One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia
September 9, 2021 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Coffman knows the book is legit, because she happens to have a copy on loan from the library. When she goes to the cited page, she finds a paragraph that appears to confirm all the Wikipedia article’s wild claims. But then she reads the first sentence of the next paragraph: “This is, of course, nonsense.” 4100 words from Noam Cohen for Wired magazine.
posted by cgc373 (50 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
 
God. What a bad ass. I love the way the article is written. Such a fantastic post. I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Wikipedia editing, but this felt like a solid overview of the structures, systems and people behind the scenes. Is this a typical portrayal?
posted by glaucon at 10:14 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


When Coffman reads this, something clicks. She is dealing with a poisonous tree here. She shouldn’t be throwing out individual pieces of fruit. She should be chopping it off at the trunk. She starts to pivot from history (the facts themselves) to historiography (the way they’re gathered). She begins to use Wikipedia to document the false historical narrative, and its purveyors, and then make the fight about dubious sources rather than specific articles.

On Christmas Eve, she returns to Arthur Nebe’s page and makes a one-word addition: “Historians have a uniformly negative view of Nebe and his motives.”


She's absolutely right. Among many, many other crimes, Nebe literally walked into a psychiatric institution in Minsk in 1941 -- physically alongside Heinrich Himmler -- and authorized the murder of every patient there.

Coffman seems pretty fucking awesome.

That’s the thing about edit wars: They never end.

Sigh. Yup.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:23 PM on September 9 [31 favorites]


She sees that her confidence in Wikipedia was “very much misplaced.” All it takes to warp historical memory, she realizes, is something this small, achievable for almost anyone with a keyboard. “So few people can have so much impact, it’s a little scary,” she says. She begins to turn a more critical eye to what she sees on Wikipedia.

Brave woman. Bad Wikipedia editors. If they aren't the dregs, they sure try, sometimes.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:54 PM on September 9 [18 favorites]


I have a new hero. Retirement goals.

But yeah, this is what it takes and right now I don't have the stomach for it. But I have so much admiration for people who do; I think it really makes a difference.
posted by sohalt at 11:32 PM on September 9 [8 favorites]


Heh :-)

It reminds me of this article from a couple of years ago:
The Fake Nazi Death Camp: Wikipedia’s Longest Hoax, Exposed [archive]

Tl;dr: Polish nationalists basically invented an extermination camp in which hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Poles were murdered, and the article stayed up for 15 years. Lots of people still believe it was real. There are plaques and things commemorating it.

See another account of this by Christian Davies in the London Review of Books, Under the Railway Line.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:38 PM on September 9 [25 favorites]


I appreciated this for the inside story of Wikipedia editing as much as for the introduction to Coffman, who really is fighting the good fight—wait, she doesn't like war imagery. She is protecting her real estate. Like a commenter above, I don't have the stomach for that kind of thing, so I'm glad she's out there.
posted by Orlop at 2:33 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


ADF bloke glorifying nazis. How very on-brand.
posted by pompomtom at 3:00 AM on September 10 [7 favorites]


This was a great article! Coffman is so amazing, and also I so relate to that sort of obsessive, I will read All The Things on this topic personality. Except she's channelling that energy into doing some real good. And I also love how thoughtfully and expertly she went about it.

Thanks so much for sharing this!
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:27 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


The DKs put it best: Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
posted by scruss at 4:51 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


I'm worried that her new notoriety will bring more trolls and threats though. I wish they'd said less about her personal life and location.
posted by emjaybee at 5:03 AM on September 10 [13 favorites]


The glamorizing of Nazis is all over YouTube and reddit as well.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:20 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


"Keyboard warrior" is usually a dig, but Coffman is a real one and it's awesome.
posted by entropone at 5:46 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


this is inspiring! makes me think I could actually be using my history degree. My special interests are rife with facistis too (Medieval and ancient Rome), so...
posted by wellifyouinsist at 6:08 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I was very nervous to make an edit. I’d been reading on the history of one man who is glorified with some place names where I live and found an unsourced and unreliable notation. See, his whole career was nearly derailed because he whipped to death a slave who was not his own. I think it was the ownership problem and not the murder that likely got him in the most hot water. The notation suggested the slave has stolen from him. Typical shade still thrown on Black people in America today. There was no evidence admitted in his trial of such and no credence given anywhere. As though this would justify a beating death. I removed it and rewrote the passage with a citation to a historian well-regarded (I researched his reputation, too).

Coffman is an inspiration!
posted by amanda at 6:21 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


I've tried a few times to get some Wikipedia pages to clearly reflect how evil their subject is that someone is right-wing or conservative or that an ex-actor is now a full time political activist or that not everyone agrees with creating dorm rooms for tech workers, and there's always someone there to push back on it.

Link to a video of someone saying "as a right-winger" during a public lecture, and that won't be proof they're right wing, even if they are a (respectable, besuited, published in weekly magazines) vile xenophobe with a focus on Islamophobia, so they still get described as "a political commentator".

But the odd change sticks, and gradually you can take out useless glamourisation - e.g. unnecessary photos of posh schools that racists went to - and then you get towards a better Wikipedia.

Which is to say: Don't just stand back and say she's doing good stuff - go over to Wikipedia right now, look up the last public racist you saw giving their opinion on TV, and make their Wikipedia slightly less euphemistic.
posted by ambrosen at 6:23 AM on September 10 [12 favorites]


Oh wikipedia, never change. Back in my Department of Logic days, we had an undergraduate course for academic writing with a twist: you had to contribute to wikipedia in articles regarding logic and philosophy. You'd think that the logic section of the Hungarian wikipedia would be a calm backwater - it was anything, but. Endless edit wars, personal fights, wikipedia rules and regulations. Much the same as described, though I have to admit the falsehoods about possible world semantics were less corrupting than falsehoods about Nazi Germany.
posted by kmt at 6:27 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


She's awesome. There certainly are a lot of Wehraboos out there, and her Wikipedia page goes into a lot of very specific examples. And this Peacemaker67 dude, I just can't even. From the article:
Like other editors whom Coffman will encounter, Peacemaker67 sees something pernicious in her work. In a recent email, he told me that he considers Coffman’s approach “most unencyclopaedic and a prime example of what Wikipedia is not (see WP:NOTCENSORED).” He went on: “Will we apply the same censorship to military history articles on units of the Khmer Rouge? Turkish military units involved in the Armenian Genocide? Rwandan military units involved in the genocide in that country? US cavalry units that massacred Native Americans? Arkan’s Tigers? Where does that end?”
If by "censorship" he means the methodical eradication of glorification, if it exists for the examples he lists, I would say "I should certainly fucking hope so."
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:31 AM on September 10 [27 favorites]


But yeah, this is what it takes and right now I don't have the stomach for it. But I have so much admiration for people who do; I think it really makes a difference.

On one hand, yes, it does take people like Coffman; on the other, I think that most of us can (and, I would say, should) do useful things to help those who endure the drawn out bureaucracy that is so often necessary to make real change on Wikipedia. It's not just a Nazi issue, or even a political issue (although it is certainly both of those things).

What is being described here is a specific, and unusually important, aspect of the never ending struggle between Wikipedia's "inclusionist" and "deletionist" tendencies. This struggle is not, in itself, a bad thing. Both collection and selection are vital to making Wikipedia a useful resource.

This said, the editors most active on Wikipedia heavily skew towards excessive inclusion (often being obsessive about their favoured subjects in ways that inhibit their ability to distinguish between encyclopaedic content and specialist information). There are also plenty of editors who either can't or won't account for their own biases, including editors with specific (and sometimes profoundly sinister*) political and personal agendas. This combination of over-inclusive zeal and genuine bad actors makes removing misinformation from Wikipedia often far harder than the policies suggest it should be. And even ignoring misinformation, excessive inclusion has spoiled many a once or potentially good Wikipedia article (see a lot of chemistry articles for examples of overlong, over-technical and almost entirely useless Wikipedia entries).

We cannot all engage in the tiring and time-consuming research, debate and bureaucracy that is fundamental to improving Wikipedia. But most of us can create an account and, in our own areas of knowledge, delete an occasional unsourced false claim, add a few "citation needed" tags, simplify a sentence, or (even outside our specialisms) put something on the talk page when an article is incomprehensible. If everyone capable of bringing Wikipedia closer to an ideal encyclopaedia spent even just a few minutes a month doing so, it would significantly simplify matters for the heroic few who put up with the hassle, sniping and (sometimes) harassment that result from working for the bigger changes.

