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By Michael Fumento

In today's Washington Post, an article on the posthumous update of the Wikipedia entry of former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay illustrates one way in which the online dictionary can be abused. As the Post points out, "Unlike, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia has no formal peer review for its articles. They may be written by experts or insane crazy people. Or worse, insane crazy people with an agenda. And Internet access." Tell me about it.

In Lay's case, the Post said, he'd barely been pronounced dead when the first entry appeared. Lay's Wikipedia entry said he had died "of an apparent suicide." Two minutes later, the article was "updated" to say Lay had died "of an apparent heart attack or suicide." Within the same minute, a Wiki author backtracked, and the article said the cause of death was "yet to be determined." And then, said the Post, "the yahoos began weighing in."

But what if you're still alive and kicking and somebody just doesn't like you? That's what's happened to me. An Aussie named Tim Lambert has as his raison d'etre attacking anybody who is more intelligent, more successful, and more relevant than he is. That leaves him with 6.3 billion targets -- more or less. But I ended up on his radar screen by making fun of him, as I am now. So he attacks me in any way he can, which as it happens is limited to the only two outlets in the whole world that will deign to publish him -- his blog and Wikipedia. (Perhaps at some point his blog will say "Enough is enough!" but probably not.) Nor will Wikipedia reject him. I have many outlets because I work for a living. But Lambert does nothing but teach a few computer science courses so he has something I don't, namely time. So he blogs, and blogs, and blogs and frequently enough attacks me. Worse yet, he uses Wikipedia to the same end. At one time I tried to pull one of his false attacks down from my Wikipedia entry but Lambert, with far more time than I have, simply kept putting it back up. Moreover, he then accused me -- horror of horrors! -- of having the temerity to change my own Wikipedia entry. Ultimately Lambert won out simply because, as I said, he has more time. That doesn't seem quite fair; but that's the way the Wiki works.

So there's a lesson in here. Actually, two. First, don't trust my Wiki entry. Go to my bio. But the bigger lesson is that any time any Wiki entry involves either a controversial person or a controversial subject, take it with a grain of salt. Ken Lay can't tell you that, but I can.

July 9, 2006 08:45 PM  ·  Media