Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pope/La Sapienza Controversy Fueled by Wikipedia

It just keeps getting worse for the protesters who shut down the papal visit to La Sapienza in Rome. They did not only quote out of context Pope Benedict's analysis of diffident contemporary philosophy. No, they quoted out of context a factually erroneous Wikipedia excerpt of the Pope's analysis of diffident contemporary philosophy.

Catholic News Agency summarizes:
L’ Osservatore [Romano] maintained that if any of the professors had checked the facts before signing the letter, “they would have realized that the author took the quote from a discourse by Ratzinger that is found under the title ‘Papa Benedetto XVI’ at, the online encyclopedia that is edited by internet users and that no man of science would use as an exclusive source for his research, unless he checked the veracity of the content.”

“That Wikipedia in all likelihood is the source of the quote is evident by the fact that the letter from the 67 professors makes reference to a speech by Cardinal Ratzinger on March 15, 1990 in Parma. The speech was given, but it took place in Rome, at La Sapienza University on exactly that day,” L’ Osservatore continued. “The surprising thing is that whoever took the quote from Feyerabend could not have read the rest of the entry in Wikipedia, as he would have realized that the meaning of Ratzinger’s statement is exactly the opposite of what the 67 claimed the Pope was saying.”

That the original remarks took place at the same university, but were attributed to another venue, is simply embarrassing.

That Wikipedia was considered authoritative by these would-be intellectuals is downright mortifying.

"All I need to know about Pope Benedict I learned from a drunken reading of Wikipedia" seems an apt summation of the superficiality of La Sapienza activists.

I am impressed that L'Osservatore Romano had staff or sources who tracked down the origins of this petty academic error. The Wikipedia origins of the information likely were discovered in a minor web search. However, that the web search was even made indicates someone at the paper has a good sense of how to extend a story in the Internet Age. These days, even a minor discrepancy of fact can grow into a newsworthy backstory.

Rocco Palmo and John Allen write of a revolution at the newspaper, its leadership taking the paper in a more journalistic and relevance-seeking direction. This story especially is a sign L'Osservatore Romano is wise to the ways of the world.

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