* I found Peacemaker67's worries about "censorship" of information relating to Turkish units which participated in the Armenian Genocide darkly comic given the extensive and organised efforts on Wikipedia to suppress and undermine its account of the historical reality of the genocide.
posted by howfar at 6:58 AM on September 10 [14 favorites]


This woman is a goddamn hero, and we need a thousand more like her to push back the ever-encroaching tide of white supremacist garbage that's filtering into every corner of the public internet. What makes her extraordinary is her dedication to her cause: most people give up after the 10th (or 100th, or 1000th) revert from the semi-anonymous legion of trolls, because it feels so damned Sisyphean. How do you fight that, especially when they have support in the highest tiers of the admins?

I was a communications major in the early aughts, back when Wikipedia was shiny and new and heralded an unprecedented change to how we handle expertise and its dissemination. I had a professor who was a serious Marshall McLuhan devotee, who was certain that democratizing information was the ticket to a utopian future where everyone was an academic (or at least thought and behaved like one). It was a tempting idea, but even my naive 19-year-old self had seen what happened to Usenet in the Endless September, and had fought in a few skirmishes over content interpretation in small online communities. Wikipedia didn't have teams of editors with agendas in its early days, but you could definitely see what was coming the first time you looked at the edit history for a vaguely-controversial topic.

The medium in the message, and the medium is full of Nazis.
posted by Mayor West at 7:06 AM on September 10 [15 favorites]


If everyone capable of bringing Wikipedia closer to an ideal encyclopaedia spent even just a few minutes a month doing so, it would significantly simplify matters for the heroic few who put up with the hassle, sniping and (sometimes) harassment that result from working for the bigger changes.

Or we could admit that Wikipedia is fundamentally broken and that we need a solution that doesn't openly enable bad faith actors. It's grating to constantly be told that the "answer" to the myriad problems with Wikipedia is for everyone to give their labor to help "fix" Wikipedia when there is a refusal by the project to reform itself so that the root causes behind the issues are resolved.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:13 AM on September 10 [21 favorites]


This woman is a goddamn hero, and we need a thousand more like her to push back the ever-encroaching tide of white supremacist garbage that's filtering into every corner of the public internet.

Much easier and more efficient for there to be a million people who do a one-thousandth of what she does, no heroics necessary.

We could wait for a world where Wikipedia was better or we could just chip away at it, one pompous euphemism at a time.
posted by ambrosen at 7:25 AM on September 10


Anyone looking to follow in her footsteps should be aware that over 90,000 edits is not something you achieve by spending the occasional weekend hour or two at Wikipedia, rather it is a serious commitment. Call me picky, but I'm surprised that the contribution at Dieter Pohl didn't get picked up by the bots as a WP:COPYVIO of Dieter Pohl.
posted by StephenB at 7:25 AM on September 10


It's grating to constantly be told that the "answer" to the myriad problems with Wikipedia is for everyone to give their labor to help "fix" Wikipedia when there is a refusal by the project to reform itself so that the root causes behind the issues are resolved.

That's like complaining about voter recruitment drives because voter suppression exists.
posted by howfar at 7:27 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


That's like complaining about voter recruitment drives because voter suppression exists.

That's a shitty analogy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that people are trying to do something about voter suppression. (Or to reverse the arrow, if people were treating voter suppression as something immutable, I would expect voter recruitment drives to face apathy and opposition.)

My ask is simple - instead of using a story about Yet Another Way Wikipedia Is Failing to run an editor drive, tell me how Wikipedia is going to be fixed to address the problem. Because pretty much every story we get here about how Wikipedia is failing is ultimately about how Wikipedia is structured and run - and editor drives aren't going to fix that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:38 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I mean, this sounds like a Wikipedia success story to me, doesn't it? A particular sub-culture within Wikipedia had a problem with glorifying Nazis, one editor arrives and starts to correct the problem, experiences pushback from the sub-culture, appeals to the broader Wikipedia community, is vindicated, and her edits stand. How is this evidence that Wikipedia is failing?
posted by biogeo at 7:41 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


How is this evidence that Wikipedia is failing?

Because the subculture is still there, still pushing back, and waiting for said one editor to go dark. Which seems to be a reoccurring issue with Wikipedia. The problem isn't that Wikipedia's military history was filled with glorification of Nazis - it's that Wikipedia attracted the sort of person who would write that glorification. And from what I read, that problem hasn't been fixed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:50 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


pretty much every story we get here about how Wikipedia is failing is ultimately about how Wikipedia is structured and run

This story is about an editor doing good work and being backed up by other editors and ultimately the arbitration committee. So no?

The plan to fix things sometimes primarily involves people putting in the effort to fix things. Certainly to my reading that is how people are working to "fix" voter suppression: Get more people involved in fighting it at all levels. It's not like it will ever stop.
posted by mark k at 7:51 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


The fact that there's Nazis everywhere doesn't really seem like a Wikipedia problem so much as a every-god-damn-thing problem. Everything is full of Nazis and would-be Nazis, and opposing them is a struggle everywhere that takes hard work and is a constant uphill battle. Your interpretation is that Wikipedia attracts Nazi apologists, mine is that they're so ubiquitous they diffuse into everything, and we need constant intellectual hygiene assisted by people like Coffman to keep them out.
posted by biogeo at 7:58 AM on September 10 [29 favorites]


*sigh* Also, reflecting on what I just wrote, I have to say that I miss the days of Godwin's Law and having the naive luxury of believing that Nazis were a fringe sort of extremism. I know that for a lot of people that was never true, but prior to about 2015 Nazis felt to me like a problem that was certainly very real but still quite distant from my own daily life, such an extreme case that comparisons to them usually felt like hyperbole, and Godwin's Law made sense. Now I can write a phrase like "everything is full of Nazis" and be completely serious and just so goddamn tired.

Anyway, after that reflection maybe it's worth saying that regardless of whether we agree about Wikipedia, I appreciate the fact that we're all on the same side here with respect to the goal of getting rid of the goddamn Nazis. That should probably go without saying, but jesus these are exhausting times and I appreciate all of my allies here.
posted by biogeo at 8:09 AM on September 10 [24 favorites]


Your interpretation is that Wikipedia attracts Nazi apologists, mine is that they're so ubiquitous they diffuse into everything, and we need constant intellectual hygiene assisted by people like Coffman to keep them out.

And part of that intellectual hygiene is making spaces unfriendly for Nazi apologists. Yes, ArbCom ultimately upheld the edits - but they did nothing about the fact that said editor outed the WikiProject Military History group as being way too comfortable with Nazi apologists. Hell, the article points out how ArbCom just washed their hands of the matter, saying that “it is not the role of the Arbitration Committee to settle good-faith content disputes among editors", illustrating the organizational blindness to these issues.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:10 AM on September 10 [12 favorites]


Wanted to observe how mainstream some of this stuff used to be. The article mentions it along with some explanation, but when I was a history reading kid in the '70s the idea that while the SS was bad, the regular German army was mostly good people in a tough situation. Anglophone historians and commenters loved playing the magnanimous victor by pointing out, endlessly, that Rommel wasn't a Nazi and crap like that. In general, if a German got their Persilschein and it was rude to point out the stain.

There is a very obvious parallel with the cult of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson admirers here in the States, and the extent to which the Dunning school approach has infected many textbooks in my lifetime, despite be a century out of date.

The fact she's moving into both Civil War territory and paying attention to historiography is perfect.
posted by mark k at 8:21 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


We cannot all engage in the tiring and time-consuming research, debate and bureaucracy that is fundamental to improving Wikipedia. But most of us can create an account and, in our own areas of knowledge, delete an occasional unsourced false claim, add a few "citation needed" tags, simplify a sentence, or (even outside our specialisms) put something on the talk page when an article is incomprehensible.

Absolutely, but you can only do that when there's already an article there to improve. One of my main issues with Wikipedia is the lack of articles and information about women and their works - areas where Wikipedians tend to overcorrect in the other direction, so my previous forays have included more skirmishes with deletionists rather than inclusionists.

This article was a good reminder for me that deletionist stances absolutely have their neccessity and merits as well. You just can't declare a golden rule, it has to be discussed on a case-by-case basis, and that's the time-consuming part.

I don't really see a way to improve that in any fundamental sense - the article really shows how Coffman is successful because she masters the jargon. Wikipdia rules-lawyering is a science in itself, an one that can't be acquired over night. But in a way it's also natural that you have to invest some time into learning the norms and language of a community before you can meaningfully contribute (Metafilter is no different). Still, the time investment creates a high barrier to entry and privileges the sort of person who has a certain amount of leisure, probably resulting from decent financial security and few non-paid obligations (in terms of care work for instance) and that makes Wikipedia the sausagefest that it is. I don't have a solution either.

