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Today, 4 September 2013, marks ten years of my editing at Wikipedia[edit]

Editor of Red barnstar.png the Week
Wetman's first edit was to Aquarium
Editor of the Week
for the week beginning February 17, 2013
One of the 400 most active editors, Wetman has almost a decade of high quality contributions, with varied interests and pursuits. His diplomatic ability has been honed on the talk pages of hundreds of articles, and in pursuit of creating 2270 articles.
Recognized for high quality contributions for a decade
Notable work(s) creating 2270 articles
Nomination page
Nohat-logo-XI-big-text.png This user is one of the 400 most active Wikipedians of all time.
"These are 'arrosto di uccellini'? but they're, like... little sparrows..."

"It turns out that the people who believe in truth and objectivity are at least as numerous as all the crazies, pranksters and time-wasters, and they are often considerably more tenacious, ruthless and monomaniacal. On Wikipedia, it’s the good guys who will hunt you down," observes David Runciman, Cambridge University, reviewing Andrew Lih, The Wikipedia Revolution; his is the most sensible description of Wikipedia ever: read it.

Wikipedia is a reader's guide, not the last word on any subject. It answers questions like "Gentile da Fabriano? Was he a pope or something?" Thinking of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia encourages a hundred little pretensions and unhelpful attitudinizing.

Wikipedia is a game. It is an entertainment, played in moves, according to rules, towards a goal.

  1. "Each move must increase an entry's accuracy, transparency, selective completeness and weighted balance, using vision and appropriate wit."
  2. "Twaddle and waffle are false moves." Twaddle is fatuous nonsense delivered with an authoritative and informed air implying unnamed but impeccable sources. Twaddle is what one is full of when one is "full of it". Twaddle may have an element of truth, as in the preceding. Waffle on the other hand is unnecessarily self-protective verbiage: "Nighttime is generally considered quite dark." Recognition and public acknowledgements of one's own twaddle and waffle are marks of an outstanding player.
  3. "Avoid unnecessary interference."
  4. "Leave your personal agenda on the porch." This last rule is infinitely complicated and hard to interpret or follow.

The rest is mostly technique, minimal decorum and detail.

Of Editors and Penelopes

Those who have content, contribute content: working together, editors weave together paraphrases of mainstream opinion, cited in footnotes, and interspersed with apt quotations to create text. Penelopes then unravel the finished work by simply deleting what doesn't appeal to them, sometimes with a pert edit summary. Inspecting "User contributions" in the left-hand bar will often reveal the tell-tale record of penelopes who are consistently deleting text.

* * *

 A box aggressively attracts the marginally
 literate eye with apparent promises to contain a
 reductive summary of information that can't be
 neatly contained. Like a bulleted list, or a time-
 line that substitutes for genuine history, it offers
 a competitive counter-article, stripped of nuance.
 As a substitute for accuracy and complexity a box
 trumps all discourse.

My name is Wetman and I'm a Wikipediholic... I arrived 19:44, 4 Sep 2003 with an edit at Aquarium. I logged in as Wetman because that was my old handle at various aquarium bulletin boards. I maintain a website, The Skeptical Aquarist. My interests are wide-ranging: neo-Darwinism, extinctions and glaciations and plate tectonics; Minoan culture, Greek mythology, Late Antiquity and the transmission of Classical culture; parts of the history of European design (Baroque) and New York City (Upper West Side, Central Park); English country houses, gardens and archaeology... The history of daily life interests me more than battles, folklore (when authentic) more than religion, cult history more than philosophy; Popes as European princes and patrons are more interesting to me than minutiae of theology. All suppressed texts have special charms for me.

Refdesk barnstar candidate2.png This user is a Reference desk irregular.

I'm utterly secularist, a humanist, a realist, a third-generation Stoic Epicurean, from a mandarin bohemian high Anglo-Yankee background of impeccable quality. I derive enough poetry out of Scientific American not ever to read verse any more; similarly I avoid fiction, but I love Tolkien and Patrick O'Brian's Napoleonic sea saga... I read Marcus Aurelius from time to time, or Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial... I tend to read Apocrypha more than received Bible books, but the evolution and intellectual politics of the establishment of a canon are more enlightening than any mere content.

Editor - platinum star I.jpg This editor is a Master Editor
and is entitled to display this
Platinum Editor Star.

I went to Harvard, but you'd never know it now: I'm surely not still running on the education I received fifty years ago.

Though my edit count last I checked was only 84335(I just don't save after every sentence), in 36318 articles, only 2696 of them have been reverted; that's a wholesome balance for any editor, and I'm proud of it, though number of edits doesn't reflect value. Lots of minor corrections, naturally, and I've created many redirects, to make Wikipedia more useful to readers. I've dropped down to #296 on the list of Wikipedians by number of edits. Some buffoon blocked me once for a few minutes, but the act was reverted before I'd noticed— thankfully— and my block log is unblemished.

Genuine history is as unclear as the motivation of strangers, and often has little immediate relevance to current events.
Popular history is crystal clear and full of implied prophecies and other vividly direct relations to modern times.


Stuff I mostly did: This list has been deleted, as it appeared to expose these articles to populist re-editing of the mediocre kind.

The West Dakota Prize

Knowing that all legend has a context, that authentic legend arises out of some specific history and is often exemplified in a quotable text, and noticing that the phrase "legend states..." is virtually always followed by vague inaccuracies and even invented nonsense, I elected in August 2004 to award the West Dakota Prizes. A quick search revealed twenty entries that were all awarded the following notice on their talk page:

A Winner of the August 2004 West Dakota Prize

This entry has won the West Dakota Prize for successfully employing the expression "legend states" in a complete sentence.

The prizes were awarded again in March and September 2005, after which Wetman began conscientiously editing away the phrase wherever it occurred, sometimes with marked improvement in texts. By January 2014 the expression "legend states" occured in 300 articles, and Rule 3 (see above) inexorably came into effect.

Architectural photography: the trick is to get as close to the structure as possible, then lean way back and point your camera towards the sky (Santa Croce, Florence)

"Original Research"[edit]

The best kind of Wikipedia article— wouldn't you agree?— is a report of published information that draws together mainstream assessments and interpretations, credited to their authors, to form a coherent synthesis. Alas, at the cultural level where plot summaries are an acceptable substitute for analysis of fiction's themes and meaning, this seems to range perilously close to "original research". Generally I find that Wikipedia articles on literature and the arts are hampered by [citation needed] citations at every turn, so I avoid contributing in that area. The Argument from Ignorance— "Well, I've never heard that!"— seems to trump all aces!

Sir Thomas Browne remarked of Pliny's Natural History "he nameth the Authors from whom he received those accounts, and writes but as he reads". So for Wikipedia a fruitful exercise is to take a great, thought-provoking and influential book by a respected author, like Fernand Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism, or Walter Burkert's Homo Necans and work through it again, editing its nuggets of perception and succinct summarizing statements into the relevant Wikipedia articles as you re-read it. In this way I've learned to edit through ventriloquism, always in sourced quotes and never in my own voice— which is likely to be objected to as Opinion or Original Research, by people who have nothing to offer but the former and cannot conceive of the latter.

Concerning Atheism[edit]

Though I am familiar with chess, and though I know the moves of all the pieces and am even familiar with some of the strategies and gambits, and though I have read books on chess in the distant past, I do not own a chessboard, nor have I played a game of chess in many decades. Thus am I an Achessist?

When I edit articles concerning Christian texts and documents, I try to leave aside the imaginary biographies, which I've seen recently most aptly termed "historicized narrative": caveat lector. When I was asked about my apparent interest in theology I felt bound to respond, "I'm interested in the history of syphilis: that doesn't mean that I'm infected."

Nuestra Señora de los Remedios doesn't quite manage to efface the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico.

Many Christianists are disbelieving when they first hear that virtually every European or Near Eastern basilica or cathedral founded before 600 CE occupies the consecrated site of a pagan temple of one kind or another. Church crypts from Rome to Monte Gargano to Toulouse are mithraea, swept scrupulously clean of all identifiable details, but still recognizable by their characteristic layouts. But in Cholula, Mexico (at right), the Catholic Church really does seem to have bitten off more than it can chew...

NPOV: a neutral point-of-view[edit]

Recently a User removed text concerning the structure and literary qualities of Book of Daniel that reads "which would be parables save for their miraculous content," as offending his "NPOV," saying "'parable' strongly suggests fiction." It cannot be strongly enough stressed, especially since "NPOV" is being invoked, that Wikipedia does not testify to the truth of any religion's books of scripture. Wikipedia treats all texts simply as documents. Wikipedia reports on the history and language and content and social/intellectual background of texts and documents, and attempts to describe the intentions and points-of-view expressed in them. Wikipedia also reports the range of mainstream interpretations of texts. But Wikipedia does not stand witness for miracles, nor, indeed, does it even decry superstitions. Wikipedia has come far in this direction since my First Contact, 4 September 2003.

"Regarded by many"

"Regarded by many" (appearing on 1096 Wikipedia pages) is a phrase that is regarded by many as a cheap cover for a dodgy personal opinion, as a pre-packaged substitute for an ascertainable fact that the writer has been too busy to check, or as a sign of a meaningless category such as "the best X" or "the most Y'. The phrase is regarded by many as a vulgarism. Wikipedia search reveals the phrase cropping up especially regularly in articles that cover local politicians, sports teams that are regarded by many as small potatoes and in articles covering bands that are considered by many to be second-rate.

Ah, yes: "considered by many", an equally appalling locution, a flag identifying self-delusion or worse, appears 3746 times in Wikipedia, invariably identifying a shortcut avoiding thought or a cheap prop meant to bolster weak personal opinion. Search it yourself, if you hesitate, and scan the contexts— many of them harmless expressions of factual insecurity, to be sure. But, when "considered by many" appears under the fingers while you are writing, it is not enough merely to edit it away: the thought itself is suspect.

I applied the following tag impartially to dozens of Talk pages, as a way of alerting Wikipedians without playing favorites: (Isaac Casaubon and John Gielgud are both "regarded by many..." I'm sorry to say.

Authenticity check: A search reveals that the phrase "regarded by many" appears in many Wikipedia texts. Is the phrase a symptom of a dubious statement? Could a source be quoted instead? Perhaps the "many" could be identified? Might text be edited to more genuinely reflect specific facts?

See under "Regarded by many" below
An archaic ceramic daidala of Athena Glaukopis ("owl-faced" Athena) in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, was used as the mascot for the 2004 Olympic Games. The image's phallic head is not unique, but passed without comment during the Games. For the 2004 Olympics, the image was identified as a "doll" in the heavily Greek Orthodox public culture of the modern nation— then paired with Phoebus Apollo— as brother and sister!! This information has been suppressed by red-faced nationalists at Athena and Phevos

History and context.[edit]

Every subject has a history. Every subject. Without setting it into its history, a subject like heresy flounders in POV. Similarly, Wikipedia's entry at Aryan makes no sense without the historical background for an idea that is just as locked within its own history as, say, Manifest Destiny (ca 1840s) or Volkerwanderung (ca 1860 - 1880) . Just imagine an entry on Apartheid without dates, places, authors, politics. Heresy is similar: it has no objective reality. Heresy is simply the node where the historical evolution of theology meets current political requirements for uniformity.

As for context, most opening paragraphs need to set the entry subject within its context at the outset: Even "In theology..." may not always suffice. How can a good entry for Papal Infallibility not begin: "In Roman Catholic dogma..." This is merely logic, not POV.

Topics. A sensible user tends to depend on an encyclopedia for Edict of Fontainebleau and come away satisfied, and to be forever disappointed in the lack of depth at History of France or Religion. So I tend to write on small topics, because the big topics are too hard to grasp in wikiform, it seems to me.

About lists. Two kinds of lists are useful, complete lists and weighted lists. (The others are fun and keep the kids from drawing on the walls.) A complete list: List of Gioacchino Rossini's operas must list all his operas. It should begin with a disclaimer sentence, such as: "This list contains only those operas that were mounted in productions. It includes major re-writes but does not claim to include every minor adjustment." A weighted list: Rossini's most famous operas. Such a list is useless if it omits William Tell simply by oversight. A useless list: Rossini operas that come to mind without opening a book.

About Wikilinks. The articles of Wikipedia are stitched together by Wikilinks. The last word on Wikipedia:Linking has been stated by Greg L in the unimprovable classic: User:Greg L/Sewer cover in front of Greg L’s house.

Wit and neutrality: oil and vinegar? In subjects that are neither somber nor pious and which are concerned with human actions rather than with natural phenomenon, a little wit, a sense of dry reserve, perhaps some tolerant and skeptical humor, is as necessary as a dash of bitters and crushed mint in a julep. A genuinely neutral point-of-view (as opposed to Wikipedia:NPOV) does not necessarily forbid a refreshing astringency. I do not mean to condone droll remarks about plate tectonics.

I do try to avoid the contentious topics of religionism that so disfigure areas of Wikipedia, but also render it as true a mirror of contemporary American culture as wikipedia's lists of manufactured and packaged culture: compare the lengths of Britney Spears and Martin Luther. The cultists label unappealing facts 'offensive,' and awkward interpretations logically based on facts are suppressed as not NPOV... —but I won't rail! "m:Don't be a dick" is always good advice!

Formatting pages

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Not all Wikipedia pages need have identical formats, with the first illustration squared top right, though many who fail to observe Rule #3 above are convinced this is a requirement. Some images are neutral in their format possibilities, others not:

  1. Images need to face into the page.
  2. Vanishing points need to lie on the page.
  3. Sources of light in an image need to come from the center of the page.

Ignore these rules if you're a punk genius.

An epigraph such as heads this section is sometimes desirable, though some remove them to a pedestrian "Quotes" section whenever they find them), but only if it succinctly embodies part of the essence of the subject. Epigraphs could easily be overdone.

Arabic transliteration T.E. Shaw ("Lawrence of Arabia") was never more of an Arabist than when he remarked, "There are some 'scientific systems' of transliteration, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a washout for the world. I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are." This is the very system Arabs use, as any Wikipedia reader can attest, but when expressed by a non-Arab, the result is highly offensive.

Concerning "Paris, France" One reads at Wikipedia: "Charles Perrault was born in Paris, France to a wealthy bourgeois family." In some circles "Paris" just does mean "Paris-France." Paris, Kentucky is widely referred to as "Paris, Kentucky" if it is discussed at all. In my family, some of whom live in Louisville actually, anyone using the expression "Paris-France" hears a murmur of "not Paris, Kentucky" interpolated among his attentive listeners. Thus: "Charles Perrault was born in Paris France not Paris Kentucky to a wealthy bourgeois family."

I hope every reader will make the same mental interpolation whenever they read the words "Paris, France." Thus, though one dare not correct the usage, one may still derive some entertainment.

Concerning '"Controversial"' "Controversial" may be a self-fulfilling adjective and, whenever the reader sees it, should be critically scrutinized:

"Andrew Mellon, the American banker..."
"Andrew Mellon, the controversial American banker..."

Propagandists characteristically employ "Controversial" as a "tar-brush," pejoratively to identify a subject and thus create a perceived atmosphere of controversy, where perhaps none authentically exists:

"Beatrix Potter's creation, Peter Rabbit..."
"Beatrix Potter's controversial creation, Peter Rabbit..."

It should be kept in mind that some quite genuine controversy is nevertheless actually confined to a fanatical fringe element.

Cults. Cults are identifiable by their characteristic thought-patterns, notably "forbidden thinking", by their self-correcting and adjustable continuing revelations, by the suppression of awkward documents, and above all, by the behavior of their adherents. Cults are not identifiable by a small number of their fanatics. Is that not true? Religion thrives on ignorance: religionists are incensed to be told that, but see whether the Wikipedia entries where they are firmly in charge aren't often innocent of the basics of history. I'm ambivalently fascinated by the deep instincts for forgery and fraud that distinguish all the Scientologies, and their secular offspring Racism and Nationalism— for how their partisans distinguish among them, dissociate themselves from the others and claim priorities, all provide a skeptic's theater.


Useful Sources: The following help buttress sensible edits when challenged. Alas they can also be construed to reinforce attitudes struck by displinarian enforcers from authoritarian backgrounds, who have inherited an exaggerated respect for Uniformity:


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Multi-licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License versions 1.0 and 2.0
I agree to multi-license my text contributions, unless otherwise stated, under Wikipedia's copyright terms and the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license version 1.0 and version 2.0. Please be aware that other contributors might not do the same, so if you want to use my contributions under the Creative Commons terms, please check the CC dual-license and Multi-licensing guides.