Join 3,520 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Perhaps Wikipedia is the ideal venue
May 17, 2014 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I call on historians to dedicate their precious few hours of spare time to improving Wikipedia; as an incentive, I call on ­administrators to integrate Wikipedia contributions into the publication requirements for tenure.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (71 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that the only appropriate response to this "proposal" is "fuck you, pay me".
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:45 PM on May 17 [51 favorites]


Get the unpaid interns to do it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:57 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


This reads like someone who doesn't know much about either how either Wikipedia or academic hiring actually work but has Big Ideas about both.
posted by kagredon at 5:00 PM on May 17 [32 favorites]


Aren't historians generally already publishing in academic journals that require subscriptions, and also not paid for that work?

I'm confused why there is such animosity (well, 2/3rd of the comments thusfar) in historians to working towards furthering information that the general public will see?

Is academic work only valuable if no one reads it?
posted by el io at 5:05 PM on May 17 [22 favorites]


Most papers that researchers write are read by almost nobody so this might be a welcome change for researchers and an opportunity to promote their fields to the public. Even contributing to Wikipedia's talk pages is incredibly useful because it enables layperson to circumvent paywalls and content silos to get to the meaty and unfiltered state-of-the-art discussions that researchers have.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:12 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


Wikipedia is a legitimate non profit institution and I think it can stand on its track record of working on an incredibly difficult project that has largely been successful.

Yes, it has many issues but I would venture it has about the same as your average University faculty when it comes to backbiting, internal politics, etc.

The author may be naive (I wouldn't really know, but I note he's a recent Doctoral candidate and University lecturer) but I think he's on the right track in a very basic way.
posted by cell divide at 5:17 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


"Integrate Wikipedia contributions into the publication requirements for tenure." is the most ignorant thing I've heard today. Publication generally requires original research, which is against one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies.
posted by dilaudid at 5:18 PM on May 17 [27 favorites]


Publication generally requires original research

So... change the rules of what constitutes publication? Is the current system serving the academy as well as it could be?

Or, ask people to integrate/cite/reference their original research, once published by peer review, into the relevant wikipedia articles or talk pages. That way the researcher gets wider coverage, and Wikipedia is improved for humanity.
posted by cell divide at 5:22 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


Publication generally requires original research, which is against one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies

So, wouldn't it be nice if researchers had some leverage to say to publishers, "I will only publish with you if you can make the work publicly available so I can cite it on Wikipedia."
posted by Phssthpok at 5:23 PM on May 17 [10 favorites]


Publication generally requires original research, which is against one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies.

Well, yes, that's part of the author's point, isn't it? The proposal isn't "editing Wikipedia fits publication requirements as they currently exist"; it's "editing Wikipedia is radically different from our usual academic work, but it provides some benefits that traditional work does not, so maybe it's worth thinking about changing the publication requirements."
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:24 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


I would guess that contributing an expert opinion to Wikipedia, only to have it overwritten by some damned fool who doesn't know what they are talking about would be frustrating to say the least. Wikipedia values consensus over actually being right.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:24 PM on May 17 [29 favorites]


Please list your Wikipedia contributions to be considered towards tenure. posted by Flunkie at 5:25 PM on May 17 [49 favorites]


Errr, so at my university a faculty member actually put down his Wikipedia work. He was a top 20 contributor in a STEM area. Every morning he would come to his office and write articles; well done articles. He did have other things for the tenure binder, but it was listed.
posted by jadepearl at 5:27 PM on May 17 [20 favorites]


I'm not a historian but I'd be a lot more likely to write about my areas of expertise if there wasn't the very large likelihood that some "deletionist" asshat will come along and circular-file everything I write in order to save precious bits or namespace or whatever it is they think they're preserving.

Write a paper, and it may never get read but--assuming it's published or added to an archive--it's at least out there if someone wants to search for it. With Wikipedia, you can spend as much time as you want writing and contributing, and then have some basement-dweller whose only understanding of the subject comes from reading Wikipedia itself delete your contribution.

Yeah, I can't understand why that's not more popular for professionals looking to get a definable publication history.

Plus, if you're an expert in a particular field you can't write an article referencing your own works without running the risk that someone will delete it for being "original research". (Sure, technically citing yourself is allowed per the WP guidelines, but unless you want to spend the rest of your life rules-lawyering with people who have nothing better to do, good luck with that.)

So no, what historians should do is what academics in other fields are increasingly doing: write papers consistent with traditional academic practice, and then put them up on preprint archives so that they're accessible over the long-term without making everyone pay extortionate fees to Elsevier. If some poor soul wants to use that paper to write up a Wikipedia article, let them do so.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:28 PM on May 17 [27 favorites]


I would guess that contributing an expert opinion to Wikipedia, only to have it overwritten by some damned fool who doesn't know what they are talking about would be frustrating to say the least.

