Wikipedia's ongoing diversity problem
April 28, 2019 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Wikipedia’s Refusal to Profile a Black Female Scientist Shows Its Diversity Problem You’ve probably never heard of Clarice Phelps. If you were curious, you might enter her name into Google. And, if you had done so anytime between September of last year and February of this year, you would likely have found her Wikipedia entry. The nuclear scientist is thought to be the first black woman to help discover a chemical element; she was part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory team that purified the radioactive sample of berkelium-249 from which the new element, tennessine, was created. But on Feb. 11, in the middle of Black History Month and on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Phelps’ page was deleted. The optics, as they say, weren’t good.

it came as a surprise when, on Feb. 1, Wikipedia moderators bypassed the step of calling to improve Phelps’ page and instead went directly to recommending it for deletion.

The decision set off a heated debate. I copied the full discussion into a document; it fills 18 pages and runs more than 16,000 words. “Put up or shut up,” one contributor told multiple users in a bid to preserve the article. “Delete, as subject is not yet notable. … Wikipedia is not here to pursue social justice,” sniffed another contributor who wanted the page to come down. Although substantive points were raised by both sides, the tone of the debate was likely off-putting to all but the most dedicated Wikipedians.

Advocates scrambled to save the entry. Phelps’ page accumulated more than one dozen links to references documenting her scholarly contributions and work. But on Feb. 11, little more than a week after it was first flagged, the page was removed.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (109 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Has anyone gone through everyone with a similar CV and recommended them for deletion as well, with the sole comment being 'less notable than Clarice Phelps'? I'm not a Wikipedia mod or I might do it myself.
posted by PennD at 11:52 AM on April 28 [29 favorites]


Yeah, this is what happens when you build a centralized information repository. Wikipedia makes itself out to be objective and neutral because of its crowdsourcing, but of course it's only as "objective" or "neutral" as the crowd itself, which means it's great for upholding the status quo as much as possible. Because Wikipedia has been positioned as the internet encyclopedia, these kinds of decisions have greater weight than they might have if it were only one of many such sources.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:55 AM on April 28 [38 favorites]


Just yesterday I was talking with someone who had never heard of the "spherical cow" joke. Sure enough, Wikipedia has an entry on it. Physics joke wins Wikipedia notability battle over actual physicist.
posted by clawsoon at 11:56 AM on April 28 [20 favorites]


Kanan Jarrus is "notable" by wikipedia standards.
posted by srboisvert at 11:59 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


Clarice_E._Phelps: "the main title Clarice Phelps is even protected per WP:SALT to prevent further recreations"

Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Clarice Phelps (2nd nomination), in which someone writes "Speedy delete Per G4, and whack the recreator with a wet trout."

What a garbage fire of a "community" Wikipedia is.
posted by zachlipton at 1:26 PM on April 28 [26 favorites]


Oh, hell. Just keep hitting Random Article and you'll be treated to unending entries for people faaaaaaaar less notable than Phelps. This was an indefensible move.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:26 PM on April 28 [14 favorites]


I've long thought the "notability" requirement in WP was kinda dumb — I get it in theory, so there's not, I don't know, 50,000,000 pages of garage bands who've had maybe one practice that ended in tears and rage — but it's rare to see an example of an article deleted for "notability" for a person who is LEGIT ACTUALLY FUCKING NOTABLE.

Ugggggh. I love Wikipedia, but I hate the fucking mods.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:35 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


This is the main reason (these days) I refuse to give the wikimedia foundation money despite looking stuff up on wikipedia all the time.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:44 PM on April 28 [23 favorites]


This sort of stuff is why I ran, not walked, away from contributing to Wikipedia years ago. The power of rules lawyers with axes to grind to mobilize the community's horrible quirks is insane.
posted by traveler_ at 1:49 PM on April 28 [12 favorites]


(P.S. out of curiosity I just went and checked "random article". The very first article I visited has been flagged for problems, including notability, for six years but it somehow survives!
posted by traveler_ at 1:53 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]


Here is a Oak Ridge video interview with her, same title as this longer print article.
As to notability, she does not have a doctorate or seem to have peer review publications (that I can find), which is how most academics are judged. On the other hand she is list as program manager for two isotope projects, and we can see her working in a hot cell in the video.
posted by 445supermag at 2:18 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]




The point is that there are male scientists with just as few references who are deemed worthy of a page, not to mention that because of he intersection of racism and sexism of course there are less references to Phelps. But even when various wiki-people found references for her somehow her page was still worthy of deletion when a quick click on random page will bring up people far less worthy of note who somehow still get pages. Also note the reasons for deleting the page cited by some of the editors, citing that Wikipedia is somehow against “social justice” as a reason to delete the page puts a black scientist in the “social justice” category rather than the “scientist” category and that to me would be a very good reason to fire or ban that editor for some pretty egregious bias.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:43 PM on April 28 [47 favorites]


Yeah the problem is in order to establish notability Wikipedia cannot be essentially citing itself. A tertiary source needs journalistic secondary sources.

The twist, though, is that neutral rules aren't neutral. This is how structural discrimination/bias works, by passively not having to change and lets Wikipedia off the hook in terms of its ethics and its social justice. They didn't have to delete the page; they could have left it on with a clear note and so forth.

Don't be fooled by the ignorant mod comments; Wikipedia is performing social justice. Or more precisely, injustice.
posted by polymodus at 2:46 PM on April 28 [35 favorites]


As long as WIkipedia hosts independent biographies of fictional goddamned characters, they should stop deleting real people's bios for non-notability. You can get 10,000 word articles on minor comic book characters, but a black female scientist gets deleted?

Bull-fucking-shit.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:48 PM on April 28 [61 favorites]


I remember way, way, back when Wikipedia was first having the argument over whether it should include everything or just "notable" things, I was firmly on the include everything side of the discussion.

Storage space is cheap, including everything doesn't hurt anything, and any sort of noteworthiness standards can and will be abused by people with agendas.

I was right.
posted by sotonohito at 2:50 PM on April 28 [43 favorites]


The important thing here isn't just that Wikipedia makes arbitrary deletion decisions; it's that it appears to have a systemic problem with particularly singling out women and African Americans for deletion on non-notability.

The version of this I encountered was about a year ago with Betty Gabriel, the actress. Her page was deleted in March 2017, this is after her huge role in the movie Get Out. The deletionists said it was because she'd been in only the one movie (which it turns out is not even an exclusive rule). So folks pointed out she'd also been in The Purge:Election Year. So the deletionists said that role didn't count because it was not significant enough. No one got around to mention the TV series, or the series of lesser known films, all listed on IMDB. Her page erased, the only traces of it found in obscure metadocumentation pages buried if you know where to find them.

It sure felt like her dismissal could be related to her being a Black woman.

Metafilter to the rescue! Jessamyn agreed it was "irritating as hell" there was no article and got a good enough start of a new page there that it's managed to stick. Partly because she used her super librarian powers to give the article lots of citations, partly because Gabriel by then had landed more roles.

But this all took so much effort and emotional investment. All to give a famous, recognize-on-slight actress a fucking reference page. It's outrageous.
posted by Nelson at 2:50 PM on April 28 [61 favorites]


I’m interested to know when Wikipedia’s innate bias will finally get public attention. As the closest the internet gets to common knowledge, the bias shown in many of the articles is horrendous. The idea is that articles are crowd sourced and there’s a degree of oversight and editorial judgement on behalf of editors, but it’s so unreal to be laughable.
posted by Middlemarch at 2:54 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


I read that AfD page, and ugh, people are condescending pricks. The popular view of Wikipedia is that "anyone can edit it!" but the reality of who "anyone" is doesn't necessarily line up with actual demographics, as the article points out. So you get a bunch of mostly white nerdy guys making decisions about these things, and getting huffy when people disagree with their totally neutral and unbiased opinions as experienced contributors. None of this is obvious from the outside, and the end result is the control of information in the hands of a pretty small and disproportionate group, all with the pedigree of "open" and "democratic" truthfulness.

Every so often I see a little blip on the internet about how gee, it sort of seems like this famous person's page was written by a PR person. Still, nothing ever changes because Wikipedia has been a household name for such a long time, and most people don't pay close attention.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:57 PM on April 28 [13 favorites]


I get it in theory, so there's not, I don't know, 50,000,000 pages of garage bands who've had maybe one practice that ended in tears and rage

The thing is, I don't even get the theory. Is there that meaningful a difference between "this Wikipedia page exists but only one human being has ever bothered to look at it" and "this Wikipedia page does not exist" for anybody besides that one person? It's a trivial amount of data storage and essentially no bandwidth since nobody will ever look at the page. The problem of something "not being notable enough" seems self-correcting - if things aren't notable then nobody goes to the page and it doesn't matter that the page exists. The reverse is also be true; if someone cares enough to create a Wikipedia page on a subject then clearly that subject is notable to someone.

Notability requirements have been undermining Wikipedia since day 1. It's been the cudgel that established Wikipedia editors have used to drive away literally legions of would-be Wikipedia editors who find out that their personal pet hobbyhorse isn't "notable" enough and that's led to an ever-more-insular community of editors and mods; no surprise that the same flaw results in the systemic biases of those editors and mods becoming more and more glaringly obvious.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:00 PM on April 28 [32 favorites]


Mika McKinnon went thought this just this week. her page got to stay but I don't see any actual changes that made it more notable. it really does seem like it depends what editors get to an article and build 'consensus'
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 3:20 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


The only conceivable reason I can think of for the “notability” requirement is that if something is uninteresting enough, presumably it wouldn’t get enough moderator attention to correct errors. But since the moderators are actually the worst part, that sounds like a feature. Okay, it’s just dumb.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 3:21 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


Delete, as subject is not yet notable.

Are they almost out of pixels over there?
posted by ctmf at 4:14 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]


As long as WIkipedia hosts independent biographies of fictional goddamned characters, they should stop deleting real people's bios for non-notability.

Wikipedia seems to take it as a great institutional affront to be used for self-promotion, and as such it's harsher on notability for living people than for almost anything else. I'm sympathetic to the principle behind that (it's one of the most obvious categories of bad-faith contributions) but it also leads to some perverse outcomes - at one point in the discussion of this article a user suggested that Phelps might become notable at some point in the future when there was an obituary to establish her as such retrospectively!
posted by atoxyl at 4:25 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]


mstokes650: The thing is, I don't even get the theory.

TBH, I would much rather have the 50,000,000 one-practice-band pages too — I was just trying to make a good-faith effort for understanding the notability requirement.

But seriously — I agree, if a page is useful for one person, that's fine enough by me.

(I also think it's hilarious/dumb that they will call press release stuff out for being 'copy/pasted' even though that's like THE ENTIRE PURPOSE OF A PRESS RELEASE. Admittedly, press releases aren't the best source, obviously, but for stuff that's straight-up facts without the spin? It's FINE.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 5:07 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia is a tremendous resource but it is also just the absolute worst
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:12 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]


Wikipedia seems to take it as a great institutional affront to be used for self-promotion, and as such it's harsher on notability for living people than for almost anything else.

