Monday, June 6, 2011

When Stupid Things Happen to Good Wikipedia Articles

Every teacher who has ever called on a student who had not done the reading will recognize the agonizing pattern here:

Palin is  campaigning on a family vacation along the east coast, visiting historic sites and waving the flag. Asked a direct question and with the cameras rolling, Palin suddenly suddenly realizes she has no idea what Paul Revere actually did to become an American hero. So she tries to fake her way through with the unprepared student's classic recipe of one-half facts that are wrong and one-half trumpeting what the student believes are the key themes of the course (or in this case the campaign). So we get "Revere warned the British . . . he rode a horse, yeah, horse . . . ummmm . . . the Second Amendment Rules!!!!" Up until Palin's gaffe, the classic film representation of the phenomena was from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:

The clip of Palin stumbling through her answer went viral and has been on every political blog over the weekend. The interesting thing is how Palin supporters have fought back, trying to alter history to fit the statements of their candidate. Slate blogger Dave Weigel has a pretty good summary of the effort so far: Editing Wikipedia to Make Palin Right About Paul Revere. Apparently supporters of Palin have been busily editing the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to make it better fit Palin's version of events. You can scrape the article's revision history for examples if you are extremely patient but Weigel gives an example of the general approach of the pro-Palin edits with the following example, in which the (since deleted) pro-Palin changes are are underlined:
Via Boing Boing

Revere did not shout the phrase later attributed to him ("The British are coming!"), largely because the mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with British army patrols; also, most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British as they were all legally British subjects.

Wikipedia is pretty hardy, and editors have been reverting (deleting) these politically-motivated changes as quickly as they are made. You can follow that process on the discussion page for the Revere article, where one weary editor posted "Sarah Palin's army needs to go away."

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