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Wikipedia: sadly out of date when it counts

On October 10, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced it was sending its evidence against the former professional cyclist, American Lance Armstrong, alleging that he is a serial dope cheat, to the world governing body for cycling.

The evidence, all of which was put on the web a few hours after USADA issued its announcement, is a remarkable piece of detective work; apart from a 202-page collation that the organisation describes as its "Reasoned Decision" there are affidavits from 26 people, including 15 professional cyclists, and loads of other back-up data, comprising more than 1000 pages in all.

In the face of this flood of evidence, which points just one way - and I write after having read all of it - the world at large has accepted the truth: Armstrong, long a source of inspiration to people for having won seven Tour de France titles after recovering from cancer, is an alleged serial dope cheat.

Not merely that, he was the alleged leader, the veritable Don Corleone of doping in professional cycling, forcing others into the same act, aggressively attacking those who opposed it, lying repeatedly, and using any means to keep from being discovered.

But Wikipedia, that icon of online knowledge, refuses to acknowledge what has happened. Till this morning AEDT, the Armstrong page on the site has little or no mention of the momentous USADA release of data. That's nearly two weeks after the event. This is a time when millions who have little knowledge of Armstrong would be hunting for material on the web. And this is a well-known website we are talking about.

There is no mention at all of the USADA action in the first three paragraphs which form the main introduction to the page on Armstrong. And this is the online encyclopedia of choice!

There is a link to the Reasoned Decision right at the bottom of the page but the dissemination of the facts appears to have fallen victim to the whims of fanboys. (This is the weak point of the internet, the half-educated who have this agenda or that, and argue pointlessly to get their will done.)

This can be gauged from the Talk sub-section of the Armstrong page. There is a great deal of discussion, 99 per cent of it driven by people who clearly have not bothered to read the evidence. They also appear to dwell in some nether world, not having read the deluge of stories that have appeared in any publication worthy of being called a newspaper of magazine.

There is a simple test: Armstrong is known to be an extremely litigious type. Would he have kept silent in the face of the tens of thousands of articles on the web alleging he is a serial doping cheat? Highly unlikely.

The Armstrong page is now locked and can only be accessed by registered users. That flies in the face of Wikipedia's claims to being an open source of knowledge to which anyone can contribute. The great open enterprise is showing some cracks, methinks.

All that needed to be done was for some senior editor of Wikipedia to go through the USADA evidence and then write a few introductory paragraphs that brought the relevant page up-to-date. After all, anyone who can understand the English language can see, from reading the USADA evidence, that there is no room for argument.

After this, the page could have been locked to prevent fanboys tampering and inserting pro-Armstrong material.

But commonsense is not one of the strengths of Wikipedia, it would appear. People are loath to trust material which is online and this is one good reason why they should continue to be sceptical. Jimmy Wales, your slip is showing.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.