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Wikipedia extolled as an aide for getting history correct

From: Akira Urushibata
Subject: Wikipedia extolled as an aide for getting history correct
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2022 06:46:42 +0900 (added by address@hidden)

An article appeared in Washington Post's opinion section praising
Wikipedia's service to democracy by providing objective information
on the history of Russia and Ukraine and related issues.

Russian President Vladimir has made claims that Ukraine is run by
Nazists and they need to be eradicated.  He also believes that
Ukraine should not be independent from Moscow.  Upon hearing such
statements many people in democratic societies headed to Wikipedia
to examine their veracity.  Relevant articles saw a sharp increase
in page views.


Wikipedia acts as a check on Putin's false view of history
Perspective by Noam Cohen


  Since the Russian invasion, the English Wikipedia articles about the
  historical figures and topics Putin invoked have been racking up
  pop-star numbers. The article about Stepan Bandera, a far-right leader
  of Ukrainian nationalists before and during World War II - whom Putin
  sees as an evil force guiding Ukraine even today - has been viewed a
  million times since the invasion. The one about the Ukrainian Soviet
  Socialist Republic, an obscure entity within the Union of Soviet
  Socialist Republics that Putin sees as having enabled Ukraine's
  current separate political identity, has had more than a half-million
  views since the invasion. Also with Bandera-type numbers is the
  article about Kievan Rus' (just under a million views), the ancient
  kingdom led by Vladimir the Great (225,000).



A world with an impartial source of information is far healthier than
one in which only disparate narratives from two competing entities are

However, my personal observation of Wikipedia makes me doubt whether
it deserves as much praise as Noam Cohen suggests.

Occasionally I take a look at the Wikipedia article on the "Linux"
operating system.  It is constantly edited.  At times I have seen
efforts to eradicate or minimize the role of GNU.  Here are the
first two paragraphs of the current version of the article:

   Linux is a family of open-source Unix-like operating systems based
   on the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released on
   September 17, 1991, by Linus Torvalds. Linux is typically packaged
   in a Linux distribution.

   Distributions include the Linux kernel and supporting system
   software and libraries, many of which are provided by the GNU
   Project. Many Linux distributions use the word "Linux" in their
   name, but the Free Software Foundation uses the name "GNU/Linux" to
   emphasize the importance of GNU software, causing some controversy.

It is true that FSF uses the name "GNU/Linux" but the way it is
phrased gives people the impression that FSF is but an isolated voice
among computer specialists.  This is a factual error.  For example
there is "Debian GNU/Linux" developed by an organization independent
from FSF.  Moreover in numerous technical documents I encounter the
term "GNU/Linux" used by people who are obviously not affiliated to
FSF, in contexts where it is necessary to distinguish between the
kernel and the operating system.  Wikipedia, while putting emphasis on
the desires of FSF, fails to make clear that people have practical
reasons for saying "GNU/Linux."  Failure to say that not everybody who
says "GNU/Linux" is prodded by FSF is a factual error.  Failure to
mention that people need to distinguish the kernel from the OS is
yet another.

Wikipedia may have helped thwart Russian President Putin's efforts to
rewrite history but it has been less successful in getting operating
system history straight.

I know of other instances of questionable quality.  Certain articles
on WW2 subjects exhibit stark differences in the Japanese page and the
English page.  It is easy to imagine this happening where disputes
surround the subject matter.  But I have also seen contradictions in
figures for which controversy is not known to exist.  Japanese and
English Wikipedia pages on Japanese capital warships at times disagree
on the number of casualties at the time of sinking.  For the Shinano,
the world's largest aircraft carrier at the time, the difference is

Nowadays machine translation is widely available and Wikipedia encourages
its use.  If people who edit Wikipedia articles don't always check
the facts with the help of machine translation, it may well be that
they do not examine available references either.


Discussions of free software often presume that promotion is a good
thing.  The eagerness to promote may shove other aspects aside.

Even in a world with no proprietary software, people may suffer from
lack of freedom.  Computers are useful because they are accurate.
When fed false data, computers produce misleading output.

Imagine the captain of a sinking ship who is not sure how many
passengers are on board, or the capacity of each lifeboat.  Delays in
evacuation may put lives at risk.  An accurate computer running free
software won't help the captain if he does not have faith in the data
therein.  And when a person dies, loss of freedom is total and
irreversible.  The survivors are better off but also suffer from
dimininished freedom caused by physical and mental injuries and loss
of belongings.

Now consider an industrial setting.  False figures lead to defects.
Money, effort and time are spent dealing them instead of production
or development.  False figures take away the organization's freedom.

As important as the promotion of free software are efforts to ensure
that false facts and figures are not supplied as input to the systems.


Has anybody been monitoring the Wikipedia article on the "Linux"
operating system?  As stated above I notice that it is constantly
evolving.  I see the need to examine the article and the "GNU/Linux"
naming ordeal from an objective perspective.

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