Friday, February 15, 2008

Wiki Me

In my con law class earlier this week, I asked a student to report back to the group his thoughts on a question that involved the "Madisonian Compromise." The next day, said student reported cheekily that there was no Wikipedia entry for "Madisonian Compromise," but he nonetheless successfully discovered that the term refers to the language in Article III of the Constitution that permits but does not require Congress to create lower federal courts. (This was a compromise at the 1787 Constitutional Convention between those who wanted the Constitution to create lower federal courts and those who didn't want lower federal courts; the issue was punted to Congress, which, in the Judiciary Act of 1789, established lower federal courts, although their jurisdiction was relatively narrow until after the Civil War.)

The exchange led me to think, once again, about Wikipedia as a source of knowledge, which --- along with vanity --- in turn led me to "Wiki" myself. I was taken first to the disambiguation page, which lists three Michaels Dorf: 1) me; 2) the Michael Dorf of Knitting Factory fame (with whom I have exchanged bemused correspondence in the past); and 3) Michael Dorf, the Mossad agent who participated in the assassination of the Munich terrorists, as portrayed most famously in Steven Spielberg's film Munich.

I'm flattered to have a Wikipedia page at all, even if it is only a "stub." Still, in perhaps what should lead one to be a little skeptical of the accuracy of Wikipedia generally, my entry contains one clear (albeit minor) error of fact and one joke masquerading as fact. The error is that it says I used to teach at Rutgers-Newark Law School. In fact, I was on the Rutgers-Camden faculty. The two Rutgers law schools are separate entities.

The joke is the last line of the entry, which says that I "enjoy[] sqrat, veganism and juggling." Some years ago I did give my civil procedure class a written and oral exercise involving claims of copyright and trademark infringement by the alleged creator of "sqrat" (a supposed cross between a squirrel and rat) and the makers of the film "Ice Age," which features a vaguely similar looking animal called "scrat." (See a description of the case here.) To say that I "enjoy sqrat" is thus, in some sense, rooted in truth; I enjoyed teaching the exercise. But I do not presently enjoy sqrat, whatever that would mean.

As for veganism, well I am a vegan, and I suppose I enjoy it, but that's not why I'm a vegan. One wouldn't say that Ron Paul "enjoys libertarianism" or that John Stuart Mill "enjoyed utilitarianism." To treat an ethical philosophy as a matter of enjoyment is to trivialize it.

I will admit that I do enjoy juggling, but not very often. Of my hobbies, I'd have to put it well behind blogging, for example.

As I understand the Wikipedia rules, you're not supposed to edit your own page. That's a good thing, I suppose. It prevents Wikipedia from simply becoming another version of MySpace. But it leaves me with a challenge. A while back, Stephen Colbert inspired his fans to change the Wikipedia entry on elephants. This was obviously a joke, but I'm serious. So, would someone out there in "Dorf on Law Nation" (okay, maybe that should be "Dorf on Law Unincorporated Village" since I only have about a thousand daily readers) please correct my entry?

Posted by Mike Dorf