Friday, February 13, 2009

Ipso facto not exacto

It's nice to have "facts" at your fingertips thanks to the internet - but it can propagate mis-information. Case in point: the correct name of the new German minister of economic affairs - Mr. von und zu Guttenberg. His full name is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. All good so far, except at some point before he was appointed, someone changed his Wikipedia entry to add the name Wilhelm (between Philipp and Franz). When German and other media reported his appointment Wikipedia was among sources checked, so the incorrect full name was used in some cases. Meanwhile, back at Wikipedia, the change was reverted, and the call went out for a check on what Mr von und zu Guttenberg's correct name was. This shouldn't have been a problem - facts at fingertips remember - unless you're checking with one of the media outlets that had picked up the incorrect name from the Wikipedia entry. So, says an article in SlashDot, the circle was closed: Wikipedia states a false fact, a reputable media outlet copies the false fact, and this outlet is then used as the source to prove the false fact to Wikipedia. And thus it would be easy to slip into the mis-information age aka ipso facto not exacto.

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