Which is a bullshit rationalization. The core problem is that Wikipedia, thanks to Jimbo himself, views deletion as a common and legitimate practice, rather than a rarely used last resort.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:14 PM on April 28 [8 favorites]


The principles behind setting a bar for inclusion of biographies make sense to me, to be honest - there's plenty of history of questionable contributions in that category. Thing is they don't seem to put half as much effort into dealing with e.g. paid editors doing P.R. on behalf of established "notables" (as covered in another article recently posted here) - which is probably a more serious problem than lesser-known individuals manipulating the site for self-promotion.
posted by atoxyl at 6:29 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


The only conceivable reason I can think of for the “notability” requirement is that if something is uninteresting enough, presumably it wouldn’t get enough moderator attention to correct errors.

As far as I can tell Notability is implied by No Original Research and Verifiability. I'm not sure why it's its own rule, because they impose the same requirement: the facts on a page need to come from other cite-able works.
posted by Jpfed at 7:28 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


MetaPedia: Don't be fooled by the ignorant mod comments
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:27 PM on April 28


Last year a similar thing happened to the original Wikipedia page for Canadian physicist Donna Strickland just four months before she won the Nobel Prize.

Female Nobel prize winner deemed not important enough for Wikipedia entry [The Guardian - Oct 3rd 2018]
Donna Strickland had no Wikipedia page before her Nobel. Her male collaborator did. [Vox - Oct 3rd 2018]

Discussed previously:

Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland & physics' problems with sexism [Metafilter - Oct 4th 2018]
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:29 PM on April 28 [32 favorites]


Is there that meaningful a difference between "this Wikipedia page exists but only one human being has ever bothered to look at it" and "this Wikipedia page does not exist" for anybody besides that one person?

Pages don't exist in isolation, removing the notability requirements could results in pages like this for example:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_jam_bands
becoming effectively useless due to length. All pages are also theoretically supposed to be peer-checked for quality and accuracy, etc., by others and not just exist as one person's blog post.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 8:40 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]


Yeah, so...I know a lot of people with Wikipedia pages who are far less important to society, and I think the problem here lies in the intersection of two things:

1) It is right and just that Wikipedia not be for original research, self-promotion links, etc, or it will be fucking unusable

2) If you are a woman on the Internet, god forbid a woman of color on the Internet, your notability and everything else will be brigaded until the cows come home.

Like the problem here seems to be that lots of shitty dude pages will stay because no one cares to weed out shitty dude pages, but everyone who annoys fucking 8chan will get killed. And that’s not exactly a Wikipedia editing problem so much as “what do we do with these shitty Internet brigades” problem.
posted by corb at 8:57 PM on April 28 [26 favorites]


One of the most deeply annoying things about this whole thing is that Wikipedia, like other places, wants to claim that it makes its decisions from a place of calm, rational, objective neutrality and thus can't be criticized--and in fact, anyone who dares to criticize must just be "crusading for social justice" or some such fucking bullshit. But the thinnest skinned, least rational people are exactly the ones who belong to the brigades that corb is referring to--and it's definitely something Wikipedia needs to acknowledge and do something about, because it's yet another good idea that has become soiled because of its tolerance of, nay encouragement of sexist dudes with a superiority complex. I swear I just can't even anymore with this world.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:59 PM on April 28 [11 favorites]


And that’s not exactly a Wikipedia editing problem so much as “what do we do with these shitty Internet brigades” problem.

I think it is more of a wiki editor problem, though? I'm not one hundred percent sure on the full mechanics of deletion but I'm pretty sure the deletion and lock decisions were made by registered and well-established editors. The link made reference to anonymous flags as a problem but I didn't quite get that part because it seemed more like a problem of insularity than a problem of openness. The author of the article used social media to try to get people to engage with a project of adding and improving articles for underrepresented figures and several of the dedicated wiki people took this as an attack. I'm sure there are problems with anonymity on Wikipedia, too, but from what I've seen the greatest barrier to participation there by far is the need to familiarize oneself with rules and bureaucratic processes and to be willing to deal with territorial insiders.
posted by atoxyl at 11:38 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Shit, I'm just barely south of Wikipedia criteria for inclusion and all I've done is talk about beer. What the hell does is cost (in physical terms - fuck the psychic) for her inclusion? Pennies? Less than? Shut up, gate keepers - history is a complex, weird world and we need to acknowledge it.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:11 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I think it is more of a wiki editor problem, though? I'm not one hundred percent sure on the full mechanics of deletion but I'm pretty sure the deletion and lock decisions were made by registered and well-established editors.

Again, the core problem is that Wikipedia, for a number of reasons, views culling as a vital activity, not a last resort. The positive view of deletion comes down from leadership (again, it was set by Jimbo Wales himself) and permeates how Wikipedia operates - from technical decisions (like allowing anonymous users to flag articles for deletion) to the organization's social conditioning regarding deletion.

What I find amazing is that this particular blind spot continues to exist. Again, this is far from the first time that this has cropped up, and after stepping on one's own feet over and over, you'd think that they would rethink these policies. But no, they continue to set themselves up for failure yet again, confident in their own "integrity".

It's stuff like this that makes me say that Wikipedia succeeded in spite of itself.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:19 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


I sent a note to Wikimedia reiterating that their idealistic, hands-off approach to white male supremacy was the primary reason I stopped donating money over ten years ago and that, seeing that it was still a problem, would now begin to actively discourage people from donating. I included the link to Jess Wade's post on the subject.

I got back a nice form letter telling me, first, that Wikimedia makes no editorial decisions on Wikipedia. Then it went on to list some of the things that Wikimedia has done over the years to improve gender balance, including a link to the work of Jess Wade without any hint of irony.

Please don't donate to Wikimedia.
posted by Revvy at 7:22 AM on April 29 [11 favorites]


I am not a WP contributor and am frustrated by situations like this, but these kinds of filtering problems are legitimately difficult and it's not surprising that Wikipedia struggles with them. Wikipedia presents itself as a source of public good. The problem is not articles about garage bands and Pokemon characters. The problem is that without restrictions such as the notability requirement, Wikipedia would be underwater with articles engineered by ethno-nationalists and racist pseudo-scientists, crank physicists, snake-oil peddlers, and sundry people "full of passionate intensity" who would destroy its value as a public good. Wikipedia's way of responding to criticism of this sort is frustrating, sometimes opaque, and not robust -- but on the other hand, major social media giants with deep pockets to pay for AI and human moderators also struggle to respond to this kind of problem. We are living through the dark night of "here comes everybody".
posted by Seaweed Shark at 8:14 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I created the second version of the page for Kirsten Gillibrand and first-hand experienced how messy the process is. I stopped contributing after that.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:15 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]




Is there some source of current data on the demographics of Wikipedia's leading editors? I see lots of studies from 2010 and 2013 that show it's overwhelmingly male (like 85%). But nothing recent and nothing on race or economic status of the editors.
posted by Nelson at 8:31 AM on April 29


The problem is that without restrictions such as the notability requirement, Wikipedia would be underwater with articles engineered by ethno-nationalists and racist pseudo-scientists, crank physicists, snake-oil peddlers, and sundry people "full of passionate intensity" who would destroy its value as a public good.

All those people are there already - and too often, they're in positions of control. This is not, as you say, a "filtering" problem except in the most basic of senses. What this is - is a problem of bias. When the bar for notability is much higher for minorities, that's a problem, and one that needs to be rectified.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:33 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the deletion and lock decisions were made by registered and well-established editors.

Right, the enforcement of the rule comes from established people, but how this usually happens is that random people report the page or suggest it may not meet notability requirements, and then those established editors come in. So if random people don’t report the page because it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t get eyes on it, so it doesn’t get deleted.
posted by corb at 8:48 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia is a tremendous resource but it is also just the absolute worst

It's the worst other than literally any of the other alternatives that have been tried. And it's not as if no one has tried wikis that include everything (Everything, Everipedia) or encyclopaedias of experts (Citizendium) or encyclopaedias with explicit political slants (Conservapedia). None of them come close to Wikipedia.

Fundamentally one of Wikipedia's core problems is that even senior Wikipedians don't have a clue what an online encyclopaedia is meant to be. When Wikipedia started there was an obvious target - Britannica. I won't say Britannica (even the 1912) was as good as a dead tree encyclopaedia could get, but it was close. But it was space-limited of course, and so limited itself to a small subset of what was out there. Wikipedia set its sights much more broadly, and decided that everything that could demonstrate multiple (i.e. two) substantial (i.e. a few paragraphs) pieces of coverage in independent reliable sources would cast the net much wider than Britannica without opening the door for every piece of fancruft. But Wikipedia overtook Britannica somewhere in the mid 00s and has been left wondering where it is going ever since.

It does know that it is only intended as a tertiary source and No Original Research is one of the Wikipeda rules - which means everything should ideally be sources. And that as an encyclopedia it is not where you go in general to discover things for the first time (although Wikiwalks are fun) but where when you find something you don't know about you go to look it up and find out where to dig more deeply. There's also always the risk of Citogenesis which is something people try to avoid (and its reverse where people put something in the press, get it onto Wikipedia, and then in future use Wikipedia to substantiate it).

In this case there is also the specific notability shortcut for notability of academics - and it's a sad reflection on the state of the media and academia that she doesn't qualify either there or in the media. A note to the Slate writer if they are reading this, notability is not inherited. The attempt to provide three paragraphs at the end was almost perfect - but they should be about her and the more ardent deletionists could argue that it only provides information about the one event and subjects only notable for one event/BLP1E get the subject rolled up into the event they are notable for. Is she just relevant for this one thing or is there more to her?

I also don't understand some of the deletionists; I've just commented in wikipedia's AFD that someone who has been the mayor of a town for 40 years (literally) is of course notable and someone else who was mayor for 27 years but died in the mid 80s will also be notable from his obituaries alone. (You don't need to actually provide the sources - it's merely necessary to have them overwhelmingly likely to exist to show notability; this matters quite a lot for articles on events pre-web). Culls of random dude pages do exist (and are probably the single largest type of page to get deleted).

And yes, Wikipedia should do better. But how would people recommend changing it? Allow original research? Lower the bar so everything is allowed? Put a thumb on the scales of justice?
posted by Francis at 9:21 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


All those people are there already - and too often, they're in positions of control. This is not, as you say, a "filtering" problem except in the most basic of senses. What this is - is a problem of bias. When the bar for notability is much higher for minorities, that's a problem, and one that needs to be rectified.

I disagree that the bar to notability for minorities is much higher. But to quote Anatole France "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread".

The problem is, as corb points out, that literally anyone with some very basic knowledge, can nominate a page for deletion but, because it's a faff and most people want a bigger not a smaller Wikipedia, most of the people that do nominate pages are either cranky people or people with bones to pick. There are a lot of pages on Wikipedia that wouldn't pass an AfD discussion but that no one has been bothered to submit for testing. Whereas we all know there are people who will consider it a productive use of their time to see pages for women or for non-white people actually tested against the notability threshold.

