Critics of Wikipedia will no doubt crow over the latest hoax in which a Dublin student inserted a faked quote into the article on Maurcie Jarre which was picked up by several papers. I’m not very concerned – history is full of faked quotes, and at least in Wikipedia we can see what user account inserted the unreferenced quote
Apart from leaders who are known to have worked on their own speeches like Lincoln or Churchill, almost every quote from major political figures is the work of a speechwriter.Â Most autobiographies of celebrities today are ghostwritten or polished by editors. Surveys of textbooks regularly turn up long lists of easily correctable errors.Â From time to time, commonly accepted misquotes or errors are corrected, but the correction often gets scant notice. The daily grind of checking facts and references is what makes the difference in history and journalism between amateurs and professionals.
At least Wikipedia has clear rules about citations and references, and ‘facts’ which don’t meet those standards will be deleted, as the Jarre quote was, several times.Â Controversial or topical pages are restricted and monitored, often by unpaid volunteers, with a great deal of success. Unlike most other forgeries floating round the world, the page history in Wikipedia makes it possible to see what account was used to create the falsehood, and when it was done.
The whole thing reminds me of an exchange involving Oscar Wilde who, when he a particularly good bon mot, remarked that he wished he had said that to which Whistler’s response was “You will, Oscar, I’m sure you will”