Wikipedia, et al.

Shelley Powers and Joi Ito, among others, opened a conversation regarding the relative truth to be found in Wikipedia, a compendium that relies on its readers to update and hone content. Wikipedia has few editorial policies, perhaps the guiding and most important is that those who contribute should strive to maintain a Neutral Point of View (NPOV).

Following that discussion, I happened upon a reference to Investopedia.com in a column in Paul Krugman’s “The Great Unraveling.” Specifically Krugman offered a definition of “one-time charge” as found in Investopedia.com

I looked it up. Investopedia offers a discussion of one-time charges in an article about financial statement chicanery, but it doesn’t offer a direct reference through its own search function. How would Wikipedia handle this I wondered? It turns out that neither “one-time charge” nor “one-time event” has its own listing in Wikipedia, but the site offered me the opportunity to create one. Even so, “one time events” are discussed in the “Income” article, and the sense one gets about the use of “one time events” is that there is some controversy and that critics generally think of them as ways to fool investors. This is the line that Investopedia is pushing, but in Wikipedia it is presented in an arguably neutral way (the use of the word “supposedly” diminishes the neutrality somewhat):

Pro forma income is an estimate of how much the company would have earned without including the negative effect of exceptional “one-time events”, supposedly in order to show investors how much money the company would have made under normal circumstances if these exceptional, one-time events had not occurred. Critics charge that, in most cases, the “one-time events” are normal business events, such as an acquisition of another company or a write off of a cancelled project or division, and that pro forma reporting is an attempt to mislead investors by painting a rosy financial picture.

If you simply Google the phrase “one-time charge” the top listing is from Disinfopedia. Ourobouros takes another bite! The Disinfopedia article on one-time charges points to the original column by Krugman that I’d read in “The Great Unraveling.”

What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, triangulating the general sense of the meaning of a single accounting term through Wikipedia, Disinvopedia, and Investopedia, we see that the popular culture is biased toward an understanding put forward by Mr. Krugman. I don’t know much more about one-time charges than I knew from reading his article. All of the Wiki paths I travelled seem to be in different regions of the same layer of the onion, and in order to deepen my understanding, I’ll have to peel another layer or three.

Posted in High Signal - Low Noise

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