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 😉]