And the answer to that is one I'm really not sure of; forcing everything to go through Articles for Creation would just choke the whole of Wikipedia. And this and in the way things are chosen to note outside Wikipedia is where the bias lies.
posted by Francis at 9:34 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


@drewbage1847, that was my first thought, too. I figure just about anything someone has taken the time to write up is worth keeping. ("All knowledge is worth having.") The effective cost has to be pretty close to zero.

Back of the napkin math tells me, for example, that if each US citizen had a 1000-word text article about themself, the total required space would come in well under 2TB.

Now, I can buy 2TB for my PC for around $60. For business purposes—storage redundancy, backup maintenance, etc.—let's call that $600. Throw in traffic—I can count on the fingers of one finger the number of folks likely to visit the hypothetical phrits page even twice—and whatever other overhead there is: $1000.

Budget dust. I don't understand why they ever delete anything that's not simply bogus.
posted by phrits at 9:50 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


There is a principled argument for deletionism that isn't "I don't want articles about Black women". I don't agree with it but it's not entirely dumb. The concern is that articles on frivolous topics tend to be worse articles. Badly edited, poorly sourced, seldom read or reviewed. That they degrade the project as a whole. Also even though bits are cheap there's still cost to keeping articles around; occasional edits required as formats change etc.

Personally what I'd like to see is a hierarchy of Wikipedia articles, at least for English Wikipedia. Tag articles as one of three levels: "important", "normal", and "inclusive". (Imagine more levels as you wish, I think three is the minimum.) That lets frivolous articles stay in Wikipedia but with a clear second class status.

It'd also allow a sensible Wikipedia excerpt. This is an important problem! I've been loading copies of "all of Wikipedia" on my mobile phones for years now. (A fantastic thing to have when travelling.) But the size of Wikipedia has been getting bigger and bigger and even a 128GB phone strains to hold it all now. The best of the offline readers, Kiwix, just gives up and offers all of English Wikipedia as the download. Your choice: 35GB text only, 79GB with pictures.

There's a bunch of crappy "top 1000 articles from Wikipedia" subsets on the market that are useless. There was also the Wikipedia 1.0 effort which tried to make a subset suitable for printing, but that stalled out years ago. I think some folks have tried ranking articles by pageviews but that produces some problematic results.

I think Wikipedia would benefit from some sort of article status more subtle than "include / delete".
posted by Nelson at 10:42 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Allow original research?

Nobody is asking for that, and whenever it's brought up it feels like an attempt to reframe the real problem as a different one.

Lower the bar so everything is allowed?

Maybe yes, maybe no? Maybe try having more than just a "Yes/No" for inclusion? As mentioned, why not gradations? Why not something like:

- Tier 1: highly vetted, highly sourced, also highly controlled for edits
- Tier 2: vetted and sourced but with some issues noted
- Tier 3: un-vetted

And then make it real clear what's what via theming, etc? You could even do simple things like disallow links from Tier 1 to Tier 3 (which prevents some of the oft cited potential problems like "this list of jam bands is now too long because it includes every random band in existence").

A system that's less dogmatic and allows for shades of grey would mean that a debate isn't about "existence/non-existence" but "how good is this actually?", and also removes a lot of the impetus for acts of bad faith since even if they succeed the worst they can do is get something demoted temporarily.

Put a thumb on the scales of justice?

Yes, obviously. Why wouldn't we?
posted by tocts at 10:58 AM on April 29 [10 favorites]


And yes, Wikipedia should do better. But how would people recommend changing it?

For me, step one is cleaning house at Wikimedia - a lot of the problems stem from poor leadership up top. Can Wales and the Wikimedia leadership, because it's become abundantly clear that they aren't up to the task. Step two is reorganizing the rules of Wikipedia - there's a reason they're described as Byzantine, and that only serves the rule lawyers. At the front of this is changing the positive treatment of deletion - this has been the heart of the problem, and making deletion harder would fix a good part of the problem. Anonymous people shouldn't be allowed to flag for deletion or noteworthiness.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:08 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


That lets frivolous articles stay in Wikipedia but with a clear second class status.

You mean like how we have a "list of notable authors" page and a "list of notable female authors" page now? This is always the problem with second class status.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:11 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


I do not use Wikipedia except if I need a summary of a plotline of some pop culture artefact that I have no interest in actually engaging with.

My contempt for the site for any technical matters is immeasurable as typically the opening paragraph of the entry will be pretty much an unacknowledged copy of the opening paragraph of a relevant Britannica article. I get the screaming irrits with plagiarism and the only decent quality technical material seems to comprise ONLY plagiarism.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 7:03 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Maybe yes, maybe no? Maybe try having more than just a "Yes/No" for inclusion? As mentioned, why not gradations? Why not something like:

- Tier 1: highly vetted, highly sourced, also highly controlled for edits
- Tier 2: vetted and sourced but with some issues noted
- Tier 3: un-vetted


Already exists. What you are asking for is for "Unvetted where there is no expectation of even being able to produce independent reliable sources" as a Tier 4. If you look at the top right hand corner of Wikipedia pages you see stars for tier 1 and plusses for tier 2 (featured articles and good articles) - and then there's an ABC below that.

Let me repeat that the only thing that should get an article deleted off Wikipedia under the current conditions is that there is no credible expectation that there is more than one independent and reliable source that covers the subject in any depth. So what you are asking for is literally "Tier 4: impossible to bring up to tier 2 standard and we know it because external independent reliable sources simply do not exist but we don't want to delete."

You can not say something has been vetted without the possibility of it failing the vetting.

Yes, obviously. Why wouldn't we [put a thumb on the scales of justice]?

Because you aren't the only people with thumbs - and there are people with thumbs in fields where they are literally shooting each other. Israel/Palestine, India/Pakistan. The Balkans (which is, amazingly, no longer under discretionary sanctions). This doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't put a thumb on the scales of justice - but asking why we wouldn't worries me. Imagine if e.g. Gamergate had been able to put their own thumb on the scales.

For me, step one is cleaning house at Wikimedia

For me to expect this to be other than a disaster you would have to produce a group that you think could do better. I'd be interested to see where you get it from. Because as things stand in 2019, and as things have stood ever since Wikipedia was founded, anyone can make a fork of Wikipedia - the whole thing is under a CC-SA licence and the ability to create a fork is a feature.

Please. Bring it on. I for one will be delighted if you succeed. So will just about everyone up to and including Jimbo Wales if there's anything that can be shown to work as well as Wikipedia or any leadership team that can really manage the thing well.

My contempt for the site for any technical matters is immeasurable as typically the opening paragraph of the entry will be pretty much an unacknowledged copy of the opening paragraph of a relevant Britannica article.

If you find copyrighted material from any Britannica that is not in the public domain (the 1911 is public domain) please report it. Wikipedia takes copyright violations seriously. If you find material incorporated from the 1911 Britannica that is not properly attributed please report that - the 1911 was taken from the public domain and attribution was given - and then they decided to give clearer attributions because people missed the first method.
posted by Francis at 1:54 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


I found the discussion at this nomination for deletion which I stumbled on, to be an interesting countrast to the discussion on this article. I kind of want someone to do a survey of all nomination for deletion talk pages, to see if there's patterns about how different groups of people get discussed.
posted by Cozybee at 2:33 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


The Wikipedia Articles for Deletion process may have worked in the early days, but once the project hit a certain critical mass, it became increasingly obsolete and the fact that that it even exists today is ludicruous. They may think they're valiantly shepherding 5.8 million articles through a daily process of a couple of hundred debates max, but, I mean, think about that for a second.

From both practical and legal (Creative Commons compilance across wikis) viewpoint, Wikipedia should have fixed this mess through technical means. The current process is a papering-over of a technical limitation, nothing more.

Deleted revisions are kept in database, there was just some vague babble about them not being guaranteed to be in database dumps. Which, mind you, Wikipedia has struggled to produce anyway. And if Wikipedia ever needs to completely restore itself from backup, then clearly, something has gone horribly wrong and data consistency is going to be a problem anyway - the backend tools for MediaWiki are not very good at all.

Bottom line is this: Deletion doesn't save disk space or computing resources. Deletion isn't even deletion. It's a hack around MediaWiki's limitations on what is and what isn't shown to the public. It's a way to hide article revisions from non-admins. And admins aren't the arbitrators of quality as such, that's supposed to be everyone's responsibility. How are people supposed to assess the quality of earlier revisions if they're not available to them?

Instead of focusing on "deletion", Wikimedia Foundation's MediaWiki developers should have implemented better controls to track the quality of articles, and just let people decide which quality level are they interested of. If the article is unsourced (which is what "not notable" is supposed to mean), maybe not show it to casual users by default. If there are people who have reviewed that certain sources are legit, then make it visible.

But of course, MediaWiki is only the top dog open source wiki engine because the competition is even worse, and every time a major extensions has been rolled out to English Wikipedia, there's been technical issues, user resistance, or both.

I personally don't see any point in current form of deletion unless it's clearly something that was of low quality and that could be effortlessly recreated as a short, legitimate, minimally sourced article. If writing about a person or an organisation or a company, legit article authors are not interested in a copypasted spam article that would need to be completely rewritten anyway. Deleting an article that people are clearly interested in fixing in one way or another is just there to annoy those editors through wikilawyering.
posted by wwwwolf at 3:09 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Imagine if e.g. Gamergate had been able to put their own thumb on the scales.

That you think this is only a theoretical concern as opposed to literally what's happening when articles about historically marginalized groups seem to for some reason come under increased scrutiny within unevenly applied policies speaks volumes.

I may have been a bit flippant when responding "yes", but only because your comment was a classic laundry list of concerns leading to a "well I guess that means we can't do anything" conclusion. So yes: no shit, it's not always simple in implementation, but nonetheless: yes, Wikipedia should be taking steps specifically to improve representation of historically marginalized groups, even if it means having lower standards for them or much higher standards for deletion, because that's how you fight against longstanding systemic bias.
posted by tocts at 5:38 AM on April 30 [13 favorites]


For me to expect this to be other than a disaster you would have to produce a group that you think could do better. I'd be interested to see where you get it from.

Well, I'll give you one name - Larry Sanger, creator of Citizendium - and one of the co-founders of Wikipedia whom Wales pushed out - but even then, the demand to provide names is a form of bad faith argumentation. Wales has been a boat anchor around the neck of Wikipedia, and has created a toxic culture there, of which the events this thread is discussing has been the most recent evidence of. Arguing that he should be retained because "he's the best we can do" ignores the argument of his poor leadership, and smacks of the "rockstar" mentality in tech that has people turning a blind eye to abuse and poor leadership.

As for your comment about forking, this is a bullshit argument as well, because forking doesn't actually solve the problem (that being that Wikimedia's leadership is piss poor.) Wikipedia would still be around, would still be mismanaged - and would treat a fork with the clear intent to supplant as the threat it is. (The fact that "just fork it" is the open source community's response to mismanagement is a large part of why it struggles with misogyny and harassment should also be kept in mind as well.)

Your comment actually illustrates why Wikipedia continues to stumble over the same mistakes over and over again - there is an institutional unwillingness to even consider that there is something wrong with its governance, even when the evidence is right there.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:34 AM on April 30 [7 favorites]


If you find copyrighted material from any Britannica that is not in the public domain (the 1911 is public domain) please report it.

Nope, not my job (and given that I think that Wikipedia is poorly managed, I am surely not donating my labor to it, either.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:36 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


@Cozybee
I kind of want someone to do a survey of all nomination for deletion talk pages, to see if there's patterns about how different groups of people get discussed.

I'd be fascinated to see it if someone had the expertise and time. All the AfD discussions are public record and the pages are pretty easy to spider. The pages that aren't deleted will have categories (the pages that are not so much). And most pages make it out of AfD in part because most users want the encyclopaedia to grow rather than shrink.
________________________
@wwwwolf
The Wikipedia Articles for Deletion process may have worked in the early days, but once the project hit a certain critical mass, it became increasingly obsolete and the fact that that it even exists today is ludicruous. They may think they're valiantly shepherding 5.8 million articles through a daily process of a couple of hundred debates max, but, I mean, think about that for a second.

From both practical and legal (Creative Commons compilance across wikis) viewpoint, Wikipedia should have fixed this mess through technical means.


Trying to fix the whole thing entirely through technical means is asking for full AI and a form of waterfall development that isn't going to happen. On the other hand there is significant piecemeal work to improve the situation through technical means, for example using a steadily improving set of bots to find copyright violations as well as e.g. fixing common spelling mistakes, reverting vandalism, and flagging issues. So yes the technical means are being used and are steadily getting better.

You're also writing as if you think that the AfD discussions are the only point of deletion on Wikipedia. There are three (arguably four) basic routes to deletion.
  • The first is a Proposed Deletion (or PROD) for short - which really just asks "Does anyone care about this article at all?" If the article goes a week without the PROD being removed (I remove any PRODs I find through general browsing on the grounds that I ended up there so it must be useful to me) the article can be deleted and may never be re-PRODed.
  • The second is Speedy deletion for a list of tightly defined reasons. The most common one here is probably A7: No indication of importance. This is a deletion without prejudice to the subject and basically says "Whoever started this article gave no reason for it to exist. The article fails completely." It almost always comes from the new pages patrol playing whac-a-mole. The second most common is probably G12 - copyright violation - again without prejudice for the subject of the article.
  • The third is the standard Articles for Deletion. Testing against the notability guidelines.
  • The arguable fourth is articles not making it through the Articles for Creation queue. And here is somewhere there genuinely aren't anywhere near enough volunteers helping out for the system to work, so the whole system needs a complete revamp.
____________________________________
@tocts
That you think this is only a theoretical concern as opposed to literally what's happening when articles about historically marginalized groups seem to for some reason come under increased scrutiny within unevenly applied policies speaks volumes.

That you think that a community disproportionately made up of white males from the United States will not immediately turn round and use the ability to put a thumb on the scale of justice to do so in favour of their pet causes that are often not so nice as the one you want betrays at best a charming level of naivity.

I may have been a bit flippant when responding "yes", but only because your comment was a classic laundry list of concerns leading to a "well I guess that means we can't do anything" conclusion.

And I may have been a bit cranky because your comment was a classic laundry list of whinges leading to a bad idea. My conclusion was not that we can't do anything. It was that breaking a system that works to little benefit is not a good way. If you had paid attention I actually did commend something that works; the GNG is a pretty low bar, and the Slate writer almost did at least 50% of the work that would have been necessary to ensure that that article could make it past a deletion discussion. A three paragraph thing in two (or even one if you're lucky) reliable sources. And it's not as if Slate is short of space.
________________________
@NoxAeternum
Well, I'll give you one name - Larry Sanger, creator of Citizendium

If there is one person on the planet who has comprehensively shown that he should not be in charge of a major wiki-based encyclopaedia it is Larry Sanger, creator of the for all practical purposes defunct Citizendium. It was founded on a wave of enthusiasm (demonstrating how Wikipedia would actually treat rivals) and that he personally managed to run into the ground by trying to be the sort of rockstar leader and bottleneck that Jimbo Wales deliberately makes sure he isn't. Last time I checked he'd jumped ship from Citizendium to Everipedia and was currently helping put Everipedia on the blockchain and making it an encyclopaedia where truth was put up to popular vote. In his own words:
In time, we’ll have be able to compare different “top articles” according to every major viewpoint on the planet. And since the resource will be open, competing apps will be able to feature neutral articles, or whatever bias they wish—or allow the user to choose.
To sum up Larry Sanger is right now trying to create a post-truth encyclopaedia that explicitly allows brigading and puts fake news like Breitbart on an equal footing with real news, letting the users sort it out by voting and picking whatever bias they wish.

Your comment actually illustrates why Wikipedia continues to stumble over the same mistakes over and over again - there is an institutional unwillingness to even consider that there is something wrong with its governance, even when the evidence is right there.

Your comment actually illustrates why there is a perceived unwillingess to even consider that there's something wrong with its governance - and I think that every single person who runs for ArbCom explicitly says that things are less than perfect. Everyone knows that it's bureaucratic and awkward, and the barriers to entry are too high (and there are even pages like WP:OMGWTFBBQ poking fun at such problems). However most of the proposed improvements are as starkly ridiculous as "Larry Sanger would be a better person to be in charge of Wikipedia".

And even where they aren't ridiculous they tend to be things that aren't done for a reason. The people who care about Wikipedia generally want to make the best encyclopaedia possible and think about it and, like many fields, if it's obvious to an outsider it's generally either done that way in practice or there are good reasons why not. The "This is what is wrong with Wikipedia" complaint is in general a case of Engineer's Disease and treated with about the respect people suffering from engineer's disease normally are.

If you can come up with a genuinely new suggestion then people might be impressed. But when you make ridiculous statements like Larry Sanger would be a better person to be in charge of Wikipedia, accuse Wikipedia of plagiarism without attribution, and make claims about technical pages and Britannica vs Wikipedia that fly in the face of at least my experience and certainly those of a lot of other Wikipedians you'll get short shrift.
posted by Francis at 9:16 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


That you think that a community disproportionately made up of white males from the United States will not immediately turn round and use the ability to put a thumb on the scale of justice to do so in favour of their pet causes that are often not so nice as the one you want betrays at best a charming level of naivity.

I think the point the comment you were replying to was making is that they already have.
posted by Dysk at 9:27 AM on April 30 [12 favorites]


That you think that a community disproportionately made up of white males from the United States will not immediately turn round and use the ability to put a thumb on the scale of justice to do so in favour of their pet causes that are often not so nice as the one you want betrays at best a charming level of naivity.

Hi, yeah. As pointed out, that right there is the point flying right over your head as you charge forward, Wikipedia Uber Alles.

White dudes are already putting their thumb on the scales. The idea that the real problem with instituting policies to favor the historically marginalized is that the people who are marginalizing them right now might marginalize them is ludicrous.
posted by tocts at 9:50 AM on April 30 [13 favorites]


Things aren't "less than perfect", they're fucking broken. You openly acknowledge that Wikipedia's active maintainer population is skewed heavily white and male, but don't consider that to be a sign of major problems with the community - which really illustrates the whole problem. A lot of the issues with minority representation on Wikipedia stem directly from the fact that there are so few working on the project - and that didn't happen by accident.

And yeah, I should not have brought up Sanger, because that was playing into your bad faith argument. When the leadership of an individual is brought into question, asking who to replace them with isn't an argument, it's a deflection. Wales has been a poor leader for Wikipedia, and many of its myriad problems stem from his leadership. (And the argument that Wales, who has been infamous as a self-promoter, doesn't try to cultivate a 'rockstar' persona is absurd.)

When you say "we have pages poking fun at how Byzantine our policies are" while routinely having stories about how minority figures who actually deserve recognition have their entries removed, what that says to me (and a lot of other people, I would bet) is that you don't care enough to actually fix things. And my response to that is to look to replace leadership with people who do.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:28 AM on April 30 [8 favorites]


Let me repeat that the only thing that should get an article deleted off Wikipedia under the current conditions is that there is no credible expectation that there is more than one independent and reliable source that covers the subject in any depth.

"should" is doing a lot of work here. That's not really how it plays out, from bias in nominating for deletion as discussed here, to situations where bad actors systematically remove detail and references from an article before nominating it for deletion to contention over what's considered a "reliable" source. The first two are the current set of editors enacting their own biases to the exclusion of others, and if that's not recognized, there's no way to fix it.

I don't think the overall rules need to be changed much, but in situations where there's a known, institutional but subsurface bias, the correct remediation is to establish a counteracting bias in the other direction. That feels like putting your thumb on the scales, but it's actually just bringing it back to balanced. Have a higher standard for the deletion of marginalized article classes, with a bias in favor of keep.

Broadly speaking, wikipieda looks for an institutional veneer of respectability in the sources it uses, but marginalized voices have less access to those types of institutions and publications, so they're starting at a disadvantage. Domain-specific loosening of what sources can be counted would go a long way, I think.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:14 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


@tocts
Hi, yeah. As pointed out, that right there is the point flying right over your head as you charge forward, Wikipedia Uber Alles.

Yeah, that's a bird you're looking at. I've already smashed that point back across the net. The counterpoint is your proposed remedy would break a detente and empower bad actors. Yes the scales are not perfectly balanced. No one disputes that. Given Wikipedia's demographics why in the name of the little black pig do you want to empower more individual thumbs to be placed openly and gratuitously on the scales?

@NoxAeternum
And yeah, I should not have brought up Sanger, because that was playing into your bad faith argument. When the leadership of an individual is brought into question, asking who to replace them with isn't an argument, it's a deflection

I asked what you would do better and your favoured choice was about as useful as the suggestion "Some doctors have a bad bedside manner so we should replace all doctors with homeopaths". I don't believe you are acting in bad faith - but I do believe you have demonstrated you are suffering from an acute case of engineer's disease.

Your literal complaint is "Wikipedia does not single-handedly reverse all media bias round people who are under-served by the media so we should get rid of everyone currently organising the good parts".

And your accusation that I don't care enough to change things is simply your accusation of bad faith. I don't actually see a way to change things for a full fix.

I am therefore going to once more open the challenge I have set. How would you change things at Wikipedia to improve matters subject to the following two conditions?
  1. Wikipedia is about as likely to give up being an encyclopaedia and turn into Everything/Wikia as the New York Yankees are to give up baseball for cricket. Changing or eliminating the overall Notability guideline isn't going to happen.
  2. A specific site-wide rule for this one type of event is very unlikely to happen. Even Gamergate got handled fairly comprehensively by allowing the admins to apply discretionary sanctions, and as mentioned above breaking this line has a massive potential to really empower bad actors.
posted by Francis at 4:23 PM on April 30


If the article is unsourced (which is what "not notable" is supposed to mean),

Is it? Or is it shorthand for "who cares?"
posted by ctmf at 6:36 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


You'll have to forgive those of us who are members of the groups vent marginalised from not finding the argument of "accept your beatings because doing otherwise might make them worse" particularly compelling.

