Monday, 9 January 2012

Vatican uses Wikipedia for information on newly-appointed Cardinals

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According to Wikipedia, cardinals are collectively known as
the "College of Cardinals"
It's to the eternal credit of Wikipedia's vast army of editors and contributors that, eleven years on from its launch in 2001, the collaborative encyclopaedia can, on the whole, be considered a reliable source for factual information. Take biographies, for example – if you want to know the potted history of someone vaguely well-known, the first Google result will generally take you to Wikipedia, where you can usually learn, with confidence, the positions they have held, the teams they have played for, the films they have starred in, the embarrassing arrests they have suffered, and so on.

Nevertheless, if you're using the site to learn information for publication, it's a good idea to check it against another source and, if its veracity holds up, it's probably best to put the details into your own words. Unless, that is, you happen to work in the Vatican's press office, which has attracted some (presumably unwanted) attention over a press release issued to announce the appointment of 22 new cardinals last week.

Reading the biographies of the cardinals provided in the release, Italian blogger Sandro Magister noticed that some of them were described in language that seemed unusual for produced by the Vatican. For instance, the Guardian point out that press release states that Willem Jacobus Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands, has a "strong tendency to conservatism, specially regarding abortion and homosexuality, which has made him one of the most talked about religious men in the country". Magister subsequently checked the biographies against those on the Italian-language Wikipedia, and discovered that the information had been lifted verbatim from the encyclopedia.

The discovery has prompted plenty of disparaging news stories (the present post included), but is it really so bad? After all, the Vatican has since pointed out that the press office was in a rush, and, while the language may be a little odd given the supposed source, the press release surely contained useful information for journalists reporting on the new appointments.

That said, while much of the information taken from Wikipedia would have been useful, there is one thing the Vatican could have omitted – it was probably unnecessary to remind the reader that each of the newly-appointed cardinals is a Catholic.
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