User:Timothy Perper

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Hi, I’m Tim Perper.

I’ve been strolling through User Pages to figure out what goes into one – well, I’m really not sure, so here’s some biography and some of my interests.

By training, I’m a biologist (PhD, City University of New York, 1969) but for the past three four decades or so, I’ve been writing about human sexuality and courtship in various scholarly journals and books. My wife, Martha Cornog, and I have collaborated on a number of projects, including a book on sexuality and libraries (which is actually cited by a Wikipedia article – thanks, folks!). Somewhat more recently, I’ve become very interested in manga and anime, and Martha and I are were Book Review Editors for Mechademia, a scholarly journal about manga, anime, and the fan arts. She and I have also been book review editors for several other scholarly journals over the last two decades. We have published a variety of peer-reviewed scholarly articles about manga in the academic literature, and are currently editing recently completed an edited book on graphic novels. We have just completed another edited volume of essays about manga and anime.

So far as Wikipedia is concerned, I’m a cautious fan, but worry sometimes that Wiki articles are too much like goulash – a wonderful dish in moderation, but a steady diet of everything mixed up with everything else can be a problem. I don’t make edits, [well, I do now, but didn't then] because I don’t like changing people’s work, but I’ve included comments on various discussion pages. I’ll continue to make comments, but I also don’t admire editing wars.

I could post citations to some of Martha and my published work, but that’d be overkill.


A comment: if you add stuff to this page without asking first, I'll just delete it. If you want to comment, by all means -- but do it on the discussion page.


... a note added later. I am slowly concluding that Wikipedia has some obstacles to confront before it can succeed in being truly a first-rate source of information. One is the incessant and very unattractive flame warring among contestants for Who Gets to Determine What THIS Article Says, a war that reflects the general culture wars in the modern US. In Wiki jargon, they're called "editing wars," but, by either name, they're unattractive and profoundly counterproductive.

Another is the lack of content authority. I don't mean Bad Authority, people who tell you what to think, but a kind of editorial, critical eye that is able simply to say of an article, "You know, guys, this is complete nonsense. Now fix it." No, I won't give examples. Until Wikipedia deals with that issue, academics and scholars are simply going to dismiss Wikipedia as some kind of "polyblog" -- and tell their students, "No, you CANNOT use Wikipedia as a reference in your term paper."


... and some more. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth." Someone quoted that at me recently, with good intentions undoubtedly. But this piece of Wiki-Wisdom doesn't tell you what to do or write once you're OVER the threshold. I'd suggest that first and foremost is ACCURACY. All scholarship and intellectual effort -- that includes editing Wikipedia -- has an obligation to the truth: do not misquote, misrepresent, leave out material, or, through carelessness, get it wrong. Second, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Read the books, articles, and other material about your topic. This is like saying you're a football player if on weekends you toss a football around in your backyard. Fun, and anyone can do it, just like anyone can edit Wikipedia. But if you don't go to football practice, you're not a football player. If you don't read and try to understand what's been written about your topic, well, you're not doing any kind of scholarly, intellectual work. Third is READ WHAT OTHERS HAVE WRITTEN. Staring at a computer screen and downloading websites off Google is not enough. You need to go to the library and read books. That's the intellectual equivalent of going to football practice. If you don't, then you're just tossing a football around in your backyard. It's fun, but it isn't going to get you over that threshold.


... stll more. As I read various comments on various talk pages, it occurred to me that there are folks editing Wikipedia who treat the various precedents as if these editors were hall monitors in high school. That means these editors treat precedent as Law, with a capital L, and see themselves as police officers or hall monitors **enforcing** the law. But they're not law and they're not hall monitors. No central authority appointed them as arbitor, judge, and jury over articles on Wiki not their editing. At best, precedents are guidelines, tools to be used, not Law to master and lord over us. This especially applies to NOR and NPOV, which seem to be the hall monitors' favorite bludgeon in their exalted, if self-appointed, role. My advice is to ease off, relax, and don't take yourself so seriously. There are many MANY ways to write good scholarly essays, including Wikipedia articles.


... even more. Well, I'm still a cautious fan of Wikipedia, but now with some editing experience, I have to say I'm less enthusiastic than I was (and that, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about a 7.5). Now I'm down to maybe 6. Wiki has some problems that will forever prevent it from achieving greatness, or even mild scholarly success, unless they're solved. One problem is the bitter, sometimes even vicious flame warring that passes under the name "edit warring." I have rarely seen such hatred, and I have years of experience on the internet.

Another is the mess of stuff under "ownership" of the articles, where some policy or other says piously that No One Owns a Wikipedia Article. Many Wiki articles are like piles of bricks and planking thrown together in the hope that they will magically become a castle (I'm changing my metaphor from goulash to carpentry), which they won't. But because "no one owns a Wiki article," random people come out of the woodwork and edit, delete, remove, add, and otherwise take possession of the bricks and planks. "I deleted your section on St. Ekleusis of Myriadon because it's POV or belongs in the Myriadon Heresy article or -- " all without a by-your-leave or even a disguised effort to achieve "consensus," another Wikipedia shibboleth that has no meaning in practice. In brief, it's high school kids swiping stuff from the wood-working shop because "no one owns it." But, in the mind of these predatory "editors," they certainly feel that they own the stuff they're making off with. At absolute best, it's bad manners, but from the justifications I've seen on Talk pages, it's not the absolute best at all, but a lot worse. One result is an incoherent jumble of stuff, edited at random and ferociously protected by one editor against the next, without a shred of plan or cooperation. Not good, not good at all. I want to say Grow up, will you? but that doesn't work either. So I've become an even more cautious fan of Wikipedia now, down from a 7.5 to a 6.


... food for thought. I was talking to a friend the other day about Wikipedia. Like many people, he uses it for checking on random facts about things he's forgotten or didn't know and when he wants to get a sketch of the landscape before doing what he called "serious" research. I hear that a lot, especially from people like my friend whose background is in publishing and print scholarship. But then he said something that made me stop. I'll paraphrase -- "It's only a matter of time before one of the big publishers, like Random House or Google, buys Wikipedia." I objected that (to my knowledge, at least) Wikipedia isn't for sale, but he only smiled. "They have debts for all those computers," he replied. "And the debts get bigger the more popular Wikipedia gets." I mumbled something about Wikipedia having a "No Crystal Ball" policy about not predicting the future, but that policy doesn't operate out here in the real world. And I ended up wondering how long Wikipedia can last in its present incarnation. Any for-profit publisher who buys Wikipedia will make changes, and those too I wonder about... I had no answer to my friend's comment, and I still don't.


... yet more. I have a question. How come in an entry like (say) Carlseffnir's Mission to the Monobasis Islands, you get six paragraphs about Carlseffnir and his Mission but not ONE reference? I'm not asking why people ignore Wiki: Verifiability -- that's a deep philosophical issue beyond greater minds than mine. No, I just want to know why the writer didn't even bother to plug Carlseffnir (or the Monobasis Islands) into Google and get at least one reference? I mean, how hard is it to figure out how to use Google? Is it laziness? Boredom? Indifference? Or -- beware!! -- maybe there aren't any Google references? And if so, can't we conclude that perhaps Carlseffnir and his Monobasian converts are not NOTABLE? And, please believe me, there are many, many, many Wikipedia articles with no references, or with so few that it makes no difference.


... yet more still. My Wikimeter has been slowly moving up. Last time, it was at about a 6; now it's back up to about a 7.2. That's because I've been encountering some editors and their work that provide cautious reason for cautious hope -- not ta-ra-de-BOOM-de-ay hope, but some hope. In specific, these folks have dug in and protect various pages from the Bad Loonies, which would be uncivil if I named anyone, which I'm not about to do. Bad Loonies are folks who wander into an entry, decide to edit things according to whimsical ignorance, and resist every effort to get them to stop. By contrast, "Good Guy Editors" patrol against vandalism, revert stupid changes, add {{citation needed}} comments, and then explain why on the discussion page. Look, Wiki ain't going away, so it's up to us Good Guys to prevent the Bad Loonies from winning. Not that the Bad Loonies have any vast scheme for conquering the world; they don't. They're just ignorant egotists -- the spam of Wikipedia. And no, I'm not going to name anyone.


I was reminded of this recently when I was watching an anime called Shakugan no Shana. It's not a masterpiece, but it's really very good (its most common rating on Anime News Network is "excellent"). Shana, who is about 12 years old, is a sword-swinging heroine battling Cosmic Bad Guys, who -- in the manner of all Cosmic Bad Guys -- come in never-ending swarms of infinite variety. Huh, I said to myself, will you look at that. It's a metaphor for life. It has some nice animation too.


... and furthermore. Looks like Google has challenged Wikipedia for the pop culch encyclopedia crown of the internet (see above, "Food for Thought"). Don't say I didn't warn you! Actually, something like that was inevitable. Over on Wikigroaning—aka "Criticisms of Wikipedia"—there's a list of Wiki-problems that must have set the hearts of the Google marketeers all apitter-patter with sheer glee. The article is a list of every marketing/management weakness that Wikipedia has, a what not to do list for Google and whoever else wants to do it better. But the anarcho-libertarianism (or whatever it is) of Wikipedia allows people here to give away the store and go public telling the competition where and how Wiki is messed up. OK, so now Google has a much better idea of how not to do an online encyclopedia—and the first thing they got rid of is the "Anyone can edit the encyclopedia" ideology. In fact, not everyone should edit an encyclopedia. Many people, well-meaning as they may be, simply lack the knolwedge and experience to do it well, and when they edit an entry, they can wreak total havoc. And that's without vandals and other crazies who are out to make malicious mischief. Well, we'll see if Google can do it better. It's a question I'm agnostic about. After all, no one says that Google won't make mistakes also.


... and in addition. Another hobbyhorse, which gets worse the more I edit articles. That's a deepset Wiki-confusion about what constitutes "research" -- what it is and isn't. The proximate trigger to these comments was a debate with several people about including more than one reference to document a statement in an article. I ended up feeling neither individual had ever done any serious research of any kind. So, for future reference and anyone who stumbles on this page, here are the principles.

Ask a question
Think, and I mean think, about it.
Go the library or, if you know how to use Google Books, then their website.
Find and use multiple sources of information.

Any question will do -- anything. "What is a shinigami?" for example. One can have deep and serious interests or just want to know more. If it's idle curiosity, that's perfectly OK -- the Wiki entry shinigami will do just fine. It's a list of examples, no references, and some speculations about death gods in Shinto and Buddhism -- nothing serious, but enough to satisfy one's idle curiosity.

But let's say we want to go beyond idle curiosity and therefore beyond articles like the one on shinigami. Then you will have to think about the subject. For example, Dominikov in Murder Princess is drawn and developed very differently than Ryuk in Death Note. The implication is that no single canonical depiction exists for shinigami in the modern iconography of such beings. In turn, that suggests that these gods are not ancient, but have flourished and changed recently. Hmmm... we say. Then we notice that Dominikov carries a scythe; we ask ourselves "Did traditional Japan have scythes or are they Western, so that the shinigami derive from the Western Grim Reaper figure?" Note -- this is crucial, as in essential -- that these are questions, not conclusions. I will now keep these questions in mind when I go to the library or search Google Books.

Next, the library and Google Books. Right off the top, we find a reference to a 1922 book by Lafcadio Hearn, an expat famous for his writings on Japan, who tells a story of a young woman who killed herself, and mentions the Shinigami, "the lord of death-desire." (Note he's singular and concerns hmself with suicide.) Hearn also says that "the people" call him shinigami. OK, we're back to 1922.

But, remember multiple sources. It doesn't take too much more searching to find a newspaper report from 2005 in Yomiuri Shinbun describing the work of literary critic and historian Masao Azuma. He discusses the origins of the death god in Chinese beliefs in antiquity and describes several pre-Meiji death deities and demons (whom he calls oni). But they are not scythe-carrying gods like the Western Grim Reaper. Instead, they are demons and enemies, at least one of whom haunts people on the street to convince them to kill themselves. Then Azuma concludes that the Grim Reaper figure is indeed Western.

So there's the outline, without references, because who wants references on a user page? Now we have a multiply-sourced framework for our thinking that can serve as a platform for further inquiry. How long did it take me? About two hours.

Go thou and do likewise.


... Once more with feeling. This time, about OR = "Original Research." Now here is a mess, one of the worst, I think, on Wiki. Originally, the NOR policy was designed to prevent people from writing an entire article about "My Theory of the Afterlife" or "A New Interpretation of the History of the Opera" or "Carlseffnir and the Monobasis Islands." In brief, Wikipedia was not supposed to be the place to put new and original work. But that isn't how it worked out. By now, NOR is one of the most confused areas there is on Wiki, because it is used primarily as a way to attack other people -- as I mentioned once before way up above. The NOR policy has been the pillar of the most obvious principle of Wiki's existence -- its continuous and systematic unpleasantness. I have rarely seen a work environment as hostile as Wiki, angry, vituperative, and malicious. So we encounter, again, all the things that went wrong with Wiki. So why keep editing? Because we can hope that it will improve, that's why. We can hope that slowly the kobolds and the puppydogs who bite will grow up, get jobs, and leave. Optimism, that's why -- the exact opposite of what motivates the bad stuff.


... Encore. Some people I know -- no names; you know who you are and thanks! -- pointed out to me that the NPOV and NOR policies are designed to prevent the Kobolds, Bad Loonies, and Puppy-Dogs-Who-Bite from making an even worse mess than they have. Yes, that's the great value of the NPOV and NOR policies, and thanks for saying it. But before we become too enthusiastic about these policies, let's think. What is wrong with Wikipedia that it needs such policies, or, to put it differently, how come there are so many Kobolds, Bad Loonies, and Puppy-Dogs-Who-Bite even hanging around in the first place? The analogy that came to mind was a inner city high school, occupied by crazy students a la Eric and Dylan, heavily armed teachers, terrified students, and rampaging gangs of adolescent thugs who want a lot more than your lunch money. Who let them in? Why are they even here? So, Wikipedia as a nightmare model of everything that went wrong with US and non-US education... what a shame.


...Play it again, Sam. I still say I'm a cautious fan of Wikipedia, but the caution part has grown over the years. It startles me how putative grown-ups can argue so endlessly and pointlessly about things that have no significance except to their own egos. There are some genuinely productive people here -- I won't name anyone; you know who you are -- but there are a great many unproductive drones as well. To hear them talk, they are Buddha's gift to the universe, but they aren't, not really. I wonder if Wikipedia can survive in the long run -- by that, I mean following the retirements or deaths of its founders, officers, and creative spirits. Once the charisma is gone, the only thing that guarantees survival of an organization is its ability to turn a profit -- and that means that sooner or later Wikipedia will be absorbed into the corporate information world. Then we'll see an end to Wikipedia-as-we-know-it. It will be another American Utopian experiment that didn't work. Do you doubt me? Quite possibly you do, but ask yourself what is the half-life of an editor on Wikipedia? How many years or months do people remain active? I recently saw a curve showing the decline of new editor contributions over time, and the trend is downhill. So people come by, try it for a while, and then pull away as other life requirements become more important, or, just as importantly, as the unpleasantness of the place gets to them. Too many fights with the Kobolds, Bad Loonies, and Puppy-Dpgs-Who-Bite, and they're outta here. It's not the greying of Wikipedia; it's the middle-aging of Wikipedia. And then the wolves will come down on the fold, and it's yum-yum time for Wikipedia-as-we-know-it.


...Here we go again. My cautious feelings about Wikipedia have been growing over the past year. I just read an article somewhere comparing Wikipedia and Citizendium and concluding that whereas Citizendium is falling apart, Wikipedia is healthy and flourishing. Well, that's about par for the self-serving tone of too many Wiki editors. Here are two question (I don't know the answers; see below): How many Wiki articles are in the Featured, A, and Good categories? What percent of the total are they? The answer isn't that that information can be found somewhere, because the question has an implication. The answer SHOULD be "more than 80%." If the answer is 32% or 18%, then Wikipedia isn't flourishing at all. In the last analysis, the only measure of the success of Wikipedia isn't the self-serving rhetoric of its editors, but the number and percentage of articles that are in the top echelon of all articles. If we remember that a grade of less than 80% is a C -- not a B, and not a B+, and certainly not an A -- then by Wikipedia's own standards, most of its articles are less than good. Tain't nothing to boast about, folks.

Nor is the answer that most of Wikipedia articles are tiny little stubs with hardly any content at all. Most of these articles should by now have been fleshed out by various knowledgeable folks OR melted into longer articles where they belong -- all brought to at least a B level by consistent and substantive editing. So does Wikipedia deserve the label "The free encyclopedia of snippets and sound bytes"? Will Wikipedia ever be more than that? Who knows?

I just checked the numbers for featured and good articles -- from Wikipedia:Good_Articles -- and omitting the lists, that page gives 13093 good articles + 3411 featured articles = 16504/3,779,333 total articles = .004367 = .0044 = 0.4% (as of October 28, 2011). How does Wikipedia define "success" if less than 1% of its articles reach a grade of B or higher using its own standards and criteria?


... No time for this. I finally gave up on editing Wikipedia. Just too much Wiki-lawyering, pointless arguments, and general unprofessionality. So I'll blank a bunch of my own user pages and wander by only occasionally.


Comments? Most welcome, but please make them on the talk page, not here.