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March 9, 2007

Wikipedia Credibility and the Courts

The stories in the press and on the web about the Wikipedia editor Essjay, real name Ryan Jordan, are unfortunate.  That's the same term that Jimmy Wales used in describing the situation where Essjay misrepresented his credentials as a tenured professor of theology when in reality he was a college drop out.  Now Jordan is gone and Wikipedia is now going to verify the credentials of the 650 or so general editors of the project. 

What's interesting about this is not that this occurred at Wikipedia.  It could have happened at Britannica, or any of the other web sites that promote online expertise.  It's the response that the other editors have to verify their claimed credentials.  Wikipedia started out as a populist project to harness the knowledge of (the) people and to document it.  Events happened such as politicians enhancing their bios and smearing those of opponents. Disgruntled individuals made outrageous claims about other individuals that rose to the level of defamation.  These certainly raised the issue of credibility with the encyclopedia that anyone could edit.  Then, as it turned out, most of the work in keeping Wikipedia clean fell to around 650 administrators who could lock down pages from general edits.  With Jordan having been one of these people, now the latest change to address the problem.  What's happening here is Wikipedia going slowly to the mainstream in quality control.  Mind you, it could not have started out that way.  But once it reached a critical mass, it had to do something to address the critical area of credibility.

Credibility is important.  Consider this excerpt from the case of Campbell ex rel. Campbell v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 69 Fed.Cl. 775:

The articles that the Special Master culled from the Internet do not-at least on their face-remotely meet this reliability requirement. Consider the item on “febrile seizures” that she added from the Dictionary of Neurology, www.explore-medicine.com. Although that website no longer exists, the exhibit introduced by the Special Master indicates that its information was drawn from Wikipedia.com, a website that allows virtually anyone to upload an article into what is essentially a free, online encyclopedia. A review of the Wikipedia website reveals a pervasive and, for our purposes, disturbing series of disclaimers, among them, that: (i) any given Wikipedia article “may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized;” (ii) Wikipedia articles are “also subject to remarkable oversights and omissions;” (iii) “Wikipedia articles (or series of related articles) are liable to be incomplete in ways that would be less usual in a more tightly controlled reference work;” (iv) “[a]nother problem with a lot of content on Wikipedia is that many contributors do not cite their sources, something that makes it hard for the reader to judge the credibility of what is written;” and (v) “many articles commence their lives as partisan drafts” and may be “caught up in a heavily unbalanced viewpoint.” The websites from which other articles introduced by the Special Master are drawn likewise warn that “[t]he information provided herein should not be used ... for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition,” www.iowahealth.org; that the sponsor “does not recommend or endorse any specific ... opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site,” www.webmd.com; or “makes no representation or warranty regarding the accuracy, reliability, completeness, currentness, or timeliness of the content, text or graphics” in its articles, www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus. And several of these websites caution that reliance on any information provided by the website is “solely at your risk,” see, e.g., www.webmd.com.

Of course, here the Special Master relied on these materials not at her risk, but at petitioners' risk. At the least, an evidentiary hearing would have provided an opportunity for expert witnesses to corroborate or refute the information contained in the articles. Without such a hearing, reliance on these web materials involved an extraordinary risk that cannot be squared with the Special Master's responsibility for conducting a proceeding consistent with the principles of fundamental fairness.

Other courts have relied on Wikipedia.  As of today, 45 federal courts have cited the web site, most as a passing reference to a factual point, rather than as a final authority.  28 state courts have also cited the web site.  The results are drawn from a Westlaw search in the ALL FEDERAL and ALL STATES search options.

Wikipedia is maturing, and it's nice to see them take steps that insure the quality of their product.  More details on the editor issue is in PC World.

For the record, here is the list of cases that cite Wikipedia:

FEDERAL

Ordinola v. Hackman, --- F.3d ----, 2007 WL 529689, C.A.4 (Va.), February 22, 2007 (No. 06-6126.)
 
Gashi v. U.S. Atty. Gen., Slip Copy, 2007 WL 63961, (Not Selected for publication in the Federal Reporter),, C.A.11, January 10, 2007 (No. 06-12276)
 
U.S. v. Radomski, 473 F.3d 728, C.A.7 (Ill.), January 09, 2007 (No. 05-3792.)
 