And the bit where people are complaining about current leadership? That's what this is about. If you have competent sensible leadership, you can implement policies to a certain end and not let the opposite happen. Acting as if trying to rebalance anything will inevitably lead to the wrong people getting empowered to make things worse is treating bad leadership as force of nature, unchanging and unmodifiable. If the wrong people are getting the reins and using them to do the wrong things, it is up to leadership to intervene and fix that. In an extreme case it can mean kicking people out of the organisation or off the project. But the notion that "we can't do anything in case it goes wrong" ignores that it is entirely possible with a leadership that is dedicated and competent to avoid that, and/or deal with it when it happens.
posted by Dysk at 1:14 AM on May 1 [9 favorites]


Not to mention that the argument that Wikipedia handled Gamergate well is very much debatable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:12 AM on May 1 [6 favorites]


Reviewing the Slate article it appears she is a lab technician.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 AM on May 1


Official bio:
Clarice Phelps serves as the program manager for the Ni-63 and Se-75 industrial use isotope programs. She is also a member of the research and development staff in the Nuclear Materials Processing Group with several years of combined experience in the processing, analyzing, recovery, and purification of transuranic isotopes. Clarice is currenlty working on research efforts in the area of actinide and lanthanide separations for medical use isotopes.

She has previously contributed to several notable research efforts to include the purification of the Bk-249 used to help discover Z=117, spectroscopic analysis of Pu-238/ Np-237 and their valance states for the Pu-238/ NASA project, and electrodeposition work with Cf-252 for the CARIBU (Californium Rare Isotope Breeder Upgrade) Project.

She is a member of the American Chemical Society as well as as the Educational Outreach Committee for the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate.
posted by clawsoon at 8:17 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


How would you change things at Wikipedia to improve matters subject to the following two conditions?

If you're not willing to make any substantive changes, then guess what? Things aren't going to change. And you know what? That's been exactly how it's played out for at least the last ten years. The number of active editors peaked 12 years ago. The leadership you're so proud of has been actively trying, and failing, to fix this problem for at least 6 years. If the leadership of Wikipedia has been trying to fix this exact problem for that long, it seems clear to me that either little tweaks aren't gonna cut it, or the leadership simply isn't up to the task. Or both. But you seem absolutely unwilling to consider either of those possibilities. Of course, you also seem to think that Wikipedia handled Gamergate "fairly comprehensively" (LOL) and that bad actors are not currently empowered on Wikipedia. (I suspect the metric you're measuring the latter point by is "can bad actors add bad information to Wikipedia" and not "can bad actors drive other users away from editing Wikipedia" or even "can bad actors prevent good information from being added to Wikipedia", which is part of the disconnect you're having with other people in this discussion.)

Given your criteria, I think it's clear, this many years into dealing with this problem, that there's absolutely nothing that can be done except to watch Wikipedia slowly slide into increasing irrelevance as its core of active editors both shrinks and ages. Are you okay with that? If not, which of your criteria are you willing to let go of?
posted by mstokes650 at 8:39 AM on May 1 [6 favorites]


OK. I give precisely two (two!) things that are not going to be changed and at that point I get told that I'm not willing to make any substantive changes. I then get told that the leadership has been actively trying and failing to fix the problem for six years and comments about the number of active editors - which has been rising year on year for the past five years. If your metric is that the numbers are falling then as they are actually rising should be evidence that you are simply wrong. The slide you are trumpeting has not only been stopped but reversed even if the former peak is still a way off (and may never be reached).

The threats that Wikipedia will slide into increasing irrelevance are simply laughable. It's been consistently the fifth biggest website in the world for the last few years (behind Google, Youtube, Facebook, and Baidu). Irrelevance isn't on the cards and it's not sliding.

And yes, I'm going to categorically say that the end product of Wikipedia, the quality of the encyclopaedia, is more important than whether everyone actually does edit Wikipedia. Editing Wikipedia is a very much minority interest, browsing is pretty much universal - and how changes in editing will affect the quality of the product is the fundamentally important issue and not one to be compromised on. This doesn't mean that I don't believe in increasing and improving diversity; more varied perspectives make for more widely ranging interests and insight and hence a better encyclopaedia.

And given my criteria I think at this point there are only two things to be done. To watch Wikipedia continue to be one of the most used resources in the world as its user base and editor base both continue to grow, or to pitch in and help.

And frankly the idea that the editing community should be prioritised over the encyclopaedia rather than as an essential part of supporting and improving the encyclopedia strikes me as as ridiculous a suggestion as the Nintendo shareholders meeting where someone asked why Nintendo didn't sell groceries on the ground that there were profits in that industry.
posted by Francis at 9:52 AM on May 1


[Couple comments deleted. Let's rewind this just a bit please. Please don't put words in other people's mouths; it makes discussion impossible. Totally fine to say what you think the priorities should be and how certain policies stand in the way and so on.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:48 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Fine, I will be nicer:

There is literally no way to square "won't prioritize who gets to edit over vague concerns about quality" with "wants diversity". Who gets to edit is a direct input into diversity and also quality. Believing that you can somehow separate the two is ridiculously foolish.

It is also, not shockingly, basically anti-diversity argument zero: "well, I'd love for there to be more diversity, but only if it doesn't in any way change the qualities that matter to me, the person not impacted currently by lack of diversity". It's what has been used to argue against diversity in schooling, in housing, in workplaces, and even in seemingly less important things like videogames (e.g. "oh I totally support accessibility but only if no developer effort that would have made content for me, the not disabled person, is used, because it's more important that I keep being catered to even though I'm going to pretend to be pro-diversity").

Any approach that starts with, "we can't change things because I like how they are" is fundamentally anti-diversity.
posted by tocts at 10:55 AM on May 1 [8 favorites]


And yes, I'm going to categorically say that the end product of Wikipedia, the quality of the encyclopaedia, is more important than whether everyone actually does edit Wikipedia.

The former is entirely a product of the latter. As long as you have an editor base that is overwhelmingly American, white, middle class, etc, you'll continue to see an end product that reflects the biases of white, middle class Americans. If you don't think that's an issue with the quality of the encyclopaedia, then you're as much a part of the problem as the leadership that takes the same view.
posted by Dysk at 11:11 AM on May 1 [12 favorites]


And I'll be nicer. Any approach which starts with "You must change your most fundamental and core principles in order to suit me" is fundamentally anti-whatever those principles are.

I didn't say nothing could be changed. I said that "Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia" couldn't be changed and neither could the basic notability standard for the encyclopaedia that keeps it an encyclopedia rather than a collection of trivia in the style of Everything, Wikia, or these days Everipedia.

Somehow "These fundamental principles matter" has been equated to "You won't change anything at all under any circumstance". I have repeatedly asked for suggestions that don't involve changing the fundamental principles.

At this point it feels like watching someone wandering into an MMA arena, noting a lack of diversity, and suggesting that to improve the diversity the fights should become strictly non-contact. And then they say that because that's not on the cards clearly diversity doesn't matter at all.
posted by Francis at 11:12 AM on May 1


A recognition that applying notability criteria designed by and for white middle class men is going to have uneven outcomes that aren't desirable is hardly akin to making MMA non-contact. It's more analogous to suggesting that maybe using the same numeral weight categories for women fighters isn't viable, nevermind having them sparring against the men.
posted by Dysk at 11:28 AM on May 1 [6 favorites]


Different domains having different notability criteria should be fairly obvious, I would've thought, since notability works differently across different domains, and different groups have differing access to the (white, middle class, male) institutions that Wikipedia imbues with universal authority.
posted by Dysk at 11:32 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


I have repeatedly asked for suggestions that don't involve changing the fundamental principles.

And you've been repeatedly told that it's those very principles you consider "fundamental" that are at the root of the problem - so if they're "off the table", then no, you're not going to be able to fix the problem.

And rules like notability came out of the fight by Wikipedia early on to be seen as legitimate. But here's the thing - you won that fight. Wikipedia is, at least currently, seen as legitimate. But the biggest threat to Wikipedia's legitimacy today isn't "we're not strict enough on notabiliity."

It's that it's mainly edited by white men in a society that is becoming more diverse. And when the bias that causes pushes people away, they are not going to continue to view Wikipedia as legitimate - and why should they, when their voice is silenced there, and their history purged?
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:34 AM on May 1 [10 favorites]


From this I conclude that you want 100% fixes for things to work your way or nothing at all is worth anything. No incremental improvements are ever worth anything.

Personally I find many imperfect things to be valuable, and incremental change to be valuable. And I find Wikipedia both valuable for a lot of people and that it got there because of its values not despite them. No notability required has been done by a lot of sites - and they aren't even in the same league as Wikipedia precisely because of it. Yes, I absolutely stand by my notability as making it a contact sport comparison.

And for the record if you want to make Wikipedia massively more bureaucratic and arcane than it is now you want to change the notability threshold by category. When the rules are consistent you only have to learn them once. When it's one rule here, one rule there you have to not only learn them for each separate part of the place but to remember at any given time which part you are in.

And it's ironic @NoxAeternum that you praised Larry Sanger for Citizendium which actively promoted the authority of established experts (separating "authors" from "editors" in terms of the weight they had in topics) in the same thread you say that the greatest threat to Wikipedia is that there is too much of a hierarchy favouring white men in its exceptionally flat structure. I'm not sure whether this is more or less ironic than that you use this as a threat to Wikipedia when you praised Britannica over Wikipedia.
posted by Francis at 3:04 PM on May 1


OK. I give precisely two (two!) things that are not going to be changed

To be clear: these two (two!) things were:
1. The rule that's enabling a significant number of the diversity problems for Wikipedia
and
2. "No new sitewide rules to fix this"

Yes, if your two (two!) criteria are "we won't change or eliminate the rule that's causing a problem and we won't make new rules to address the problem" I am comfortable asserting that you're against making substantive changes, no matter how you dress it up.

The slide you are trumpeting has not only been stopped but reversed even if the former peak is still a way off (and may never be reached).

You're right! Wikipedia editor numbers have actually more or less plateaued since 2015 instead of continuing to decline. Good on you guys for stopping the bleeding, I guess, and I apologize for getting that wrong. Made any progress on fixing the gender gap? Or is the overwhelming bulk of Wikipedia still written by a tiny handful of very similar people? In other words, are those editors you've been adding actually diversifying Wikipedia or is it staying just as much a playground for the one specific demographic that is already over-represented there?

And yes, I'm going to categorically say that the end product of Wikipedia, the quality of the encyclopaedia, is more important than whether everyone actually does edit Wikipedia.

Not only does this show how shallow your commitment to improving diversity actually is, as tocts points out, but your commitment to Quality Over All Things is not the sound long-term plan for safeguarding Wikipedia that you may think it is. Currently, as I've said, bad actors are empowered to drive new would-be editors off of Wikipedia and essentially veto many new additions to the encyclopedia. That's how it works right now. Preferring that to a situation where bad actors might be able to make bad additions to the encyclopedia is shortsighted, in the same way saying you don't mind [Opposition Political Party] being able to gerrymander voting districts and pack the courts, so long as the nation's laws are just and fair, is shortsighted. Pretty soon, the only people deciding what constitutes "just and fair" will be members of [Opposition Political Party], and it'll be too late to do anything about it. In the same way, if it's left to just the insular community of Wikipedia editors to determine if it's maintaining its quality, they'll continue to think it's fine as long as it matches their own biases, no matter how increasingly out-of-step that view is with the rest of the world.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:06 PM on May 1 [8 favorites]


When the rules are consistent you only have to learn them once. When it's one rule here, one rule there you have to not only learn them for each separate part of the place but to remember at any given time which part you are in.

As the old saying goes, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. We use this concept of differing rules based on context all over our society, and it doesn't seem to be that much of an issue for most people in their lives. If it would somehow create a catastrophic spiral of rulemaking in Wikipedia, that says something about Wikipedia's leadership and design.

And it's ironic @NoxAeternum that you praised Larry Sanger for Citizendium which actively promoted the authority of established experts (separating "authors" from "editors" in terms of the weight they had in topics) in the same thread you say that the greatest threat to Wikipedia is that there is too much of a hierarchy favouring white men in its exceptionally flat structure.

It's not ironic - it's just that you're trying to equate an apple with and orange and expect that the rest of us wouldn't notice. The point of privileging experts over editors was to combat a problem seen with Wikipedia (which, as the incident in the OP demonstrates, continues to this day) where experts who were bringing in the actual content were being pushed off by editors who had little topical knowledge - but knew the Byzantine Wikipedia rulebook in and out. In comparison, the whole problem with Wikipedia being so heavily dominated by white males (a problem that even you acknowledge exists) is that it is the white male viewpoint is what gets placed - and people of all other walks of life, even experts, get pushed out.

No incremental improvements are ever worth anything.

It's been six years since Wikipedia began "efforts" to improve diversity in their userbase, with no noticible improvement (and a number of public black eyes like the one in the OP.) At what point do you say "this isn't working"?
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:06 PM on May 1 [6 favorites]


When the rules are consistent you only have to learn them once. When it's one rule here, one rule there you have to not only learn them for each separate part of the place but to remember at any given time which part you are in.

Shit, it's almost like treating rules like laws where the exact wording and details and technicalities are important rather than the overall spirit of the thing inherently creates bad outcomes that favours the groups outlined above (white, middle class, male, straight, able bodied, etc). As you said yourself: the law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges. And yet you suggest that continuing to uphold the letter of the law is the only solution. You're committed to a system that is the problem, then refuse to countenance anything else.

You don't need a whole new set of rules for each domain. You need to apply them differently. Maybe it makes sense to be strict-letter-of-the-law enforcer on jam bands or whatever. Maybe it doesn't make sense to do so for literally everything though, and perhaps the people going out of their way to argue contentious deletions on minority subjects should be taken aside and spoken to about sensitivity and where best to spend their time.

You fret about how awful it would be to put thumbs on scales because all the people involved are white, male, middle class, etc, and it would just get worse, but fail to recognise or acknowledge that all those white middle class males already have their thumbs firmly on the scales. And the current leadership is doing nothing to take those thumbs off, or actively work to change the kind of thumbs on the scales. The fact that there are already all these samey thumbs all over it is a problem both in itself, and in the product it creates. And the current leadership have created this situation. They are doing nothing to address it or curb the worst excesses of the system. Because the law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor from stealing bread and sleeping under bridges is being treated as a neutral observation, a fact, rather than a criticism of how the system is constructed and the decisions - not laws of nature - that created it.
posted by Dysk at 4:15 PM on May 1 [8 favorites]


Shit, it's almost like treating rules like laws where the exact wording and details and technicalities are important rather than the overall spirit of the thing inherently creates bad outcomes that favours the groups outlined above

Shit, it's almost like you don't have a clue what the rules are, why they are there, or how much work was done in a failed attempt to pull the article over the bounds of notability. I've yet to see any deletion discussion where, with more than half a dozen editors at work, that hasn't had at least half of them bending over backwards to try to prevent the deletion. The first discussion was bending over backwards and behaving like professional contortionists to try to save the article and still finding it to not be enough.

The notability criteria wants in depth coverage of the subject in multiple reliable sources. Between the article author and multiple calls to arms you know how many the article's defenders came up with? Zero. Zip. Nada. Bupkiss. There was not one single source that even came close to having two paragraphs on her that was remotely independent dug up by anyone at all prior to or during the first deletion discussion. And this despite an attempt to snow the Wikipedia editors by including sources to attempt to demonstrate her notability in which she literally wasn't even mentioned. Indeed she literally didn't even make it into the group photo of more than 40 people who helped discover the element put out by Oak Ridge. For some utterly bizarre reason someone decided to add that link to an article to attempt to show that she was notable by Wikipedia's standards.

Even if sources had been found (which they weren't) then a legalistic reading of Wikipedia's rules would have invoked the Living Persons Notable for One Event policy. The only claim for her actual notability was the single event of her being a player in a team finding a new element. So if people were following policy legalistically there was still a backup.

The spirit was, as I say, followed by most editors as generously as possible (and is normally followed pretty generously for anything that's not a blatant advert - almost no one likes deleting pages from Wikipedia). You aren't asking for generosity. You are asking for a complete and utter rejection of both letter and spirit of the rules.

But please. Keep up the claims that this was done in bad faith or by an over-legalistic interpretation of the rules.

And can you tell me with your hand on your heart that you genuinely believe that someone who was neither one of the 32 names on the research paper announcing the discovery of element 117 nor was part of the more than 40 person group photo of the team that discovered element 117 is genuinely notable for her part in the discovery of element 117 as the Slate article claims?
posted by Francis at 6:33 PM on May 1


And can you tell me with your hand on your heart that you genuinely believe that someone who was neither one of the 32 names on the research paper announcing the discovery of element 117 nor was part of the more than 40 person group photo of the team that discovered element 117 is genuinely notable for her part in the discovery of element 117 as the Slate article claims?

Yes, because there's a long, ignoble history of the work of women (and especially minority women) in science being excised from the history books. The whole point of Jess Wade's project is to counteract that bias, that history.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:00 PM on May 1 [11 favorites]


The notability criteria wants in depth coverage of the subject in multiple reliable sources. Between the article author and multiple calls to arms you know how many the article's defenders came up with? Zero. Zip. Nada. Bupkiss.

You're claiming that the spirit was violated by pointing to the letter - the notability criteria. That is the kind of legalistic attitude that is the problem. A problem which is much bigger than this one case.

And like NoxAeternum above, I think she's notable regardless of whether she meets the formal criteria you can't seem to get past.
posted by Dysk at 12:30 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


OK.

She wasn't on the 40 person team that discovered the element.

She wasn't anywhere part of a team that supported them directly.

She wasn't on the team that tested whether the element claimed had been actually found.

She was part of a team that supported that testing team by synthesising a chemical they needed to carry out the testing.

At this point your claim to notability looks to me like neither more nor less than "She's a black woman who does science! She must be notable!" With the underlying assumption that a black woman who does science in any way, shape, or form must be amazing because black women can't science.

And it's clear you, @Dysk, have no clue about the spirit of the notability criteria. The spirit of the notability criteria is "Do decent independent reliable sources exist outside Wikipedia so what is on Wikipedia won't be primary research?" This is because Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and a tertiary source. Pointing out that "No, independent sources do not exist outside Wikipedia" is checking whether it fits the spirit of them, not some sort of legalistic wrangling; the legalistic wrangling is the part where the notability criteria get beaten down to two sources of a few paragraphs because that is the bare minimum that fulfils the letter of the notability requirements. The legalistic wrangling on notability here is all in favour of inclusion. (And as mentioned with very few exceptions in either people or topics Wikipedians skew hard in favour of inclusionism - porn star bios are the only one I can think of with strong deletionist tendencies).
posted by Francis at 1:26 AM on May 2


With the underlying assumption that a black woman who does science in any way, shape, or form must be amazing because black women can't science.

Who's putting words in whose mouth now? That's a despicable sentiment.

The spirit of the notability criteria is "Do decent independent reliable sources exist outside Wikipedia so what is on Wikipedia won't be primary research?"

You're saying that the spirit of the law is the legalistic letter of it. That's bullshit. It's about if something is notable. That's the spirit. Whether it meets the criteria, that's the letter.
posted by Dysk at 2:54 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Like, you have a circular definition going: something is notable if and only if it meets the notability criteria, and the notability criteria determine what is notable. You've discounted even the possibility of something being notable yet falling outside the criteria because you've defined notability entirely in terms of the criteria. You're not allowing for even the possibility of the criteria being anything other than perfect.
posted by Dysk at 3:46 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


You're saying that the spirit of the law is the legalistic letter of it.

No I am not. I am saying that the spirit of the law is significant coverage. The legalism involved is to push as much through as possible.

You've discounted even the possibility of something being notable yet falling outside the criteria because you've defined notability entirely in terms of the criteria.

The spirit of the law is that Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and a tertiary source and the context notability matters in for Wikipedia is that context.

There are many things that are notable to me (like the contents of my grocery list) that almost certainly aren't notable to anyone else. Context matters, especially for a word like notability. And notable for Wikipedia means what it means and it's pretty clear and well defined.

By your argument all definitions are circular definitions because they are definitons that say this is how this is applied in this situation. You might want Wikipedia to either be a collection of everything or a collection of everything personally notable to Dysk. But it isn't and will never be either of those.
posted by Francis at 4:44 AM on May 2


You're collapsing a lot of different contexts into one here. Wikipedia deals with a whole bunch of different material and insisting that only one approach can be correct for all of them is a large part of the problem. When your one approach is one authored and enforced by privileged groups it will reflect and recreate that privilege. Just as we're seeing.

And no, this isn't about me however much you might try to make it so. There are clearly a bunch of people who think there are very notable t things that get ignored, or there wouldn't be contentious deletions for failing to reach the notability criteria.

And no, not all definitions are circular. Notability criteria should reflect notability. But notability cannot then be defined in terms of what meets the criteria. If it is, the criteria can never be tested, for one. Everything that follows from them is definitively correct if your definition goes that things are notable if they meet the criteria. It is not sensible to have a system that cannot be tested. If things that are notable are falling through the gaps (and/or things that aren't are being allowed to stay) then the system isn't working correctly in all cases. A set of circular definitions that do not even allow for that possibility to exist in theory is practically religious dogma, and similarly inflexible. You need to allow for at least three possibility that your system, your criteria, can be shown to be too narrow or broad.
posted by Dysk at 5:00 AM on May 2 [7 favorites]


spirit of the law is significant coverage

That's a significant coverage rule then, not a notability one.
posted by Dysk at 5:01 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


If this is the kind of discussion a deletion garners, I think it’s easy to see why most people don’t want to fucking bother.
posted by Revvy at 5:21 AM on May 2 [14 favorites]


Someone remind me of the name of the law that describes when someone arrives to argue about how they aren't terrible people/working on a terrible project, and promptly instead proves that yes, they are just that terrible by their own behavior? Because yeah, that's what happened in this thread.

A substantial number of Wikipedia "editors" are alt-right/racist/misogynist, a lot of others are are happy to live in an environment shaped by them because it buffs them up as white men, and a bunch of others are happy to assist them because they think deletionism makes their project look Serious and Real, like some kind of cargo cult rendition of an encyclopedia.

