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 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  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.