of life” project for her 9th grade biology class. As time went on, she found herself becoming an active contributor and editor, most notably during her years at Princeton University, where she studied religion and was a Wikipedia campus ambassador, organizing and hosting the school’s first Wikipedia edit-a-thon.

“The purpose of an edit-a-thon is to educate new users about how to navigate Wikipedia and how to write a good article,” she explained. “It’s also to increase the amount of articles on Wikipedia or to make them better, fix links, and do various other types of clean up.”

Two years ago, Miceli decided to become vegan in order to put into practice the mantra of “do less harm.” As she started down the path, she quickly found that Wikipedia was an indispensable ally.

“Using Wikipedia has often helped me figure out the source of foods that I’m eating,” she explains. “For example, I learned about quinoa on Wikipedia. Since I’m gluten intolerant, I found quinoa to be a godsend because it’s a gluten free grain—actually it’s from the goosefoot plant so it’s a grass—I learned that on Wikipedia.”

As an avid baker, Miceli dreams of one day opening her own vegan, gluten-free bakery. She also contributes to many Wikipedia articles on baking, which she hopes will be useful to other interested in the craft.

“Writing about baking affects the greater good because everyone needs to eat and bread is the staff of life,” she explains. “I have found Wikipedia articles explaining the science behind baking better than many cookbooks! I’m also able to learn about the cultural aspect of what I’m eating with Wikipedia. Ultimately, I get to write about what I’m passionate about and I get to educate other people about it. Hopefully someone can use some of that knowledge to do good things where they are.”

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

The Impact of Wikipedia: Ganesh Paudel

Ganesh Paudel discusses his contributions to Nepalese Wikipedia

Ganesh Paudel, a journalist from Nepal, began contributing to English Wikipedia in 2004 as a way to disseminate accurate information about the politics in his country. After discovering that Wikipedia was available in his own language, he realized the immense potential that the online encyclopedia has for developing content for languages that are underrepresented online.

Beginning with an entry on his village, Paudel aimed at increasing the amount of content available in Nepalese Wikipedia, which had 2,500 articles at the time he started. “When I joined, I thought many things, many topics are lacking there, so I didn’t know from where they start,” said Paudel. “So I just started from making introduction about many places and villages of my country.”

In a country as diverse as Nepal, Paudel had the challenge of creating and overseeing content in multiple languages. He explained that such material online would otherwise be sorely missed without Wikipedia. “There are more than 120 living languages,” he said, “So if a very small user base for a language can find their content in any online or Internet site, then they are very happy and that helps to develop their culture and their many things and it helps them to introduce themselves to the rest of the world.”

Paudel credits the open and collaborative nature at the heart of Wikipedia for being the source of increased content in Nepalese. “The most beautiful thing of Wikipedia is it is open source and anybody can use and reuse the content,” he said. “I found many Wikipedians are interested in writing about their own stories and their surroundings and the things of their interest.”

Given his background as a journalist, Paudel originally struggled with the thought of collaborating with other users, instead opting to write complete articles on his own. “I just focused to write full articles,” he explained. “But, afterwards, I learned that one person can’t write a full article. The editing is always open in Wikipedia, so after that I just started with an intro, and many people began to contribute on it.”

Paudel hopes that the growth of the Nepalese Wikipedia can be recreated with other minority languages of Nepal. Already, Paudel has overseen the creation of Wikipedia for three additional languages spoken in the country.

“There are also nearly eight languages on pipeline that are in incubation and the communities are interested to bring out those languages from incubation, so long live Wikipedia!” he exclaimed.

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern, Wikimedia Foundation
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller, Wikimedia Foundation 

Wikipedia Signpost report: WikiProject Chess

The other day, the Wikipedia Signpost – the English Wikipedia’s community-written newsletter – provided an update on Wikiproject Chess, which was founded in 2003 and counts over 100 Wikipedians as members.

ChessSetWikiProject Chess editors have written extensively on a cornucopia of chess topics like strategies, endgames and notable players, including four Featured Articles (FAs) and 15 Good Articles. The project’s main article, “chess,” is actually one Wikipedia’s oldest FAs, achieving this quality rating back in 2002 when the FA process was still called “Refreshing Brilliant Prose.” Over the following decade, the article has had to be reviewed a few times to meet the rising FA standards.

The Signpost interviewed one of the project’s members, Sjakkalle, who is no slouch of a chess player himself, as he is an active tournament player and has a FIDE rating of 1944.

“I started working on chess articles shortly after I joined Wikipedia in 2004-2005,” explained Sjakkalle, who has created nearly 40 chess articles. “At the time, there were a number of good chess-related articles, but many were underdeveloped and many significant topics lacked articles altogether.”

On his user page, Sjakkalle self-deprecatingly recalls losing a game in his first international chess tournament last year, starting his international career by committing a blunder of exactly the kind that he himself had warned Wikipedia readers about two years earlier by making this edit to the article blunder (chess). “I should have known better,” he said. “Apparently, I didn’t.”

Even though there is no shortage of literature on chess—Sjakkalle says it’s possibly the most studied game ever—WikiProject Chess does have its challenges. According to Sjakkalle, they are missing a number of articles on the games’ grandmasters—particularly the Russian ones—and while there are many articles on openings and endgames, coverage of the middlegame tends to be underdeveloped. He also says that although many articles are well-illustrated with diagrams of chess positions, finding missing images of some of the game’s legendary players can be difficult.

Although they have already done a ton of great work, Sjakkalle is quick to put the word out that WikiProject Chess is always looking for new contributing members. “Anyone who wants to contribute will be a most welcome addition to the project!”

For more info on WikiProject Chess, read the full interview on the Signpost.

Darrin Fox, Communications Intern

The Impact of Wikipedia: Gereon Kalkuhl

(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. You can also view this video on YouTube.)

Gereon Kalkuhl discussing his contributions to Wikipedia

“When I write, I learn at the same time, and learning is what interests me in life,” said Gereon Kalkuhl, an active contributor and administrator on the German Wikipedia. Kalkuhl also contributes to the English, Portuguese, Polish, and Swedish language sites. Suffice it to say his background in translating comes in quite handy.

From insects to mayors to chess players, the 44-year old German keeps adding to the sum of all human knowledge, one edit at a time. Active since 2006, Kalkuhl was surprised at the amount of collaboration and discussion with other Wikipedia editors when he started contributing.

“When you engage a certain topic, other people will contact you, people that share the same passion for the subject matter,” Kalkuhl explained. “I found this very nice. When I was writing articles on insects, professors of entomology were approaching me, and then the knowledge starts to go back and forth. It’s really amazing when you meet someone halfway around the world who is as invested and interested in the same subject as you and you get to collaborate with them.”

“What they all have in common is they’re curious people. Not only that, they want to share this knowledge,” he added.

Kalkuhl feels that the average person might appreciate Wikipedia more if they knew about the behind-the-scenes machinations that allow the site to thrive. When he started out, he said he had no idea. Like many people, Kalkuhl assumed a cadre of computer programmers and, well, not “normal people,” were the ones helping to keep Wikipedia a trusted source of knowledge.

“Almost everybody uses Wikipedia. They might complain about it, they might even hate it, but they still end up using it. So people should be interested in how it works,” he said. “They would probably gain more of an appreciation for what Wikipedia actually is and how it functions so well. One thing that most people are not aware of is that there’s very active quality control. People are really scanning what new articles come up, and if it doesn’t reach a certain quality requirement of what an article is supposed to look like, they’re listing it, they’re tagging it, or they’re trying to improve it.”

Like anything else, Wikipedia isn’t perfect. However, Kalkuhl illustrates that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good, especially when it comes to a free online encyclopedia.

