Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Meatpuppet Alert: If you were still wondering why wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has it in for public relations people, Ben Goldacre provides an example of the kind of inept and unethical activity that tars the whole profession with the same brush.

Goldacre is the author of the excellent “Bad Science” column in The Guardian, which is dedicated to exposing the most egregious examples of junk science. (That’s junk science as in science that is deeply, fatally flawed. Or non-existent. Not junk science in the Steven Milloy sense, which is to say science wll-supported by the facts but in conflict with the short-term interests of big corporations.)

Anyway, at his blog Goldacre discusses the editing of a wikipedia article about self-styled nutritionist Patrick Holford. (In the U.K., anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist; Holford’s only relevant qualification appears to be a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, awarded by his own Institute of Optimum Nutrition.

Goldacre had written critically of Holford’s credentials and his tendency to make claims unsupported by science. A reference to those criticisms made it into wikipedia, but was later edited out. Some solid—but not especially brilliant—detective work by Goldacre traces the editing to a user calling himself Clarkeola, who turns out to be an employee of Holford’s public relations firm, Fuel PR.

Clarkeola has been banned under wikipedia’s “meatpuppets” policy, and once again the public relations industry as a whole is made to look sleazy, deceptive and—most worrying of all—completely out of tune with emerging digital media.

22 Comments:

  • At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Rob Blackie said…

    I've tried very hard to find it but any coherent explanation of what Wikipedia does and doesn't ban is simply unavailable.

    The practicalities of the ban are very confusing even though I completely agree with the aim of improving transparency. Am I as a PR consultant banned from contributing to anything, or just anything to do with my company's clients? What if a personal hobby or skill (for instance I do wu shu kung fu for a hobby and a lot of my clients are interested in physial exercise) overlap? What if I ask a friend to do it? Or are all my friends banned too?

    Surely all Wikipedia's board really want is transparency - so that, for instance, I should sign myself something like 'Rob Blackie, Blue Rubicon, on behalf of XXX'.

    Bizarrely Wikipedia is trying to ban sockpuppets (a laudable aim) when it's almost impossible to stop somebody who is determined. Ironically the example in Bad Science was from somebody who had been transparent enough to leave a trail that could be traced. If they'd done it through a fake email address (the work of a minute) it would have been impossible to trace.

     
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