Sunday, 9 September 2012

Wikipedia butthurt

A number of news outlets have carried news of author Philip Roth's spat with Wikipedia over editing of the article The Human Stain, concerning his novel of that name. See the BBC's Author Roth rebukes Wikipedia over Human Stain edit ("Renowned author Philip Roth has criticised Wikipedia after he was unable to convince the site to change an entry about one of his novels"), and Roth's An open letter to Wikipedia in The New Yorker.

Mr Roth wanted altered a claim about the inspiration for The Human Stain that was derived from multiple published critical sources. The edit, made by his biographer, was refused - correctly within Wikipedia policy - on the basis that it didn't derive from secondary sources. His version has since been incorporated in the article now that his letter to The New Yorker provides that source.

From a skim of the coverage, it's evident that none of the mainstream media articles, including Roth's, seem to fully grasp the import of the philosophy of Wikipedia.

The only way to run an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, yet still retains standards of accuracy, is that content be verifiable from secondary sources: ones published elsewhere about the subject, in media of generally-accepted editorial standards.

The edits to The Human Stain article were not an addition based on such sources. They took the form of two anonymous IP edits (stating, then unprovably, to come from Roth's biographer) that simply deleted an article section about the novel's inspiration summarising critics' theories, along with Roth's refutation.
diff I have removed the reference to Anatole Broyard, at Philip Roth's insistence. I am his biographer.)
diff (Once again, I removed the reference to Anatole Broyard. It is wholly inaccurate and therefore pointless. I am Roth's biographer, and have removed it at his request.)
It was perfectly correct that these edits - which anyway were suspect as coming from a shared IP address with a history of vandalism - were reverted pending verification. Furthermore, an author (or their official biographer) editing their own Wikipedia page is fraught with difficulties of conflict of interest, especially if they start making edits reflecting some preferred view of events. For instance, this edit ...
diff (At Philip Roth's insistence, I have removed the reference to his real-life "nervous breakdown," based on Claire Bloom's largely erroneous memoir. I am Roth's biographer, Blake Bailey.)
... which disses another biographical source, and removes a detail that is abundantly sourced elsewhere, including in Roth's own The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography.

Roth is not the first to exhibit butthurt * on finding that Wikipedia doesn't work on their accustomed basis of authority by personal identity, and won't be the last.

- Ray

* A person displaying excessive outrage in response to criticism or not getting their way, often in relation to that person being given less respect than they think they are due.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, what is really important. Other than Bach, Klee, chocolate and a 12 string guitar, I cannot say. Certainly not whether Philip Roth is an blithering idiot or not.