[Foundation-l] The unreliability of memory

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Tue Jul 22 16:23:04 UTC 2008

Looking through the messages on this list, it was quickly pointed out 
that our press release had one fact wrong, I started The Wikipedia 
Signpost in 2005, not 2006. The announcement was drafted and issued in a 
very short time (we went directly from the meeting where we elected 
officers to the press conference), so there wasn't much opportunity for 
proofreading. But nobody should blame Jay for this error anyway - he 
asked me when I had created the Signpost, and not being online to look 
it up, I attempted to calculate backward from memory. I got it wrong, 
which I realized not long afterward, but by then the press release had 
already gone out.

It's an interesting illustration of the challenges in verifying 
information, and how collaboration can be useful. Erroneous statements, 
whether in a news story or a Wikipedia article, often happen because the 
writer thought he knew something, but his understanding was flawed or 
his memory of it inadequate. This applies even to people who specialize 
in that area, who ought to be well placed to know such things. For 
example, you would think that I'd be just about the best person possible 
to ask when I started the Signpost. As it turns out, you're even better 
off asking people who read it and know where to look up the answer.

This is still something we need to work on, though. I think we're decent 
at quick copy-editing, less strong at fact-checking. Sometimes we manage 
to at least identify what needs to be checked - [citation needed] - but 
there's still a whole lot of checking out there to be done.

--Michael Snow

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