The Cult of Wikipedia
February 7, 2008 6:50 AM   Subscribe

The Cult of Wikipedia - An expose by The Register on conflict of interest at Wikipedia.
posted by loquacious (123 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Once, I tried to edit some bullshit article that shouldn't even be there. But, the author of the article, of whom the article was about, edited it back almost instantaneously and submitted me for vandalism.

I thought, "maybe I should just go for a walk outside."
posted by plexi at 6:59 AM on February 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Ah, Guru Maharaj Ji, 14-Year-Old Master of the Universe! Hadn't thought about him in decades, but this brings it all back. Memories...

Er, on topic: I guess this is an example of how Wikipedia can go wrong; like any other institutions, it has its inner circle and conflicts of interest. Bottom line, the article on this particular cult leader is worthless. Happily, I don't intend ever to consult it.
posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on February 7, 2008


News flash: neither Wikipedia nor the Register should be used as sole sources for serious work.
posted by killdevil at 7:04 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia is a great dumping ground for random links. Other than that, it just eats bandwidth.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:05 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Good for factoid, who's born when and stuff like that. I think I like Wikipedia because it learns people to become critical about information, be critical and you'll find a lot of bullshit in Encyclopedia Britanica.
posted by zouhair at 7:08 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: be critical and you'll find a lot of bullshit
posted by not_on_display at 7:10 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm wrong, but this cult doesn't sound bad as cults go. Silly, perhaps, but it's no Scientology. And considering I had never heard of it before, maybe the Wikipedia guy is not doing that good a job of promoting it.

I am not shocked to find hypocrisy in the Wikipedia organization, and I'm glad it's on such a mild, unimportant topic instead of an article people might be reading a lot. Think what could have happened if one of the editors had been a paid global climate change denialist (or Scientologist).
posted by hydropsyche at 7:12 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Apparently, there's no cabal over at wikipedia, either.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:20 AM on February 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Despite its problems I really like wikipedia. It has mostly accurate information, and often on subjects that are not covered in traditional encyclopedias. It is not the last word in accuracy though due in part to the stuff talked about in the link. It is not a definitive authority. However, it is useful for background information and even if you are doing serious academic research wikipedia has value in giving you an overview of the subject to help jump start your research and it probably will cite some useful primary or secondary sources for you. Taken for what it is, not what it strives to be, it is one of the most useful resources on the internet.
posted by caddis at 7:20 AM on February 7, 2008 [13 favorites]


And considering I had never heard of it before, maybe the Wikipedia guy is not doing that good a job of promoting it.

From the tone of the article, what Fresco's been doing is basically keeping his guru's article clear of anything that might clue people in to the fact that this "motivational speaker" is a cult leader who thinks he's god. I think that's a whitewash, and the real scandal is that Fresco has gone in-depth and perverted Wikipedia's self-policing system so that it makes it "ethical" for him to do this. It's skeevy and it's good for the general public to realize that this kind of stuff goes on at Wikipedia.
posted by graymouser at 7:23 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Register's layout and color scheme make me feel like I'm reading an online version of Pravda or some super left wing party ramblings.

Why is that, comrade?
posted by chillmost at 7:24 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why some people have these all-or-nothing feelings about Wikipedia as a source of information. If you need an answer that's probably right, Wikipedia is invaluable. If you need an answer that's definitely right, Wikipedia is unacceptable. Note to students: your term paper falls into the second category.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2008 [24 favorites]


Taken for what it is, not what it strives to be, it is one of the most useful resources on the internet.

Agreed. Wikipedia is incredibly useful for summaries of things, I personally use it a lot to just keep up on general information. But it's also really popular, and while it's a generally Good Thing, the more people who are aware of its real shortcomings and understand the grain of salt it has to be taken with, the better.
posted by graymouser at 7:27 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't know, but "give me all your money and stop thinking critically," sounds like a bad sort of cult to me. And if this kind of conflict of interest is tolerated on mild unimportant stuff, imagine how much worse it must be on things that matter when there's some real resources devoted to subverting the system.
posted by Richard Daly at 7:28 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


My favorite Wikipedia war is over the spelling of tennis player Novak Djokovic's name.

Only on Wikipedia could a spelling I have never seen even once in other English-language media be considered correct.
posted by aerotive at 7:28 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Some of wiki's maths pages are abysmal. To quote one of our mathematicians "I'm going to try really hard to forget I ever read thatt."
posted by lilburne at 7:36 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Every time The Register calls out Wikipedia for fakeness, I giggle a little.
posted by ardgedee at 7:39 AM on February 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


That article was so sensationalist and poorly structured that I almost thought the author was serious. But The Register is a joke news site isn't it? They are parodying tech journalism right?

what Fresco's been doing is basically keeping his guru's article clear of anything that might clue people in to the fact that this "motivational speaker" is a cult leader who thinks he's god

Well this is bullshit. Realistically speaking, what this guy did wasn't a cult and approximately a million people in India who claim to be god/master/guru/lord/queen/blahblah everyday.

But Fresco has also worked to ensure that self-published material is fair game with biographies of living persons - as long as it's "not unduly self-serving". So, if an article discusses a living person, it can include positive information from a blog or web site published by that person. But critical information isn't allowed unless it comes from an independent "reputable" source.

That was pretty damn funny. The quasi-scare quotes around the word 'reputable' demonstrates real finesse.
posted by nixerman at 7:40 AM on February 7, 2008


the more people who are aware of its real shortcomings and understand the grain of salt it has to be taken with, the better.

CIA, FBI computers used for Wikipedia edits
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:41 AM on February 7, 2008


The problem with this kind of self-chosen 'inner circle' is that it automatically selects for cliquishness, assholery, and protection of one's own position. Those who don't evince those traits, who are focused primarily on the quality of the end product, will be outcompeted by those that are more focused on their own advancement.

The Scouts had a good solution for cliquishness; their 'elite' organization, the Order of the Arrow, can't choose its own membership. Rather, OA members have to be voted in by NON-members.

I strongly suspect something like that could be adapted for Wikipedia. Would do that place a world of good.
posted by Malor at 7:41 AM on February 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


El Reg's unflinching hate-on for Wikipedia is pretty tiresome. A moderately interesting story - to the extent that it shows Wikipedia to operate just like most other institutions in the world, only a bit more transparently - but giving it the six-page SHOCK EXPOSE treatment just smacks of monomania.
posted by flashboy at 7:43 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


But The Register is a joke news site isn't it? They are parodying tech journalism right?

Wikipedia says The Register is okay. I'm not sure who to believe anymore.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:43 AM on February 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


The Cult Of Dirtiness: An expose by the Kettle on the blackness of the Pot.
posted by jacobian at 7:45 AM on February 7, 2008


Some of wiki's maths pages are abysmal.

They are *all* abysmal. I don't even know if they are correct but they are certainly impossible to figure anything out from.

Otherwise, I find Wikipedia to be pretty good. Obviously I wouldn't bet my life on any given claim being true, but I never do that from any single source (if I can avoid it) anyway.

I really don't get the Wikihate around here.
posted by DU at 7:47 AM on February 7, 2008


And Horace Rumpole is right. Wikipedia is a useful reference and first-stop when researching something. It can't be treated as an authority and, like any encyclopedia, it is not a primary source.

Wikipedia is intended to be a part of the online information sphere. As such, callouts like The Register's are part of the same feedback loop and should be considered part of Wikipedia's edit cycle.

Activities outside Wikipedia influence it. When Lore Sjoberg held a contest for the least significant entry in Wikipedia, it led to articles being deleted for (wait for it...) being too insignificant. I'm betting The Register's article leads to some changes as well. Maybe not enough to be satisfactory, but incremental improvements are improvements all the same.
posted by ardgedee at 7:51 AM on February 7, 2008


I live in Gdansk
Danzig
Gdansk
Danzig
Gdansk
fuck it

Still, what do you want for free?
posted by pracowity at 7:51 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


For a short time last year I attempted to participate in Wikipedia, and discovered that most articles on controversial subjects—which on Wikipedia, could be just about anything—are closely guarded and fought over by a tiny group of people. The cluster of articles related to global warming is a good example of this; check out the "list of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming" and its corresponding discussion page.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:53 AM on February 7, 2008


The amazing thing about wikipedia is that it is still so good in spite of the asshattery of the ruling clique.
posted by afu at 7:54 AM on February 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


I don't know, but "give me all your money and stop thinking critically," sounds like a bad sort of cult to me.

It's even worse as political ideology.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:56 AM on February 7, 2008


Disclosure of a conflict of interest does not eliminate that conflict.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:03 AM on February 7, 2008


wikipedia founder shot dead : hoax filter
posted by hortense at 8:06 AM on February 7, 2008


I've been editing Wikipedia since 2003 but I just stick to the obscure articles. The people that do "help" are generally friendly and cooperative. Editing a big article like San Francisco or global warming, on the other hand, is just asking for trouble and will pit you against the proverbial 46-year olds in their mom's basement.
posted by crapmatic at 8:19 AM on February 7, 2008


Everytime I see an article such as this, I smile a little brighter, the sun feels a bit warmer, what's that? oh, vindication.

Forgive my grandstanding here, but this has always been a private anguish for me. A kind of internal struggle: a kind of existential war.

Don't get me wrong, I like Wikipedia. It's convenient, I can catch up on Batman story arcs and get title listings for TV shows I torrent legally accquire, and it is a good starting point for reasearch.

However, I can recall the moment I became familiar with Wikipedia some years ago, I felt surrounded by "This is the future of information / no more stodgy, outdated encyclopedias / tyranny of information by a concerted elite few / collective knowledge of the world population and braintrust / new format of the internet, no need for webpages, but wiki articles / self-governed and effectively so / all hail a new information age!" and did I ever feel alone, saying "You're shitting me, anyone can edit this? Really? So there's nothing stopping me from saying Douglas MacArthur had a 40' dick and founded the Sex Pistols?"

I distinctly remember the offical entry for House M.D. had a line buried in the description that read "House M.D. is known as 'Crazy American Doctor Hour' in Japan" that remained there for upwards of a week.

which of course was met with "Don't be ridiculous! / unbiased community / strict moderation / round the clock moderation / ample discussion and vigilance / sections maintained by experts / blah blah blah"

So again, when I see this sort of thing, it makes me smile.

I would never stoop to saying "I told you so", and I don't expect anyone to ever tell me "you were right." In fact I fully expect people to call me bitter, a curmudgeon (and they would probably be right), and outright deny their previous unfailing devotion to the site.

But watching the public opinion silently shift from "Gilded Web 3.0 Information Singularity Vox Populi from on high" to "It's a good starting point, but everyone knows it's full of misinformation" is good enough for me.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:21 AM on February 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh it gets worse. Look at Quackwatch and its Probation - basically, a group of editors get together, decide to put an article on "probation" (which means any "disruptive" edit results in immediate ban/block of the editor), and while the article is under probation, remove negative material and spruce up the positive. Even posting on the talk page can get you on a watch list - guilty until proven otherwise (by a select few). The whole alternative medicine war on Wikipedia is huge, almost as bad as the Pakistan/India conflicts (within WP). There are wars going on all over the place.
posted by stbalbach at 8:23 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


crapmatic: I've been editing Wikipedia since 2003 but I just stick to the obscure articles. The people that do "help" are generally friendly and cooperative. Editing a big article like San Francisco or global warming, on the other hand, is just asking for trouble and will pit you against the proverbial 46-year olds in their mom's basement.

That must be why the articles on trivial or obvious things tend to be pretty good, and the articles on important things tend to be awful.
posted by koeselitz at 8:23 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Activities outside Wikipedia influence it. When Lore Sjoberg held a contest for the least significant entry in Wikipedia, it led to articles being deleted for (wait for it...) being too insignificant.

Man, that's just gorgeous. Missed it the first time around. And, like a couple of folks who were late to the original lungfish thread, I'm absolutely dismayed by the nuke-from-orbit handling of article deletions over at Wikipedia. Heartbreaking.
posted by cortex at 8:23 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I distinctly remember the offical entry for House M.D. had a line buried in the description that read "House M.D. is known as 'Crazy American Doctor Hour' in Japan" that remained there for upwards of a week.

I don't feel like checking to see whether Eli Roth still got his big break in Hollywood because he was the secret father of Camryn Mannheim's child, but that's my favorite Wikipedia-ism thus far.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:24 AM on February 7, 2008


Whatever other stuff the Register does, its series of articles about Wikipedia are certainly relevant and useful. Given Wikipedia's prominence, the MSM treats it pretty uncritically, except for the single occaision of the New Yorker EssJay scandal (like all ED links , NSFW)... the problems associated with that incident appear to be systemic rather than an isolated event.

Furthermore, now that they take themselves so seriously and delete any interesting factoids from articles, it's not even fun to surf anymore.
posted by Spacelegoman at 8:27 AM on February 7, 2008


And considering I had never heard of it before, maybe the Wikipedia guy is not doing that good a job of promoting it.

Really? Because I heard that references to Prem Rawat as a cult leader have tripled in the past six months.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:32 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I distinctly remember the offical entry for House M.D. had a line buried in the description that read "House M.D. is known as 'Crazy American Doctor Hour' in Japan" that remained there for upwards of a week.

I don't feel like checking to see whether Eli Roth still got his big break in Hollywood because he was the secret father of Camryn Mannheim's child, but that's my favorite Wikipedia-ism thus far.



Any faith I might have had in Wikipedia collapsed when I came across an entry for a friend of mine. It ended with the line, "In his tight-knit circle of friends and colleagues, XXXX XXXX is well-known for his biting wit, effusive charm, and easy way with women, not unlike a yong Warren Beatty."
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:32 AM on February 7, 2008


oops, I meant "young." You know what I mean.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:33 AM on February 7, 2008


Obligatory Onion link: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence
posted by PlusDistance at 8:34 AM on February 7, 2008


I'll have to agree with the above, that Wikipedia is useful despite the existence of entrenched editors and administrators.

Whenever I visit an article, I almost always immediately check out the discussion page after reading the front page, just to see who has been arguing about what.

One thing I have noticed with disgust is the abuse of the "Bold" doctrine (make bold edits) used by established editors on apparent whims to enforce or create policies they believe right on articles and subjects they have little or no connection to. The more amusing thing is that very often they scrounge the consensus of three or four people, declare a majority backing, and embark on full scale alteration of slews of articles and topics.

I used to do a lot of editing, but simply grew weary with having to deal with people who were concerned less about the wonderful purpose of Wikipedia, to provide free, easily accessed, and expandable information to the world, and more with controlling its appearance and policy. Its akin to arguing over the way to eat your dinner, while the dinner itself sits there spoiling.
posted by Atreides at 8:35 AM on February 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


lately it seems as though Wikipedia succeeded despite the clownshow running it rather then because of it. Every time there is an issue or scandal Jimbo Wales blow it off or ignore it. It's ridiculous.

Some of the articles there are really good, but from what I've heard there are a lot of people who are 'protective' of their entries and don't want people to edit them. Also, people have been deleting lots of stuff.

Wikitruth is a pretty entertaining site if you're curious about the drama going on over there.
posted by delmoi at 8:35 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any faith I might have had in Wikipedia collapsed when I came across an entry for a friend of mine. It ended with the line, "In his tight-knit circle of friends and colleagues, XXXX XXXX is well-known for his biting wit, effusive charm, and easy way with women, not unlike a yong Warren Beatty."

I picture him in a fedora, for some reason.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:44 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I picture him in a fedora, for some reason.

I will neither confirm nor deny.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:49 AM on February 7, 2008


Some of wiki's maths pages are abysmal. To quote one of our mathematicians "I'm going to try really hard to forget I ever read thatt."

It's a wiki. Why don't you edit them?
posted by tarheelcoxn at 8:49 AM on February 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


I wiki for answers to things I don't know about.

I don't wiki to correct other people on what I think I already know.

It must be wonderful to know everything and be all high and mighty and all that.

Meh.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:57 AM on February 7, 2008


Why waste time carefully correcting something only to have some basement-dwelling 17 year old aspie come along and revert it 3 seconds later? Wikipedia has designed itself into not being worth the trouble for experts to help out.
posted by Spacelegoman at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


For a short time last year I attempted to participate in Wikipedia, and discovered that most articles on controversial subjects—which on Wikipedia, could be just about anything—are closely guarded and fought over by a tiny group of people.

That's not a bad thing, per se. A tiny group of editor experts can be just what an article needs, though that may be anathema to the general spirit of Wikipedia.

The bad part starts when someone new edits a page and one person from that clique assumes bad faith on the part of that new editor. Like any tribe, the clique circles the wagons and prevents further editing.

Worse is when that clique has an administrator-level editor, who thuggishly begins to threaten banning from Wikipedia.

There are obvious solutions to these problems. For example, more objective moderation.

