Philip Roth, author of the Human Stain, faced a weird situation recently. He wanted to make some changes to the Wikipedia article about his own book – which claimed the work was “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.” According to Philip, however, the work was inspired “rather, by an unhappy event in the life of my late friend Melvin Tumin, professor of sociology at Princeton for some thirty years.”
So, like any normal person, Philip went to the wiki page of the book to change the error about his own book and its inspiration. Surprisingly, the changes were declined with the following explanation from the Wikipedia admin:
“I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources.”
That is – Philip’s thoughts about his own book are not valid on Wikipedia unless the same thoughts were published elsewhere as being said by him (or someone else!).
So Philip wrote a long open letter published in the New Yorker about this situation and the real inspiration behind his book. With this as a secondary source, the changes were made to the Wikipedia entry about his book.
Should Wikipedia, with its authority as the one of the top sources of information (or in some cases mis-information) start acknowledging the value of first hand entries about topics making Wikipedia a primary source of information? Should they follow the examples of Twitter and the like and have verified accounts for people who wish to write about topics for which they are the primary source?
Of course, this would open a whole new can of worms – since, for example, a politician might use this to carefully control what is written about him/her on the site. But Wikipedia is already quite a political organisation and many topics are locked to further addition of allegations and the like which might have (many) secondary sources.
What are your thoughts?
I came across this news story on Slashdot.