My Wikipedia experiment

October 8, 2009

Today was the beginning of what will probably end up some weird hobby of mine.

It started with a joke about the Newsboys with a friend. At the end of our witty interchange, he added a false single in 1997 to the Newsboys Wikipedia page. 1 hour and 15 minutes later, the revision had been undone.

That kind of speed is impressive.

So, this made me want to see how quickly wikipedia can correct itself. How good are their editors? Was it a fluke?

I needed more source data

So, I went ahead and made a slight revision to the page un Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther. I wanted the false fact to be indisputably false (not just a debatable opinion), and yet not glaringly obvious (Like “Also, Zwingli invented the light bulb and flew into space”)

[I would like to note, that while I considered this to be an interesting study, my wife considers it just being a jerk.  She does have a point.]

So, in the historical context section, I added that Zwingli participated in the Old Zurich War, which ended about 40 years before Zwingli was born.

Ten hours later, it was still on the site. I took it down, as to not be a TOTAL jerk, although inside I seriously wonder how long it could have stayed.

Now, it was inserted (accidentally) right before a footnote which was intended for something else, potentially making it look more credible, and thus would be passed by on first glance by an editor. But why did it make it so long, while an addition of a single to a Christian rock band’s library was so quickly corrected?

I feel like there is some sort of potential spiritual truth here, and maybe even a criticism of Wikipedia or postmodernism or the wiki-trend as a whole.  But that is for a later post.

What is really important is that I may have found a new fun thing to do. I plan on collecting more source data on figuring out how long it takes for errors to be corrected on Wikipeida. Expect either more blog posts or an entirely new blog on the subject.

**Edit – see my apology in the next blog post:


9 Responses to “My Wikipedia experiment”

  1. Astrid Says:

    This is sad, really sad. This is pure vandalism, pure abuse, and has nothing to do with an “experiment”. To label your actions that is just a way to quieten your conscience by giving it a nice label.

    I’m glad you are blessed with a wise wife. Appreciate her. Listen to her. She understands, you don’t.

  2. andrew Says:


    May I ask what about my actions are so deplorable? You are clearly very disturbed by my actions, and while I might understand someone (like my wife) who finds my actions to be silly, you seem to be deeply offended.

    What about it might be defined as “pure abuse?”


  3. Cassian Says:

    Astrid, instead of arguing with you, I have decided to just define each word in your sentence and then reinterpretate it based on what these words actually mean instead of how you improperly use them:

    This causes me to be affected by grief and unhappiness, really causing grief. This is pure malicious destruction of public property, pure physical maltreatment (or pure ly corrupt practice – or – pure improper or excessive treatment) and has nothing to with an operation carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect. To label your actions that is just a way quiet your sense of moral goodness by giving it a nice label.

    Now a linguistic breakdown:

    Astrid, you chose to use the word abuse, a word in the Western world used to denote physical violence against some non-dominant group like women or children. In this way, you have cast Wikipedia as a spouse being violently beaten by Andrew, who deserves to be thrown in jail for his actions.

    You also use the word vandalism, a word usually meant to denote destruction of physical property. In this way, you have construed Andrew as someone who has committed an act that was gravely and intentionally disordered to destroy an object without any means of fixing it without serious monetary loss.


    Vandalism: willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property

    1: a corrupt practice or custom
    2: improper or excessive use or treatment
    3: language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily
    4: physical maltreatment

    a: the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good
    b: a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts
    c: the part of the superego in psychoanalysis that transmits commands and admonitions to the ego

    a: affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness.
    b: causing or associated with grief or unhappiness
    c: of a dull somber color

    Experiment: an operation or procedure carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect or law, to test or establish a hypothesis, or to illustrate a known law

    Quieten: Date: circa 1828
    chiefly British : quiet

  4. Some wikipediaguy Says:

    Hi Andrew, you might expect some traffic-boost here, as a link to your blog was just posted at (as an example of vandalism from seemingly well-educated people from whom we should be able to expect better)

    Not going into Cassians linguistic breakdown (except for adding that (s)he could probably make a fine Wikipedian with that sense for detail ;), I understand that words like vandalism and abuse might seem over-the-top in descibing an experiment I’m sure you thought of as mostly harmless (and thanks for removing that test again, most testers unfortunately don’t).

    “Vandalism” is a term used within the Wikipedia community to describe any action deliberately seeking to harm the project – like replacing the text of the article “London” with “John is GAY”. Now, this would not be really harmful, as it would be discovered and reverted within a second or so (please do not check that I’m right in that assumption, you’ll just get your ip blocked). Adding clever misinformation like you did here ( is much harder to spot, and puts extra strain on already strained volunteers trying to facilitate a free online encyklopedia. People like me joined Wikipedia in the first place because we wanted to write and expand articles, and contribute new knowledge – a lot of us end up spending too much time cleaning up damaging edits of one or another kind.

    You’re obviously a clever guy with knowledge of the ‘net (&Calvinism) and some time to spare – why don’t you join us in making wikipedia better instead of amusing yourself by making our work harder.

    Best regards

  5. KjellG Says:

    Shame on you! Please contribute to make Wikipedia better instead.

  6. Lars Says:

    Destruction of public property = vandalism. You vandalize an altruistic effort to spread free knowledge, just for the kicks. Thus, you are acting like a jerk. It should not be too hard to grasp.

  7. Lars Says:

    BTW, are you a christian? If so, how do you rationalize your actions versus the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”? Editing an article is not bearing witness? Huldrych Zwingli is not your neighbor? Incorrect is not the same as false? All of the above? Just curious as to which mental gymnastics you prefer to utilize here.

  8. andrew Says:

    Dear wikipedia folks.

    Please look at my next entry for clarification:

  9. Bari Boshard Says:

    Thank you for the sound critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. I am very happy to see such great information being shared freely out there.

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