Wikipedia and journalism (and ant farms, Bombay, etc.)
July 22, 2005 10:53 AM   Subscribe

The avatar versus the journalist. Ant farms, Bombay, the neolithic revolution, and Wikipedia.
posted by Tlogmer (18 comments total)
Man, I read this twice and I feel stupid. The only thing my brain wrapped around was "The number of Hindu Gods and their avatars at one time was more than the number of Hindus, at a staggering 330 million deities." That part was slick.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 10:58 AM on July 22, 2005

As someone whose work has been misquoted and cited out of context on Wikipedia, and who has engaged in a futile attempt to correct this, I am a die-hard Deletionist. Wikipedia SUCKS.
posted by realcountrymusic at 11:23 AM on July 22, 2005

Can you cite specific examples? An army of well-informed mefites could do a lot to correct misquotes, etc. (which is, of course, wikipedia's strength).
posted by Tlogmer at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2005

I agree with DeepFriedTwinkies.. gibberish.

IMO every article in Wikipedia is a fiefdom and stands on its own merits, it's impossible to make non-partisan sweeping statements of the entire project, by its nature.
posted by stbalbach at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2005

Wikipedia is great for very many things, but not where people have an agenda. Those articles keep changing depending upon who updated last and you can never really trust them to be objective. How a battery works is not a controversial subject so the wiki would be a great place to get this info. School vouchers and their effects upon education would not be treated well.

For news, I will stick with an established journalist any day. They at least try to be objective. No one is perfect, but most do a pretty good job. Some journalists (i.e. Seymour Hersh) have an agenda, but you know what it is going in which helps you judge the veracity of the story. For fact checking and misquotes and just generally keeping the journalists honest I think bloggers are doing a pretty good job. Even if you never read any blogs the noise they make affects how the story gets covered, especially when it comes to inaccuracies and important omissions. They will be dealt with in follow on stories.
posted by caddis at 11:42 AM on July 22, 2005

Whenever I hear somebody moan and groan about Wikipedia, the only explanation I can think of is "sour grapes"...

What's your (mis-)quote, rcm?
posted by slater at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2005

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing. --Jimmy Wales

The encyclopedia is inherently transformational with the feature of being non-teleological. That is, once having initially achieved its stated goal in theory, there will be more information to document and disperse, and so on and so forth. Any attempt to critique it in the now is both resisted and futile. The best you can do is edit or vote on a policy page towards the liking of your own human knowledge and then edit the encyclopedia to include it.
posted by reflection at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2005

Well, I'd rather not make it a cause celebre, or bring my troubles there here, so I'll keep mum. But suffice it to say that a long passage from an article of mine was quoted, first without attribution (now fixed), then (still unfixed) with significant elisions that deep-fried the context, which allowed a subsequent editor to make it sound like I was saying something exactly the opposite of the argument of my article. My foray into the editing process produced more misunderstanding, outright abuse, and a few helpful responses (for example, I am now at least cited correctly). It also produced an invitation to contribute to the article, to which I replied "why would I, since unlike y'all I write about this subject for a living?"

I'm being extreme. I will look at Wikipedia articles on occasion and have found some very good ones over time. I'm just a representative of old media, I guess (academic publishing). It wasn't all bad. We had standards back in the day for things like grammar, citation, and substantiation of claims. So 20th century, I know. Knowledge wants to be free and all that. Too bad in this one case its bad knowledge.
posted by realcountrymusic at 12:20 PM on July 22, 2005

If you went in with that attitude, realcountrymusic (I'm much smarter than all of you -- obviously no-one who isn't a professional writer can put a sentance together!), it's no surprise that you weren't able to change the article as much as you wanted.

it's impossible to make non-partisan sweeping statements of the entire project, by its nature.

I'd have to disagree. Wikipedia differs greatly from other wikis (indeed, any two wikis will differ) because of its deeply ingrained culture, editing habits, member organizations, etc. A lot of this flies below the radar -- for example, not many people know about the three revert rule, the only strictly enforced guideline -- it's a very specific bit of legislation cobbled together through trial and error, with plenty of nuance.

School vouchers and their effects upon education would not be treated well.

The article in question looks pretty balanced to me. It's not perfect, but no piece of writing is; it's just as unbiased as any news story. (Even the abortion article is pretty good -- and yes, you'll notice it's protected right now. That's an example of wikipedia culture at large acting on a particular article.)
posted by Tlogmer at 1:17 PM on July 22, 2005


Er. Sentence. (Sorry; I learned with whole reading.)
posted by Tlogmer at 1:26 PM on July 22, 2005

The General Secretary of the Association of Deletionists is a user named Ambi, who goes by the description "Hunter of all things self-promotory." He won the seat as the result of an election, reaping seven out of eight votes.

Ambi is a she.
posted by grouse at 3:21 PM on July 22, 2005

[this is good]

The article contains one of the best simple glosses of the concept of the Internet's advancement toward singularity I've ever seen.

After reading this I really wish I could teach a class solely based around contributing to the Wikipedia at my old high school, or really any school. Students would do research, contribute, and try to defend it. Something tells me that would be an awesome class.
posted by blasdelf at 12:14 AM on July 23, 2005

If you went in with that attitude, realcountrymusic

I went in with an entirely constructive and positive attitude. I was initially delighted to see my work being used in a non-academic setting, and to have my words be part of a widely consulted article on a subject to which I have devoted much of my life. I only lost it after months of watching the process unfold. It is not elitist to expect people to cite quotations from published work, make sure such quotes are accurate and presented in a reasonable context, and to hope that when presented (politely) with evidence of basic flaws, to correct them. Otherwise, you're basically saying Wikipedia is a free-fire zone for any idiot who wants to weigh in on a subject, and in that case, I still say Wikipedia sucks. Don't standards apply in open source software development? If someone released an open source project that didn't credit the developers of the source code, that screwed up machines on which it was installed, and then refused to acknowledge corrections from qualified fellow developers, would that not suck? Would a developer who washed his hands publicly of any affiliation with said project be an elitist asshole because s/he didn't understand that, hey, it's open source, so anything goes? If you make a living doing something, does it make you an elitist if you prefer not to do it for free in a context where your work is already being stolen, abused, and stripped of its integrity? Then call me an elitist. There's a reason for peer review, and a reason why I wouldn't call the contributors to the article in question my peers. Because most of them don't know fuck all about the subject of this article.
posted by realcountrymusic at 8:43 AM on July 23, 2005

and to hope that when presented (politely) with evidence of basic flaws, to correct them.

Wikipedia-style self correct: to hope that . . . those responsible for the errors will correct them. Sorry.
posted by realcountrymusic at 8:45 AM on July 23, 2005

It really would help if you would reference the specific article this happened in so we could see what actually happened -- you mentioned earlier that you didn't actually edit the article; if you just commented on its talk page, your influence was greatly reduced. (And no, of course open source doesn't mean anything goes;

The larger issue is that wikipedia is a work in progress -- it's, hell, only 3 (4?) years old and already it's developed not only a huge article base but an impressive set of cultural mores and stanards. Give it some time; I think it'll become more academically useful.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:33 AM on July 23, 2005

It really would help if you would reference the specific article this happened in

It might, but like I said, I'm not into it. As Karl Rove put it, I've already said to much.

you didn't actually edit the article; if you just commented on its talk page, your influence was greatly reduced

Au contraire. I edited the article to fix the failure to even CITE my directly quoted words. My edit became a topic of controversy in the discussion, which I subsequently joined.

no, of course open source doesn't mean anything goes

Obviously I was being sarcastic. Wikipedia is to "open source" as Lynyrd Skynyrd shouting out "What song is it you wanna hear?" [FREEBIRD!] is to representative democracy.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:20 PM on July 23, 2005

Alright, we both have strong opinions and I don't think hashing the argument out on metafilter is the best idea. Feel free to email me if you want.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:18 PM on July 23, 2005

Well, as it happens, I've given up caring. Wikipedia: worth what you pay for it.
posted by realcountrymusic at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2005

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