Wikipedia remains what it has always been: great for pop culture and things that can be scraped wholesale from other, actually reliable, sources. It's only good for things that do not matter, because it can never be trusted. The structure is fundamentally about rewarding fiefdom building and obsessive attack; there is no reward structure for accuracy and breadth.
posted by tavella at 9:02 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


Wikipedia deals with a whole bunch of different material and insisting that only one approach can be correct for all of them is a large part of the problem.

The problem with this argument is that you are already looking at the low bar and saying "there should be a much lower bar even than that". There are specific criteria for scientists and academics we find the criteria are that the person fits any of:
  1. The person's research has had a significant impact in their scholarly discipline, broadly construed, as demonstrated by independent reliable sources.
  2. The person has received a highly prestigious academic award or honor at a national or international level.
  3. The person is or has been an elected member of a highly selective and prestigious scholarly society or association (e.g., a National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society) or a fellow of a major scholarly society which reserves fellow status as a highly selective honor (e.g., Fellow of the IEEE).[2]
  4. The person's academic work has made a significant impact in the area of higher education, affecting a substantial number of academic institutions.
  5. The person holds or has held a named chair appointment or distinguished professor appointment at a major institution of higher education and research, or an equivalent position in countries where named chairs are uncommon.
  6. The person has held a highest-level elected or appointed administrative post at a major academic institution or major academic society.
  7. The person has had a substantial impact outside academia in their academic capacity.
  8. The person is or has been the head or chief editor of a major, well-established academic journal in their subject area.
  9. The person is in a field of literature (e.g., writer or poet) or the fine arts (e.g., musician, composer, artist), and meets the standards for notability in that art, such as WP:CREATIVE or WP:MUSIC.
And no, being on a team that followed a known pattern to synthesise materials for the team that tested the discovery of the team that found a new element doesn't even come close to any of that list. And nothing else she has done comes close to being notable as a scientist by Wikipedia's standards.

Or do you want to argue that she's notable as a scientist and what she's done comes remotely close to anything on that list? If so I'd love to see the argument, complete with the citation counts for her research if you're arguing point one. These are the people Wikipedia actually considers notable as scientists (and any deletion discussions will be closed extremely fast as keep if someone nominates someone that passes a subject notability threshold).

This leaves the General Notability Guidelines. These are Wikipedia's floor and one hell of a lot easier to pass than any subject notabilty. The Wikipedia GNG asks "Are there enough vaguely decent sources on this topic whatever it might be that it is physically possible to write a sourced encyclopaedia article?"

And the answer to that is that she's certainly not notable as a scientist under Wikipedia's definition. And despite the best efforts so far of a small horde of people it is pretty evident that the sources to be able to make a decent and well sourced article for her simply do not exist (and the more people try throwing irrelevant links into deletion discussions the more obvious it is that they've gone past scraping the bottom of the barrel).

She is leagues under the notability criteria for her work as a scientist and hasn't even reached the notability threshold that good independent sources to be able to have a decently sourced page do not exist.

That's a significant coverage rule then, not a notability one.

It's a rule that what is notable to Wikipedia involves significant independent coverage in multiple reliable sources. This is because these are a necessity for a decent quality encyclopaedia article.

What is notable to you may differ - it's pretty clear you don't care about encyclopaedias. And guess what? That's fine for you. But not for Wikipedia. And that you want Wikipedia to run without good sources at all only confirms my analogy that you're asking for an MMA league to take out the contact because that would improve diversity and then claiming that that's the only way diversity can be improved.
posted by Francis at 9:16 AM on May 2


A substantial number of Wikipedia "editors" are alt-right/racist/misogynist, a lot of others are are happy to live in an environment shaped by them because it buffs them up as white men, and a bunch of others are happy to assist them because they think deletionism makes their project look Serious and Real, like some kind of cargo cult rendition of an encyclopedia.

And many of us aren't - which is why when people suggest in the name of diversity that the very tools that allow us to fend off the alt-right, racists, and transphobes and to break up the fiefdoms get removed then we get seriously annoyed by these suggestions.
posted by Francis at 9:30 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Dude, your display here has proved you are at very best in the third category.
posted by tavella at 9:39 AM on May 2 [11 favorites]


And many of us aren't - which is why when people suggest in the name of diversity that the very tools that allow us to fend off the alt-right, racists, and transphobes and to break up the fiefdoms get removed then we get seriously annoyed by these suggestions.

As has been shown before, your tools suck and don't actually work. Instead of getting "seriously annoyed", perhaps you should instead be considering why there's a general perception outside of your bubble that Wikipedia is doing little to deal with this problem.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:04 AM on May 2 [8 favorites]


You say "cargo-cult" and I say "Biggest airport around". And we have the planes continually landing to prove it.

As has been shown before, your tools suck and don't actually work. Instead of getting "seriously annoyed", perhaps you should instead be considering why there's a general perception outside of your bubble that Wikipedia is doing little to deal with this problem.

Ah yes. The attack on the trigger point when Wikipedia actually dealt with Gamergate - and the blogpost linked entirely missed what happened because the ArbCom Decision was deliberately simultaneously scrupulously neutral and something aimed to utterly destroy the presence of Gators on Wikipedia. That decision, so lambasted, was the beginning of the end for GamerGate on Wikipedia.

The key part of the ArbCom decision was the invocation of discretionary sanctions around Gamergate (as it is round certain subjects that make Gamergate seem like a storm in a teacup, like Israel/Palestine).

What discretionary sanctions mean is that the mods are let off the leash and given a mandate to ban anyone who steps one foot over the line or breaks anything approaching Wikipedia's rules. The most important rule in this case being the rules protecting individuals against defamation. To put that into plain English, if you said just about anything bad about any individual connected with GamerGate on any article the mods could ban you for as long as they wished.

Edit anything negative into Zoe Quinn's article? Out. Anita Sarkeesian's? Out. Mike Cernovitch's? Out. (It wasn't only one side that got this protection). Attacks on games journalists for being unethical? Out.

For some reason almost all the people on the right side of GamerGate were able to avoid attacking people like Mike Cernovitch and Christina Hoff Summers. There were very few casualties, most of them were only blocked for a day or two to cool off, with a possible topic ban that let them get back to the bits that brought them to Wikipedia

Meanwhile on the Gator side? Anyone who tried to attack Zoe Quinn received a block from a mod who was cranky because they've just blocked three dozen other people for doing exactly the same thing? (And in a number of cases personally detested GamerGate for other reasons of course) And with discretionary sanctions they can make the block about as long as they like as long as there was actual bad behaviour? How long do you think GamerGate lasted as other than a minor nuisance after that?

The Gators couldn't even complain that Wikipedia was biased against them because of how scrupulously neutral the ArbCom decision was. The tools worked - they just weren't the ones being talked about.

Why is there a perception about Wikipedia? Because, amazingly for the fifth biggest website in the world, Wikipedia isn't good at explaining itself. The encyclopaedia is the product and for all you called Jimbo Wales a rockstar he really tries not to be.

And also because you personally seem predisposed to take the side against Wikipedia in any issue. Hence e.g. your championing of Larry Sanger as a better alternative to Jimbo Wales.
posted by Francis at 10:45 AM on May 2


Francis,

Rather than take on all comers and shooting down all suggestions... Do *you* have any ideas on how Wikipedia can handle its (lack of) diversity problem (the topic of the thread)? Do you even acknowledge that there is a problem? Or is everything just dandy as it is?
posted by Roommate at 10:54 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


The most important rule in this case being the rules protecting individuals against defamation. To put that into plain English, if you said just about anything bad about any individual connected with GamerGate on any article the mods could ban you for as long as they wished.

Edit anything negative into Zoe Quinn's article? Out. Anita Sarkeesian's? Out. Mike Cernovitch's? Out. (It wasn't only one side that got this protection). Attacks on games journalists for being unethical? Out.


So, on Wikipedia, defamation doesn't actually mean defamation. Because, in plain English in any proper dictionary I've seen, defamation is not saying something negative about someone - it's the intentional statement of false information about an entity with the intent to do harm. If mods were booting people for placing negative but true facts about Cernovich in his article - then you just played into his hands.

Also, there is no "studiously neutral" when it comes to bigotry and white supremacism - there is only support and oppose. As for how long the Gators lasted - given this OP (and the others like it), pretty damn long, actually! Because they didn't stop - they just learned the lay of the land, and learned how to work within the system - something that they have shown to be very good at.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:10 AM on May 2 [7 favorites]


Honestly - the more details about this I see, the more I’m convinced there are two things going on: Clarice Phelps probably is not that notable honestly in all sincerity and was a bad test case AND Wikipedia has a serious diversity and sensitivity problem with its major editors and staff.
posted by corb at 12:00 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Rather than take on all comers and shooting down all suggestions... Do *you* have any ideas on how Wikipedia can handle its (lack of) diversity problem (the topic of the thread)? Do you even acknowledge that there is a problem? Or is everything just dandy as it is?

I've seen two basic suggestions and both are going nowhere.

Fundamentally the first huge problem Wikipedia still has is that unless you have someone personally to teach you the beginner editors training tools are completely terrible.

To test just how bad it was I just created a new account. I'm not a newbie and know exactly where the newbie help area is. (It's called the Teahouse if anyone cares). I gave up after twenty five clicks - and I knew exactly what I was looking for. And I didn't find the Articles for Creation queue either. So that's what I didn't see. What about what I did?

After registering I was sent straight to a page flagged for copyediting problems and asked to help edit as my first edit. That's not a bad idea - but the most glaring problem on the page I was taken to was a broken template - or possibly a really badly made link. I'm not sure. Either way fixing that is not even close to a job for a complete newbie. The idea of sending the newbie to a page that needs help was great - but the actual specific page it gave me was totally unsuitable.

On the principle "Click the highlighted thing" it took me two clicks to get to the Help: Getting Started page. Which is an intimidating wall of text and links that are about the opposite of a nice friendly introduction. On that page I learned that if I wasn't an autoconfirmed user (and it wasn't explained what one of those was) you couldn't create new articles except via the Articles for Creation process.

And AfC is backed up like a porta-potty at the end of Burning Man. Over 400 articles have been languishing there more than nine weeks - and there are between 200 and 300 articles that have been added and neither approved nor declined each week from between three and nine weeks ago.

To add insult to injury, Notability, which is the core rule under which a page will be assessed as suitable for Wikipedia (and about half of my comments here) is literally the fourteenth link on a list half way down the page you get to by following the link marked "Introduction to the deletion process".

At this point I have one conclusion. If someone wants to create a new account on Wikipedia in 2019 and start editing they are going to only be successful under two conditions. Either they have someone in real life helping them or they are exceptionally ornery and cranky. I knew it was bad, but this is a lot worse than it was five years ago (the last time I tried this experiment).

And frankly if I wanted to prevent diversity while remaining superficially fair a rule which says "You must either be introduced by someone already in the club or complete a scavenger hunt with barely legible instructions" would be an excellent way to do it.
posted by Francis at 12:48 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


And frankly if I wanted to prevent diversity while remaining superficially fair a rule which says "You must either be introduced by someone already in the club or complete a scavenger hunt with barely legible instructions" would be an excellent way to do it.

The unawareness in this statement is truly astounding. This situation did not happen by accident. It was done on purpose, to make sure only the "right" people continue on. Now, as for who those "right" people are - I'd imagine there's more than one answer to that, depending on who you ask.

Also, re-reading Mark Bernstein's denouement helped to clarify why Wikipedia failed against the Gaters - because they never understood the fight they were in. From the Wikipedia side, it was a conflict over a contentious event, and thus you had a "studiously neutral" ruling, and mods were authorized to monitor the articles in contention and stop anyone who modified them in a negative manner.

But that was never the actual problem. The problem was that the Gaters were looking for ways to weaponize Wikipedia against their targets. And as Bernstein points out, when the direct approach failed, they began to branch out - get it in the Talk pages, get it in a different language version (then recommend that version to be used as basis for the English version), go after other targets beyond the expected ones. They also had enough knowledge to use the Wikipedia system to portray their opponents as just "the other side", and let the desire to be "studiously neutral" do their work for them.

There is one thing to remember - neutrality is not a virtue by itself. There are many times where it can be, but there are just as many where it is a mistake in judgement. When you are dealing with a group whose goal is to harm others, treating them as just "another side" is a lapse in judgement. There is no "neutral" in such cases - there is only the choice between abetting and opposing abuse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:27 PM on May 2 [10 favorites]


From the Wikipedia side, it was a conflict over a contentious event, and thus you had a "studiously neutral" ruling, and mods were authorized to monitor the articles in contention and stop anyone who modified them in a negative manner.

The Mark Bernstien article was literally written when the only piece of returning fire was firing the starting gun. And no. From the Wikipedia side it was a conflict with a group of people who were not there to help the encyclopaedia, which they pretty clearly weren't. (And this is why attacks on the notability rules will backfire when dealing with Wikipedia - you are pretty clearly not there for the encyclopaedia). So Wikipedia burned the GamerGate presence to the ground. And did it without actually creating any rules that were not officially neutral. (Any experienced Wikipedian knows that a Neutral Point of View is something that you can spin massively).

Gamergate was basically a group of extremely loud vandals. It wasn't something Wikipedia is vulnerable to in part because there is a continuous stream of vandalism attacks on Wikipedia, and Gamergate has never been as e.g. the Israel/Palestine conflict. But that doesn't mean that Wikipedia is invulnerable - just not vulnerable to that attack. Wikipedia's biggest weakness is one of its editor guidelines: Assume Good Faith. It doesn't mean that no bad faith actors exist but you need to wait until it's proven.

An attack on Wikipedia comes from a completely different angle. You need to look like a productive editor and to look like a productive editor you need to be a productive editor. Constructive edits are pretty easy - just because you're from the Alt Right doesn't mean that that is your only interest. If you are also e.g. interested in guns, cars, and classic films (or for that matter needlepoint and flower arranging) and spend 75% of your time on Wikipedia improving the articles on that then you're in through the defences. Yes, this has probably happened from looking at the process for new users.

And now for the other side. I know not all neutral is fair (as should be obvious by me pointing out how a down the line decision drove gamergate although not all right wingers and right wing disinformation off Wikipedia). But that doesn't mean that all support of increased diversity is remotely fair or progressive either. Clarice Phelps was, as of the first deletion discussion so far below Wikipedia's threshold that using her as an example doesn't just come off as the Boy Who Cried Wolf (a story with a real wolf of course) but if you look into the actual facts comes off as if the original article is so far off base that it could have been a 4-chan false flag operation even if it's a bit subtle for them. (Right down to her having been given a PhD in the original Wikipedia article that she does not in fact possess in an attempt to show her notability). She is not in any way an edge case. When you use her as your example of Wikipedia not doing well with diversity you show at best that you are making mountains out of ha-has. At worst you are someone who thinks that a black woman doing science at all is something truly amazing. Either way if that is one of your examples of Wikipedia struggling with diversity then you undermine your argument to the extent that you make it appear less credible that Wikipedia has a diversity problem to anyone who knows much at all about Wikipedia.
posted by Francis at 4:28 PM on May 2


So... If Wikipedia already took care of the problem and everything is now fine and there is no more problem, then how did/does it happen that black women keep being "not notable" and deleted? I thought the problem was solved and there was no more problem because the Gators were gone.
posted by sotonohito at 4:42 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


So... If Wikipedia already took care of the problem and everything is now fine and there is no more problem, then how did/does it happen that black women keep being "not notable" and deleted? I thought the problem was solved and there was no more problem because the Gators were gone.

Do you genuinely believe GamerGate is the only problem in the world? Or even the only group of right wing actors in bad faith?

Not every person in the world is notable by Wikipedia standards. Do you genuinely believe that it is amazing, spectacular, and stunning for a black woman to be a scientist?
posted by Francis at 5:09 PM on May 2


Well, I guess my question has been answered.
posted by Roommate at 5:15 PM on May 2 [7 favorites]


Gamergate was basically a group of extremely loud vandals.

No, they aren't, and viewing them as such is how you lose the fight before it even begins. They weren't altering Wikipedia because they wanted to do damage - they were making changes in order to use it as a tool to harm their targets. This is why there is no neutral with them - either you're opposed to their abuse, or you support it, whether openly or tacitly.

So Wikipedia burned the GamerGate presence to the ground. And did it without actually creating any rules that were not officially neutral. (Any experienced Wikipedian knows that a Neutral Point of View is something that you can spin massively).

No, you just caught the more obvious people (who very likely were sent out to be caught.) Meanwhile, the smarter ones just figure out how to work within your "neutral" systems - because as you just stated, "any experienced Wikipedian knows that a Neutral Point of View is something that you can spin massively." Wikipedia's slavish devotion to "neutrality" is one of its biggest weaknesses, as it is what allows bad actors who learn the system freedom to act.

Do you genuinely believe GamerGate is the only problem in the world? Or even the only group of right wing actors in bad faith?

No, which is why the failure to actually grasp the actual nature of the problem is so problematic. As Bernstein pointed out, the actions of Wikipedia regarding the Gaters points out a clear strategy for these groups to act in the future. And as the repeated black eyes with regards to diversity show, it's very likely that those groups were listening.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:32 AM on May 3 [7 favorites]


@Francis:
> Trying to fix the whole thing entirely through technical means is asking for full AI and a form of waterfall development that isn't going to happen. On the other hand there is significant piecemeal work to improve the situation through technical means, for example using a steadily improving set of bots to find copyright violations as well as e.g. fixing common spelling mistakes, reverting vandalism, and flagging issues. So yes the technical means are being used and are steadily getting better.

I was asking for a relatively simple technical fixes, some of which already exist but the English Wikipedia hasn't adopted them.

I'm not asking for "full AI" - good heavens, many major websites (e.g. YouTube) are already complete messes because people are pretending deploying AI is going to magically fix things. (I'm not saying that deploying more bots is going to be a disaster, it's just that the community needs to keep an eye on them. To Wikipedia's credit, they seem to be doing good so far on this side and people really hate runaway bots.) I'm also not saying MediaWiki devs needs strictly regimented development model, instead of the current open source bazaar.

I'm just saying that MediaWiki had technical limitations, and instead of making the software more versatile, the English Wikipedia community decided that the busted old software is good enough. Some of the things needed to make the software more versatile already exists: I had high hopes for Flagged Revisions, and smaller Wikimedia projects are already using it with great success, yet the deployment in English Wikipedia definitely failed for both technical issues and community resistance.

I'm not asking for new miracle software, I'm just asking for new ways for MediaWiki software to classify what revisions are shown for whom (absolutely not a huge technical undertaking), and for the community to implement it. But to actually implement that, there has to be some kind of a paradigm shift. English Wikipedia community should first stop thinking that article deletion is a magical thing. It's not - it's a line drawn in water, a technicality, and ultimately, it's all about the question of what the community thinks is appropriate to show to the people using the site, especially the public that is just using the site for reference and aren't interested in editing.

The only absolutely new technical notion I'm asking would be something along the lines of "this article technically exists, but it's not shown to non-editors because the community has deemed it's absolutely not up to snuff." And that's functionally identical to how things work now - the only thing that changed was that logged-in editors could still see this hideously disapproved content if they really wanted, instead of asking admins to go take a look. Really, a lot of people are flabbergasted when they learn that Wikipedia rules totally already allow you to ask admins to take a look at deleted versions and none of the deleted versions are gone for good. Hey, if people want to continue working on deleted articles to make them up to snuff, it's already allowed, except it's just a technically clumsy process of restoration, article moves, merging draft histories, and like. If people could continue working on "deleted" articles under their original titles and with immediate access to the article history, without the need to bother admins to show deleted versions and merge article histories, that'd cut down repeated work and parallel work. The role of admins would possibly only be limited to changing the visibility status - oh wait, that's what they already do.

> You're also writing as if you think that the AfD discussions are the only point of deletion on Wikipedia.

I'm well aware of the other deletion processes and I don't have problems with them per se - Articles for deletion is the sad relic of a process that has outlived its usefulness, and I don't see what harm it would do to replace it with, well, literally anything else.

The sentiment in AfD is that people argue that if the current version of article is bad in any way, then people should be prevented from working on the articles through technical means, and that's obviously not what's in Wikipedia's own rules, which say that people can further develop the articles all they want. People need further transparency and clear, simple way of continuing their work. And like I said, in the current state of things, speedy deletion is necessary for dealing with spam and things that would need to be rewritten anyway. So are things like the Oversight process for permanently deleting content that is a genuine legal liability or a real-world hazard.

But even so, if the technical limitations around article visibility would be lifted, those processes would still be pretty much the same. The problem isn't that the deletion processes exist, it's that technical article deletion under current software essentially becomes an unnecessary hurdle for the further development of those articles.

The problem with AfD isn't that people are discussing whether or not the article is fit to be shown to the public and meets the notability and quality criteria, the problem is that the process allows articles to be wikilawyered out of existence and continuing to work on them is a total hassle that is, from the technical standpoint, completely unnecessary. The problem is that AfD scorches the earth - people can make the argument that since one version of article was of low quality, this bans all further development. This is obviously not the intent of the process. If people would be forced to live with the fact that "deleted" versions are at all times viewable by logged-in editors, I'd say that'd do wonders to the efficiency of the process - people wouldn't be able to just show up and ask for article to be dead dead dead, when all they could technically do was to push it out of public's sight, likely only temporarily. No point in repeatedly arguing red-faced against some article's inclusion in the project if it literally would be able to come back any moment once the problems are actually addressed, without any kind of massive bureaucratic hassle.

We can pretend that the current rules pose no problem for development of legit articles, but practically, it's a ridiculous and unnecessary hassle to get admins involved in content quality disputes, and this is exactly what the people who want to keep some articles out of their personal agendas are counting on. I'm sure admins would be much better off if their job was essentially "this article was made invisible because it was pretty darn terrible a year ago. A lot of people think it's much better now, please go flip it back." No hassle.
posted by wwwwolf at 1:06 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


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