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Internet Bullies: Wikipedia Admits it has a Problem

By John Stone

In a recent Age of Autism article called “CNN Runs Scared from the Truth About Andrew Wakefield” I drew attention to the way CNN blog editors hid behind a Wikipedia article while re-circulating the customary lies and distortions about Andrew Wakefield noting:

The Wiki entry on Andrew Wakefield has a pharmaceutical Praetorian guard surrounding it preventing it from ever being corrected, and plainly CNN realised that they were on to a loser if this discussion continued.

It is interesting therefore to note that despite the nicely utopian theory of being a disinterested and publicly correctable knowledge source, Wikimedia the parent organization of Wikipedia now admits that is easily taken over by commercially sponsored bullies. As a result they are now consulting over a proposed system of disclosure. A Wiki webpage entitles Terms of use/Paid contribution ammendment explains:

The Wikimedia Foundation Legal Department plans to ask the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees to consider a proposed amendment in our Terms of Use to address further undisclosed paid editing. Contributing to the Wikimedia Projects to serve the interests of a paying client while concealing the paid affiliation has led to situations that the community considers problematic. Many believe that users with a potential conflict of interest should engage in transparent collaboration, requiring honest disclosure of paid contributions. Making contributions to the Wikimedia Projects without disclosing payment or employment may also lead to legal ramifications. Our Terms of Use already prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. To ensure compliance with these provisions, this amendment provides specific minimum disclosure requirements for paid contributions on the Wikimedia projects.

The consultation goes up to the March 21 for any AoA readers interested in submitting their views, however beyond acknowledging the existence of the problem it is unlikely to change much. In the case of the Wakefield entry AoA correspondent ‘Aussie Dad’ reported :

I just posted the following after the first paragraph of the Andrew Wakefield Wikipedia page:

“The Wiki entry on Andrew Wakefield has a pharmaceutical Praetorian guard surrounding it preventing it from ever being corrected.”

Pleased to say it lasted about 20 seconds.

The following was the response that came up:

“Hello, and welcome to Wikipedia. This is a message letting you know that one or more of your recent edits to Andrew Wakefield has been undone by an automated computer program called ClueBot NG.

“ClueBot NG makes very few mistakes, but it does happen. If you believe the change you made was constructive, please read about it, report it here, remove this message from your talk page, and then make the edit again.”

Another question is whether Wikipedia itself has undisclosed interests.


My comment on the Wikipedia entry for Andrew Wakefield submitted to CNN was as follows:

But this is a flawed account. The findings were confirmed by both histopathologists in the paper subsequent to the hearing (here).

When the Deer/BMJ findings came under the scrutiny of Dr David Lewis in November 2011 they were forced to re-trench (reported in Nature):

“But he (Bjarnason) says that the forms don’t clearly support charges that Wakefield deliberately misinterpreted the records.

“The data are subjective. It’s different to say it’s deliberate falsification,” he says.

“Deer notes that he never accused Wakefield of fraud over his interpretation of pathology records…

“Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, says that the journal’s conclusion of fraud was not based on the pathology but on a number of discrepancies between the children’s records and the claims in the Lancet paper…”

Although Godlee had previously stated in February 2011:

“The case we presented against Andrew Wakefield that the1998 Lancet paper was intended to mislead was not critically reliant on GP records”. It is primarily based on Royal Free hospital records, including histories taken by clinicians, and letters and other documents received at the Royal Free from GPs and consultants.”

But it is clear that the judge who presided over Walker-Smith’s exoneration and reviewed the Lancet paper in detail could not find any evidence of this. His one major quibble was over the statement about ethical approval [in the] paper which Walker-Smith says he did not see – however this is accurate too.

“Ethical approval and consent

“Investigations were approved by the Ethical Practices Committee of the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, and parents gave informed consent.”

The paper did not have ethical approval and consent, and did not need it because it was simply a review of patient data (which was what was on the tin). The procedures needed ethical approval and consent and had them.

So Wiki does not tell you any of this but repeats an account that is long disproven.

John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.

tl;dr version: Wikipedia is not to be trusted, serves commercial (Big Pharma) interests