Wikipedia Woes -
Pending Crisis as Editors Leave in Droves
by Dave Smith
December 26, 2009
Observation: It is difficult to ignore the many complaints which we at the
Thunderbolts Project receive about Wikipedia. The horror stories circulating
recently about the way in which Wikipedia has been taken over, including experiences
we can vouch for ourselves, really do suggest that the "people's encyclopedia"
is moving rapidly toward a complete breakdown of confidence, particularly on subjects that
challenge common theoretical assumptions or the "consensus" that underpins orthodox science.
A recent physorg.com article cited a report
indicating a ten-fold increase in the number of "editors" leaving Wikipedia
between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. Whilst Jimbo Wales
was understandably quick to defend his encyclopedia, the figures speak for themselves
and the hard question needs to be tackled. Why is Wikipedia in the wars?
Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales' vision for Wikipedia:
“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free
access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.”
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
[Click to enlarge]
Let me first state that the concept upon which Wikipedia was founded is both noble and
admirable, however the activity of some of its most prolific editors cannot easily be
reconciled with the integrity of Jimbo's vision. It must be made clear that this article
is NOT an attack on Wiklipedia, but an attempt to highlight the danger of collapse that
this wonderful resource is likely to face if those running the show cannot curtail the actions
of editors who have taken it upon themselves to exorcise any and all challenges to the present
consensus. Challenges to the consensus are the lifeblood of progress in the sciences.
(PhysOrg.com) -- The findings of a Spanish study claiming that Wikipedia's
editors are leaving at an alarming rate have been refuted by the Wikimedia Foundation
and by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.
It should be made clear that whilst someone with a "free account" becomes a
"logged editor" they still remain anonymous if they choose to, through the use
of pseudonyms and Wikipedia rules about not "outing" editors. That is, not
revealing their true identity even if this is known and pertinent to the discussion.
This is a big problem when one considers another finding of the study, that:
The report by Dr Felipe Ortega, a research scientist with Madrid's Universidad Rey Juan
Carlos, was published in the Wall Street Journal on 26 November. It reported a ten-fold
increase in the number of editors leaving Wikipedia at the beginning of 2009 compared to
the number in the equivalent period of 2008.
Wikipedia is open to contributions and relies entirely on volunteer contributors (editors),
who create content, check the facts, correct errors and refine the entries in the online
encyclopedia. Editors can contribute anonymously or can open a free account and become logged editors.
... There was also a growing inequality in contributions becoming more biased towards
a core of very active editors.
It is this bias which is a major concern, and could well account for editors leaving in
droves. Quite simply, new editors are treated with contempt and discouraged from contributing
if their edits are not consistent with the highly conventional beliefs of the editors who
have seized control of particular topics.
In the latest study Dr Ortega found a continuing decline [in
the number of editors], with a net loss of 49,000 editors in early 2009, but only
4,900 in the same period in 2008 ...
A BBC (UK) report on the same study, quotes Wikimedia UK as
saying that it is seeking more expert contributors:
The Wikimedia Foundation responded to the latest report saying it was inaccurate and the
number of editors is stable, but Wikimedia counts only those who have made five or more
contributions, while Dr Ortega counts those who have made one or more. This means Wikimedia's
number of editors is around one million, while Ortega's number is approximately three million.
“We're trying to engage a bit more at the moment with people who are very knowledgeable,
people who are experts, so working with museums was the obvious next step,” said Michael
Peel of Wikimedia UK
Yet we know of many instances of expert knowledge being ignored and editors being barred for
attempting to improve articles on which they are knowledgeable, especially if the topic of
discussion is something "alternative" and believe me, it doesn't have to sway much
from textbook descriptions to be labelled alternative!
Take Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened, (Wikipedia username Elerner) for
just one example. His biography reads more like a debunking
of his ideas than an explanation of his life's work. A check on the
"history" of the page, will show that user
ScienceApologist is responsible for a large number of the edits of this biography. In fact,
of the last 500 edits to the page, around 150 are by ScienceApologist! What does Lerner
have to say about ScienceApologist?
Schoerder [sic] (scienceapologist) has been consisently attempting to make this
article [Lerner's biography] as unfavorable to me as
possible and eliminate anything favorable. He has a major conflict of interest
because he is a graduate student in astronomy, working directly under astrophysicists
who disagree with my work. He should be banned from editing this article. I
would remind you that I was banned from editing the article on plasma cosmology
because I work in that field. How can Scienceapologist be allowed to edit the
article on me when he too now is in the same field, cosmology, and has made it his special
task to attack anything that disagrees with what his professors think?Elerner (talk)
17:46, 30 March 2008 (UTC)
Here we see that Lerner is banned from editing Plasma Cosmology,
a subject in which he is very knowledgeable, and for which he is widely known. Yet at the top
of the article is this notice:
This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.
It is very difficult indeed to reconcile this situation with the comment above from Michael
Peel. An expert in the subject is barred from editing it yet another editor with a clear conflict
of interest and who is no expert in Plasma Cosmology has had more input to the article
than any other single editor!
A quick look at one other topic. The biography of
Halton Arp, famous
for his Atlas of Peculiar galaxies and after whom a good number of same are named,
includes a list of "categories" which the biography is said to belong in.
I find it incredible that someone in the categories of 20th-century astronomers, 21st-century
astronomers, American astronomers, Harvard University alumni, California Institute of Technology
alumni and Indianna University is also in the category of fringe physics, especially as the
fringe physics category is within the category of pseudoscience, defined as topics that have
“very few followers and are obviously pseudoscientific (such as
the modern belief in a flat Earth).” What an insult to one of the preemninent astronomers
of the twentieth century, clearly the leading authority on peculiar galaxies. Who was it that added the
fringe physics tag to his biography? No prize if you guessed correctly.
In an attempt to better understand why editors are leaving Wikipedia, we have developed a survey
which we invite all readers to consider, and will only take a couple of minutes to complete.
Please feel free to distribute this article broadly, so that we can gather as many responses as possible.
Results will be published once a considerable number are to hand.
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selected survey results and link to comprehensive results as they come to hand.
PLEASE NOTE - Survey results are now coming in!
Please see our results
page, which begins with the first 300 responses
and which will be updated as more are to hand.
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