Phillips v. Pembroke Real Estate, Inc., 459 F.3d 128, 2006 Copr.L.Dec. P 29,266, 81 U.S.P.Q.2d 1851, C.A.1 (Mass.), August 22, 2006 (No. 05-1970.)

Reuland v. Hynes, 460 F.3d 409, 153 Lab.Cas. P 60,260, 24 IER Cases 1761, 34 Media L. Rep. 2313, C.A.2 (N.Y.), August 21, 2006 (Docket No. 04-5521-cv.)

U.S. v. Yazzen, 187 Fed.Appx. 800, 2006 WL 1775480, C.A.10 (N.M.), June 29, 2006 (No. 05-2156.)
 
N'Diom v. Gonzales, 442 F.3d 494, 2006 Fed.App. 0109P, C.A.6, March 24, 2006 (No. 04-3742.)
 
Patel v. Gonzales, 173 Fed.Appx. 471, 2006 WL 751363, C.A.7, March 23, 2006 (No. 05-2480.)
 
Hillensbeck v. U.S., 69 Fed.Cl. 369, Fed.Cl., January 31, 2006 (No. 04-1455C.)
 
Campbell ex rel. Campbell v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 69 Fed.Cl. 775, Fed.Cl., February 14, 2006 (No. 02-554 V.)
 
U.S. v. Coker, 433 F.3d 39, C.A.1 (Mass.), December 28, 2005 (No. 04-2154.)
 
Allegheny Defense Project, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, 423 F.3d 215, 35 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,185, C.A.3 (Pa.), September 15, 2005 (No. 04-2442.)
 
U.S. v. Krueger, 415 F.3d 766, C.A.7 (Wis.), July 28, 2005 (No. 04-2539.)
 
Bourgeois v. Peters, 387 F.3d 1303, 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1125, C.A.11 (Ga.), October 15, 2004 (No. 02-16886.)
 
Stemple v. Astrue, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2007 WL 601566, D.Md., February 26, 2007 (Civil No. SKG-05-3336.)
 
U.S. v. Keiser, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 642933, D.N.D., February 26, 2007 (Criminal Case No. 3:05-cr-80.)
 
Alfa Corp. v. OAO Alfa Bank, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2007 WL 541717, S.D.N.Y., February 21, 2007 (No. 04 CV 8968 KMW JCF.)
 
Steinbuch v. Cutler, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 486626, E.D.Ark., February 07, 2007 (No. 4:06CV00620-WRW.)

Krav Maga Ass'n of America, Inc. v. Yanilov, 464 F.Supp.2d 981, C.D.Cal., December 12, 2006 (No. CV 05-07205 DDPAJWX.)
 
U.S. S.E.C. v. Montana, 464 F.Supp.2d 772, S.D.Ind., November 22, 2006 (No. 1:03-CV-1513-SEB-VSS.)
 
Laurendeau v. Sheet Metal Workers Local 17C-NH Pension Trust, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 3371612, 2006 DNH 132, D.N.H., November 21, 2006 (Civil No. 05-cv-441-JD.)
 
In re Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 356 B.R. 239, 47 Bankr.Ct.Dec. 142, 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. B 193, Bkrtcy.M.D.Fla., November 16, 2006 (No. 3:05-bk-03817-JAF.)
 
C.M. ex rel. Lucius v. U.S., Slip Copy, 2006 WL 3257915, E.D.Mo., November 09, 2006 (No. 4:04CV1127-SNL.)

Johnson v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc., 457 F.Supp.2d 1288, N.D.Ala., October 23, 2006 (Civil Action No. CV-04-S-3414-NE.)
 
Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Ivax Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 459 F.Supp.2d 925, 2006-2 Trade Cases P 75,500, C.D.Cal., October 17, 2006 (No. CV-06-4474-SGL(JCX).)
 
Montalvo v. Barnhart, 457 F.Supp.2d 150, 115 Soc.Sec.Rep.Serv. 443, W.D.N.Y., October 06, 2006 (No. 02-CV-0494E(F).)
 
Musarra v. Digital Dish, Inc., 454 F.Supp.2d 692, 11 Wage & Hour Cas.2d (BNA) 1758, S.D.Ohio, September 28, 2006 (No. C2-05-545.)
 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 454 F.Supp.2d 966, 2006 Copr.L.Dec. P 29,271, 81 U.S.P.Q.2d 1461, C.D.Cal., September 27, 2006 (No. CV0108541SVWPJWX, CV0109923SVWPJWX.)

Topps Co., Inc. v. Cadbury Stani S.A.I.C., 454 F.Supp.2d 89, S.D.N.Y., August 31, 2006 (No. 99 Civ. 9437(CSH).)
 
Mcdonald v. HSBC Finance Corp., Slip Copy, 2006 WL 2193072, 39 Employee Benefits Cas. 1666, S.D.Ind., August 01, 2006 (No. 1:03-cv-1698-RLY-TAB.)

Albright v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1720213, W.D.Mich., June 20, 2006 (No. 04-00099.)
 
Peters v. Astrazeneca, LP, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1666279, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 17,540, W.D.Wis., June 12, 2006 (No. 05-C-649-C.)

Hansen v. Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1589648, W.D.Wis., June 05, 2006 (No. 06-C-290-C.)

DaVinci v. Missouri, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1515536, D.Or., May 30, 2006 (No. 06-068-AS.)
 
Perez v. Frank, 433 F.Supp.2d 955, W.D.Wis., May 25, 2006 (No. 06-C-248-C.)
 
Alvarez Perez v. Sanford-Orlando Kennel CLub, Inc., --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2006 WL 3909706, M.D.Fla., May 25, 2006 (No. 6:05-cv-269-Orl-28JGG.)

Platinum Links Entertainment v. Atlantic City Surf Professional Baseball Club, Inc., Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1459986, D.N.J., May 23, 2006 (No. Civ.A. 02-4106(FLW).)

Larry v. Goetz, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1495784, W.D.Wis., May 18, 2006 (No. 06-C-197-C.)

Jones v. Blige, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1329247, E.D.Mich., May 16, 2006 (No. 04-60184.)

Nails v. Compass Bank Dothan,
Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1274074, M.D.Ala., May 09, 2006 (No. 1:06-cv-253-MEF.)
 
Stancik v. CNBC, 420 F.Supp.2d 800, N.D.Ohio, March 09, 2006 (No. 1:06 CV 0393.)

Merinar v. Grannis, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2006 WL 436289, N.D.Cal., February 21, 2006 (No. C 04-4003 JSW (PR).)

Booth v. King, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2006 WL 287853, E.D.Pa., February 03, 2006 (No. Civ.A. 03-802.)

Aharonian v. Gonzales, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2006 WL 13067, 77 U.S.P.Q.2d 1449, N.D.Cal., January 03, 2006 (No. C 04-5190 MHP.)

Amco Ukrservice & Prompriladamco v. American Meter Co, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2005 WL 1541029, E.D.Pa., June 29, 2005 (No. Civ.A.00-2638.)
 
STATE

Bloomdahl v. Wilf, Not Reported in A.2d, 2007 WL 610923, Conn.Super., February 05, 2007 (No. FA040198671.)
 
Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Davis, 860 N.E.2d 915, Ind.App., February 02, 2007 (No. 89A05-0602-CV-104.)
 
Public Utility Dist. No. 2 of Grant County v. North American Foreign Trade Zone Industries, LLC, 151 P.3d 176, Wash., February 01, 2007 (No. 76755-6.)
 
State v. O'Neal, 150 P.3d 1121, Wash., January 25, 2007 (No. 76950-8.)
 
State v. Cooke, 914 A.2d 1078, Del.Super., January 19, 2007 (Criminal Action Nos. IN-05-06-1529 thru IN-05-06-1533 and IN-05-06-2390 thru IN-05-06-2394, ID No. 0506005981.)
 
In re Carleisha P., 144 Cal.App.4th 912, 50 Cal.Rptr.3d 777, 06 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 10,416, 2006 Daily Journal D.A.R. 14,877, Cal.App. 2 Dist., November 09, 2006 (No. B184948.)
 
