British lawmaker apologizes for Wikipedia tampering

Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British opposition leader David Cameron apologized on Thursday after one of his Conservative Party officials altered the Wikipedia entry for the Italian Renaissance artist Titian in a bout of political point-scoring.

The party blamed an over-eager member of staff for changing the date of Titian’s death on the popular online encyclopedia to support a claim that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had got the artist’s age wrong in a speech in Davos last month.

The change was made minutes after an exchange between Cameron and Brown in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

“The Prime Minister never gets his facts right -- he told us the other day that he was like Titian aged 90, but the fact is that Titian died at 86,” Cameron said.

Historians disagree over Titian’s age at death but Wikipedia, a collaborative project that allows modifications by internet users, had given it as 90 before Cameron stood up to speak.

But minutes afterwards, the unnamed party official at Conservative Central Office logged on to Wikipedia and put Titian’s date of death back four years to 27 August 1572.

Cameron said he had been making a light-hearted point about Brown’s veracity and that the official had been disciplined.

“The person at central office then altered the Wikipedia entry -- putting on the correct information, because I think Titian did die at 86, there’s some dispute among academics -- but nevertheless that was the wrong thing to do,” Cameron told LBC radio.

In fact the party official had inadvertently reduced Titian’s age at death to 82, not realizing that another online contributor had two minutes earlier changed the artist’s date of birth.

Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato