Jesurgislac’s Journal

February 12, 2009

Never, ever, try to win an argument by editing a Wikipedia page

The Telegraph:

Attempting to explain that the present financial crisis was unprecedented, Mr Brown said: “I’m reminded of the story of Titian, who’s the great painter who reached the age of 90, finished the last of his nearly 100 brilliant paintings, and he said at the end of it, ‘I’m finally beginning to learn how to paint,’ and that is where we are.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said: “The Prime Minister never gets his facts right: he told us the other day he was like Titian aged 90. The fact is, Titian died at 86.”

Records on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, show that at 12.34pm – four minutes after the end of PMQs – the entry for the artist was altered to support Mr Cameron’s claim.

While previously his birth and death dates were set at 1485 and 1576, meaning Mr Brown could have been correct, they were changed to 1490 and 1572.

The editor’s IP address – the unique string of numbers identifying internet users – belonged to a computer in Conservative Campaign Headquarters in south-west London.

David Cameron says “The person at central office who then altered the Wikipedia entry – putting on the correct information, because I think Titian did die at 86, there’s some dispute among academics – but nevertheless that was the wrong thing to do. He shouldn’t have done that, he has been disciplined for doing that.” So, well, that’s nice.

I wonder how he was “disciplined”? Made to stand in front of a blackboard and write out “I will not edit Wikipedia to ‘help’ my boss win an argument”? Or will the words “from an easily-traceable IP address” be inserted there?


Update: “If the Conservative party is prepared to fiddle the figures with regard to the age of dead Italian painters, surely we cannot trust them on the economy either.” – Mark Lazarowicz MP, yesterday

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6 Comments »

  1. The worst part? When Titian died was the least important part of that discussion.

    Comment by Personal Failure — February 12, 2009 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  2. When Titian died was the least important part of that discussion.

    Americans sometimes say to me how much they admire the ability of MPs to engage in real-time parliamentary argument. Sadly, MPs are really not immune to the temptation of the quick quip.

    “If the Conservative party is prepared to fiddle the figures with regard to the age of dead Italian painters, surely we cannot trust them on the economy either.” – Mark Lazarowicz, speaking in the House of Commons yesterday. Hee.

    Comment by jesurgislac — February 13, 2009 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  3. (“I think I’m finally learning how to paint,” has been attributed to a few painters, I think. I’ve heard different art professors telling the same anecdote about other artists. I can’t recall any specific examples, unfortunately, although I do remember the one about the time Jay DeFeo ran over a squirrel.)

    Your representatives indulge in quick quips about Titian. Our representatives indulge in quick quips about Rocky. I think you still win.

    On a reread: what the hell does the Titian story have to do with any of this? That’s just bizarre. Titian wasn’t headed downhill. Was the decade-long credit-spending fever dream just an education in finance? Why not Michaelangelo, whose masterworks did jeopardize him? Why not Raphael? “We gloried in talent that our contemporaries called divine, were feted by kings and adored by the populace, but somewhere along the line we contracted syphilis and then it all went to shit.”

    Or, hey, Jay DeFeo: “The important thing to remember is that there will be another squirrel.”

    Comment by piny — February 15, 2009 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  4. Your representatives indulge in quick quips about Titian. Our representatives indulge in quick quips about Rocky. I think you still win.

    Ha. Okay. But, it’s still not exactly intelligent debate.

    On a reread: what the hell does the Titian story have to do with any of this? That’s just bizarre.

    Gordon Brown was reaching for an illustration. So to speak. Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer – the longest-serving Chancellor in British history – so when he says “hey, I’m just learning how to do this right, like Titian said” he’s making reference to his long career of responsibility for the government’s budget/UK finances prior to his becoming Prime Minister.

    David Cameron was indulging himself in the Opposition game of nitpicking what the Prime Minister says in a public venue, which is what PMQ is all about. The story would have ended there – and would likely have ensured Brown would never have reached for the illustrative reference to Titian again! – but for the enthusiastic Conservative staffer just doing a quick wikiedit to make Wikipedia conform to what his boss had said.

    In fact, given that the wikiedit doesn’t quite match the age David Cameron gave, I suspect that the staffer was genuinely Not Thinking – he heard the PMQ, he looked up Titian’s age on Wikipedia, he thought “That’s not right, I remember in art history classes it was – ” and changed it to what he remembered as correct. And later, got hauled up before Cameron’s desk and roundly spanked. Metaphorically, of course….

    “The important thing to remember is that there will be another squirrel.”

    And there will always be another gaffe…

    Comment by jesurgislac — February 15, 2009 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  5. No, that makes sense in terms of trying to apply a learning curve to this situation. I was more responding to the EPIC FAIL of invoking a guy who had a long, productive, acclaimed career and then died happily in his dotage, reputation and works intact. This would be more like Van Gogh shooting himself in the chest and then claiming that the best is yet to come, you know? Sure, you can pretend that you’re Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the great fire, but you were playing with matches right before Rome burned.

    Don’t mind me. I mostly watch American political news, so I’m probably projecting a bit. Lotta references to belt-tightening and times that try yadda yadda.

    That explanation for the edit actually makes a lot of sense, poor baby. It’s like something I might have accidentally done.

    Comment by piny — February 15, 2009 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  6. I was more responding to the EPIC FAIL of invoking a guy who had a long, productive, acclaimed career and then died happily in his dotage, reputation and works intact. This would be more like Van Gogh shooting himself in the chest and then claiming that the best is yet to come, you know?

    Well, except Van Gogh would have been right, though I admit his heirs had no reason to think so…

    Sure, you can pretend that you’re Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the great fire, but you were playing with matches right before Rome burned.

    Granted. It’s all a bit embarrassing for Gordon Brown, whose nickname was Prudence for so many years…

    That explanation for the edit actually makes a lot of sense, poor baby. It’s like something I might have accidentally done.

    Well, I dunno if it’s true or not, but yeah: if you’re used to doing quick wikiedits whenever you see a mistake, when I thought about it I could absolutely understand why someone might do that without thinking how it would play in the mainstream media… Since no one got fired over it, it seems he managed to convince his bosses that it really was an honest mistake.

    Comment by Jesurgislac — February 15, 2009 @ 9:09 pm | Reply


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