Smart v. State, 146 P.3d 15, Alaska App., October 27, 2006 (Nos. A-9025, A-9037.)
 
State v. Alverez, 147 P.3d 425, 563 Utah Adv. Rep. 10, 2006 UT 61, Utah, October 20, 2006 (No. 20050468.)

Watson v. State, 204 S.W.3d 404, Tex.Crim.App., October 18, 2006 (No. PD-469-05.)

In re Carlos G., Not Reported in A.2d, 2006 WL 3069510, Conn.Super., October 03, 2006 (Nos. U06CP02003919A, U06CP02003920A, U06CP03004479A.)
 
Living Centers of Texas, Inc. v. Penalver, --- S.W.3d ----, 2006 WL 2612232, Tex.App.-San Antonio, September 13, 2006 (No. 04-05-00565-CV.)
 
Washington County v. Wagner, 724 N.W.2d 274, 2006 WL 2547388, 2006 WI App 223, Wis.App., September 06, 2006 (No. 2006AP532-FT.)
 
Lawson v. Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, Inc., 938 So.2d 35, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 17,531, 2005-0257 (La. 9/6/06), La., September 06, 2006 (No. 2005-CC-0257.)
 
Property-Owners Ins. Co. v. Ted's Tavern, Inc., 853 N.E.2d 973, Ind.App., August 31, 2006 (No. 73A01-0602-CV-49.)

People v. Peals, 476 Mich. 636, 720 N.W.2d 196, Mich., July 31, 2006 (Docket No. 128376.)
 
Parker v. Hunter, Not Reported in Cal.Rptr.3d, 2006 WL 2076032, Nonpublished/Noncitable (Cal. Rules of Court, Rules 976, 977),, Cal.App. 4 Dist., July 27, 2006 (No. D047293.)
 
Radeljak v. Daimlerchrysler Corp., 475 Mich. 598, 719 N.W.2d 40, Mich., July 19, 2006 (Docket No. 127679.)

Williams v. White Oak Builders, Inc., Not Reported in A.2d, 2006 WL 1668348, Del.Ch., June 06, 2006 (No. Civ.A. 17556.)
 
O'Grady v. Superior Court, 139 Cal.App.4th 1423, 44 Cal.Rptr.3d 72, 79 U.S.P.Q.2d 1398, 34 Media L. Rep. 2089, 06 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 4509, 2006 Daily Journal D.A.R. 6618, Cal.App. 6 Dist., May 26, 2006 (No. H028579.)

State v. Bannister, 294 Wis.2d 359, 720 N.W.2d 498, 2006 WI App 136, Wis.App., May 23, 2006 (No. 2005AP767-CR.)
 
State v. Leckington, 713 N.W.2d 208, Iowa, April 28, 2006 (No. 04-1368.)
 
Biddinger v. State, 846 N.E.2d 271, Ind.App., April 25, 2006 (No. 49A05-0504-CR-234.)
 
Sitkin v. R-One Alloys, Inc., Not Reported in A.2d, 2006 WL 625273, R.I.Super., March 13, 2006 (No. C.A. PB 04-0495.)

M.K. Plastics Corp. v. Rossi, 838 N.E.2d 1068, Ind.App., December 12, 2005 (No. 49A05-0507-CV-370.)

State v. Kante, 710 N.W.2d 257, 2005 WL 3115377, Iowa App., November 23, 2005 (No. 04-0962.)

Neeley v. West Orange-Cove Consol. Independent School Dist.,
176 S.W.3d 746, 204 Ed. Law Rep. 793, 49 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 119, Tex., November 22, 2005 (No. 04-1144, 05-0145, 05-0148.)

English Mountain Spring Water Co. v. Chumley,
196 S.W.3d 144, Tenn.Ct.App., October 25, 2005 (No. E2005-00657-COA-R3-CV.)
 
Patel v. Shah, Not Reported in Cal.Rptr.3d, 2004 WL 2930914, Nonpublished/Noncitable (Cal. Rules of Court, Rules 976, 977),, Cal.App. 4 Dist., December 17, 2004 (No. G033741.)

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