An Imaginary War, A Wikipedia Hoax

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Circuit Breaker

Wikipedia editors unearthed a clever hoax perpetrated on the web’s gullible netizens, sending the mighty “Bicholim Conflict” back to where it originated: non-existence. For five years, the imaginary year-long battle, from 1640 to 1641, between Portugal and the mighty Indian Maratha Empire, reigned as truth in the user-generated halls of Wikipedia’s archive. Despite the fact that the cited sources were as real as the conflict, it even achieved “Good Article” status for its thorough 4,500 word recounting of the major historical event. It is said that history was once written by the victors; now, history is also written by the bored.

Truth-sleuth, Wikipedia user ShelfSkewed, found himself checking the entry’s sources only to come up surprisingly empty handed. Just before the new year, he nominated the entire battle for deletion,

After careful consideration and some research, I have come to the conclusion that this article is a hoax—a clever and elaborate hoax, but a hoax nonetheless. An online search for “Bicholim conflict” or for many of the article’s purported sources produces only results that can be traced back to the article itself. Take, for example, one of the article’s major sources: Thompson, Mark, Mistrust between states, Oxford University Press, London 1996. No record at WorldCat. No mention at the [Oxford University Press] site. No used listings at Alibris or ABE. I can find no evidence anywhere that this book exists.

In true Wikipedia style, the online encyclopedia has an entire page dedicated to Wikipedia hoaxes, such as Gaius Flavius Antoninus, the supposed assassin of Julius Caesar (shhh, don’t tell Shakespeare).

Comedy Central’s conservative satirist, Stephen Colbert, dubbed Wikipedia’s epistemological contribution to society, “Wikiality”, the notion that “together we can create a reality that we all agree on — the reality we just agreed on.” He, quite unsuccessfully, attempted to get viewers to permanently note that the African elephant population had trippled during a sixth-month period in 2006.

In a less deliberate case, comedian Sinbad had to dispel his own premature obituary, since he is, in fact, still living.

Knowing full-well the follies of secondary sources, even Wikipedia progenitor, Jimmy Wales, warns students from committing the all-too-common act of citing an encyclopedia, writing, “Citing an encyclopedia for an academic paper at the University level is not appropriate – you aren’t 12 years old any more, it’s time to step up your game and do research in original sources.”

[Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons]