The Day I Changed The World

Well, an infinitesimal part of it, anyway…

Yesterday, I commented, as I often do, on a post from the excellent blogger Jim, of Borden’s Blather fame. If you go to https://jborden.com/2021/05/20/kind-of-cool-kind-of-scary/ you will find the post he wrote about our subsequent conversation. I thought I’d share my part in this too.

Jim wrote yesterday about a study into how certain types of fruit sweets can or cannot be distinguished for taste, and I said that I would stick to my wine gums and Fruit Pastilles, as I was pretty sure that I can tell the differences – I’ve been eating the things for over sixty years, after all. This prompted me to look up both of these on the fount of all knowledge – Wikipedia – and to my horror the entry for wine gums, whilst correctly describing them as a British confection, committed the unforgivable sin of calling them ‘candies.’ As a Brit, I wasn’t exactly outraged at this, immediately calling for heads to roll, but I was mildly ticked off about it. Yes, I know Wikipedia is an American thing, but did they really have to steamroller over our sensitivities like that? I did consider the possibility of storming the Capitol, but decided that this might be a little extreme, and that is only for extremists to do, anyway.

So, what to do? I know that Wikipedia pages can be amended – a health warning over their content there – but had never tried doing it. So I thought I’d have a go. The first thing I found was that you needed to have a log-in for the site: who knew? This turned out to be the most difficult part of the whole exercise, as every permutation of a user name I could think of had either been taken or was deemed too similar to another already in use. Eventually, after around five minutes of potential threat to the link between my remaining hair and my head, I found a name they didn’t forbid. Huzzah – the Brits were coming for them! After that, it was plain sailing. To be fair to whoever wrote the original article, they did use the word ‘sweets’ at the beginning of their piece, and even hyperlinked it. So I clicked on it to see what it took me to. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I landed on…’candy.’ I left the hyperlink alone, but there was a reference in the next paragraph to ‘candies.’ As I said to Jim, there isn’t now! This how it now appears, and unsuspecting readers will never know how close they came to seeing the abomination that previously existed:

So, WW3 has been avoided, and Britons can carry on their lives in blissful ignorance of how some of their favourite sweets had nearly been subjected to a language take over. A bit like this, really:


But this got me thinking, and Jim has raised the point in his post, too. If it is that easy to amend Wikipedia articles, with no apparent skills or qualifications required to justify your doing so, should we really trust it? I use the site a lot: it is invaluable for background information, chart placings etc for the songs I include in my music posts. But there are many detailed technical and medical articles on there – how do we know that the authors know what they’re talking about? Public figures need to be on constant alert for malicious changes to pages about them: politicians are a prime target, I’d have thought. Fans of rival sports teams could have a field day with hurling abuse and falsehoods at teams they don’t like. I wonder if Wikipedia has some way of checking changes that are made? Do they employ human editors, or rely on software to do the job for them? How good are the algorithms they use to seek and destroy malicious, damaging and potentially illegal contributions? We are advised to be on constant guard against scams trying to steal our money, but neither can we ever really be sure that what we read on Wikipedia – and any other site, come to that – is accurate, can we?

Nor can we be sure who is writing things:

So, while I bask in my nanosecond or two of fame at having become a published author (ahem) do please take the underlying message seriously: check your sources!

[A brief footnote: I have been using the Classic Editor for my posts until today, when it no longer seemed to work, so this has been written using the Block Editor which I hate with a vengeance. I think I’ve managed to get this looking roughly how I intended but any weird bits of stray code, or vast differences between image sizes etc are entirely the fault of the Editor. Like our government, I take no responsibility 😉]

56 thoughts on “The Day I Changed The World

  1. The “Wiki” is not at all reliable, even in musical themes it has errors, it has already happened to me, I don’t remember now exactly what it was, but it was wrong data, I think it was something about Alice Cooper, but anyway, the thing is that I remember that I found wrong data and it is normal, in the “Wiki” anyone can write, it is this “progre” fashion of things “made by the people”, but let’s see, is it that all humans are academics?

    The new editor is awful, but the bad thing is that the classic one they have left, does not have justified alignment, the one that existed just before the current one, had that option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always tended to trust it for music posts but double-checking with others, like Songfacts, is advisable. Having proved to myself how easy it was to change I’m extra cautious now!

