Un-Legislative History

Wikipedia is often a boon for quick legal research about well-publicized matters.  It’s a great way to find where a statute is codified, or the background of a famous case.  When it comes to legislative history, though, sometimes Wikipedia’s a bust.  For anyone looking for a good example of why one must follow up with proper research into legislative history, please see Wikipedia’s entry on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which passed in July 2010.  As of Nov. 16, 2010, Wikipedia has the following to say about the changes implemented by Title XI of Dodd-Frank:

“The Federal Reserve Act is amended to change the New York Federal Reserve President to a Presidential appointment, with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

In support of this assertion, Wikipedia cites and links to the Enrolled Final Version of HR 4173, available on the LOC’s Thomas page.  Unfortunately, Wikipedia gets it wrong:  The version of the bill that passed Congress removed that language (which had been proposed by the Senate but rejected by the House).  The Senate’s proposal in this regard was snipped on June 17, 2010, weeks before the final bill passed.  Legislative history research–including review of committee meeting transcripts–coupled with news and secondary source coverage bore out the truth.

We always offer cautions when it comes to Wikipedia, and now there’s a handy example to which we can refer.

UPDATE:  Thanks to our helpful reader, Wikipedia has been policed. . .while its lesson remains!

Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate

“Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate”

HANNAH B. MURRAY, affiliation not provided to SSRN

JASON C. MILLER, Government of the United States of America – United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Practitioners and courts are relying more and more on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Hundreds of court opinions, including at least one from every federal circuit court, and thousands of law review articles cite Wikipedia. Some opinions have relied on Wikipedia for technical information, although others only turned to the consensus website for background information on minor points.

This practice has generated controversy, with newspapers, professors, practitioners, and judges weighing in. Wikipedia in Court examines the controversy and the history of Wikipedia in court opinions before proposing a framework to determine when it is appropriate and inappropriate to rely on Wikipedia for authority in legal writing. Given the inconsistency in the legal community’s use of Wikipedia, courts and practitioners will benefit from this framework.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Writing Vol. 4 No. 32,  12/02/2009

Volunteers Log Off As Wikipedia Ages

“As rules for editing the online encyclopedia proliferate, volunteers have been departing Wikipedia faster than new ones have been joining,” according to a front-page story in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Volunteers Log Off As Wikipedia Ages,” by Julia Angwin and Geoffrey A. Fowler.

Google News May Add Wikipedia as a Source

Really?

According to ReadWriteWeb:

“Some users are being shown links to Wikipedia articles about current events clustered in the lists of sources on Google News, Google confirmed today. Those collaboratively written and edited pages will now sit side by side with professional news reporting.”

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb definitely takes an optimistic spin on the development:

“People used to say you couldn’t trust anything written on Wikipedia, but they used to say that about the whole Internet. While professional news organizations have professional editors and fact checkers, Wikipedia has far more eyes to mobilize in fact checking.”

The five W’s of journalism will now be six? (Who, what, where, when, why and Wikipedia)

Irish student’s Jarre wiki hoax dupes journalists

Irish student’s Jarre wiki hoax dupes journalists

Reuters
Thursday, May 7, 2009; 5:18 AM

“When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head,” Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre once said, according to several newspapers reporting his death in March. However, the quotation was invented by an Irish student who posted it on the Wikipedia Web site in a hoax designed to show the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet for information. The 22-year-old sociology and economics student at University College Dublin said he had expected blogs and perhaps small newspapers to use the quotes but did not believe major publications would rely on Wikipedia without further checks.

 

Source: BNA’s Internet Law News – 5/8/09

Case reversed for allowing Wikipedia entry as evidence

From the Examiner.com

Bergen judge reversed for allowing Wikipedia entry as evidence

By Jerry DeMarco

North Jersey Crime Examiner

A Bergen County judge mistakenly let a collection company lawyer cover a gap in evidence against a credit-card holder by using a Wikipedia page, a state appeals court has ruled.

. . .

“Such a malleable source of information is inherently unreliable and clearly not one whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned,” they added.

. . .

World Digital Library

In the World Digital Library, a coalition of national libraries and UNESCO have put some of humanity’s earliest written works online Tuesday, “not to compete with Google or Wikipedia but to pique young readers’ interest — and get them reading books.” They reportedly include ancient Chinese oracle bones and the first European map of the New World. See the Associated Press story.

Wikipedia’s Old-Fashioned Revolution

As one who eagerly waited for each new year book for our World Book set, and then set about diligently pasting in all of the update stickers, while eveyone else I knew was raving about Encarta, I was a bit slow to the online encyclopedia.  But as today’s Information Age column in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Wikipedia’s underpinnings are based on traditional concepts of authority:

As Andrew Lih points out in his new book, “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the Greatest Encyclopedia,” Wikipedia’s research principles are as traditional as its operating model is revolutionary. Founder Jimmy Wales says the only nonnegotiable policy is a “neutral point of view,” with entries edited to eliminate ideological bias. The other key principles are verifiability by authoritative sources and a related prohibition on original content.

The guidelines for adding entries to this open-to-all encyclopedia reject open-to-all sources: “Gather references both to use as source(s) of your information and also to demonstrate notability of your article’s subject matter. References to blogs, personal websites and MySpace don’t count — we need reliable sources.”

The guide credits old media and old-fashioned definitions to establish legitimacy. “These sources should be reliable; that is, they should be sources that exercise some form of editorial control.” These include “books published by major publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, peer-reviewed scholarly journals . . .

 

The Wall Street Journal, Monday, April 6, 2009, p. A13

Information Age

By L. Gordon Crovitz

Wikipedia’s Old-Fashioned Revolution

Wikipedian Justice

“Wikipedian Justice”

RAGHAV SHARMA, National Law University, Jodhpur

This short article highlights the increasing reliance by Indian courts on Wikipedia. The Supreme Court seems to have accepted Wikipedia as a reliable source of information. The article discusses how far such judicial reliance is warranted on Wikipedia.

Source: LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 21,  03/10/2009

The Citation of Wikipedia in American Judicial Opinions

“The Citation of Wikipedia in American Judicial Opinions”

LEE F. PEOPLES, Oklahoma City University School of Law

Wikipedia has been cited almost 300 times in American judicial opinions as of September, 2008. Courts cite Wikipedia for a wide range of purposes. Some citations are merely mundane references to everyday facts well known by the general public. In other opinions Wikipedia is cited as a basis for the court’s reasoning or to support a conclusion about an adjudicative fact at issue in the case. In a notable recent case, Badasa, v. Mukasey, 2008 WL 3981817 (8th. Cir. 2008), The Eighth Circuit remanded a Board of Immigration Appeals decision because it upheld a lower court’s finding based on information obtained from Wikipedia.

This article will comprehensively examine citations to Wikipedia in American judicial opinions. The impact of references to Wikipedia in judicial opinions on law of evidence, judicial ethics, the judicial role in the common law adversarial system, the de-legalization of American law, and the future of stare decisis will be explored. Best practices for the citation of Wikis in judicial opinions will be discussed.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Society: The Legal Profession Vol. 3 No. 30,  10/14/2008