A major fix to Wikipedia, however, would be to not allow administrators to be editors. This would patch up a great deal of the conflicts of interest that occur on a daily basis.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


When someone includes a wikipedia link in an email message to myself and several other colleagues, I always hastily edit the article it links to to be a two line, all-caps statement about boobies just before anyone on the distribution list sees it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 AM on February 7, 2008 [11 favorites]


It's a boon to translators like me. I'm not responsible for fact-checking the articles, papers and books I work on, but they will often talk about topics I'm not familiar with and Wikipedia provides an adequate amount of English-language orientation. For example, currently doing a florid piece of a work of art based on a well-known opera - Wiki has a handy act-by-act summary and a list of principal characters, which you couldn't guess accurately from Chinese renderings. I of course also looked at other opera sites, but in most cases Wikipedia provides the outline information I need. So thanks, nutty Web2.0 cultists!
posted by Abiezer at 9:09 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Administrator abuse starts from the top down: Jimbo's birthday
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:10 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia does a good job of taking the place of traditional encyclopedias. It's a good place to go when you need a quick blurb on something, or are preparing to do in-depth study and need a starting point. It's not a place to go for definitive research, but then again, neither were traditional encyclopedias.

So, while Wikipedia isn't perfect, I think it's pretty good for what it is and what it does.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:11 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a wiki. Why don't you edit them?

Presumably because he's got better things to do with his time than laboriously correcting somebody's errors, only to watch another moron revert them back to the same set of errors the following day?

Maybe I'm wrong, but this cult doesn't sound bad as cults go.

During the early 70's, I had a lot of friends who fell under the sway of the Divine Light Mission, and the porcine faced teenager who was its deity. You're right in the sense that as cults go, its ideology wasn't the most pernicious out there -- it was actually faintly innoccuous, and it's biggest drawback seems to have been that people abandoned their critical faculty, and went on interminably about how enlightened they were, now that they'd recieved 'The Knowledge'.

I have to say, I didn't see any particular signs of enlightenment among them. Rather than making it smarter, it seemed to make them dumber. And it didn't appear to improve their moral compass any -- the wife beater carried on beating his wife, the adulterer kept on shagging other women, the weed smokers still smoked weed -- albeit rather less of it, and they did have periods of abstinence. But they all adopted a peculiarly pious demeanour that made them insufferable among those who had previously liked them.

Of course, back in those days, Divine Light Mission devotees were still under an obligation to proselytize for their faith, so I recall having lots of tiresome arguments with them about why my life wouldn't be improved by devotion to a hurf durf buttereater who passed off a moment or two's pressure on the optic nerve as the opening of the third eye. But eventually, they all became too boring to tolerate, and so it was me who declared them suppressive persons, and initiated a policy of total disconnection.

Just as with the cult of Wikipedia, life's too fucking short to waste it entertaining morons.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:11 AM on February 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's also a good collecting place for various things that would never make it into a traditional encyclopedia, like random pop-culture tidbits.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:12 AM on February 7, 2008


I ran across my favourite wikipedia quote in recent weeks while trying to learn about RAID configurations:

"The maximum number of drives in a RAID 5 redundancy group is theoretically unlimited, but it is common practice to limit the number of drives."

Okay, so it's technically correct.
posted by ODiV at 9:15 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


My favorite parts of Wikipedia are the articles with "penis" hidden inside other words in the intropenisductory paragraph.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Wikipedia is ideal for purposes where you need information and it doesn't matter if it's wrong, deliberately misleading, assiduously purged of anything that might make it useful, or just made up by somebody ten minutes before.

The trouble is, i can't think of any purpose that fits that description.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:16 AM on February 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


MetaTalk?
posted by ODiV at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, thinking on, because it's multi-lingual, you can often click to the (in my case) Chinese-language version of an article and have half your tricky vocab supplied with zero effort on your own part. I refute you thus, George_Spiggot! Ow, me toe.
posted by Abiezer at 9:19 AM on February 7, 2008


Rather, OA members have to be voted in by NON-members.

Counter-example: state representative bodies. The people on the outside have no clue what goes on inside.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:23 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia is intended to be a part of the online information sphere. As such, callouts like The Register's are part of the same feedback loop and should be considered part of Wikipedia's edit cycle.


It's embarrassing to Wikipedia that one of their innermost circle has been gaming the system for so long & so successfully, but now that it's uncovered the real story is twofold:

A) How will they handle this instance of abuse?

B) How will they revamp the system to prevent/detect/repair this type of abuse in the future?

I'm betting that A will be done reasonably well & B will not. Wikipedia's immersed in a mindset & committed to it, while the longterm solution lies outside that mindset.
posted by scalefree at 9:24 AM on February 7, 2008


Wikipedia is what it is. I think everyone knows what it is by now, so it's kind of pointless to argue about it.
posted by empath at 9:30 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have two things that I absolutely love to do on wikipedia:

1. Use it as a fancy card catalog. Look up a topic, click the citation link, then go find the article at the library and cite said article. It has really brought some class and polish to my battlestar galactica slash fan fiction.

2. Write angry messages to editors that don't cite. Every time I fail to find a citation for some juicy piece of info, I lose my shit,contact the person responsible for the revision and tell them what a shit sucking piece of effluvia I think they really are. I should think the value of this is self-evident.
posted by shmegegge at 9:32 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Administrator abuse starts from the top down:

Wikis should have no top from which to act down upon. That's the root cause of the mindset behind the abuse. Until that's solved, anything else is a patch that someone will eventually figure out how to circumvent. But that's too scary a place for people to go yet, I think.
posted by scalefree at 9:36 AM on February 7, 2008


I think everyone knows what it is by now, so it's kind of pointless to argue about it.

CITATION NEEDED, JERKFACE. Sorry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 AM on February 7, 2008


Yes, it is a cult and always has been one, although they have changed Guru Maharaj Ji's name back to his birth name and now call him a "motivational speaker."

I used to be a member, and, yes, it hasn't been as cultish as Scientology or the Unification Church et al.