      I can’t get the Classic Editor on my main browser, Safari, either on my iPad or MacBook. I have to use Chrome or Edge instead. I’ve taken to using the Block editor, to see how it goes. It’s good for embedding videos, but everything else takes twice as long, and it isn’t intuitive to use!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I don’t even know how to upload videos or images and I don’t understand the blocks, except that, if I do a copy paste, it doesn’t respect the semicolons, it comes out all in a row.

        And neither with the classic that you see now nor with the new one, I can’t find the justified alignment option and I’m a bit of a fanatic about that, I’ve been using justified alignment since I started typing back in the 70s.

        The worst of all is that I want to make the blog “Pro” and this issue of the editors is holding me back.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve embedded loads of videos, so it has become second nature to me. Images are easier for me in the Classic Editor – the Block makes them harder to manage.

        That copy/paste thing has happened to me too, but I find inserting a key press solves it. Can’t help on the justified alignment though, sorry: I’ve only ever used the left/centre/right options!

        I can understand your hesitation – if they make it harder for you to post how you like, why pay them money?

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. Hi Clive
    This was interesting to learn about
    And I did not know that Wikipedia was American??
    I thought it was global and you could choose
    Which language and it looks like we have the simplified engiish language – ha!
    Regarding the editing done – I was under the impression that folks do check contributions – and follow up accordingly which is why a log in is required – and side note – I have only contributed once to a Wikipedia page and it was similar in motive – had to clear up an error

    Anyhow – one of the reasons they sometimes say “revenge needed” is from those who do check
    But I think – and here is the tricky part – this open source relies on people to contribute and make it is robust as possible
    But it does raise questions

    And as a person that works with students who need to use APA formatting for scholarly papers – we never allow Wikipedia as scholarly source – they can only use peer reviewed journals or research gate or scholarly sources that are not open editing
    With that said – I do tel students that Wikipedia can sometimes help them grasp a topic or area and many times the bottom of a page has sources that can be accessed using “google scholar”
    And that helps then do their research with more depth and breadth

    And now someday I just have to try these “fruit sweets”

    Like

    • Hi Yvette,

      Wikipedia is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, who are based in San Francisco – hence my description of it as American! But you’re right, there are many different language versions and it tries to provide for local differences. Here in the UK the version we get generally picks up spelling differences – e.g. colour/color- but it sometimes misses them. It isn’t good at recognising that we spell words like recognise with s not z, for example.

      I did a little research before writing this, and they do have staff who edit and check – I was having fun with it, though, and in the best traditions of journalism I didn’t let facts get in the way of the story (I’m not a journalist, btw!).

      It’s interesting how you control students’ use of the site, though. I’d guess that it can be helpful in providing them with information, but its open source format makes it unreliable as a quotable source for academic work.

      This piece was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as I’m sure you recognised. I just felt that as it was a British confection the British word for it should be used. I hope you can find some of them 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t get me started for years I have always used plain flour and self-raising flour…All-purpose flour as I found out to my cost/baking is plain flour but under another name..the same as jam and jelly and please pronounce aluminium correctly…sigh…Back to Wiki…I knew you could edit but never have…:) x

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I knew of your newfound status as a wiki editor through Jim, but I’m glad you wrote about it too, for this made me chuckle! Quite honestly, the people here are not as discriminating as you guys are. If it’s relatively portable and isn’t a cookie (biscuit on your side of the pond), then it’s classified as candy. Chocolates are candy, gummies of all sorts are candy, etc. I sometimes wonder how the U.S. strayed so far from the language of the UK …

    On a more serious note, though, this really has made me stop and think about the accuracy of information found on Wikipedia. Like you, I use it extensively, and while if something seems a bit off, or I’m not familiar with it, I will try to verify the info from another source, I don’t always. Perhaps I should.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Jill, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The phrase ‘divided by a common language’ comes to mind, I think. I cropped the flags meme I used – below these two was the Canadian flag, with the annotation ‘English – apologetic.’

      I think Jim and I both took away the lesson that we should be wary of our sources. You and I are probably safe for our music research, though I’m tempted to add a comment to Stevie Wonder’s page to say that all his songs were ghost written for him, just to see if people would notice 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I was unaware that anyone could amend a Wikipedia page until this came up this week with Jim and you. I find it rather disturbing, especially when I’ve often referred to it many times in the past, trusting that the information was accurate. I understand that we should be fact-checking, but how anyone can edit a page is a bridge too far for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think this little episode is a warning to us all that we should always double check our sources. There is a vast amount of information on Wikipedia, and on the internet as a whole, and I don’t doubt that most of it is accurate. I’d always known that Wikipedia pages could be edited, I just hadn’t realised how easy it was. But I still trust that there is some kind of checking going on behind the scenes to prevent malicious or damaging edits – I hope that isn’t naive of me!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. When we first arrived here way back in the 1970s the Australian term confused me because here they’re called ‘lollies’. At least Wikipedia did mention them ……” Lolly, in Australian and New Zealand English, a piece of what is called [[candy in American English or sweets in British English”……

    American jams and jellies – jelly of course is jam without the fruit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t know about ‘lollies’ until I read the article yesterday – to us they come on sticks, either as sticky hard boiled sweets or as frozen ices. It’s strange how countries with the same basic language have come up with lots of different names for the same thing, isn’t it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I meant to mention the ‘classic trick’. Open a new post in the new format, some blurb about start a new post appears with a black box on the right. Click the box and a list of options appears. One looks like a keyboard- that’s your entry to classic. If it’s not there type classic is the search box and it should appear….

        Liked by 1 person

  9. wonderful post, Clive, and thank you for sparking the idea in my mind to follow your ways. It was the same for me in that the hardest part was coming up with a user name. It is kind of odd that there is no one out there checking these things, but I guess that’s the whole point of Wikipedia. Like your and Robbie have mentioend, I view Wikipedia as a good place to start, and if it is something important, I’ll double check the info. Someone has told me a of local grocery store that carries British sweets, so I’ll be checking these things out…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure there is someone checking, but quite what their remit is seems unclear to me. They must be looking for racist comments, and other offensive contributions. I looked up an obvious one – Matt Gaetz – and it was entirely factual: I doubt that would be the case if no one was checking! I hope you find those British sweets, and that they are the real deal, not a version made over there under licence. We get some of your products here like that – some beers, for example – and I’m never sure if they taste the same here as they do for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • yes, if anyone’s page would have some crazy stuff on it, it would be Gaetz’s. ANd hopefully I find the originals. I think Jill mentioned Walker’s shortbread as worthy of tasting…

        So are you saying you’re going out and buying Budweiser? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Walker’s is very good, as are many Scottish shortbread brands. I had Bud in mind when I made the comment: I have tried it, and it was what we call ‘gnat’s piss’ 😂

        Like

  10. Some candy talking, eh, Clive? With you on Classic and block editing. This block business I can’t make head or tail of. All I know is the old way worked so smoothly and easily … and hitting the Classic thing on the left on a post, it is still really difficult. I muddle through it, but takes way longer

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like what you did there! Someone showed me a work round to keep using the Classic Editor but it may have been closed off. I could start the post but nothing appeared in the Editor apart from the title. Yet if I saved and previewed the words were there! Not exactly easy to edit a blank screen so I had to give up. I’ll try again though. I still don’t understand why they are forcing us down the new route, though: it’s not as intuitive and everything is so hard to find.

      Like

    • Thanks Robbie. I think I’m fairly safe in using it for my music posts, but wouldn’t want to trust it for anything more important without double checking!

      Like

  11. I’d like to sign up in your army to retake the colonies from these rebels Sir. They take such liberties wit The Queen’s English and the sacred name of our wine gums and jelly babies and quite probably my midget gems too.
    Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

  12. “I wonder if Wikipedia has some way of checking changes…” – I believe in the early days of Wikipedia, once people figured out they could edit any page, it was like the Wild West, but now it is more regulated, but…I could be way off base and making it up. 🤔

    Liked by 2 people

    • I kind of assumed that they had controls, but nothing seemed to happen to my change. I ticked a box that said ‘this is a minor change’ which might have reduced the scrutiny level, but we’d all say that, wouldn’t we!

      Liked by 2 people

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