Wikipedia:Disinfoboxes

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Disinfoboxes
A box aggressively attracts the marginally literate eye with apparent promises to contain a reductive summary of information; not all information can be so neatly contained. Like a bulleted list, or a timeline 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.
—courtesy of User:Wetman

Disinfoboxes are infobox templates that add no value to articles.

Infoboxes are strictly optional: no policy or guideline either requires or prohibits the inclusion of an infobox on any article.

Not every Wikipedia article requires an infobox. In fact, most articles don't. Yes, an infobox can be useful in certain articles, but many of them are just unnecessary repetitions of facts already presented in the article's lead—or worse, an oversimplified mass of disconnected facts devoid of context and nuance. The result: A Wikipedia infested with disinfoboxes that waste space and result in miscommunication, ambiguity, inaccuracy and redundancy.

Problems[edit]

Disinfoboxes tend to be the product of editors interested in uniformity across the encyclopedia over the consideration of what best serves an individual article. These editors are not interested in evaluating the merit or potential usefulness of an infobox within a particular article but are rather interested in placing infoboxes en masse for their apparent professional visual appeal. The result is that these editors often add infoboxes to articles that they have not significantly contributed to or even necessarily accurately comprehended. This further compounds errors already inherent within an overly simplified method of communicating information. The result is that, rather than making Wikipedia appear more professional, the encyclopedia's reputation as an accurate and reliable source of information is damaged.

Here are some key red flags in identifying a disinfobox:

  1. If the infobox contains only information found in the lead, it is a disinfobox.
  2. If the infobox is longer than a third of the article's body, it is a disinfobox.
  3. If a biographical infobox contains only a photo, a person's occupation, and date and place of birth/death, it is a disinfobox.
  4. If the infobox contains multiple entries within any identifying field, it is probably a disinfobox.
  5. If the infobox contains subjective categories, it is a disinfobox.

Examples[edit]

Example 1[edit]

Ron Richardson
Replace this image male.svg
Born Ronald E. Richardson
Occupation Actor, baritone vocalist
Years active 1970s-1994
Awards Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
1985 Big River

Ronald E. Richardson (January 27, 1952, Philadelphia – April 5, 1995 Bronxville) was an award winning American actor and operatic baritone. Richardson began his career in the mid 1970s appearing in regional theater and opera productions. He appeared in several Broadway musicals from 1978 to 1993 with his best known role being his Tony Award and Drama Desk Award-winning performance of Jim in the 1985 Broadway musical Big River.

Analysis

This is a former version of the infobox and lead in use at the article on actor Ron Richardson. As it stands this infobox is only a repetition of content found in the lead. The lead clearly provides Richardson's name, his place/date of birth/death, his occupation, his years of activity, and his awards. This is a classic example of an infobox merely providing redundant information that is already easily accessible to the reader. The infobox is therefore pointless and its removal would be preferable over a useless existence.

Furthermore, this infobox has a potential error in the "years active" section. In no place within the article and its listed sources does Richardson appear to have performed beyond 1993. That doesn't mean he didn't perform in 1994 but it does mean that a definitive year can not be given. Yet the pressure to fill every criteria for the infobox is on. The user who added this infobox gave into this pressure and simply decided to assume that since Richardson died in 1995 he must have stopped acting in 1994. This assumption may or may not be true. Furthermore, "1970s" is also either inaccurate or imprecise since Richardson was not performing professionally until the mid 1970s.

So once again we have a "disinfobox" that aggressively attracts the marginally literate eye with apparent promises to contain a reductive summary of information that can't be neatly contained. That promise however is false because the lead already provides a much more effective reductive summary. Like a bulleted list, or a time-line that substitutes for genuine history, this disinfobox offers a competitive counter-article, stripped of nuance that is a poor substitute for accuracy and complexity.

Example 2[edit]

Laura Esterman
Replace this image female.svg
Occupation Film actress

Laura Esterman is a New-York-born actress best known for portraying Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe in contemporary radio dramas and for her Drama Desk Award and Obie Award winning performance in the 1992 original stage production of Scott McPherson's Marvin's Room. Esterman made her Broadway debut in the 1969 revival of The Time of Your Life. Her other Broadway credits include The Waltz of the Toreadors, God's Favorite, Teibele and Her Demon, The Suicide, Metamorphosis and The Show Off.[1]

Esterman has also worked in television and film. Her television credits include Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere, The Facts of Life, L.A. Law, Family Ties, Law & Order, Third Watch and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit among others. Her movie credits include Alone in the Dark, Ironweed, Awakenings, The Doors, Addams Family Values, The Confession and Arranged among others.

Analysis

This is an example from an early version of the article on actress Laura Esterman. In this case the infobox totally dwarfs the article since the actual article in its entirety is shown here. This article is obviously a stub, so the need for an infobox is absolutely zero. All information in a stub is easily found and analyzed, making the necessity for a reductive summary obsolete. Furthermore, this infobox is misleading since her career as a stage actress is much more prominent than her career working in television or film.

Example 3[edit]

Ponte Vecchio

View of the Ponte Vecchio from above
Carries vehicles and pedestrians?
Crosses Arno River
Locale Florence, Italy
Design stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge
Longest span 30 metres (98 ft)
Construction end < 996, 1117, 1345

Analysis

This infobox appeared for several months at the article on the Ponte Vecchio bridge. In this case an editor has added information to the infobox that has obscured the accuracy of the information to the point that the box is now a source of misinformation. Problem one is the "Carries vehicles and pedestrians?" At one time the bridge carried vehicles but its use is now restricted to pedestrians only. The infobox attempted to address this issue but was unable to fit a nuanced and more detailed topic into its limited parameters. The result is that a reader could conclude that either Wikipedia doesn't know whether or not vehicles or pedestrians can use the bridge, or that there is some existing dispute as to whether or not pedestrians and vehicles can use the bridge, neither of which is true.

The second problem is the completion date of the bridge which shows three different dates. This is a classic example of where a list adds problems. The truth is that three different bridges were built on the same site. However, this truth is not clear in the infobox as a reader could easily be misled into thinking Ponte Vecchio is a rebuilding of a tenth-century bridge. This misinformation has the potential to snowball as other hobbyists without information will add it in a "timeline of bridges". This is irresponsible at Wikipedia, no matter how much hobbyists' energies are involved in creating boxed substitutes for nuanced history. Why? Because disinformation snowballs without informed correction. Competence is the issue here. This is a general problem, of which the Ponte Vecchio disinfobox is just one little incident example.

Solutions[edit]

The best solution when facing a disinfobox is to try and save it by either correcting false information, removing all subjective fields, or adding useful information. However, saving a disinfobox can at times be impossible, particularly when all information that could feasibly go into an info box is already contained in the lead. When unnecessary redundancy and miscommunication is unavoidable the best thing to do is to simply remove the infobox. Of course if there is an image of value it can be used as a straight forward illustration.

See also[edit]

Article- or project-specific discussions debating the inclusion of infoboxes
Other essays

Notes[edit]