The article borders on hagiography. I seem to recall it used to present the "other side," even having a link to a site exposing His Fraudulence.
posted by kozad at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2008


I wish that Register article was better. I've noticed the wikipedia pieces on gurus do tend to suck. I've spent the most time on the Siddha Yoga articles which come off as ads and although they preserve a critical sentence or two, it's clear who won what must have been endless back and forth edit wars about them.
posted by serazin at 9:48 AM on February 7, 2008


I wish that Register article was better.

This is exactly the level of journalism at which The Register has operated, operates, and will continue to operate.

They should not be taken seriously.
posted by sparkletone at 10:04 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's also a good collecting place for various things that would never make it into a traditional encyclopedia, like random pop-culture tidbits.

Too bad they are deleting that stuff because they want to be taken seriously.
posted by srboisvert at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I used to be a member

Perhaps you can answer a question for me, kozad. My friends all used to own these t-shaped wooden things. When I'd ask what they were for, they became somewhat evasive and the best answer I could get was that they were used in meditiation.

I couldn't for the life of me figure out how such a thing could possibly work though. Do you know the thing that I'm talking about?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2008


I was just thinking this morning how tiresome this anti-Wikipedia thing has gotten.

the articles HAVE CITATIONS, the good ones anyway. It TELLS YOU WHERE THEY GOT THE INFORMATION FROM. If you don't trust that source, don't trust that information. is it that hard?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The internet, like a box of cereal, should come with a list of ingredients.

"This product contains: High fructose bullshit, partially hydrogenated bullshit, artificial and natural bullshit flavor, bullshit dye No. 3. Product is sold by volume, not by weight. Some of the contents may have fluffed up during transmission."
posted by three blind mice at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


If Wikipedians more agressively followed their own citation policies (in theory, uncited statements may be deleted without any advance warning or discussion) they wouldn't need to prohibit edits from people who had potential conflicts of interest.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2008


My friends all used to own these t-shaped wooden things.

Scratch that question, kozad. The site that you've linked to shows me that they are called a baragon and they are indeed used in meditation. Presumably, my friends couldn't tell me how they used them because they were sworn to secrecy regarding The Knowledge.

I'm glad to clear that up though. That's bugged me for the last thirty five years.

If you don't trust that source, don't trust that information. is it that hard?

In most scholarship, you can usually take the fact that there's a correspondence between the citation and the source for granted. That's not the case with Wikipedia.

And given the revelations about the various character defects and personality disorders that we've had about named Wikipedia staff/editors over the past year or so, I'm really disinclined to rely on much that's written by the rest of the great anonymous masses that contribute to it. It's as though every time somebody pulls on a Wikithread, the whole Wikisweater starts to unravel.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:31 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think our attitudes towards Wikipedia are shaped by our Wikipedia usage habits. What subjects do we use Wikipedia to find out about? How do we use the page itself?

When in doubt, look at the talk page. This will tell you how controversial the topic is, and how cooperative the various editors have been in trying to make the page as good as it can be. There are wide swaths of technical pages where people either agree, or disagree but are cooperative, and so produce good pages.

Apparently, there are lots of pages that touch on political hot-buttons where people are not cooperative. That must suck for the people that inexplicably depend on Wikipedia for information on those topics.
posted by Jpfed at 10:31 AM on February 7, 2008


I would like to organize a mass-edit day where every single wiki entry is converted to the lyrics to the Fresh Prince theme song. Who's with me?!
posted by secret about box at 10:32 AM on February 7, 2008


MetaTalk? [citation needed]

Wikipedia is ok. It's the 'deletionists' and the 'citationists' that I hate.
posted by drstein at 10:33 AM on February 7, 2008


Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I liked to take a minute
Just sit right there

posted by caddis at 10:34 AM on February 7, 2008


I've been banned from editing on a couple of different IPs, generally for correcting grammar, which is for some reason regarded as vandalism. Most recently, it was for trying to correct the Hustler article, in which several magazines we no longer publish are listed as extant, and several others are "specials," or compilations of previously-published content.

I'd bother to get around it if I were interested, but I kinda felt like "Well, fuck you then. Be wrong."
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Peter, you're bringing back old memories. (I was a premie from 1975 to 1978.) There are four meditation techniques - unless they've changed those, too: Light (inner), the Word (kinda like following your breath...these are all very old techniques), Nectar (a long story...let's just say an inner taste), and Music.

Anyway, that T-shaped thing is a barragon, and a premie would use it to prop up his arms so he could stick his thumbs in his ears so he could hear this Inner Music. 15 minutes of each technique, twice a day. (After I got past the sound of my bloodstream and the high-pitched sound of my nervous system sometimes I would hear these cool cricket sounds.) The meditation was pretty fun, but it soon became obvious that the Guru could spout platitudes reasonably well but had not spent much time meditating himself. So the Guru worship thing got a little old.

By the way, I swore to never reveal these techniques, so I'm afraid I'm going to be hit by a semi after work today and be reincarnated as an endangered Ecuadorean frog.
posted by kozad at 10:45 AM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "A major fix to Wikipedia, however, would be to not allow administrators to be editors."

Yeah, just what we need. more rules.

That's like saying a major fix to the comic book industry would be to not allow editors to write, or not allow artists to be writers. While this may or may not improve things, you'd need yet another layer of bureaucracy to enforce such a limitation, and the comic book industry is encumbered enough with that. Sounds like Wiki don't need more layers of bureaucracy either.

Some admins are great editors and others aren't. That's the nature of the beast. Whenever there is a discrepancy, there should be a place in that article which addresses it. It should say something like "there are many opinions regarding the following" and then give each of these opposing opinions equal time. Instead what happens is one side wins out over the other, or that issue is abandoned, or the history of the article reveals multiple edits by opposing sides which reflect these differing opinions but get lost in the maelstrom that most people won't ever examine.

