14

What Wikipedia Is (and Isn’t)

In light of the recent discussions here of Wikipedia, I’d like to throw in my two cents on the subject.

I like Wikipedia. In fact, I like it a lot. In fact, I have gone so far as to do what Eugene Volokh warned against — I’ve actually cited to Wikipedia. In fact, I cited to Wikipedia six times in a recently published law review article. (I’m not alone in this by any means–“wikipedia” gets over 200 hits on a Lexis search of law review articles, almost all of which are cites to entries.) In my case, I cited Wikipedia as a starting point for investigating personalities, such as John Mellencamp, Tom Clancy, and Marni Nixon. I’m aware that some of these entries contain certain inaccuracies, but I feel comfortable citing to them for reasons I’ll explain below. In the alternative, I suppose I could have cited to nothing (not very helpful to the reader) or cited to books (realistically, though, how many people would follow up on those cites?). Also, I should admit that, in part, I cite to Wikipedia sometimes because I hope some readers might take a look at Wikipedia and appreciate it for what it is. However, I’m not trying to deceive people about what Wikipedia is–it is, more or less, the Web, repackaged and reformatted.

In fact, before I cited to Wikipedia, I cited, on rare occasions and for very similar reasons, to web searches on Google for a specific term. (Again, I’m not alone in this, though the numbers of people who did this were smaller.) As far as I’m concerned, citing to a Wikipedia entry for Marni Nixon and a Google search for Marni Nixon are very nearly the same thing. Both are invitations to the reader to enter what you might call a “muddy information portal,” a messy and organic field of data that the citing author does not control, but feels would be helpful to the reader as a starting point for further research. Citing to something like that might be unorthodox, yes, but I don’t think it is beyond the pale.

To my mind, the difference between citing Wikipedia and citing a Web search is just a matter of the target’s format. When we search the Web, Google creates our “entry” on the fly with algorithms that prioritize popular and relevant websites. With Wikipedia, we have the dynamic of Web search somewhat inverted — creators with data they consider relevant to specific terms offer up that data to Wikipedia under a shared hosting umbrella in a common format (and with a commitment to collaboration). Due to this, Wikipedia entries generally look nicer. But other than that, Wikipedia and the World Wide Web are very nearly the same thing. Wikipedia’s openess, to both creation and revision, doesn’t guarantee much accuracy.

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12

If Oedipus Tried Online Dating…

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UPDATE: It appears that this story might indeed be dubious. It comes from a tabloid, Weekly World News. I thought it might be credible because it was coming from Yahoo! News, but now I don’t think the story is credible — or Yahoo! News for that matter.

This Yahoo! News story is so weird that it’s hard to believe, but it is quite amusing:

Skirt-chasing playboy Daniel Anceneaux spent weeks talking with a sensual woman on the Internet before arranging a romantic rendezvous at a remote beach — and discovering that his on-line sweetie of six months was his own mother!

“I walked out on that dark beach thinking I was going to hook up with the girl of my dreams,” the rattled bachelor later admitted. “And there she was, wearing white shorts and a pink tank top, just like she’d said she would.

“But when I got close, she turned around — and we both got the shock of our lives. I mean, I didn’t know what to say. All I could think was, ‘Oh my God! it’s Mama!’ ”

But the worst was yet to come. Just as the mortified mother and son realized the error of their ways, a patrolman passed by and cited them for visiting a restricted beach after dark.

“Danny and I were so flustered, we blurted out the whole story to the cop,” recalled matronly mom Nicole, 52. “The policeman wrote a report, a local TV station got hold of it — and the next thing we knew, our picture and our story was all over the 6 o’clock news. “People started pointing and laughing at us on the street — and they haven’t stopped laughing since.”

But there’s more. Consider this:

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3

President Bush, the National Security Agency, and Surveillance

NSA2a.jpgThe New York Times has an in-depth story about how President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in surveillance after 9/11:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible “dirty numbers” linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

“This is really a sea change,” said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches.”

Read the article. It is, in my view, quite startling. Here’s another very troubling fact:

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0

Alito and the ECMH

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For more evidence of Judge Alito’s strong support of the efficient capital market hypothesis, read this recently released Third Circuit opinion in the Merck & Co. Sec. Lit. that Alito joined (Ambro was the writing judge). The relevant discussion is on pages 15-20. The opinion follows Burlington and Oran, which (as I noted in the past) Alito did write. Obviously, this isn’t as useful evidence of the Judge’s views as his own work, but any product released in this highly sensitive period is surely something he gave a careful look at.

Merck interprets Oran and Burlington to mean that price movement must occur in the period “immediately following disclosure”. Plaintiff had argued that the market failed to appreciate the nature of the disclosure at issue until the Wall Street Journal had added up some figures that revealed (allegedly) $4.6 billion in inflated revenue.

The court, conscious of its status as having one of the “clearest commitments” to the ECMH of the appellate courts, applied what I’ve called in my work the “understand consequences materiality technique”* and dismissed plaintiff’s allegations out of hand. It noted that multiple analysts followed Merck, and queried:

“If these analysts-all focused on revenue-were unable for two months to make a handful of calculations, how can we presume an efficient market at all. [Plaintiff] is trying to have it both ways: the market understood all the good things that Merck said about its revenue but was not smart enough to understand the co-payment disclosure. An efficient market for good news is an efficient market for bad news.”

This is an interesting claim. It might not actually be true – there is evidence that individuals are significantly more resistant to incorporating evidence of bad news than evidence that confirms the optimism they naturally feel, which suggests that it is possible that market irrationality, if it exists, may not go in both directions. But, on the other hand, Ambro’s basic theory – that disclosure of underlying facts about a well-known stock followed by dozens of analysts should be curative – makes intuititve sense.

In any event, another data point suggesting that securities plaintiffs may not win lots of battles with (a Justice) Alito, but on the big, class-enabling, issue, he’s solid.

(Hat Tip: Naturally, Howard B.)

Related Posts:

1. Hoffman, Alito and Securities Law: Part II;

2. Hoffman, Alito: The Business Friendly Justice?

*No, it wasn’t my most catchy and inspired naming day.

43

What If Copyright Law Were Strongly Enforced in the Blogosphere?

copyright3a.jpgSuppose the mainstream media, fed up with the buzz bloggers keep getting and with bloggers criticizing their stories, decided to exact revenge. They initiate a vigorous copyright enforcement strategy, launching a barrage of lawsuits against bloggers as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has done to music file sharers. What would happen?

The blogosphere would be in for some tough times I bet. Bloggers frequently copy large chunks of mainstream media articles and some of us copy pictures we find on the Web. Bloggers don’t have a team of photographers and artists, so they snag images from the Internet. As for mainstream media articles, bloggers often quote very liberally because the mainstream media is notorious for creating dead URLs — articles often just disappear after a week or two. In other instances, articles get archived and can only be retrieved for a fee. The result is that a post discussing a mainstream media article with just a link or a small quote can become hard to understand when the article being referred to becomes unavailable. That’s why bloggers often copy significant portions of articles — so their posts can still be understood when the URLs to the articles go dead.

We bloggers have, to put it mildly, a very robust concept of fair use. Fair use of copyrighted material is a fuzzy concept, and judges use four factors to determine if a use is fair:

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1

The Contractual Freedom to Prohibit Football

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This buzzworthy newstory about celebrity pre-nups has a few examples of bizarre clauses that couples have agreed to before marriage:

• “Limiting the wife’s weight to 120 pounds or she must relinquish $100,000 of her separate property.”

• “Requiring a husband to pay $10,000 each time he is rude to his wife’s parents.”

• “Mandatory sexual positions”, “No mother-in-law sleepovers.” “Only one football game per Sunday.”

Attorneys quoted in the article suggest that all such provision are

“legal unless you’re dealing with custody of children or child support.” This might be right, but since these agreements are almost never evaluated in written opinions (the parties usually hired retired judges to ensure privacy) I’m not sure whether I’d be so definite. Of course it isn’t my area of law, but I usually teach my contract class that there are limits – public policy and otherwise – to what you can contract to, even in the pre-nup context. The one that really gets me here, of course, is “one football game per Sunday.” What kind of judge would enforce that kind of tyranny?

(Hat Tip: Huffington).

4

A Secret Defense Department Database of Protesters

protest1a.jpgFrom MSNBC:

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn’t know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period. . . .

The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups. . . .

The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense — yet they all remained in the database. . . .

There are more interesting facts in this lengthy article, including this one:

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4

Wikipedia vs. Britannica

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In a study by Nature, a science journal, expert reviewers found Wikipedia science entries to be not much less accurate than Encyclopaedia Britannica entries:

[A]n expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.

Here’s how the study was done:

In the study, entries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature’s news team.

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

One could view the results as reflecting well on Wikipedia. One could also view them as as reflecting very badly on Britannica.

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3

enjoyed the visit

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Since I’ve already overstayed my announced visit of a couple of weeks, I figure it’s time to go before I wear out my welcome. It’s been fun commenting on such diverse issues as images of property in landscape art, legal realism and fashion consulting, the Ann Coulter Talking Doll, 1950s and 2000s conservatism, the history of the book, state funding for preservation of cemeteries, and even a few unexpected topics–like suggestions for US News’ ranking system, horror movie director Wes Craven’s insights for law professors, the intellectual origins of Roe v. Wade in, of all places, Tuscaloosa, and Fanny and Ralph Ellison. Of course, nothing gets attention like navel-gazing, so I shouldn’t be surprised that the post that generated the most attention (not much competition here, really) was on the implications of law review citations for law school rankings.

I’d hoped to comment a little on recent articles (like Kenneth Mack’s brilliant article on “Civil Rights Lawyering and Politics Before Brown“) and books in legal history, though my day job interfered with putting us as many posts as I’d hoped. So let me put in a brief mention for a wonderful book, which I recently read: Laura Kalman’s Yale Law School and the Sixties.

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