Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

News wires were buzzing with news of yet another Wikipedia hoax. Last week Shane Fitzgerald, a student at University College Dublin, revealed he had inserted a fake quote on the Wikipedia entry of French composer Maurice Jarre who died at the end of March. The quote was used by bloggers and newspapers around the world (including the UK’s Guardian) until Fitzgerald came clean on his research “experiment”.

So what? This isn’t the first Wikipedia hoax to have made the headlines, and it certainly wont be the last. Nevertheless, it’s not without significance. No sooner had the hoax been revealed, the commentariat chimed in with their two cents on sloppy journalism and, predictably, the value of Wikipedia.

Granted, the hoax didn’t do the profession any favors. Newspapers are suffering terribly in the current recession and their decline is happening at a time when the demand for quality journalism has never been greater. Budgets are tight and so are resources. In the “good old days” (whenever they were), a journalist could rely on a sub-editor to check quotes and sources. Alas, no more. When money’s tight, subs and fact checkers are the first to go. Why? Because the discipline of checking sources is something every journalist is expected to possess. It’s the first thing they teach you at journalism school, and the last thing they remind you of before they kick you out. The fact that more than one obituary writer was caught cribbing Wikipedia without checking sources is a worrying trend indeed, especially for those who rely on the media to inform their work – in other words, everyone working in international affairs.

But this is not to lament the the fate of the press. After all, sloppy research is not specific to journalists. It is increasingly common in government circles too. Our growing reliance on open sources of information for research and policymaking purposes places greater demand on the proper training of government employees when it comes to information literacy.

The UK government’s 2003 report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (more commonly known as the “Dodgy Dossier”) serves as the best example of what’s at stake. Not only had the government’s analysts failed to attribute the sources they used (thus prompting accusations of plagiarism), they also forgot to correct the original spelling mistakes.

Fitzgerald’s hoax may have left egg on the face of newspaper editors around the world. But it also offers a warning to anyone whose basic tool of work is the internet.

International Relations

“Israel Is Unsettled” by New US Mideast Policy

Daniel Möckli / photo: Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich

In what I think is a very good piece of international affairs analysis, Daniel Möckli of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich comments on the new US policy on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Möckli talks to Swiss-German radio’s Echo der Zeit, Switzerland’s flagship news program, on the impact on Israel of Obama’s policy .

“There are signs that US policy on Iran takes a direction, which does not necessarily meet Israeli interests” says Möckli. “Israel is obviously unsettled”. The interview comes at a time when Israel’s president Shimon Peres voices support of the new US approach, even though the prime minister and his government are tough on Iran and the Palestinians.

Möckli also comments on the Swiss government’s engagement in the Middle East. According to him, the Swiss government has decided to no longer mediate between Iran the West on the nuclear issue, due to domestic political reasons. “I personally regret this, because we’ve been very successful there”.

Daniel Möckli has been a guest of ISN Podcasts, where he discussed Swiss Mideast policy. A policy brief he wrote on Switzerland’s controversial policy in the region can be accessed through the ISN’s Digital Library.


ISN Weekly Theme: ICT and IR

Communicating in the desert
Communicating in the desert / photo: John & Mel Kots, flickr
This week we’re highlighting the dovetailing of information communication (ICT) and technology with international relations (IR).

Check out some of featured items on the site:


Puffing Away in China

Young Chinese man smoking
Young Chinese man smoking / photo: ernop, flickr

As I read a news piece on smoking in China on the website of a Finnish newspaper I thought, for a brief second, that it was April Fool’s. This was a joke, right?

The article said the provincial government in Hubei in China had set a quota for civil servants to smoke at least 230 000 packs of local cigarettes a year. And if they did not reach this quota or decided to smoke another brand instead, they would be fined.

Government Audio/Video

Reding Says EU Not Ready for Cyberattack

Screenshot of Reding's site
Screenshot of Reding\’s site

Offering up the 2007 Estonia attacks as an example, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding says in her video blog that the EU must do more to protect member states against cyberattacks.

According to Reding, a month-long internet interruption in the US or Europe would lead to “losses of at least 150 billion euro.”

The Luxemberger took no prisoners in scolding her own organization:

“So far, the EU’s 27 Member States have been quite negligent. Although the EU has created an agency for network and information security, called ENISA, this instrument remains mainly limited to being a platform to exchange information and is not, in the short term, going to become the European headquarters of defense against cyber attacks. I am not happy with that.”

Reding believes that Europe needs a “Mister Cyber Security” (hmmm…or a “Miss” maybe?), a go-to person for when an attack is underway. The person would also be in charge of enacting plans preclude attacks.

This call is somewhat a day late and a dollar short (the EU should have gotten the message with Estonia), but Reding is on the mark in stating that the EU’s efforts have fallen far, far short.

The full video blog can be found here along with a PDF transcript.

Screenshot: Site of Viviane Reding.