Predominantly, Wikipedia polices itself fine, and when I go there looking for an answer, I get one. It doesn't necessarily have to be the 'right' answer anyway. Cuz honestly, if I get the answer I want I usually don't look much further unless it's important, and if I don't get what I want, I look elsewhere until I do.

It's really not as big a deal as many seem to think.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:49 AM on February 7, 2008


I've been banned from editing on a couple of different IPs, generally for correcting grammar, which is for some reason regarded as vandalism.

If they're IPs which a lot of people share, or IPs your ISP re-assigns to other users, the IPs may be banned due to vandalism by other people on that IP.

I do grammar fixes all the time on Wikipedia and have never had the slightest complaint about them, let alone banning.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:51 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think our attitudes towards Wikipedia are shaped by our Wikipedia usage habits.

I use Wikipedia to find out about crap that doesn't matter, which is where it's strongest. If I ever want to know anything about Lego bricks -- which is pretty fucking unlikely, but that's the sort of useless information I'm talking about -- I know it's a safe bet that Wikipedia has an entire Legopedia subsystem maintained by very pale, lonely people who play with blocks when they aren't sleeping or masturbating.
posted by pracowity at 11:04 AM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


the articles HAVE CITATIONS, the good ones anyway. It TELLS YOU WHERE THEY GOT THE INFORMATION FROM. If you don't trust that source, don't trust that information. is it that hard?

Did you read the article in question? Do you realize your comment is completely irrelevant to it? Perhaps that's why you're SHOUTING?

If someone chooses to remove all comments critical of an individual or organization, how will checking the citations reveal this? If editors prevent information from entering the wikipedia, how will citations show this?

By the way, this certainly hurts the controversy. There's no question that I'd have given them money in the last few requests if they had a real code of conduct that they acted on up and down the line. As it is, they get nothing from me.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:28 AM on February 7, 2008


er, hurts the WIKIPEDIA. sorry.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:29 AM on February 7, 2008


Is this where I get to complain about people who say "wiki" when they mean "Wikipedia"?
posted by emmastory at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's really not as big a deal as many seem to think.

I really think that the problem of Wikipedia is getting it to have approximately the right "trust level" in the general Internet culture. To keep its usefulness, people have to believe that it's worth editing and worth looking at when you need information. However, to keep it from being a tool for the wrong things, people have to understand that it is flawed and that, if they see something odd or controversial there, it's probably not that good of a source. It's striking the right balance that's the hard part. I'd like to think it's going in the right direction.
posted by graymouser at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2008


Yeah, just what we need. more rules.

We need better rules, maybe. Not necessarily more rules. If admins are abusing their privilege, then it violates the spirit of Wikipedia and deserves to be addressed. Unfortunately, the only people capable of doing anything about it are, themselves, admins.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2008


And, yes, this is a big deal. The article in question is basically a huge coverup. The fact that a few people are deleting work put in by thousands of others is a serious rip-off.

And yes, I've had very reasonable changes reverted, not even because they were negative on the subject in question, but because they weren't positive enough. I generally don't bother to make serious changes any more because the reasonable likelihood that my work will be discarded. I'm a decent writer, I do my research, I'm careful not to grind any axes, the Wikipedia also loses.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:51 AM on February 7, 2008


You know what the best use of Wikipedia is?
"Five Steps to Jesus" is a game played on Wikipedia. Players click the "Random Article" link, and then attempt to make it to the page about Jesus Christ by clicking five steps (links) or less. A link within a page does not count as a step.
posted by danb at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


What annoys me is that I'll see decent articles nominated for deletion, but every fucking Simpsons episode and every minor Star Wars character is up there.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:23 PM on February 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


At least if there is bogus information on Wikipedia, you can go back and look at the history and see what's been changed, who edited what, and where the controversies lie. It's all open. Oh wait:

[quote]: Administrator abuse starts from the top down: Jimbo's birthday

Crap like that just totally baffles me. Why do that, especially over such a trivial matter? Now Wikipedia can't even use the fallback position of "openness". The integrity of everything on the whole site is called into question because of that. Everyone already knew you couldn't trust the information, but this proves you can't even trust the process behind it.
posted by Potsy at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Register has a hate on for Jimmy Wales, rather than Wikipedia, plain and simple. And why not? The guy is a former porn producer who crawled out of the Everglades to create a successful website that has devolved into a scam. It must be irritating to Andrew Orlowski and company to see this guy portrayed as the Second Coming of Christ, complete with parables tailored specifically to the needs of the information age. Which is fine, but Wales' pomposity and self-righteousness (during a recent trip to Japan he admonished Japanese internet users to participate more in Wikipedia, rather than trying to figure out how to adapt the site to suit different, non-Western cultures) compounds the problem, as does his membership in the exclusive club of the open source movement.

Wikipedia is great, but it would also be great to see the breakdown of how all of the donations collected during its periodic funding drives is allocated; perhaps Wales is buying real estate in the Florida Everglades, or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:54 PM on February 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: Administrator abuse starts from the top down: Jimbo's birthday

This is a perfect example of why I refuse to get involved with Wikipedia on any level other than as a casual browser.
posted by loiseau at 1:05 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Say what you want about Wikipedia, but at least they've admitted to having a problem. And admitting the problem is the first step in curing the disease.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2008


Wow... You want a killer? Check out the page Criticism of Prem Rawat...
posted by twine42 at 1:54 PM on February 7, 2008


Some of wiki's maths pages are abysmal.

They are *all* abysmal. I don't even know if they are correct but they are certainly impossible to figure anything out from.


Which is to say they're pretty much like a lot of the math textbooks out there.

