Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Wikipedia probably needs no introduction. An open-source encyclopedia which anyone can edit that is pretty darn good overall, great sometimes, but also mediocre-ish often. The theory behind Wikipedia is that it is self-correcting, or at least it is in the sense that eventually rough edges of entries are smoothed out. Take a controversial type of entry, say, Muhammad. Obviously there are plenty of people who would love to add that Muhammad is the one true, last prophet and there are plenty of people who want to say he was a bloodthirsty pagan pedophile. Neither of those are appropriate in an encyclopedia entry. So what happens is, people who care about the integrity of Wikipedia and have an interest in Muhammad ensure that no "defacement" of the entry happens, or remains for more than a few minutes. That mechanism seems to work well for big topics.

Moving on to a smaller topic. A couple of days ago I looked at the Wikipedia entry on Haredi Judaism. I noticed a mistake. It read "In the words of Enlightenment thinker Moses Mendelssohn, a person could be "a Jew in the house, and a German in the Street." I happened to know that much-maligned Mendelssohn didn't originate or even say this phrase. I recall having read who did say it, but sadly I couldn't recall but the sentence needed editing, so I changed it to "In the words of a popular aphorism of the Enlightenment, a person should be "a Jew in the home, and a mentsch (human being) in the street." -- not exactly the most grammatically elegent, but it was technically true and the earlier version wasn't.

The next day someone reverted the edit back to the original saying that I needed to prove a negative: I needed to show a source that Mendelssohn did not say it! Obviously that's not a simple matter. I mean, try giving a source that shows George Washington didn't say "Go ahead, make my day". I changed it back saying "I can't bring a source to show that Mendelssohn didn't say something -- he simply didn't say it! On the contrary, you bring a source that shows he did."

So someone changed it back saying "In order to change long-standing status-quo, however, you must have a source. Anyway, what would prompt you to change it unless you had a source?", which is reasonable. But I know it was wrong! So how could I not change it??

Bekitzur, the Wiki community seems to have agreed now that it was a popular aphorism and that there is no proof that Mendelssohn said it.

Wikipedia: 1 Urban Legendom: 0

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