UC Berkeley News


Letter to the Editor

26 January 2006

In your Jan. 19 article on the reliability of online information ("Surfing is safer - and smarter - with flotation devices"), SIMS professor Paul Duguid claims that he found errors in the first paragraph of Wikipedia's Daniel Defoe article, including "the explanation for his rise to notoriety." ("The minute I got to [the text stating] which book made him famous . . . I knew it was wrong.")

The article is not properly cited, but the article of Jan.19, 2006, and the article of Oct. 12, 2005 [both accessible on the relevant Wikipedia page - Ed.], are similar enough to give question to that statement. Both articles use the wording "[Daniel Defoe] gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe." This is not a claim that Crusoe made him famous, but that his "enduring" fame was based on it. Given that no other work of Defoe's is likely to be familiar to the average English reader, nor has any other work of Defoe's been translated anywhere nearly as frequently, I think that statement is clearly true.

David Starner
Alva, Oklahoma

Paul Duguid responds:
David Starner is, I must acknowledge, perfectly right. The Oct. 12, 2005, version of the Defoe biography in Wikipedia does indeed say that Defoe gained enduring fame from Robinson Crusoe. It says so, because I wrote it.

The original text that I played with (but which Mr. Starner overlooks) is actually that of Oct. 11. It says:

Daniel Defoe (1660-April 24, 1731) was an English writer and journalist, who first gained fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is also notable for being arguably the earliest constant practitioner of the novel form.

"First gained" is nonsense. "Gained enduring," if I say so myself, is reasonable.