Jimmy Wales, the founder of the online encyclopaedia and sheltered workshop for brawling nerds, Wikipedia, is visiting Australia next month for a series of seminars on “Challenging How Knowledge is Created”.

As part of the pre-publicity, last week Wales appeared on Radio National’s popular phone-in show Australia Talks, where caller Peter from Melbourne challenged how knowledge is created:

I have a particular question and I am very glad that Jimmy Wales is there. It is related to the biographical entries – I would just be interested to know how all of those things are managed because to speak personally on it. I found an entry on me at one stage which I found offensive and inaccurate and it had been put on there by someone I had never heard of and I purely by accident found it when someone else told me that I should check it out. Now I fully support the whole idea of the democratisation of knowledge that’s the best thing we can do for everybody – but there is still – is the question how you balance this out with truth and accuracy. Now in this particular case I think the problem arose because the person who put the entry in simply took the information from various newspapers who had got it wrong in the first place so you have one falsehood being reinforced by another and another – and I am just wondering and a question to Jimmy Wales is – do you have any responsibility for that and what would you do for example if somebody decided to sue you for libel?

The penny dropped quickly for host Paul Barclay. “Jimmy, before you answer that question I would like to point out I am pretty sure that you have been listening to the ex governor-general of Australia, Peter Hollingworth,” Barclay said. “Am I right Peter?” he asked.

“Quite correct,” replied Hollingworth, for it was he.

‘I thought I had better make that clear,” explained Barclay.

Of course, this is all in a day’s work for Wales. “One of the things that we have really tried to do, particularly in the last year and half, is to beef up our policy on the biographies of living persons,” he told Barclay and the Bish.

Still, it’s nice to know that our most spectacularly unsuccessful governor-general for a generation is keen on the democratisation of knowledge.

(If you have an idle half hour, read the full Wikipedia Hollingworth listing here.)

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Peter Fray
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