Wikipedia's really not bad for looking up the odd phrase like wikipedia convex combination dropped in, say, a Metafilter discussion. The entry is a bit hard to read if you've never been introduced to linear algebra, so in that sense, yes, it sucks a bit. However, the illustration pretty much covers the essential concept in a way I tend to think would make things clear to a lay reader.

So, pedagogical delight, no. Potentially useful, yes.
posted by weston at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2008


I would never stoop to saying "I told you so", and I don't expect anyone to ever tell me "you were right." In fact I fully expect people to call me bitter, a curmudgeon (and they would probably be right), and outright deny their previous unfailing devotion to the site.

While you were being a bitter curmudgeon millions of people saw it for what it is and used it to get the information they needed quickly and easily anyway. Is it flawed? Of course. It's still probably close to the best site on the internet. Certainly it's stepped above Google as my go to site when I want to begin learning about pretty much anything at all. Mathematical and scientific theories? History? Who some American who crops up in a FPP assuming that everyone knows them is? All check.
posted by markr at 2:46 PM on February 7, 2008


Rhaomi: Thanks very much for that link—it's the funniest thing I've seen in a while! It's amazing to me that such a self-aware, good-humored page could survive on that site. I love this:

Franz Liszt

Born in what was then Hungary but is now part of Austria to ethnic German parents whose families had lived in Hungary for a long time, and we had all thought it was common knowledge that Liszt claimed Hungary as his homeland and Hungarian as his nationality. Er, didn't he? Cue the largest and most acrimonious war in recent memory! It was mercifully confined to the talk page, but what a talk page it was. What was Liszt's real name, Franz, Ferenc, or Franciscus? If he was such a Hungarian patriot, why didn't he fight in the war of independence in 1848? If he was really Hungarian, why is his "Hungarian"-style music actually based on Gypsy music? If he really thought he was Hungarian, why did he spend so much time in France? Why couldn't he write better lyrics for the Kronungslied? What is the significance of the Chopin-esque left hand octaves in Funerailles, Octobre 1849? What event of October 1849 was he referring to, the crushing of the Hungarian rebellion or the death of Chopin? Or was it the publication of Heinrich Heine's rude poem about him? Why couldn't he learn to speak Hungarian better? Did he like goulash? Could he dance the csárdás? The farce was compounded by the occasional appearance of anonymous trolls who insisted that Liszt was, in fact, a Slovak.
posted by languagehat at 3:20 PM on February 7, 2008


Is it flawed? Of course.

I think it would be awesome if all Wikipedia articles were written in this Rumsfeldian rhetorical style. To use the text that languagehat excerpted above as an example:
Was Liszt born in what was then Hungary? Yes. Is that now part of Austria? Indeed it is. Were his parents ethnically German? Most certainly. Had they lived in Hungary for a long time? Just so. Did Liszt claim Hungary as his homeland and Hungarian as his nationality? Without a doubt...

etc.
Is it fair to say that there is no text that cannot be given a sham air of certitude in this way? Darn tootin'.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:12 PM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've been playing Five Steps to Jesus for a while now. It's a fun way to kill time and learn new, apparently inaccurate, things. Most surprising round so far: From Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon blast to Jesus in three steps.
posted by LeeJay at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2008


Wikipedia is a particularly disappointing resource for those whose guru is Brian Peppers.
posted by Tube at 5:35 PM on February 7, 2008


watching the public opinion silently shift from "Gilded Web 3.0 Information Singularity Vox Populi from on high" to "It's a good starting point, but everyone knows it's full of misinformation" is good enough for me

I can think of something this happened to before it happened to Wikipedia. It's called "the Internet."
posted by oaf at 5:43 PM on February 7, 2008


Wikipedia is a particularly disappointing resource for those whose guru is Brian Peppers

Fortunately another online encyclopedia exists to correct such oversights. (NSFW)
posted by LeeJay at 5:46 PM on February 7, 2008


A major fix to Wikipedia, however, would be to not allow administrators to be editors.

I agree. In five years, I bet the two functions will be separated.
posted by mediareport at 7:02 PM on February 7, 2008




FWIW, Jossi has a response to the article on his user page.
posted by whir at 2:02 AM on February 8, 2008



I ran across my favourite wikipedia quote in recent weeks while trying to learn about RAID configurations:

"The maximum number of drives in a RAID 5 redundancy group is theoretically unlimited, but it is common practice to limit the number of drives."

Okay, so it's technically correct.


Er, it's just correct. RAID 5 has a parity disk that's the XOR of all other disks. If any drive dies, you can XOR with the recovery disk to recover your data. If the recovery drive dies, your data's not affected.

Is there something you think Wikipedia missed?
posted by effugas at 2:13 AM on February 8, 2008


Criticisms of Wikipedia:

1) It's run by cliques who ruthlessly prevent people from editing articles.

2) Anybody can edit articles.
posted by flashboy at 4:00 AM on February 8, 2008


"The maximum number of drives in a RAID 5 redundancy group is theoretically unlimited, but it is common practice to limit the number of drives."

Er, it's just correct. RAID 5 has a parity disk that's the XOR of all other disks. If any drive dies, you can XOR with the recovery disk to recover your data. If the recovery drive dies, your data's not affected.

Is there something you think Wikipedia missed?


It's not so much that they missed something, it's just a really weird and unintentionally funny sentence. The second part of the sentence is absolutely useless.

It's common practice to not run an unlimited number of drives in RAID 5? Really? Can I get a cite?
posted by ODiV at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2008


I'll have you know that at my local LUG we spec'd out plans for an infinite beowulf cluster where every node would have an unlimited number of drives. Now we just need funding, and maybe new t-shirts because last years design is in retrospect kind of assy and we should never, ever let Jared's girlfriend do the art again.
posted by cortex at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Congratulations, effugas! You've just described RAID 4!
posted by blasdelf at 8:08 AM on February 8, 2008


FWIW, Jossi has a response to the article on his user page.