I haven't given up yet, I limit my expectations of what I personally can achieve at the moment with the time and energy available to me (which might hopefully be more eventually; I'm a bit stressed because I've just changed careers, but I'm not normally big on non-paid obligations either and will probably be able to afford a time-consuming hobby at some point). I mostly stick to edditing articles about novels, which is not one of the great battlefields. But one definitely has to be willing to play the long game here.
posted by sohalt at 9:03 AM on September 10 [13 favorites]


One of my main issues with Wikipedia is the lack of articles and information about ...I don't really see a way to improve that in any fundamental sense

I addressed my own annoyance with Wikipedia's lack of a specific article by learning how to create an acceptable page there (containing the all-important cites) and adding it myself. Wikipedia belongs to all of us, and if you rely on it, but see a problem, make it better. And donate a little cash to them, as well.
posted by Rash at 9:34 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia belongs to all of us,

No it doesn't, and its Byzantine rule structure makes that abundantly clear.

But in a way it's also natural that you have to invest some time into learning the norms and language of a community before you can meaningfully contribute

On the flip side of that argument, communities that welcome newcomers and their contributions have norms and language that is designed to welcome people in and help them get up and running. Wikipedia's intricate system of rules-lawyering is very much the opposite of that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:45 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


Who controls the past controls the future.
posted by Slothrup at 10:22 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


"Coffman, who was born in Soviet-era Russia" - people from the former Soviet Unions have very deep reasons to abhor the Nazis.
posted by doctornemo at 10:37 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I remember years ago coming across the entry for Oradour-sur-Glane, and it was filled with German apologia. I removed the worst bits, despite my usual policy of never bothering to edit Wikipedia due to the uselessness, but I didn't have access to the trial documents to correct other bits. And even now, it's nearly entirely written from the German view point, with the victims reduced to nearly anonymous objects.
posted by tavella at 11:14 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I addressed my own annoyance with Wikipedia's lack of a specific article by learning how to create an acceptable page there (containing the all-important cites) and adding it myself.

Really, you think my problem is that it didn't occur to me to cite? Come on.
posted by sohalt at 12:16 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


No, not at all. In order to add a new article to Wikipedia, references are required. (In other words, you can't just make stuff up out of whole cloth - at least one source must be identified.) Learning how to do that is one of the steps to becoming a Wikipedia editor. It's a little easier if you've had to submit college papers.
posted by Rash at 12:41 PM on September 10


On the flip side of that argument, communities that welcome newcomers and their contributions have norms and language that is designed to welcome people in and help them get up and running.

What would be an example for such a community? I can think of some communities where the good intentions are there, or at least expressed on paper (among them Wikipedia, actually - they do have tutorials, and guidelines to be nice to newbies and programmes offering mentorship and stuff like that), but the fact of the matter is that unless you learn to read the room, you will step on toes, and people might want to be generous to newbies, but they will cry ouch.

I don't want to be a wikipedia apologist. I obviously don't think it's as easy as learning how to cite. I think the community's scrutiny is unevenly distributed, often lacking where it should be (eg. Nazi fancruft), often used as a cudgel against different perspectives/subject matters outside of the standard editor's sphere of interest (eg. works by women). To solve that, one would have to be more welcolming to some, less welcoming to others, which would be fine with me, and I do think it's a shame that we apparently have to argue about excluding Nazis again.

Sometimes the argument whose contributions to welcome, whose to sort out will be less obvious though. Generally speaking, with this type of project, arguments are inevitable and of course you have a better shot if you speak the language and know the history of previous arguments.
posted by sohalt at 12:49 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


No, not at all. In order to add a new article to Wikipedia, references are required. (In other words, you can't just make stuff up out of whole cloth - at least one source must be identified.) Learning how to do that is one of the steps to becoming a Wikipedia editor. It's a little easier if you've had to submit college papers.

Wow.

I guess that's what I get for defending Wikipedia. Karma's pretty instant today.
posted by sohalt at 12:51 PM on September 10 [12 favorites]


There are nuanced conversations to be had about the good and bad aspects of Wikipedia. TFA is a good jumping off point for those conversations. But it feels like every conversation we ever try to have about the subject is drowned out by "the power to edit Wikipedia is a magic wand" and "the power to edit Wikipedia is worthless because it isn't a magic wand".
posted by howfar at 1:07 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


I will note that I have a goddamn PhD and I hesitate to tangle with editing wikipedia articles, because previous experiences have not gone all that well for me. But perhaps I need to consider how to submit a college paper again.
posted by sciatrix at 1:20 PM on September 10 [18 favorites]


I apologize for stepping on any toes. There seem to be aspects to this discussion which are beyond my current understanding. I'll bow out now.
posted by Rash at 2:29 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


It is really ... something... to read someone write that editing wikipedia is as simple as "adding references" with the extra and condescending dose of "It's a little easier if you've had to submit college papers." when one of the very major points of this article is Coffman's battle to show how some sources are thinly veiled Nazi apologia and another set of points is about all the abuse she took for trying to fix and the all-consuming emotional energy it takes her to participate.
posted by getao at 9:40 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]


Let me provide some more context, then, explaining why that comment was wildly inappropriate and condescending. I will endeavor to illustrate why just spinning up an account and editing articles has more of a barrier to success than you imply.

Honestly, I'm exactly the kind of nerd who would casually fix Wikipedia articles with links to peer reviewed articles in one of the fields I read fluently if I could be assured that my goddamn edits would stay and not be replaced with some bullshit citing a recent pop science magazine publication. I don't actually try any more because I would seriously rather shoot someone in the field a question on Tumblr or Twitter if something doesn't pass the sniff test for me than fix the Wikipedia article and deal with the inevitable blowback.

This isn't actually theoretical: the current persistence hunting page has a whole lot of blowviating about the implausibility of persistence hunting in humans. Its sole citation is an Undark piece (not peer reviewed) featuring an anthropologist whose evidence against persistence hunting is weirdly narrow, centering around the idea that persistence hunting can't work if you lose sight of the animal at any point or work in forested terrain.

He also argues that a specific recreational endurance race between humans and horses (with human riders) is rarely won by the humans, so humans are just not very good at this kind of hunting. There is no comment regarding this race pointing out that endurance horses are specifically bred, raised, trained and conditioned to the sport, that winning is a different kind of evaluation than "not allowing any human to get close enough to you to slaughter you," or that every single horse in the race is ridden by a human making decisions and evaluations about the exact speed to make at any time.

Apparently tracking, trading off chases with other humans, modulating the pressure you put on flight distances to punish rest while allowing the animal to burn energy in panicked sprints, and knowing the local terrain well enough to anticipate where a large prey animal might go are totally unthinkable skills.

I went "the hell you say?" based on my knowledge of persistence hunting and how it works in the other big specialist of the style, which are wolves and dogs. My PhD is ecology/evolution/animal behavior, so while this isn't my personal area of specialization, I do have enough knowledge of animal behavior to have a pretty good reason to think this article is hella dubious.

But while I considered hunting down peer reviewed criticisms for this dude and changing the article, dealing with the inevitable outrage from the original editor based on my previous experiences with Wikipedia did not feel like a great use of my time. Instead I carried the link over to a more human-anthropology-focused acquaintance of mine and waved it gently in front of them to see if they would explode in an entertaining blog post explaining with detail, because I wanted to know what they thought. Hasn't happened yet, but I will see what they say.

I will note that the general feeling of the Undark article has weird gendered connotations to me in a way that I have extensive experience associating with explosions of weird male fragility, which is part of why I'm avoiding taking time to dig into the edit. You do get a sense over time for when you're likely to smack a hornet's nest if you're not careful, and while sometimes I absolutely do play baseball with hornets for fun, I prefer to not be stupid enough to waste my energy in an environment where the hornet controls the playing field.
posted by sciatrix at 7:23 AM on September 11 [13 favorites]


en.wikipedia's general advice on appropriate sources is at Primary, secondary and tertiary sources. In general, peer reviewed academic papers are not what is wanted.
posted by StephenB at 1:11 PM on September 11


StephenB, your claim is directly contradicted by your link. Peer reviewed academic papers are given in that document as examples of both primary and secondary sources which would be acceptable.
posted by biogeo at 7:34 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Mrs. Hobo has been running into exactly this story while getting involved in Dakota history topics on Wikipedia. It's literally the default human condition to spread myth and lore over scrutiny of sources, which is why the discipline of History had to be invented. And this means that that lore can spread to some very authoritative places unless you're willing to periodically do a deep dive and find out where some of it came from.

One thing that has saved Mrs. Hobo's efforts is the Internet Archive's ILL-style "checkout" service for digitised books. She's chased every single reference she encountered, and only ended up ordering two shelves worth of dead tree shipped from the US instead of twelve. And you can really pull the covers off someone who posted a "ha ha who could ever verify this!" factoid in bad faith.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:27 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]


What a badass, crusading against the fascist misinformation/propaganda machine. Is there somewhere we can send her money?
posted by Quajek at 10:00 AM on September 13


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