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Last weekend, Jimmy Wales (pictured above), the founder of Wikipedia, celebrated his 44th birthday.  But if you wanted to send him a card on his specific birthday, checking Wikipedia itself would have proven fruitless.  Why?  Because according to Wales’ Wikipedia page, he was “born August 7 or August 8, 1966.”   How does Wikipedia not know when its founder was born?

Wales explains:

I was born on August 7th, 1966, at around 11:30PM… according to my mother, who should know.  But somehow, when the doctor prepared my birth certificate, he put August 8th, 1966.  Even though my parents signed it, they didn’t notice it.  We only found out when I was 15 and went on my birthday (the 7th!) to get my driving permit.  You can imagine my disappointment when I was sent home.

Today all my legal documents say August 8th.

I confess to having a funny sense of humor, and so over the years I’ve had a bit of fun with this. If someone asks if my birthday is on the 7th, I say “That’s not what my passport says.”  If someone asks if my birthday is on the 8th, I say “Not according to my mother, and she should know.”

Unfortunately, not everyone in the world has a sense of humor. :-)

Wikipedia, perhaps, included?  Not exactly.   Wikipedia’s policies for inclusion of information focuses on verifiability, not truth.  Passports, birth certificates, etc. fall into the first category, even if they are not correct.

For what it’s worth, the confusion is not limited to Wikipedia.  Encyclopeida Britannica lists his birthday as the 7th, but does so with a “Researcher’s Note” attached.

Bonus fact: It’s probably well known that Wikipedia pages, by virtue of the fact that anyone can edit them, are at times “vandalized” with false information.  But did you know that almost all edits — including vandalism — is frozen in time, accessible via the site’s archives?  For example, check out this revision of nondescript NFL player Taco Wallace‘s entry.

Related: “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia,” by Andrew Lih (with foreword by Jimmy Wales).

Update: Soon after this issue of Now I Know was published, Wikipedia editors incorporated the above into Wales’ page. Since then, the controversy over his age has been removed from the page. (The current version is here; the link in the first paragraph, above, goes to an archived version on the page from the day of this issue’s publication.)

Originally published

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