Yeah, that sort of thing is what "Timothy Messer-Kruse’s ordeal" alludes to.
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:28 PM on May 17


I'm a historian (trained, if not employed), and I've written for Wikipedia.

But I have not written for Wikipedia on any topic in which I do research. It's just way too hard to try to boil down complex knowledge and ideas into what Wikipedia really needs. I've written 100k words on northern Cambridgeshire in the 17th century. Taking that to 500 words on c1500-2000 is just so much work.

I can, and did, write on something in which I don't understand as deeply as my research topic, but only learned through others' research: I wrote part of the article on Harold Bluetooth, correcting the conversion story. I had the basic stuff we know, and wasn't immersed in complex debates.
posted by jb at 5:34 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


Isn't the entire point of Wikipedia (or any encyclopedia) that it is written by generalists who collect and cite the work of specialists?
posted by straight at 5:38 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


also, I started trying to write the Wikipedia page on the area of my thesis topic, and I started unconsciously borrowing from my thesis and realised that someone might think I'd copied my thesis from Wikipedia - which would be terrible and ironic.
posted by jb at 5:45 PM on May 17 [17 favorites]


The trouble is that the entrenched idiots at Wikipedia will revert and delete the work immediately.
posted by w0mbat at 5:49 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


Well, if we historians work on Wikipedia, it will be more likely that undergrads will read it and cite it copy it wholesale without attribution in their own work.
posted by dhens at 5:52 PM on May 17


A tenure/promotion committee would be within their rights to ask what, exactly, constitutes the academic's contribution, especially given the likelihood that that contribution would be revised, deleted, reverted, or goodness knows what else. When is the article (or contribution to the article) "yours"? Is it still "yours" when fifty other people have reformatted, rearranged, and rewritten it? Is it still a contribution if it gets deleted altogether? It's a form of collaborative writing, sure, but it's collaboration without consultation or consent.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:57 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


There would have to be a pretty big change in the culture of Wikipedia for this to happen, almost to the point where you would be better off forking it.
posted by empath at 6:00 PM on May 17


Because here is how it will go:

"Cite?"

"I spent three years translating papyrus scrolls from Coptic at the Cairo museum"

"I'm sorry, but chapter 4 of "The Gnostic Secret: Ten Ways to Channel Your Inner Wisdom" is my source, and you can't cite original research, so we're reverting your change."
posted by empath at 6:05 PM on May 17 [53 favorites]


The trouble is that the entrenched idiots at Wikipedia will revert and delete the work immediately.

This is basically the correct answer. I've tried writing basic, concise entries or expanding on things that needed citations or even simple clarifications of awkwardly phrased articles - only to have them reverted in seconds by some entrenched author getting all reactionary and butthurt about being corrected.

I've even had this happen to corrections of simple typos or punctuation errors.

The contributor culture there is apparently by and large toxic, territorial and reactionary. Read the talk pages and edit wars, they're tragicomedic epics.

Real scholars don't have time for that shit.

This is also why I'll always take Wikipedia with a few grains of salt. It's also the reason why you shouldn't ever use Wikipedia as a source in school papers.

All of the above, combined with Jimbo's smarmy, manipulative fund raising style, is a why I'll probably never donate to Wikipedia even if I could afford it. The culture there is kind of fucked up.
posted by loquacious at 6:11 PM on May 17 [29 favorites]


There is an argument that the "Cite?" requirement is all that separates Wikipedia from a blog comment thread, but I don't really buy it. Making Wikipedia THE web's definitive source is one of the symptoms of the Lazy Internet. There are far too many monopolies and might-as-well-be-monopolies, from my local Cable Internet service (I call it Cabal Internet) to Facebook, and Wikipedia is one of them.

Fork 'em.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:18 PM on May 17


The manner in which I edited may have also explained why I did not find myself immersed in a time-consuming editorial war.

Read this, went "fuck this guy", clicked small x. As a woman who came thisclose to going into the field professionally, I can't get behind the idea that women who sit where I was when I was in grad school and beyond should have to put up with the crap that can be associated with working on Wikipedia, particularly not as a professional requirement. Also that comes damn close to blaming people who are generally victims of wikipedia's edit wars.

Also, as usual, jb's comments on writing outside your detailed area of scholarship are on point.
posted by immlass at 6:30 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Huh. I'm sorry to hear that so many people here have had such bad experiences on Wikipedia. I feel obligated to add a counter datapoint. I edit it pretty regularly, and have generally found it to be a positive, collaborative activity, and a go-to source of information.
posted by Tsuga at 6:39 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


After listening to Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcasts - this probably won't help, apart from lifting the contention above the hoi polloi.

I mean, the man straight up says at the beginning of the Logical Insanity "podcast" (almost three hours worth, basically a short audio book) that he believes that dropping Fat Man and Little Boy were war crimes - and then brings you to the conclusion that the Americans felt they were trapped, and had no other option. And the journey in between will disembowel you and leave you gasping and broken, especially when describing the horror of Allied bombing from the Axis point of view, while pointing out it was the Axis and their strategists who absolutely started it. He quotes credible and credentialed sources that see things so diametrically opposed, they're basically calling each other liars without even knowing the other viewpoint even exists.