“Every social media platform has trolls and folks who just want to disturb the peace. Sometimes drastic measures must be taken and these people have to be blocked from using Wikipedia. But that’s the price we pay for an open lexicon where everybody can contribute,” he said. “Wikipedia is an amazing model—volunteers are contributing and it’s working—people are doing it. They’re willing to spend time and make it better for everyone because it’s really in our best interest to share this knowledge with everybody on the planet.”

Perhaps Kalkuhl can appreciate what goes on behind the scenes of Wikipedia a bit more because of another one of his passions: he has been an extra in 50 movies, working with the likes of David Cronenberg and Tom Tykwer.

“It’s not so special,” he said humbly. “I’m just an extra, you know, but it’s fun to work for a couple of days on a set and see how the directors and actors work. I find the whole thing fascinating because you see so many movies, but when you see how it’s actually done, you get a much deeper understanding of the film. Sometimes it’s like a holiday in time too—depending on the movie you can pretend to be in the 1870s and you’re wearing a costume and the atmosphere of that time is all around you—it’s so much fun!”

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

The Impact of Wikipedia: Peter Coti

(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. You can also view this video on YouTube.)

Peter Coti discussing Wikipedia and his work as an EMT.

When someone says they’re into “blood, guts, and trauma,” it’s not a stretch to think that they’re touting their favorite metal band, or maybe even Tom Savini. But Peter Coti is doing neither. He’s definitely into the aforementioned unpleasantness, but only as it relates to helping people in their most dire time of need—he’s an EMT.

He’s also 17 years old and a student at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey. “I never want people to get hurt, but I want to be there when they do,” he says.

Coti is also a die-hard Wikipedian. Sporting a Yeoman Editor Service Badge, Coti manages to be super active, creating, editing, and generally spiffing up medical articles, mostly pertaining to emergency medicine—a field Coti hopes to specialize in at med school.

“The process of editing Wikipedia is a great study technique in a way because I really need to know what I’m talking about,” said Coti, whose first article was on stab wounds. “I need to make articles that are exact and precise because I don’t want to give false information to other people. That requires a lot of research and a lot of thought to be put into a subject before I actually put something into an article.”

Coti acknowledges that he sees some pretty heavy stuff. Interestingly, he views his work on Wikipedia as a beneficial tool to help him deal with some of the more intense aspects of his job.

“By working on Wikipedia and striving to explain things clearly and factually, I’ve been desensitized in a way,” he explains. “I can look at situations in a more clinical way and not let emotions overcome me in a real life-or-death moment.”

He added, “It’s interesting to me because, you have this skin over you, and people don’t usually get to see what’s under it. Then one day, you see someone and their arm is cut off, or their whole foot is gone, and not only do I find that interesting from a medical perspective, but also, I’m given the opportunity to help them and keep them calm because, well, they just lost their foot.”

Making his first Wikipedia edit in the 6th grade—on the New York Yankees—Coti became “hooked forever.” And although he humbly says that he is just a middle class kid with too much time on his hands, his passion for Wikipedia comes from the same place as his EMT work, a place of helping people out.

“Wikipedia is a buffet of knowledge,” he says. “By working together with other Wikipedians, we’ve been able to do a lot of good and make articles more factual with more information to help users when they come and look a subject up. If you want to research something or get a better understanding of a certain subject, you can just go to Wikipedia, and it will show you basic information, but it will also send you to other places where you can learn even more. It’s exponential knowledge, in a way.”

Calling Wikipedia an “amazing tool,” he added, “Where else can you can learn and teach others for the price of nothing? That’s beautiful.”

Profile by Darrin Fox
Interview by Victor Grigas 

The Impact of Wikipedia: Poongothai Balasubramanian

(Poongothai Balasubramanian is a Wikipedia editor who is part of this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. If you have trouble viewing the video below, please let us know in the comments and try watching it here.)

Wikipedia editor Poongothai Balasubramanian discussing the impact of Wikipedia on her life

“In my retirement, I simply wanted to engage myself in a useful way,” said Poongothai Balasubramanian, a retired math teacher who lives in Coimbatore, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Balasubramanian–who retired in 2010 after 33 years in the classroom–started editing Wikipedia at the urging of her son. Thus began her “retirement career” as an active Wikipedian. She has created more than 250 articles; she has made 7,000 edits; and she has uploaded 6,000 audio files of pronunciations to Wiktionary in her native language, Tamil, which is spoken by nearly 80 million people worldwide.

“Every day I am on Wikipedia,” she said. “I sit with my netbook and I edit and create articles in my mother tongue and favorite language.”

Balasubramanian’s first article was on probability, and she has also written on quadratic equations and functions. She has expanded articles on parabola, ellipse and hyperbola—her love of math is quite clear. Equally important is her love of teaching younger generations, which she has done via the Tamil Wikipedia as it has grown to nearly 50,000 articles.

“People can be scared of math because it has some abstract ideas,” she said. “But if we can make students comfortable with the subject, I don’t think they will have that fear. It’s so important to learn because, not only will you use it in everyday life, but when students begin opting for engineering courses and higher, they will already have an understanding of the basic concepts.”

The 61-year old Balasubramanian remembers what it was like when knowledge was at a premium, and sadly, it still is in many cases.

“The fact that Wikipedia is free is not only the most attractive point, it’s the most effective point,” she said. “All over the world, including in my country, there are so many people who cannot buy the knowledge published in books. Wikipedia gives this knowledge out free of cost, and everyone benefits— whether they are rich or poor. In previous times only the rich had the knowledge.”

She sees editing Wikipedia as altering that dynamic and making it possible to deliver the sum of human knowledge for free.

“I’m so proud to be aging, engaging and leaving something for future generations,” she said. “That’s the satisfaction I get by participating in Wikipedia.”

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller 

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: the Spanish finalists

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Ebro River, Zaragoza, 3rd Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, Spain

Photographers in Spain uploaded nearly  40,000 images, second only to Poland when it comes to sheer output in Wiki Loves Monuments 2012. In addition to announcing its top 10 images to compete in the international competition, Spain also released a top 100, which is full of gorgeous photos.

The stunning sunset image above is of the Basilica of our Lady of the Pillar, along the Ebro River in the city of Zaragoza. The church venerates the Virgin Mary and dates to the early history of Christianity in Spain. Of the finalists in Spain, two photographers each had three images, while the city of Toledo was represented with three images, Ávila with two.

Wiki Loves Monuments is the largest photo contest in the world with more than 15,000 people uploading over 360,000 images in 2012. Every photo is freely licensed for use on Wikipedia or any other free-knowledge project. Check back here as the international winners will be announced tomorrow, 3 December, 2012.

For more information about Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, visit www.wikilovesmonuments.org and see all the 2012 finalists here.

Darrin Fox, Communications Intern

Acueducto de Segovia, 2nd Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, Spain.

Iglesia de San Pedro – Ávila, 1st Place, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, Spain.

Wiki Loves Monuments 2012: the Norwegian finalists

Kjeungkjær fyr, finalist, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012, Norway

As you can see from these three shots, Norway’s 2012 finalists in the Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 photo contest are inspiring! The image above is of the Kjeungskær lighthouse, built in 1880 on a tiny island at the mouth of the Bjugnfjorden, in the municipality of Ørland. A number of the other photos depict severe landscapes and remarkable stormy skies.

Stay tuned as we announce the international grand prize and top finalists tomorrow, 3 December 2012. Don’t forget to check out the entire 2012 lineup of Wiki Loves Monuments’ finalists.

Darrin Fox, Communications Intern

Boat, Bamsebu, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 finalist, Norway
Alnesfyret, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012 finalist, Norway