Great stuff!

* All my edits to Prem Rawat over the last years have been either minor edits, (grammar, ref format, etc.) or removal of vandalism
[Emphasis added]

And of course "vandalism" includes all those nasty criticisms he doesn't agree with!

Those that know me know that I have made more than 58,000 edits in Wikipedia in a myriad of articles and subjects. My contributions to the Prem Rawat articles are just a small fraction of these.


Well then! They must be peachy keen!

Finally, I believe I have acted in full transparency. Sure, I may have had the occasional lapse in judgment, I am not perfect...

Aww! Now I'm almost starting to feel sorry for him.
posted by languagehat at 9:57 AM on February 8, 2008


I propose that a new term be coined in honor of the subject of the page. Just as aggressive and indiscriminate unsolicited emails are called spam, aggressive and possessive editing of a wiki to make sure it only contains the information you approve of should be called Prem.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:51 AM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


in theory, uncited statements may be deleted without any advance warning or discussion

That's flat out wrong. There is no such Wikipedia policy or guideline. Unsourced controversial/contentious statements about living people should be deleted on sight (per this policy), but that's a relatively narrow range of topics and statements.

In fact, there are tens of thousands of "citation needed" tags/templates in Wikipedia articles, as can be seen by checking the links on this page. There would be little reason for such tags/templates if there was a policy or guideline allowing editors to simply delete unsourced text. Well over a thousand of these have been in place for over a year.
posted by WestCoaster at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2008


There is no such Wikipedia policy or guideline.

"Any edit lacking a reliable source may be removed."

In fact, there are tens of thousands of "citation needed" tags/templates in Wikipedia articles, as can be seen by checking the links on this page. There would be little reason for such tags/templates if there was a policy or guideline allowing editors to simply delete unsourced text.

The reason for such a template is that "may" ≠ "must," and for better or for worse, many editors choose to use that rather than unilaterally deleting unsourced statements.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:36 AM on February 9, 2008


The conflict of interest discussion regarding Jossi has been closed after a long discussion in which nobody could come up with inappropriate edits by Jossi.

There have been over 150 edits to the Prem Rawat article since the Register's story, mostly involving material that was not in the article at that time (some of it has come back from other articles).

Personally, I wish Jossi had been more mindful of the appearance of a conflict of interest, but from what I have seen elsewhere he's an excellent editor. Suggesting that he manipulated policies that represent consensus for his own benefit within the project, let alone controlled any of their implementation, was an unbelievable cheap shot. I won't deny there's dumb politics on Wikipedia, just like anywhere, but that was a dumb story.
posted by dhartung at 5:37 AM on February 9, 2008


Dhartung, I read that discussion and it looks to me like it was closed because someone with the power to close it got sick of it. The crux of the matter is this:

Momento, attributed scholarly opinions about Rawat and his teachings do have a place in wikipedia. You have repeatedly and systematically removed many scholarly sourced critical statements. Andries (talk) 10:08, 7 February 2008 (UTC)


Are you saying that statement (variants of which were made by a number of other people) is simply a lie? That Jossi did not in fact remove criticism of his guru? If he did, then he's guilty and shouldn't be allowed to work on the article. He shouldn't be allowed to anyway—when you say "appearance of a conflict of interest," it seems to me you mean simply "conflict of interest." He's a follower of this bullshit pseudogod; there's automatically a conflict of interest, and he shouldn't edit the article for the same reason we don't allow self-links on MeFi. Mind you, I can completely understand why he would remove criticism; if there were an article about my mother, I'd remove criticism from it if I had the chance. I shouldn't have the chance. That's what conflict of interest is all about.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2008


Heh, from the "lamest edit wars" link
Should this substance be called 'gasoline' or 'petrol'? See the talk page for a debate about the total number of English speakers in the world (and whether Americans should be considered an important part of it); the relative utility of search engines; claims that UK-wikipedians are set to re-establish the British empire by moving pages to British spellings, counter-claims that Americans who want "gasoline" are being their usual nationalistic/culturally-imperialistic selves; RFC nominations, page-move warring and deletion debates, failed attempts to achieve compromise via some truly freaky article names (far beyond the suggested "Gasoline (petrol)" and "Petrol (gasoline)") and even the creation of templates to separate the article into sections individually tailored for both Commonwealth and American English tastes. Gasoline has been settled on for now, in part because that was the article's title originally, but the fallout has yet to settle.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 AM on February 9, 2008


Wow, great find! I never would have heard about this otherwise. Thanks, loquacious!
posted by Locative at 10:03 PM on February 9, 2008


>in theory, uncited statements may be deleted without any advance warning or discussion
That's flat out wrong.

Well, not exactly. The relevant policy in this case is Biographies of Living Persons. There are indeed extra-strict rules allowing immediate removal of unsourced or poorly sourced derogatory material concerning a living article subject, and even exemption from the "3RR" (can't revert same thing 3 times) policy.

I'm kind of in the thick of this article's edit wars actually. The bottom line seems to be, active camps of devotees of Maharaj Ji (now known as Prem Rawat) and of bitter ex-devotees, who fight uncivilly. From what I've seen, Jossi has been very calm, reasonable and knowledgeable with policy. He edits rarely and non-controversially on the page itself. His real influence is felt on the Talk page, where his stature exerts real influence, and I think it's safe to say, his opinions are reasonable and well thought-out but tend to fall 99% on the pro-Maharaji side.

What the article really needs is more even-tempered editors who don't really give a crap about Prem Rawat and can provide a common sense perspective. If there are any Wikipedians here, I'd encourage you to come over and help out. If you feel like stirring up trouble or joining a side based on what you read in the article, though, please don't.
posted by msalt at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2008


« Older Times ain't Like They Used To Be: Richard "Rabbit"...   |   Fat Ass Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments