Comment Of The Day: “Mid-Day Ethics Mop-Up, 7/15/2021: …Wikipedia…”


John Paul, aka JP, adds his experiences to the discussion of Wikipedia bias and ethics, broached yesterday in his Comment of the Day to Item #2 of the post, “Mid-Day Ethics Mop-Up, 7/15/2021: Trump Derangement, Wikipedia, And Fact-Checking”:

“While I know I am not the best writer, I like to consider myself a studious person. But this was done through some rather painstaking classes I had to take in undergraduate and graduate classes. One of those classes was Scripture Interpretation. It is by far the hardest class I took in undergrad. My professor spent the first two weeks, making sure we knew how to do proper research. It was there I first learned (2005 I think) about Wikipedia. He said, it was not a site to be trusted and would not be considered useful for the course. This peeked my curiosity. So I went in during his office hours to asked him why. He told me: Go down to the men’s bathroom down the hall, use the last stall on the right, then come back and tell him what I saw.

“This was a rather strange request to tell me why I shouldn’t trust a website, but I figured he must have had a point, so down I went to the empty bathroom, found the stall, looked in it and saw what was a rather normal looking stall. Confused, I looked around the toilet, checked the toilet paper holder, looked up at the ceiling, found nothing. I was about to admit defeat when It occur to me to check the back of the door. It was there I found numerous jokes about a particular student (just one). There must have been quite a few. Mostly, they were told in the Chuck Norris style of jokes like “God said, let there be light” and X says, “Say please.” There were attempts to fix this problem with obvious layers of paint, but it was a band aid to a persistent problem.

“So I went back and old him what I found. He then pulled up the Wikipedia for our school and there with information about our school were the same jokes about the same student found in the stall. The site used his first and last name. The professor told me that no matter how many times and has changed it himself, he keeps encountering the same problem. The site and the bathroom keep popping up with the same lewd comments and jokes.

“On the plus side, at least Wikipedia knows this is a problem and is doing what It can to combat it (side note, my former school’s website no longer has anything of the sort). They consider it to be an act of vandalism as one that compromises the integrity of the site itself. It’s own vandalism page list two examples of which encouraged policy changes on how it future editing is handled. The second involves Daniel Tosh encouraging his views on his show Tosh. 0 to edit it at will. This lead to his own article being edit locked. The first involves the biographical information of John Seigenthaler. In May 2005 it was listed on Mr. Seigenthaler’s wiki he was a suspect in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For four months this information went uncorrected. Mr. Seigenthaler who was quite famous for being the founding editorial director of USA Today and the founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University was able to call up Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to get to the bottom of it. It was there Wikipedia specifically made changes at tightening up the verifiability of biographical articles of living people.

“Of course, this just proves that Mr. Seigenthaler was famous enough to do it. I don’t know what his connection was to Mr. Wales or how he was able to call him up to get some answers, but most people are not able to do something like this. Most people aren’t famous enough to even have their own wiki entry. Mr. Wales trying to control the monster of editing introduced a notability criterion via the core policy called “What Wikipedia is Not.” In it, Mr. Wales writes, “”I added Wikipedia is not a newspaper and especially not a tabloid newspaper and that we… attempt to make some sort of judgment about the long term historical notability of something…” This would serve as a guideline for how sourcing and rules would develop in the future, but to be honest it only seems to have made things worse. As the rules became more complex, the community became plagued with something now called instruction creep. Politicians and politics don’t even have the same rules let alone institutions and people. But this isn’t it’s only problem.

“Its biggest problem is it cannot speak from authority because it doesn’t come from authority. First, as Jack already pointed out, we don’t know who is writing the source most of the time. Second, it encourages open discussion on what exactly should be said. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it allows no final say long after events can no longer be changed (again not necessarily a bad thing) but also allows issues to be hijacked by partisan or majority means. Wiki’s own page on it’s own community says it’s been described as cult-like and prefers cohesiveness, even if it disregards credentials. Studies done on Wikipedia’s quality of writing show that more authorship tends to make quality suffer, lack rich contextualization, and makes it verbose and dull.

“The last problem is given enough pressure, Wikipedia can just delete you. For example, my wife is quite fond of these two ladies who run a website called “Chicks On The Right.” There quite famous among conservative woman. They have millions of followers, wrote a book, have a weekly broadcast on public radio, appeared with Mike Huckabee and USA Today. In August 2020 they were flagged for deletion for not being noteworthy. From what I can tell, this largely has to do with a spat between the person who pushed for their deletion. The two women accused the editor of bad research to outright lying. Here is an article from their page with links to the wiki page. I let you decide if they are right.
I do love that bit at the top of the wiki article: “this page is being attacked by…” Seems to be the go to answer for shutting something down.

“In conclusion, I don’t think anyone should use Wikipedia. As long as there are unethical people in the world, given the means and opportunity, they are going to act unethically. Wikipedia not only encourages it, it is a breeding ground for it.”

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Mid-Day Ethics Mop-Up, 7/15/2021: …Wikipedia…”

  1. I was once asked to review a “scholarly” article for a journal. The only sources cited were from Wikipedia. It was sent back for revision.

    I gave up after a lengthy, cited, correction of the page on Mithras. Within a day it was back to tabloid level anti-Christian rants.

    • I’m looking at the Mithras page, and I’m not seeing any of those rants you speak of. I do see paragraphs talking about the conflict between Mithras worship and Christianity, but they at least cite sources, and I don’t see any inflammatory language.

      I mainly use Wikipedia for pop-culture research; looking up TV and movie series I might be interested in. I find those to be generally straight forward. With everything else I make sure to look at the sources cited in the article.

      Also, in Wikipedia’s defense, it’s been found that while Encyclopedia Britannica has fewer errors, it’s not by a wide margin:

      I think that Wikipedia, and the internet in general, merely highlights in large scale the challenges that have always been with fact-finding and research: What sources are cited, and are those sources reliable?

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