Wikipedia

Because of my research endeavours (or, rather, my attempts of), I've been reading a bit more than usual about the topics of my project. And usually, to start off a thread of thought about a certain subject, I start out by first looking on Wikipedia, and then stranding off from there.

However, I stumbled upon this article that talks about the Corruption of Wikipedia. A little bit long for my taste, but interesting nonetheless. The subtitle of the article reads 'Can Wikipedia be Reformed?' (which, in my opinion, if it is corrupted, that's the question I would like to be answered), but the article extends upon various unfortunate situations that occurred to several researchers that created content for Wikipedia, at Wikipedia's fault (at least, that's what the author implies), and no real answer is given. The article's main points can be summarised as:

  1. Wikipedia has evolved into a hierarchy, similar to a bureaucracy, with Jim Wales, aka 'Jimbo', aka 'God-King', at the top, with total power over the site's content. To be part of and remain in this bureaucracy no knowledge of certain areas are needed, just a "devotion to Wikipedianism".
  2. This results in 'amateurs' running the show, and 'real scientist/researchers' left out. This is a problem, as the researchers are actually the main content creators of the site (I really doubt that this is true, but for the sake of argument I'll let it slide). Meaning that for a certain topic to be clarified, an MIT Professor has to debate with a high school graduate about the amount of ions in a glass of milk. These debates are usually won by the amateur teenager as they have more time in their hands to edit the content more frequently (deleting the Professor's contribution, replacing it with theirs). Coincidentally, because of the number of edits and stride for "Wikipedianism" shown by the teenager, he/she is ranked higher than the Professor.
  3. Having the amateur on top, makes for an ignorant fool to be able to label real research as 'vandalism' and changing/banning the contents of articles about subjects out of their scope of knowledge.
  4. This frustrates the real researchers, making them stop contributing and, thus, stopping contribution all together in the near future.

The rest of the article, frankly, constitutes a long, worn-out rant. A frequent reference was the case of another contributor called Gann, in which at one point denounces the use of the concept of 'Conflict of Interest' when he tried to cite his own findings in an article that was of the subject he's an expert on. Although he does seem to the see the point of why this rule is necessary ("You don't want every unpublished crank using Wikipedia to propagate his crackpot views"), he fails to see that the main problem is not the actual rule but the usage of it... I'll explain myself later. At this point I want to to also cover another interesting titbit coming from Gann. I'll post the whole thing here:

This was not only one bad experience, but the worst of several - plus the lack of fairness in the implementation of rules, which seem to apply to some and not others. I've quit jobs at paying publications for less provocation. Perseverance would have gotten me further where? What was I trying to achieve? I was doing Wikipedia favors. How many bad experiences should it have taken me to no longer want to do things for them? If there is a permanent structural problem in using my own research and expertise, what possible incentive could I have to continue? What would I want to write about except my own areas of expertise? When I see such abundant evidence from the people who have posted here and all those experts who have left Wikipedia that the problems will certainly continue and there is no structural process for avoiding them, why would I volunteer to continue fighting fights in which I have nothing whatever to gain?

What is there to gain? What incentives are there? ...talking like a true researcher.

When I decided to undergo my academic career, I did it coming from the business side of things, where people are constantly trying to gain up on each other and the ego of one has to be contemplated when negotiating with another. You're constantly licking boots and kissing behinds just to get a good deal, and always trying to see what you can get out of it. I was sadly disappointed when I realised that the academic side is no different.

"In normal academic practice, the views of experts are solicited and discussed." This is because any discussion without that 'expert' in the room is considered an insult, which will provoke later publications delayed out of that account because that expert is usually their reviewer.

"In normal academic practice, expertise is honored and respected." This makes the creation of new knowledge difficult, as egos have to considered. Finding out anything out of the status quo of the Professor's ideology is research suicide.

"The problem is that Wikipedia forces its contributors to come to a consensus, and building consensus with a crank is a fool's errand." Unfortunately, to have a PhD only proves to a small amount of people that you're not a crank. To the rest of the world, it doesn't matter, and it shouldn't matter. Believe me, I've had my share of "consensus" with PhD-bearing cranks.

(Making a brief parenthesis here. I'm reading this while writing it, and it seems like I'm saying that everything from the academic side is crap. It's not, obviously, and I will explain myself later.)

The beauty of Wikipedia, or rather the Wiki concept, is that it doesn't matter who you are, you can write or delete its content. The author of this article, and the persons he referenced, come to the table thinking that their research contributions entitles them a golden rod in every corner of the knowledge-loving world, which I can't help feeling as being arrogant.

"On Wikipedia, academic experts who have tried to participate have been denigrated as 'self-promoters', censored, and then banned." Stating in an article that something is so because a certain reference says so, and then pointing to your own thesis is self-promoting. It is another reference made to your work, elevating your academic status (answering the question "What am I getting out of this?"). If these researchers think that their contributions should come with a pat on the back and some type of retribution, maybe they shouldn't have gone into research in the first place.

Besides, coming into an article and 'contributing' your own findings as being knowledge that has to be accepted and not modified because you are from the 'academic side', is as dangerous as somebody coming into a news corporation and stating what can and can't be broadcasted because they're from the government.

Academic research doesn't hold a stranglehold on knowledge or common sense. The number of articles a person has published doesn't relate to the person's knowledge of the subject. I know of people who have read in their own free time hundreds of papers in Biology and not have one publication in the subject, but can give a whole lecture on it. Many of the persons that have revolutionised our way of seeing our world have come from the outside the academic circle:

  • John Harrison, clockmaker. Revolutionised the way ships made their way through vast oceans.
  • Srinivasa_Ramanujan, indian child. Contributed in many areas of mathematics with no formal training.
  • Guillermo Gonz├ílez Camarena, mexican radio-amateurist. Held a patent for a color television set, later used by NASA to take picture and video of Jupiter.

And Wikipedia is a way for these persons to share their knowledge without the need to obtain a high-level degree just to be recognised by other high-level-degree-bearing persons.

However, to be fair (this wouldn't be my blog without hitching out the other side too)...

Wikipedia is banning information? Censoring? That's too much. Even though I don't contribute to the Wiki movement much (I'm more of a leech), censoring is an important point that this movements stands against. One of the big problems of the academic research mob (which disgustingly resembles a political party at times) is that in paper the ideologies seem nice, but they fail when acting upon them because of poor judicial elements. Everything the author referenced could be worked around by having a close eye on how the consensus procedures are going along and if any person on top is misusing their privileges. But the Wikipedia heads are failing to act upon their own statures.

The situation of the author is not infrequent, unfortunately, and the freedom that a person is promised by Wikipedia to share knowledge is being taken away by another set of egos. And these are fed by the article-editing obsession to be on top, making them worse than the academic ones.

Institutions that are reigned by a handful of persons that promise an alternative from another bureaucratic institution, are bound to become one. The fact that Jim Wales can change any article he pleases is a problem, a big one. Wikipedia has now the potential to become either a knowledge dictatorship (which in our time, is a very dangerous thing), or a place of knowledge with its own conscience, with no person bearing all the power. 'Jimbo' is not comfortable giving this up, it seems; having too much power does that to a person.

An important subject is the way that the heads of Wikipedia are being chosen. The fact that a person edits a lot of articles doesn't imply that such person is qualified to edit ANY article. I think there should be a careful re-thinking of how a someone gets a higher rank, specifically judging by the quality of judgement taking place when editing and the type and scope of articles he/she is editing. Because, if a high-level degree is not necessarily a sign of good judgement, neither is an obsession for article-editing. And this is a failure coming from both sides: it is erroneous to think that any one attribute is sufficient to state the qualifications of a person in a scientific area. A hands-on debate, coupled with a wide account of references, is a good starting point for me to judge if a person is knowledgeable; both sides are failing to do even this, for their own ego-filled reasons.

There are obviously very nice, down-to-earth people in the academic side, as well as they are intelligent people with common sense inside the Wikipedia site. A recent Wikiversity topic has been created called Wikipedia Studies, the aim of which is to find the problems of Wikipedia and bring out solutions for them. As John Schmidt, a Wikiversity Editor, states in the comments area of the article: "Some Wikipedians are rude to other editors, which violates the civility policy. I'm sorry if you have been treated rudely at Wikipedia. [...] I think it is possible to improve Wikipedia by working from withing the system. The community is in control....[sic] its just tricky for such a large and rapidly growing community to recognize and repair the problems that arise. We need your help."


PS. One more thing: just because the name "Wikipedia" ends like the word 'Encyclopaedia', doesn't mean that it is a valid source of information. Wikipedia is NOT the sole indicator of what is in the world. So:

Wikipedia heads: you're job is well-appreciated, but get off your horse, editing articles doesn't entitle you the virtue of knowledge, and I can always go somewhere else for my information. You're not essential, so stop acting as if you were.

Researchers/experts: get through your heads that there's a world out there that doesn't care about your publications and so-called 'expertise'. If you can't reach a consensus with a nutcase because he thinks he knows everything, maybe it is time to see that reflection in the mirror more closely.

And readers, yeah you, don't think that you are out of the hook on this one: the reason why Wikipedia got so arrogant was because of your laziness at research. Wikipedia is just one source, and getting all of your information from just one source is not only lazy, it is dangerous and just plain dumb.