Talk:Sphinx Head

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Former good article nominee Sphinx Head was a Social sciences and society good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
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I dont understand why this article would be considered for deletion. If you have any suggestions for how to make it better please post them here. Cornell1890 (talk) 16:09, 9 December 2007 (UTC)

The biggest issue I would see for this article is the list of notable alumni. If you look at some of the pages regarding freemasonry, and its appendant/concordant bodies, we have tried to limit those lists to only a very few, specifically looking at those who are notable because of their membership, or their activities which relate to their membership in the group.--Vidkun (talk) 18:39, 10 December 2007 (UTC)


I've remove the article from WP:GAN because it is more of a list than an article. If you want to, you can nominate it at WP:FLC.

I disagree with this.
  1. The article was nominated in good faith.
  2. It has been in the queue for a long time
  3. It does not obviously quick-fail.
  4. In light of that, it should remain on queue until such time that an editor can evaluate the article fully in connection with the good article criteria and render a decision in accordance with those criteria.

Simply removing an article from the nomination queue for a reason that has not been established as a quick-fail criterion is irregular, which has a knock on effect on the trustworthiness of the Good Article nomination and evaluation process. I've made further remarks here. EyeSerene has opened a Good article review page as well. Please join the discussion there. Thank you. Gosgood (talk) 17:27, 12 June 2008 (UTC)

GA Review of Sphinx Head[edit]

Following the discussion on the Good Article Reassessment page, there is general agreement that a misunderstanding has taken place, that articles should depart from the nomination queue only after an evaluation has taken place and has been published on a subpage. I am undertaking that review now. Accordingly, I am taking the extraordinary steps of reverting EyeSerene's edits to restore the {{GA nominee}} template and establish a review page, which will be transcluded to this section here. Apologies to the editors awaiting an evaluation for so long now. Thank you for your patience. Gosgood (talk) 15:33, 13 June 2008 (UTC)

What's this group's connection to the Dartmouth College society with a similiar name? I suggest breaking the link between the two entires, unless someone knows something unreported in either entry. SLY111 (talk) 14:30, 26 March 2009 (UTC)SLY111

GA Review[edit]

This review is transcluded from Talk:Sphinx Head/GA1. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the review.

Sphinx Head has been reviewed.

Outcome: Fail

Rate Attribute Review Comment
1. It is well written.
Symbol support vote.svg (a) the prose is clear and the spelling and grammar are correct; and Confirm: Possibly the prose can be tightened somewhat, but it is already fairly clear. See Tidying up below.
Symbol neutral vote.svg (b) it complies with the manual of style guidelines for lead sections, layout, jargon, words to avoid, fiction, and list incorporation Neutral:
  1. Lead: (Symbol oppose vote.svg)The lead identifies what the organization is, summarizing "Founding" and notes that election to the society constitutes the "highest non-scholastic honor within reach of undergraduates" and attributes this note to the New York Times. This attribution is disingeneous; the underlying reference dates back 79 years and refers to an induction of new members to both the Sphinx Head Society and the Quill and Dagger, the other secret society of Cornell University. Since the wording of the lead concerns the present day society, then the reference is being misused. See 2(b) for further remarks. Second, the article body takes up only two topics, the founding of the Society, and the Society's membership; the latter is not well-reflected in the lead sentence. However, other parts of this evaluation urge that the article develop additional facets of the organization; that it dwells too much on membership. (See 3(a)) If this advice is taken, then the present lead will change. For the near term, the misuse of the New York Times reference should be addressed because it casts Wikipedia itself in a poor light.
  2. Layout: (Symbol oppose vote.svg) (1) The headling levels don't seem to be correctly set. "Founding" appears to be the peer of "Membership" at level two. The following sections, "At Cornell", "After Cornell" and "Notable Alumni" really concern the canonical progress of a Society member at the university, after graduation, and into the roles of people of prominence. These headings should be at level three, as children of the overarching concept "Membership". (2) Image sizes are being forced to explicit widths (…‎|thumb|170px|…) when there seems to be no compelling reason to do so. Since these override user preferences, it is an unfriendly practice. See Displayed image size, a part of "Image use policy."
  3. Jargon: (Symbol support vote.svg) The prose employs standard American English throughout.
  4. Words to avoid: (Symbol support vote.svg) I've found no cases of words being used in a loaded way.
  5. Fiction: (Symbol support vote.svg) Not applicable; the article does not concern a work of fiction.
  6. List incorporation: (Symbol oppose vote.svg)Considering the effort invested in it by the editors, I suppose it seems churlish of me to call the list that comprises the whole of Notable Alumni into sharp rebuke, but I do. Not only is it a large mass of data that disrupts the presentation, but it disrupts the coverage and balance of the article as well. Wikipedia articles are primarily prose works, about 30kB of text or less. A list is not prose; see 3(b) below for further remarks about list-like prose, the incompatibility between lists and prose, and some recommendations.
2. It is factually accurate and verifiable.
Symbol neutral vote.svg (a) it provides references to all sources of information, and at minimum contains a section dedicated to the attribution of those sources in accordance with the guide to layout; Neutral: The manner of presentation of sources is well done; I would suggest converting over to {{cite}} tags. The sources themselves are not especially divorced from Cornell, and, by extension from the Society. I've addressed this issue in greater detail in the following requirement. I'm bemused that sources published a century ago and more are employed to corroborate such things as the number of seniors elected each year. As noted in the next section, references best support coeval things; can I still trust these old references to authenticate contemporary matters?
Symbol oppose vote.svg (b) at minimum, it provides in-line citations from reliable sources for direct quotations, statistics, published opinion, counter-intuitive or controversial statements that are challenged or likely to be challenged, and contentious material relating to living persons;[2] and Fail: The keyword in the nutshell of WP:RS is 'third party.' I do not think the large number of cites to Cornell and alumni newsletters establishes the separation of concerns that the phrase 'third party' calls for: a publication fully and completely external to Cornell, but which reports on a facet of the University notable enough to engage reporters to develop stories, and editors to furnish oversight. To my mind, campus-based publications do not furnish the necessary separation of concerns between the reporting publication and the reported item. So is the Society notable enough to attract outside interest? I leave it to the editors nominating this article to explore that question and, one hopes, uncover that interest in a wider range of supporting sources.

I feel obliged to fail on this facet of the evaluation because one of the few third party, reliable references cited in this article was misued. As I noted on the main talk page, a historical newspaper reference has bearing only on coeval topics; but the article lead is written as if the present day New York Times is commenting on the current Society; that has a disingenious appearance which reflects poorly on Wikipedia's scholastic practices. Opinions the Times had 80 years ago are not pertinent or supportive of the broad sentiment expressed in the lead.

Symbol support vote.svg (c) it contains no original research. Confirm: There appears to be no guesswork or undue extrapolation.
3. It is broad in its coverage.
Symbol neutral vote.svg (a) it addresses the main aspects of the topic; and Neutral: With organizations, there is the internal view, of which members are most familiar, and then there is the external view, of which observers in the society at large are most familiar. I perceive that this article is biased toward the internal view; it is about the Sphinx Head Society written by members of the Sphinx Head Society. But secret societies still interact with the world at large and facets of the world at large strive to change, and are changed by, the secret society. However, this article does not give me much sense of that give and take. For example, I find it a bit incredible that this article makes no mention of Quill and Dagger, the other secret honors society at Cornell. Surely there must be some kind of notable interaction between these groups. What of E. B. White's inflammable editorial which so agitated the Sphinx Head Society members in the early twentieth century? The lead notes that the society is an organization of men and women, but the CV of Elizabeth M. Lewis suggests that women were not admitted to the organization until 2002. What did people make of this persistent gender bias? Now, I'm not insisting that the article address these particular ancedotes, but I do think these ancedotes illustrate the kinds of connections between the Society and the outside world which the article should explore. The present article dwells on membership and gives a short shrift to the other aspects of the organization. Where is the Sphinx Head Society's worldliness? the article doesn't particularly explore the consequence of this society to the world at large, a strange lapse, given how worldly many of the members are.
Symbol oppose vote.svg (b) it stays focused on the topic without going into unnecessary detail (see summary style). Fail: the alumni list, encompassing over a hundred individuals, does not materially add to my appreciation of the Society. It could be fifty individuals and my eyes would be glazed. It could be two hundred individuals and my eyes would be just further glazed. It is simply a mass of information and not a development of ideas. Its size constitutes a level of detail at a much finer grain than what characterizes the rest of the article. In the context of the larger article, the list is unnecessary detail and should be pruned.

There is a reason that large lists are an anathema to prose articles. Lists disrupt focus because they serve different purposes than prose. Effective writing develops concepts in readers' heads through conscientously constructed chains of ideas. When organizing prose, a writer considers how well sentences establish particular concepts, further develop concepts established in antecedent sentences and stage concepts that will unfold in successor sentences. The mechanics of keeping prose well focussed entails managing how sentences effect the development of concepts in readers' minds. In this model of crafting prose, lists of items lack most of the mechanical structures needed to unfold ideas. They are simply itemizations of things. Lists support directories, navigation aids, and enumerations, but lack the dynamics that arise from coupling noun and verb phrases — objects and associated actions, which is the business of writing stripped down to its essentials. Please see embedded list guideline in the manual of style. In a limited case, there are times when a topic at hand has a hierarchical structure which a list of prose paragraphs aptly traverses; the embedded list guideline gives a good example of this.

  • Recommendation: Spawn the list off into an auxiliary article, as was done with Quill and Dagger.
  • Recommendation: limit 'Notable alumni' to at most a half a dozen or so individuals who have conducted truly 'notable lives.' Willard Straight possibly sets the bar for this list.
Symbol support vote.svg 4. It is neutral; it represents viewpoints fairly and without bias. Confirm: The tone of writing is neither critical nor sympathetic to the Society.
Symbol support vote.svg 5. It is stable; it is not the subject of an ongoing edit war or content dispute. Vandalism reversions, proposals to split or merge content, good faith improvements to the page (such as copy editing) and changes based on reviewers' suggestions do not apply. Nominations for articles that are unstable because of constructive editing should be placed on hold. Confirm: The article has largely evolved through the efforts of GoBigRed1865 and Cornell1890, who work without conflict.
6. It is illustrated, if possible, by images:[1]
Symbol neutral vote.svg (a) images used are tagged with their copyright status, and valid fair use rationales are provided for non-free content; and Neutral: One image is missing author information. Three images do not use the {{Information}} template. These defecencies are not fatal with regard to a Good Article evaluation, but I believe in the fullness of time, all three images ought to be bought into conformance.
  1. Symbol neutral vote.svg Image:Sphinx Head Emblem 1891.jpg GoBigRed1865 {{Copyrighted free use}} The author or producer of the photograph has not been furnished. Uploader has been informed.
  2. Symbol neutral vote.svg Image:SH1899.jpg Cornell1890 Placed into the public domain Lacks good formatting. Recommend using the {{Information}} template and filling out the requested information.
  3. Symbol neutral vote.svg Image:Sphinx Head Tomb.JPG Cornell1890 GNU Free Documentation License Lacks good formatting. Recommend using the {{Information}} template and filling out the requested information.
  4. Symbol support vote.svg Image:Hirundo rusticaABP01CA.jpg Cotinis Public domain in the United States; published before January 01, 1923
  5. Symbol support vote.svg Image:Franchot Tone fsa 8b06637.jpg Howcheng Ineligible for copyright: work of the U. S. Government
  6. Symbol neutral vote.svg Image:Samuel Bodman.jpg Tom Ineligible for copyright: work of the U. S. Government. Lacks good formatting. Recommend using the {{Information}} template and filling out the requested information.
Symbol support vote.svg (b) the images are relevant to the topic, and have suitable captions. Confirm: I do find the images unremarkable and not especially insightful about the organization. The 1899 group photograph of the Society is like a thousand other photographs taken of college men around the turn of the twentieth century and is undistinguished. The original insignia of the organization is mildly interesting, but begs the question as to what the current version is and why it was not used in the article. The contemporary photograph of the entrance to the Sphinx Head Society's 'tomb' is poorly framed, is at an unsettling angle, and is evenly skylit, so it is difficult to make out detail. It has the appearance of being casually shot, when it should be deliberately composed. I think if any of these images were omitted from the article, I would not miss them in the slightest.
Symbol oppose vote.svg 7. Overall Fail: Article has not been sufficiently developed to cover its intended scope. References are deficient. Content should be refactored into a supporting list and the remaining prose should be developed as an article. See Quill and Dagger for a possible approach.
  1. ^ Other media, such as video and sound clips, are also covered by this criterion.

Tidying up[edit]

As noted above, I find the prose generally clear; there are minor cases of wordiness that do not manifest themslelves until the article has been reread a few times. Here are the few that caught my eye:


  1. The Sphinx Head Society is the oldest senior honor society at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
    1. Extraneous. Article is about the Sphinx Society; how does locating the University geographically advance that subject?
  2. Sphinx Head recognizes Cornell senior men and women who, throughout their undergraduate years, have demonstrated respectable strength of character on top of a and dedication to leadership and service at Cornell University.
    1. 'senior society' implies 'undergraduate.'
    2. Extraneous: article setting known to be at Cornell.


  1. Each year, Sphinx Head usually taps fewer than forty members men and women of the senior class for membership, both men and women.
  2. Since the Society's founding, membership has been "reserved for the most respected" members of the senior class at Cornell.
    1. Extraneous. It is already established in the reader's mind that Cornell is the setting, not Harvard, Yale, or Dartmouth.
  3. Although membership in Sphinx Head is public, the proceedings of the Society remain concealed. Since...
    1. Paragraph break. The narrative has shifted focus from the secret nature of the Society's procedings to various activities of the membership.

Additional comments[edit]

In accordance with the open review format, I invite any and all members of the community to comment here. No bars, no restrictions. Especially welcome are comments that take issue with any review conclusion above, so long as they are well-reasoned. I appreciate discussion over Terse "votes" (support, oppose, neutral) that have no supporting text, other than agreement with other editors. However, having stated 'No bars, no restrictions' I suppose I really can't forbid that kind of commentary. Take care. Gosgood (talk) 11:03, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

  1. (Discussion starter) Lovely day in the neighborhood, hey what? Gosgood (talk) 11:03, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Work to be done[edit]

Gosgood, first let me thank you for all your work and time reviewing this article. I have begun many of the revisions that you have suggested and will hopefully have them completed by this evening/tomorrow. Thanks again. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cornell1890 (talkcontribs) 20:47, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi Cornell1890. First off, glad that you could stop by. Please accept my apologies for the long time it took for this article to get to the head of the queue. Good Article Nominations has a serious backlog; around 215 articles at the moment and we're still on an up-tick. I've never seen it this bad; I'm sorry you had to wait a month.
Under the provisional open review process, today (16 June 2008, 16:28 UTC: mid afternoon, North American east coast) is the earliest that I can declare 'game over' or 'extra innings.' Theoretically, extra innings should be the exception, not the rule. Nominators should deliver GA-ready articles to the nomination queue. That is, as a prerequisite, nominators should:
  1. go through the exercise that I've done above and self-critique; they should be brutal with themselves
  2. then take the articles to peer review for coverage analysis (section 2 and 3 issue), along with point of view adjustment (section 4)
  3. with content locked down, they should then take the article to the League of Copyeditors to clean up prose (section 1 issues), and then finally
  4. let the article hang out to dry for a couple or weeks or a month to see if other editors take wacks at the article. (section 5 issues). Also, it is easier to self-critique an article after a passage of time, so the nominator should do a final self critique against the criteria one last time.
As a practical matter, both the peer review and copy editing projects are even more backlogged than Good Article evaluation. There are about two thousand articles tagged for copy editing and often peer reviews do not get the participation they should. That leaves the self-critique which is hard to do on one's own work: everyone loves their own babies. So it not unusual for nominated articles to be somewhat off target when they are dropped onto the queue. Consequently Good Article reviewers tend to show a bit of leniency at this stage of the game and give nominators a chance to close the gap. The real goal, after all, is to help people produce better articles. The green trinket is just a trophy, which, I guess, often motivates people. So, under the open review process, I have the option to keep the game going extra innings.
I must confess, however, that I have to convince myself to do this. The section two issue (verification) is big: the Sphinx Head article does not have a big presence in independent media outside of Cornell. The Cornell sources do have their place in confirming the very fine detail of the notable alumni list, but the quick read of a few editors, not just myself, is that the notable alumni list has really sandbagged the article. Sorry. I know you've spent a lot of time on it, but don't throw it away. See the 3(b) recommendations. That brings me to the section three issue: outside of the notable alumni list, there is not a whole lot of content here. I hit the article cold. The label said "Sphinx Head"; but the article didn't inform me much about the Sphinx Head Society beyond the very basics. That's not good enough; Good Articles have to inform at high B or A levels — content substantially complete (B) or fully complete (A). In fact, I think we're dealing with a Start class article, a little less complete than Quill and Dagger, which has also been evaluated Start. Bottom line: we're talking about more than an evening of touch-up here. My feeling is that if you address the concerns I've raised above and which Cornell2010 has raised below, you will have a substantially different — but better — article, and you'll be maybe a month doing it.
But a 'substantially different article' means 'another review' and — I'm not doing it. I'm an old buzzard with a certain amount of critical hysteresis in my brain. I can never look at your article cold again. So, unlike many Good Article reviewers, I don't do second reviews. I look at an article cold, I form an impression and express my opinion. From that point on, as far as I'm concerned, I'm tainted. I know a lot of Good Article reviewers allow nominators to fix what's broken and then they'll pass, but I'm not from that school. In fact, personally, I don't like the practice; the reviewer lacks a critical separation of concerns after the first pass is done — but I digress.
As a practical matter, it's already June 16 and it's getting late in the day. I probably won't touch this review for another day or two anyway, so you have some time to play. But I caution you against optimism. I'd plan for another nomination cycle. Hold off on writing. Do some research and find reliable — meaning outside of Cornell — sources to back the research up. Also, if you are a member of the Sphinx Head Society, congratulations. You have an additional conflict of interest issue. Should that be the case, I'd suggest teaming up with another editor who's slightly antagonistic toward the Sphinx Head Society, and maybe senior honors societies in general. New information has a way of turning up when somewhat antagonistic editors team up. So long as the edit wars don't erupt.
Thank you again for your patience and take care. I'll probably close the review around the 18th or so. Gosgood (talk) 13:57, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Additional comments for consideration[edit]

I have the following issues with this article being selected as a "good article," based on the following criteria:

  • 2a. There remains a significant amount of information in this article that is not verifiable and does not appear in any other source. For example, much of the information in the "At Cornell" and "After Cornell" sections is not verifiable. Is there any source that says a Cornell President was a member of Sphinx Head? Where is there evidence of a Sphinx Head member winning a Pulitzer Prize? Some of the citations, like 17 and 18, simply link to footnotes that aren't cited. Many of the members in the list are not cited as well. Is there any source that connects Ed Marinaro to Sphinx Head for instance? Some members have citations to back up their accomplishments, but not their connection to Sphinx Head.
  • 2b. For reasons already given above by Gosgood.
  • 2c. As per above, there seems to be original research since many facts appear to be unverifiable or unsourced.
  • 3a. There is little to this article besides a list of members and what they have accomplished. But what about the society? Is there any source that describes an accomplishment or activity?
  • 3b. As noted by Gosgood, the list is too long and full of members that hardly seem notable.
  • 4. I question the article's neutrality simply because of its omissions. There is no mention that Sphinx Head was forcibly removed from campus by its alumni. There is no mention of the lengthy fight over accepting women, which did not conclude until 2002. There is no mention of the Sphinx Head tomb (besides the misleading picture), and the fact that it hasn't been owned by the society in half a century. There is no mention of the society being 100% athletes in the late 1900s before being re-founded.
  • 6b. The image of the tomb is not relevant to the article unless there is some mention of the tomb within the article.

While I think the article and its contents are certainly interesting, I do not think it can be ranked among Wikipedia's best as a "good article." By its very nature, it seems unlikely that any "secret society" could have a sufficiently neutral, cited, and factual article to be considered a "good article." Cornell2010 (talk) 22:25, 15 June 2008 (UTC)