The Dim-Post

April 29, 2009

The agony of the Wikipedia editor

Filed under: technology — danylmc @ 8:30 am

The editors at Wikipedia write articles for the encylpedia’s contributors and each other about how to conform to Wikipedia guidelines, how to fix problems, deal with vandals, resolve disputes etc. Yesterday I came across a beauty, written by an obviously frustrated editor called Peter Damian entitled ‘Why Wikipedia cannot claim the Earth is not flat‘. I think it brilliantly sums up many of the arguments and fallacies that also crop up in blog debates about global warming, evolution and science vs psuedoscience:

Science is stodgy, typically not glamorous, and entails hard work. By contrast, speculation is stimulating, easy, and fun. It’s more exciting to see yourself as a re-discoverer of ancient truths or in the vanguard of a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. Belonging to a small club with a particular belief can be very fulfilling. The world would be a more exciting place if there were malevolent aliens abducting humans, if dead people could send us messages, if exotic plants were able to miraculously cure all disease, if free energy were readily available to anyone, or if our dreams could foretell the future. In addition, popular culture can often confuse the general public with uncritical or credulous presentations of such concepts on the internet, in books, radio talk shows, TV, and films. It’s little wonder that Wikipedia attracts individuals who feel the encyclopedia should include sympathetic coverage of these types of subjects.

The examples cited on the page, from wiki articles such as ‘Ayn Rand’ and ‘Neurolinguistic Programming’ give you some idea of the tedious idiocy some of the wikipedia editors must have to suffer through. I also like this point:

If Wikipedia had been available around the fourth century B.C., it would have reported the view that the Earth is flat as a fact and without qualification. And it would have reported the views of Eratosthenes (who correctly determined the earth’s circumference in 240BC) either as controversial, or a fringe view. Similarly if available in Galileo‘s time, it would have reported the view that the sun goes round the earth as a fact, and Galileo’s view would have been rejected as ‘original research’. Of course, if there is a popularly held or notable view that the earth is flat, Wikipedia reports this view. But it does not report it as true. It reports only on what its adherents believe, the history of the view, and its notable or prominent adherents.

And I love some of the example quotes:

The following list has been compiled from the wealth of research I have put together over the last ten years. I would suggest that all of these are reptilian bloodline, but I only mention shapeshifting where it has been witnessed

- David Icke, List of Famous Satanists, Paedophiles And Mind Controllers (2001)

And I thought this was an interesting insight into the ongoing edit wars that grind on over some of these entries:

Worst of all, it is now many months since you tidied up the article. You have no inherent interest in the Flat Earth theory, and you have moved on to another area of pseudoscience (let’s say the Geocentric theory). But the Flat Earth supporters are interested in nothing else than their pet theory. They will come back when you are gone and revert when you do not notice. The arguments that you successfully rebutted and dismissed, sometimes with extensive references, will be repeated over and over and over, sometimes just with a cut and paste approach. Sometimes they will be presented by the same person dozens and dozens of times over days and weeks and months. They will try to add information that is (at best) peripherally relevant on the grounds that ‘it is verifiable, so it should be in’. They repeatedly use the talk page for soapboxing, or to re-raise the same issues that have already been discussed numerous times. They hang around forever wearing down more serious editors and become expert in an odd kind of way on their niche POV.

They will make a series of silly and time-wasting requests for comment, mediation or arbitration[citation needed] tags repeatedly to well-known material, or material that is fully referenced on wikilinked articles that discuss that point in more detail. Assorted templates branding the article are thrown on the article repeatedly, such as the claim that an NPOV dispute is going on, when it is more accurate to describe the discussion as revolving around some editor’s idiosyncratic interpretation of NPOV to satisfy their own personal agenda. Accusations that a group editing the article own the article since they will not change the consensus to satisfy one malcontent are common. They will add [citation needed] tags repeatedly to well-known material, or material that is fully referenced on wikilinked articles that discuss that point in more detail. Assorted templates branding the article are thrown on the article repeatedly, such as the claim that an NPOV dispute is going on, when it is more accurate to describe the discussion as revolving around some editor’s idiosyncratic interpretation of NPOV to satisfy their own personal agenda. Accusations that a group editing the article own the article since they will not change the consensus to satisfy one malcontent are common.

Disputes over Wiki pages in New Zealand tend to get resolved by a local administrator called Gadfium, who can reasonably be described as a saint as he resolves crisis over the entries for New Zealand’s Next Top Model and school wiki pages that are repeatedly vandalised by their own students.

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8 Comments »

  1. Go enter “China” into Wikipedia, and you will see the worst kind of idiocy that arises when you try and build an “encylopedia” by consensus. Instead of directing to the PRC, it waffles around, trying not to talk about either the PRC or the ROC. It’s idiocy.

    I like Wikipedia, I use and edit it. But it has some interminable problems that could be solved by people with common sense (rather than the ‘the community will work it out’). The only binding arbitration body on Wikipedia refuses to touch content disputes. “ArbComm does not do content disputes”. It will only rule on things where people are being “uncivil”. If you’re claiming the earth is flat, refusing to take any evidence, gaming the rules, but you’re being nice about it, you’re free to go about your business.

    Comment by George D — April 29, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

  2. Danyl: I think it brilliantly sums up many of the arguments and fallacies that also crop up in blog debates about global warming, evolution and science vs psuedoscience:

    Ah, global warming is back. Brilliant. Danyl, can you please add a tag or so to all your global warming stories? And when do we get your review of “Heaven and Earth”?

    Comment by Berend de Boer — April 29, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  3. And when do we get your review of “Heaven and Earth”?

    Do you mean the 90’s Vietnam movie by Oliver Stone? Because that would be never.

    The only binding arbitration body on Wikipedia refuses to touch content disputes. “ArbComm does not do content disputes”. It will only rule on things where people are being “uncivil”. If you’re claiming the earth is flat, refusing to take any evidence, gaming the rules, but you’re being nice about it, you’re free to go about your business.

    Ironically enough, it looks like the author of the Flat Earth article linked above was banned from Wikipedia by Arbcomm. It looks as if an administrator arbitrarily deleted a bunch of his entries, refused to enter into a dialog about it and then took Damian to Arbconn when he abused the admin. Gone!

    Comment by danylmc — April 29, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  4. Interesting stuff, thanks. What a world.

    Comment by StephenR — April 29, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  5. Danyl, Heaven and Earth is a book about the science of global warming by a strident evolutionist: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25400914-7583,00.html

    But don’t doubt global warming Danyl, we just want to see more stories that it is absolutely really true.

    Comment by Berend de Boer — April 30, 2009 @ 12:06 am

  6. Just out of curiosity, what bearing does it have on one’s climate knowledge if one is a “strident evolutionist”? I haven’t read the book so clearly can’t comment on what’s in there, but I can’t see why it’s relevant that the author is an evolutionist – just as (I suspect) you’d argue we shouldn’t ignore it if the author were in fact a strident creationist.

    Unless it’s as simple as “evolution is atheist, and climate change is a UN-sponsored atheist scientific conspiracy, therefore an evolutionist denying climate change is a Stunning Coup in the Good Fight”?

    Comment by Sam Finnemore — April 30, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  7. Ah, I see.

    Comment by Sam Finnemore — May 11, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

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