History is a living, breathing entity, and another Carlin podcast, "Thor's Angles" points out that the battle of Tours, in 732, has undergone a complete recharacterization in the past 30 years, despite being studied for more than a thousand years, with many but not all historians specializing in the period - even the paid professionals are at odds.

On the gripping hand, weeding out the outright kooks can only be a good thing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:40 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Many, if not most, of the things said in this thread can also be said about academia. Toxic, territorial and reactionary you say? My word, never would you encounter people like that in the Academy!
posted by one_bean at 6:57 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that sort of thing is what "Timothy Messer-Kruse’s ordeal" alludes to.

Here is what happened: There was a thread on this a couple years ago. I linked to some of the archived talk pages and other records in that thread.

Wikipedia has its problems. And although its rules are somewhat problematic, I'm not sure how to substantially improve upon them without making the site more prone to edit wars. It's impractical to have a guideline that says, "It's okay to completely contradict published expert opinion as long as you're super-duper extra-sure that you're right," without attracting a tidal wave of totally insane edits. The bigger problem is that for whatever reason — and maybe the reasons are the rules themselves — the culture at Wikipedia can at times be abrasive and unwelcoming.
posted by compartment at 7:07 PM on May 17 [10 favorites]


Also, I want to add this: In my experience, the key to avoiding rules-lawyering reverts is to imagine that everything you write will be scrutinized by an anal retentive libertarian robot whose hatred for everything you stand for is overridden only by his love for enforcing Wikipedia's rules.
posted by compartment at 7:16 PM on May 17 [12 favorites]


compartment: "Also, I want to add this: In my experience, the key to avoiding rules-lawyering reverts is to imagine that everything you write will be scrutinized by an anal retentive libertarian robot whose hatred for everything you stand for is overridden only by his love for enforcing Wikipedia's rules."

Well, I'm sold. I'll get started editing Wikipedia articles right away!
posted by double block and bleed at 7:22 PM on May 17 [17 favorites]


Campbell's essay is being discussed on the Wikipediocracy website here, if you wish to see what serious Wikipedia critics think of him and his "ideas".

As one of them pointed out, Campbell's employer, Pasadena City College, is a highly mediocre community college, albeit far from the worst. According to the CNNMoney study he linked to, that "pleasure" belongs to Baton Rouge Community College and Catawba Valley Community College, both of which have blandly favorable Wikipedia articles, mostly scraped from the colleges' websites. Yeah, that's "quality information".
posted by metasonix at 7:38 PM on May 17


Many, if not most, of the things said in this thread can also be said about academia. Toxic, territorial and reactionary you say? My word, never would you encounter people like that in the Academy!

Unlike Wikipedia, you will never find a pimple-faced troll at the Academy who lives in his mom's basement and actively keeps your work from being published and refuses you any hope at tenure, motivated by having the emotional maturity of a parasite that nibbles on pond algae.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:00 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Because here is how it will go:

"Cite?"

"I spent three years translating papyrus scrolls from Coptic at the Cairo museum"

"I'm sorry, but chapter 4 of "The Gnostic Secret: Ten Ways to Channel Your Inner Wisdom" is my source, and you can't cite original research, so we're reverting your change."
So in academic papers, you can make assertions that you spent years translating scrolls? Or do you actually publish the translations, and then cite them in future publications?

Wikipedia may have many faults, but I'm pretty amused when academia complains at its requirements for citations. (and yeah, sure the sources cited are pretty crappy at times - which makes it pretty convenient that you have to list your sources so people can judge their trustworthiness).
posted by el io at 8:07 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Unlike Wikipedia, you will never find a pimple-faced troll at the Academy who lives in his mom's basement and actively keeps your work from being published and refuses you any hope at tenure, motivated by having the emotional maturity of a parasite that nibbles on pond algae.

Pimple-faced and living in his mom's basement, no. But then, those are not the parts of that description that are the problem.
posted by Etrigan at 8:08 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


So in academic papers, you can make assertions that you spent years translating scrolls? Or do you actually publish the translations, and then cite them in future publications?

In some fields of history, like early medieval studies, people do publish editions of transcriptions and translations.

But in many fields, we don't -- we just cite the original manuscripts sitting in an archive somewhere. I'll quote a good quote, a "money quote" as I call it, but only occassionally - most of the time I just cite the source. I couldn't possibly have transcribed all of my sources -- they would be thousands of pages long.

My sources happen to have been in English, but I've read lots of history based on non-English sources. Again, they usually provide only occasional quotes*, and only some will provide the quote in the original as well as English.

*The exception might be a close study of a source, like a poem. But, while I've published the whole text of a poem, the majority of that publication was based on 600+ pages of unpublished manuscript business records. No one wants to read a transcription of those. Seriously, even I wouldn't want one.
posted by jb at 8:35 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia used to have some great expert level medical articles but it seems like now it's all been deleted and merged. Now I love the thrill of Russian roulette when I'm looking up a complicated heart condition and seeing whether or not the link is rerouted to a completely unrelated page with a similar name.

One of the many reasons uptodate wins.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:35 PM on May 17


My point is Wikipedia is probably the worst place in the world for an expert to be attempting to publish. It's like having a job where your bosses are actively trying to undermine your existence. And they hate you, because they did a fifteen second search on Google and you're wrong, so get off the internets grandma.

In depressed retrospect, this is actually a fairly good description of an average day for me.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:39 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


also, a lot of interesting historical facts cannot be cited to one primary source, because they emerge from the analysis of data. For instance, I've done anaylses on enclosure which involved looking at different documents, writing down people's names and acreages, and adding them all up to work out overall levels of enclosure as well as average per tenant, etc. The citations for these analyses could be up to 30 documents, and the patterns only
emerge in my database.

Asking a historian to produce all their data sources is like asking a scientist to present photographs of individual rats in a study on rats. You'll find the references in academic publications (buried in the footnotes), but you have to replicate our studies if you want to see the original sources.
posted by jb at 8:42 PM on May 17 [9 favorites]


You're not suppose to cite primary sources on wikipedia either.
posted by ryanrs at 9:00 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Aside from the issues mentioned already about the edit culture, this proposal misses how academic research works. Like jb suggests, good research is at heart citing yourself: I am an expert, i locate this issue in the field thusly, I have looked at he data in this way, and here are my conclusions.

Wikipedia entries are more of a mix of high level summarizing and very granular listing of facts. The purpose is different, and so is the audience.

The better comparison is with dictionary entries, such as critical terms dictionaries, or book reviews. Again, though these go through peer review, it is understood that the person invited to write the entry is an expert in their field; the assertively non-expert culture of Wikipedia seems dissonant with this model.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:01 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


No one is stopping historians from setting up their own Wikipedia like platform to provide a more scholarly take on history with an improved modding culture.
posted by humanfont at 9:23 PM on May 17


Get the unpaid interns to do it...

or students, who will pay for the privilege.
posted by philip-random at 9:40 PM on May 17


No one is stopping historians from setting up their own Wikipedia like platform to provide a more scholarly take on history with an improved modding culture.

They have that already, it's called academic journals. The problem in history isn't getting published, it's getting a job. Writing Wikipedia entries won't help solve that.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:58 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


Counterproposal: I will set up a community on LiveJournal where researchers can publish their papers, AND they won't be subject to "editing" by untrained idiots who think they are authorities on a subject.

My system well give exactly the same benefits, without the interference of Wikipedia editors. What pray tell does Campbell's proposal give except a pathetic attempt to give Wikipedia academic influence?
posted by happyroach at 9:59 PM on May 17


I will do this to get a Ph.D. in anime from all my In Popular Culture additions.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:31 PM on May 17


If i do my job as an academic well, my undergraduate students have both the skill set and the enthusiasm to competently edit and improve wiki entries (in fact, I and others have used this task in the classroom). It's not just about content, either, they learn basic writing skills, structuring arguments, dealing with difficult people, etc, as well as developing an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of wiki and other online sources. It's hugely rewarding and a very effective teaching tool.

Being able to do that is something worth putting on your CV; post-phd claiming 'but I did a wiki entry and it is a good one!!!' is, frankly, a bit pathetic to my ears.
posted by AFII at 1:38 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


"Integrate Wikipedia contributions into the publication requirements for tenure." is the most ignorant thing I've heard today. Publication generally requires original research, which is against one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies.

Tenure is not only granted for research; teaching and service are also factors. Sure, they aren't weighted as heavily, but they do matter. I'd argue that contributing to Wikipedia is closer to service than it is to research - you're translating things from your discipline for the general public by contributing to Wikipedia.

The idea that alternative products in general should be a factor in tenure decisions is pretty radical, but it's not unheard of. See the altmetrics movement - it's all about positioning things like Wikipedia and Twitter and blogging as having at least some value that should be addressed when making promotion and tenure decisions.
posted by k8lin at 2:03 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


The contributor culture there is apparently by and large toxic, territorial and reactionary. Read the talk pages and edit wars, they're tragicomedic epics.
Real scholars don't have time for that shit.


I can only guess you are unfamiliar with the work of reviewer number 2.
posted by srboisvert at 5:30 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


They have that already, it's called academic journals. The problem in history isn't getting published, it's getting a job. Writing Wikipedia entries won't help solve that.

Academic journals are relics of a bygone age. They might as well grant tenue based on 8-track tape releases. Wikipedia might not be the right outlet; but there is a need to modernize how research results are shared. Perhaps podcasts like Dan Harmon or putting more of a focus on contributing to things the public reads like say Wikipedia.
posted by humanfont at 6:11 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


> ... a lot of interesting historical facts cannot be cited to one primary source, because they emerge from the analysis of data. For instance, I've done anaylses on enclosure which involved looking at different documents, writing down people's names and acreages, and adding them all up to work out overall levels of enclosure as well as average per tenant, etc. The citations for these analyses could be up to 30 documents, and the patterns only emerge in my database.

By policy, you can't publish analysis like this on Wikipedia. It's original research based on primary sources. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not an academic journal. However, if you publish analysis like this in an academic journal, you can then summarize it on Wikipedia, and cite the journal article as source.
posted by nangar at 6:25 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]


Academic journals are relics of a bygone age. They might as well grant tenue based on 8-track tape releases. Wikipedia might not be the right outlet; but there is a need to modernize how research results are shared.

Open access to journals is a better solution to that problem than wikipedia. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and requires references. Open access journals are where the research wikipedia cites comes from. No journal articles = no new published data = stagnant encyclopedias.

This is also why wikipedia is a crap academic source except as a starting point for a literature review.

Academic journals have a crapload of problems of their own, but wikipedia is not a solution to those problems.
posted by immlass at 8:29 AM on May 18 [7 favorites]


As an active editor on Wikipedia I generally restrict my time to dealing with vandals, spammers, and POV-pushers. I do occasionally deal with academics who, out of the presumed goodness of their hearts, want to add content in a meaningful way. There are a standard set of problems that come up which I try to deal with sanely.

1. No primary sources. OK, it's not that there cannot ever be any primary sources but that Wikipedia has a very strong preference for reliable secondary sources. Using primary sources requires the editor to make a decision about the validity of the source which is akin to original research. Secondary sources are reporting on things that, ideally, have already been vetted.

This is generally the biggest stumbling block for academics. They are so used to always using primary sources that the thought of using a secondary source probably feels like cheating. The problem really hits hard when someone makes massive changes to an article citing exclusively primary sources. Unfortunately this is a very big red flag. I cannot tell you how many times someone has done just this who was promoting a fringe view (published in disreputable "journals"). It is often very difficult to tell the difference between someone properly using primary sources vs the fringe theorist. This leads to problems.

2. Wikipedia does have its own comprehensive Manual of Style. It differs in some way from every other Style Guide in existence. When people make "simple spelling or grammar corrections" they are often wrong with respect to the MOS. Logical punctuation, using the spelling conventions of a specific country if the subject is strongly tied to that country (eg, US English vs UK English), singular "they" is fine (but not required), either BC/AD or BCE/CE is fine (the only preference being the first one used or a consensus by editors), and so on. Not conforming to the very complex and comprehensive MOS will get an edit reverted.

3. To tie all this together, oftentimes it's when people edit Wikipedia for a class project or as some kind of academic project that feathers really get ruffled. All of a sudden we get tons of edits across a spectrum of articles where the above issues are coming in spades and sifting through all that is difficult. Oftentimes the only realistic solution is mass reverting and trying to help the new editors understand how Wikipedia works and how to craft their contributions in such a way as to conform to the policies and guidelines of Wikipedia. Most active editors have absolutely no problem fixing the odd mistake here and there (a proper citation instead of just mentioning that in such-and-such a book this person said ...) but having to completely rewrite thousands of words and figure out the actual citation for tens or dozens of primary sources is entirely undoable.

I guess my advice is to take the exact same approach as when joining any new community: lurk first and figure out how to contribute usefully before just jumping in blind and expecting everything to work as you think it should.

Now for some general points.

4. I see many posts here claim that "everything gets reverted" or some variation thereof. This is obviously not true. Tens of thousands of good and productive edits are made to Wikipedia every day and are allowed to stand. Many, many edits done in good faith that nevertheless violate a policy or guideline are reverted. Wikipedia has rules (see #2) and editing against those rules can result in an edit being reverted.

5. I have a difficult time believing that people are still trotting out the "don't use Wikipedia as a source for writing an academic paper" chestnut. Of course! In academia one should never ever ever never ever use a general purpose encyclopedia as a source. Period. Ever. Telling people not to do this with Wikipedia as if Wikipedia is special in this regard is, well, it boggles my mind.

6. A few people mentioned forking the project for historians. All I can say is please! The SEP is an amazing encyclopedia for philosophy that is edited entirely by philosophers but generally written in such a way that the lay-person can understand (with some effort). When I have a question about philosophy the SEP is the first place I go and then only to Wikipedia if there is some point I need explained again but perhaps in a different manner (or for more related topics that have not made it into the SEP yet). I would love for something like the SEP to exist for other topics.

As a side note, does anyone know of any other SEP-like projects that exist outside of philosophy?
posted by bfootdav at 8:54 AM on May 18 [11 favorites]


In academia one should never ever ever never ever use a general purpose encyclopedia as a source.

Well, yes, DUH, you shouldn't use Brittanica or Americana or World Book or whatever else is out there either. But nobody is calling for a requirement of contributing to other general purpose encyclopedias (and don't they pay for articles?) as a condition of tenure. The OP link makes that suggestion about providing free labor to wikipedia. Making the point that wikipedia is outside the academic food chain relates to that suggested requirement rather than any chestnut about general encyclopedias vs wikipedia.
posted by immlass at 10:09 AM on May 18


But nobody is calling for a requirement of contributing to other general purpose encyclopedias (and don't they pay for articles?) as a condition of tenure.

From the article "as an incentive, I call on ­administrators to integrate Wikipedia contributions into the publication requirements for tenure."

I did not read this the same way you did especially within the context of the rest of that paragraph. I read it more as a recommendation that administrators find a way to give tenure applicants some credit for significant contributions made to Wikipedia within their field. The idea of making the content of your specialist field accessible to the average person seems like the sort of good community service that an applicant should be rewarded for. In any case, I would agree that it should not be required.

Making the point that wikipedia is outside the academic food chain relates to that suggested requirement rather than any chestnut about general encyclopedias vs wikipedia.

I'm having a difficult time parsing this sentence of yours but if your point is that the chestnut I was complaining about is not what is being stated by people in this thread would this help bolster my statement "This is also why I'll always take Wikipedia with a few grains of salt. It's also the reason why you shouldn't ever use Wikipedia as a source in school papers."? And of course something that you cannot possibly know is that I see that sentiment expressed nearly daily when dealing with problematic editors on Wikipedia so perhaps I am a bit of a quick draw when I see something even close to it expressed yet again.
posted by bfootdav at 10:28 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


non-academic here even if I have an MA (it's in Creative Writing).

Thanks to all in this thread for having this discussion "out loud" as it were, where I can track it. It's informative to say the least and gets me thinking about Wikipedia in a way I haven't much. Because I do like it as a quick go to, as a first stop when it comes to getting informed about something. Most recently, that would be the tracklisting for an obscure prog-rock album, which got me chasing links to other more specific links about it ... and so on.

But what I'm really getting from this discussion is that Wikipedia is, for many in academia, not unlike filesharing for those in music etc. That "thing" which has changed everything forever, and, as with music etc, much as I can sympathize for those affected (the so-called content creators), I can't help but feel that the net change is for the better. Cultural stuff is now more available to more people in more places at less cost than ever before. For lack of a better term, it's a democratization ... and that's my kind of progress.
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I read it more as a recommendation that administrators find a way to give tenure applicants some credit for significant contributions made to Wikipedia within their field. The idea of making the content of your specialist field accessible to the average person seems like the sort of good community service that an applicant should be rewarded for.

I agree that bringing fresh academic research to the public is absolutely a desirable goal. But working academics in history in this thread have said that their current research cannot, by the requirements of wikipedia (citation of secondary sources), be used in wikipedia articles. You're generally not supposed to use primary sources. So wikipedia isn't the right venue for academic historians to present current research, and it's not the place we should be telling historians to put their current work. (Especially since, as you point out, there are cultural issues in play, to put it nicely.)

the chestnut I was complaining about is not what is being stated by people in this thread

The context of wikipedia in academics is a function of the OP link, which is about why academics should contribute to wikipedia. You may, as you suggest, be letting your past experience color your reading of this thread.

It's not like most people use other general-purpose encyclopedias now, either. General web users find information through keyword searches. Wikipedia frequently turns up near the top of the search results, where paywalled encyclopedia articles don't (if they turn up at all). Used to be, you'd get Encarta results, but those are gone now. I see MS stopped publishing it five years ago.

Wikipedia's a vast success, to the point where it's come close to killing all its competitors, and certainly overwhelming them as the go-to resource for anyone doing casual research on a topic. For folks with only baseline web-savvy, it is "encyclopedia" in the same way that I occasionally hear (and wince at) people calling it "wiki". So saying "don't use wikipedia in research" doesn't distinguish it from other encyclopedias, because most people don't use anything else.

(This thread has reminded me to check whether I can use my library web site login to get into any encyclopedias or resources, so if nothing else, I got that out of it.)
posted by immlass at 10:53 AM on May 18


>I agree that bringing fresh academic research to the public is absolutely a desirable goal. But working academics in history in this thread have said that their current research cannot, by the requirements of wikipedia (citation of secondary sources), be used in wikipedia articles. You're generally not supposed to use primary sources.

Again, reading things differently than you. I do not see in the original article suggesting to historians to include their recent research in articles -- which would be problematic as per Wikipedia policies and guidelines -- but just to improve the articles in general following Wikipedia rules. This point is somewhat undermined by the fact that the author inserted numerous primary sources into the article but I marked that up to more about his ignorance of the policies and guidelines than part of a general call for historians to do the same (add primary sources etc.)

If the author wants historians to follow exactly in his footsteps then I would disagree with him. If it's the more general way I interpreted it (secondary sources, etc.) then I think that's a good thing.

The context of wikipedia in academics is a function of the OP link, which is about why academics should contribute to wikipedia. You may, as you suggest, be letting your past experience color your reading of this thread.

Well, I did quote one person from this thread but it's really not worth dwelling on.

For folks with only baseline web-savvy, it is "encyclopedia"

Thanks for that observation as that had not even occurred to me (showing my age a bit, I fear.) So do high schools still have libraries with printed encyclopedias that students use to look things up in? I would have assumed yes but now it comes across rather anachronistic.
posted by bfootdav at 11:09 AM on May 18


you can spend as much time as you want writing and contributing, and then have some basement-dweller ... delete your contribution.

Reddit has (in select sub-topics) created a system that allows the (colorful) tagging of (verified?) experienced researchers in a subject-area. WP really ought to consider such an option and how it might be advantaged.

"The encyclopedia that anyone can edit" has flaws and always will. A LOT of the present content in many disciplines in Wikipedia is barely sketched-out. Tens of thousands of such articles haven't seen substantial betterment in many years ... moreso the farther back in history the topic lies.

If you stay away from controversial topics there's little resistance to the kind of betterment that experienced, thoughtful researchers do best ... such as correcting errors of fact, editing for better clarity, adding essential missing details to existing story-lines. Evolution is a safer path than revolution. And avoid topics with lots of discussion on the Talk pages.
posted by Twang at 11:17 AM on May 18


I've written two comments in this post that are critical of Wikipedia, but I do want to mention one positive thing. Although it was inappropriate to use as a cite for the undergrad papers that I wrote, I was able to use the references cited by the better articles as a starting point for my research. That was really helpful.

The extent of my edits have been correcting mispellings. After getting some of those reverted back to the misspelled word because I apparently stepped on someone's self-claimed turf, I gave up.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:36 AM on May 18


(Those were obviously wrong misspelled words, not anything like American English vs. British English, etc.)
posted by double block and bleed at 11:39 AM on May 18


So do high schools still have libraries with printed encyclopedias that students use to look things up in?

I had a vague memory that Brittanica had quit publishing hardbound volumes, and looking it up, their last was in 2010. But they do have a continuously updated paywalled version (and looks like I can get to it through my public library, along with the OED and a bunch of other Oxford resources. Thanks, APL!).

If it's the more general way I interpreted it (secondary sources, etc.) then I think that's a good thing.

Whereas if it's just secondary sources, that's just an unfunded mandate for tenure-track or tenure-aspiring professors, with all the problematic issues that go with those mandates (cf recent discussions here on the blue of the sort of problems with using documented OSS projects as an evaluation tool for programmers). I'd much rather see current research made publicly available and accessible to the lay reader and casual history buff.

As far as public accessibility of data goes, I'm all for open access mandates for research paid for by the public (e.g., NEH/NSF grants). That doesn't solve wikipedia's problem of bringing it to articles, but it seems like there's a golden opportunity on wikipedia's end to support open access while training contributors to use journal articles that become available through open access to improve wikipedia articles on relevant subjects in all disciplines.
posted by immlass at 11:39 AM on May 18


The extent of my edits have been correcting mispellings. After getting some of those reverted back to the misspelled word because I apparently stepped on someone's self-claimed turf, I gave up.

This might be an impossible request as well as something that might compromise your identity (connecting your Metafilter account with your Wikipedia one) but could you possibly point to one of these examples? I have over 40,000 edits on Wikipedia and cannot recall that ever happening to me. But seeing something like this happening in real life to someone else could be very instructive for a number of reasons.

You could also PM me if there are any privacy concerns.
posted by bfootdav at 11:43 AM on May 18


That doesn't solve wikipedia's problem of bringing it to articles, but it seems like there's a golden opportunity on wikipedia's end to support open access while training contributors to use journal articles that become available through open access to improve wikipedia articles on relevant subjects in all disciplines.

The thing is that I happen to agree with the Wikipedia guideline against primary sources. There is generally very little context supplied in such articles as to whether something is fringe or even if widely accepted has made it through the process of being vetted by experts in the field. Even if this is combined with the "expert" tag as mentioned above I see this causing way more problems that it might solve. Right now Wikipedia operates under a fairly simple idea that no one is trusted while at the same time every one is trusted equally. Creating tiers of trust seems like a recipe for massive conflict of a scale that Eve Online would be jealous of.

I'd much rather see current research made publicly available and accessible to the lay reader and casual history buff.

There's a backburner deep, deep in the unchartered waters of the recesses of my mind to create a Wikipedia-like collection of articles based entirely on open access journal publications. Not necessarily done as a wiki but perhaps using meta-tags and having article authors and/or journal editors provide the glue. It's not a well-worked through idea but I just feel somewhere in all that is something that could be really interesting. For example, how is "racism" defined in academia as opposed to the vernacular? There is a difference and I can tell you that difference and even point you to good sources but having an online encyclopedia of open access journal papers that show that use in action would be really cool. Or like what's up with Theory? Instead of just reading the Wikipedia article why not have a nicely curated selection of open access journal articles that show us Theory in operation. Etc.
posted by bfootdav at 11:59 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


The thing is that I happen to agree with the Wikipedia guideline against primary sources. There is generally very little context supplied in such articles as to whether something is fringe or even if widely accepted has made it through the process of being vetted by experts in the field.

Open access journals can and should be as thoroughly peer-reviewed and vetted as any other academic journals published by Reed Elsevier or one of its competitors. They're open access because they're not behind a paywall, i.e., they are openly accessible. And freely available academic material on the web is exactly what wikipedia needs as citable resources for updated articles on scholarly topics.

Open access is a hot topic in academic publishing and one that wikipedia editors could benefit learning about and applying pressure to various institutions (as constituents asking for legislation, as university alumni pressing for their alma mater to publish research in open access journals, etc.) over.

And I really like your idea of explaining academic usage (jargon isn't exactly right) with source citations. $DEITY knows we need a better way of discussing the definition of racism than citing the dictionary.
posted by immlass at 1:22 PM on May 18


As you can imagine, what constitutes a "reliable source" on Wikipedia can be a contentious issue. Self-published books generally are not considered so, unless, you know, exceptions. Adding open access journals (or journals that are free to read) just adds another layer. Yes, some are obvious, (Nature, etc.) but there are tons of journals out there that lie on the fringe or are fully immersed therein. It might be possible to craft some good guidelines for determining whether a particular journal is reliable but it will be difficult to achieve that consensus, I suspect.

The other problem with primary sources is that they are not summaries. Requiring editors to summarize a primary source is often fraught with the potential for original research. Summarizing a summary from a secondary source is usually, relatively speaking, much easier. It's just a matter of rewriting select summary passages in order to avoid copyright infringements. Not saying it can't be done with a journal article but it is trickier and requires the kind of expert knowledge that can lead to accurate charges of original research.

And I really like your idea of explaining academic usage (jargon isn't exactly right) with source citations.

I recently got into a debate on reddit where I used a more academic definition of "racism" and was called out for it by someone using dictionary.com or something similar. It became tedious.
posted by bfootdav at 1:36 PM on May 18


The complaints about the problems participating in Wikipedia sound like things that could be resolved with simple training. This seems to me to be gap in how we train and assess historians working in the university setting. The emphasis on publishing original research in academic journals over publications that help broaden public understanding of the research is not good. Understanding how to write for and participate in Wikipedia will be good for historians.
posted by humanfont at 5:10 PM on May 18


My academic credentials are the equivalent of standing in the ocean up to my knees or so, BA and MA in history, but for a while I did get quite active in Wikipedia and never had much problems either creating new articles (maybe a fourth or so of the articles relating to the US Capitol building - spurred by the time I worked as a tour guide there) or adding to older articles. One of the best strategies I discovered was to develop an article on a new topic and to do my best to have great citations, illustrations (if possible), and then publish it. It's hard to get in a turf war when you're the one laying out the sod, so to speak.

The biggest problems I found with historic subjects was editing based on political/philosophical perspectives, and then, it seemed a lot to be built on matters around Communism/Conservatism.

I hardly edit or create anymore, but it's not because I was driven insane by editors making mind boggling changes or edits (So there was this one thing about a photograph of a tombstone in Arlington Cemetery with a frieze type replication in bronze of a famous monument which some people freaked out was infringing on copyright..but that was an isolated thing!). I got interested in other things and once in a blue moon or so I log in, look at my Watchlist and then go back to what I was doing. I agree that the site could benefit from more academics, and even more strongly agree that they should take a little time to lurk and understand how things operate.
posted by Atreides at 6:43 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]


dilaudid: "Integrate Wikipedia contributions into the publication requirements for tenure." is the most ignorant thing I've heard today. Publication generally requires original research, which is against one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies.

Then try listening to your own post, for a topper.

"It's one of the most ingrained Wikipedia philosophies" is a piss-poor reason to never change it.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:48 AM on May 19


Page views for Panic of 1837. Whatever negative things people say about Wikipedia, more people clicked on the Panic of 1837 in 24 hours than many books will sell in their entire lifetime. Experts who ignore Wikipedia do so to a fault. As Humanfront said above, most problems people have on Wikipedia can be fixed with training and experience. Wikipedia is not so simple to master, but does offer non-monetary rewards (the FPP author said "in your spare time").
posted by stbalbach at 1:02 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


« Older Rain falls on the now vacant Pontiac Silverdome, o...  |  As discussed previously on the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments