Wikignosis

This week I have another look back at an old post. I wrote this one in 2010, but it's become nothing but more and more relevant with the advent of the "fake news" crisis (regardless of what side of the political aisle you come at that from) and so many other epistemological disasters. (Some of this stuff may be gone from Wikipedia, but there's plenty more informational abominations that have come on board since then!)

**

A reader asked me to have a look at something I’d rather have not seen: The Wikipedia page on the historicity of the book of Acts.

Yes, of course: It’s a perfect example of why I call Wikipedia, “the abomination that causes misinformation.” Not just because it has outright errors, but because ideology can readily slant any of its pages when someone comes along with a bug in their nostrils.

In this case, it is fairly clear that someone has come along who has been reading all the standard liberal commentators (eg, Haenchen) and thinks they’re gospel. Nearly all of the objections raised are old hat. I’ll answer here the only one I did find that was new to me (and it is a good one, since it only makes it more clear why I disdain Wikipedia as a source).

Acts 6:9 mentions the Province of Cilicia during a scene allegedly taking place in mid-30s AD. The Roman province by that name had been on hiatus from 27 BC and was re-established by Emperor Vespasian only in 72 AD.

Actually, the word “province” isn’t in the text. If anyone errs here, it is translations like the NIV for inserting the word “province”. Here “Cilicia” would more likely have a more informal designation used by those who lived in the region; they hardly would simply give up the name just because the provincial designation had been put on hiatus (something the average peasant probably might not have known or even cared had happened until 72 AD!). Indeed, the very fact that the province was reinstituted with the same name shows that it stuck in people’s minds all that time.

At any rate, back to Wikipedia. In a few cases it is clear that some folks have tried to add in answers to some of these objections. For example, regarding Acts 4:4, it gives an objection about Jerusalem’s population, which is then answered. In other cases what we have may as well not even be there. As of this writing, a section titled “Acts 24: Paul’s Trial” has nothing under it but:

Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

And that’s it. Why anyone would think this would warrant a section of its own is hard to say. It also doesn’t belong under the section name, “Passages of alleged historical inaccuracy,” as coherence of presentation isn’t even a “historical accuracy” issue.

In any event, all we have is a sound bite culled from a single scholarly work dated to 1963 (without, as Wikipedia notes, even a page number offered!). I looked up that work, which is available online, and the questions presented by the scholar to allegedly demonstrate incoherence amount to questions of inscrutable personal motivation (eg, “Why did Paul not wait for a decision instead of appealing to Caesar?”) that do not logically demand a verdict of historical inaccuracy. (The answer to that question, by the way, is that Paul likely anticipated an unfavorable verdict – or else that he sought some sort of honorable vindication from the Emperor’s court.)


It doesn’t get much better after that. Someone else later got the bug of the darkness at the crucifixion in their nostrils, and, though the article is about the reliability of Acts, inserted a complaint about the allegedly unreliability of Luke, in reporting that darkness. Gibbon’s stale objections are specifically resurrected for this purpose.

There’s a lot that would need to be done to bring this Wikipedia entry up to any sort of reputable standard. As it stands, it is a hodgepodge of random objections, mostly poorly formulated, few given any sort of adequate treatment, some added on to with answers, some of those good and some not so good…and so on. In other words, it is just what we would expect from a page that is authored by everybody and assigned responsibility by nobody. And this is just one page out of millions Wikipedia has running.

How long would it take to fix this mess, on just this one page? I could pop in there with plenty of material, taking a few hours to do so – only to find it erased next week. Or to find some fundy atheist has added some new and outdated objections which I would then have to fix. And so on. I could start a whole new ministry dedicated to fixing Wikipedia.

It is sorely tempting for me to try an experiment with Wikipedia as an object lesson, much like the one performed by Shane Fitzgerald (see link below). I have access to all sorts of obscure databases listing all sorts of obscure books, most of which are not readily available anywhere. It would hardly be difficult at all to find some obscure title on some important topic, post some reputed “fact” about it on Wikipedia, and cite that obscure book as a source. Who would be the wiser? Skeptics everywhere got away with listing the fabricated Pope Leo X quote, and some even added a reference to Encyclopedia Britannica to substantiate it. How hard would it be to fool Wiki’s mostly average-Joe volunteer editors the same way?

Not hard at all. I could easily out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald on that score. And that’s something to think about.



http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/technology&id=6807750

Comments

Anonymous said…
You might want to update this. Neither "darkness" nor "incoherently presented" appear on the Wiki page.
J. P Holding said…
"Some of this stuff may be gone from Wikipedia, but there's plenty more informational abominations that have come on board since then!"

First paragraph. :)
Anonymous said…
So blog about the "informational abominations" that are actually there!

Otherwise your post is itself just another "informational abominations"; something wildly inaccurate that is there just to promote an ideology.
J. P Holding said…
Wow, what did you hit yourself with to become that thick? The identification of the post as a retrospective makes it perfectly clear that the information is old; therefore, no inaccuracy. This is SOP.

The admonition to blog about what's there now is little more than a cover for your blunder in failing to correctly see this the first time before it had to be pointed out to you.
Freya West said…
I loved to read this post and this blog is awesoem.

Freya, UK
Idioms.in

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