In the news
Scholars and spin doctors contend with the emergent wikiorder
Scholar confounded by rules fit for the everyman
– Timothy Messer-Kruse, "The Undue Weight of Truth", The Chronicle of Higher Education
My improvement lasted five minutes before a Wiki-cop scolded me, "I hope
you will familiarize yourself with some of Wikipedia's policies, such as verifiability and undue weight. If all historians save one say that the sky was green in 1888, our policies require that we write 'Most historians write that the sky was green, but one says the sky was blue.' ... As individual editors, we're not in the business of weighing claims, just reporting what reliable sources write."
I guess this gives me a glimmer of hope that someday, perhaps before another century goes by, enough of my fellow scholars will adopt my views that I can change that Wikipedia entry. Until then I will have to
continue to shout that the sky was blue.
In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Timothy Messer-Kruse, a professor at Bowling Green State University specialising in the history of the American labor movement, detailed his frustrated encounters with Wikipedia's immune system in endeavouring to set perceived inaccuracies in its historical coverage to rights. Messer-Kruse had been moved to correct the "detailed and elaborate" Wikipedia article on the Haymarket affair – the controversial trial of left-wing radicals for allegedly bombing police officers during a labour march in Chicago in 1886 – but saw his efforts repeatedly thwarted by the enforcers of the encyclopaedia's nuanced doctrines of content authorship – verifiability, neutrality and original research.
Attempted corrections were rebuffed successively as unsourced, inappropriately sourced to primary documents, and ultimately – after Messer-Kruse tried to appeal to a book of his on the topic published in the interim – as undue weight. In dialogue with his editing opponents in the meantime the professor incurred charges of incivility and possible vandalism, and against the barrier of "verifiability not truth" his efforts foundered. He concluded the column with a tepid expression of hope that in time, his stance on the facts would win over sufficient numbers of his colleagues to tip the scales of due weight in the direction of his studied perspective.
The anecdote is unlikely to turn too many heads among Wikipedians, rather serving to confirm established beliefs on either side of the divided line of content policy. For critics, it can be taken as yet another instance of the core community's mistreatment of expert contributions and its comparative disregard for the truth; for ardent defenders of the encyclopaedia, as an illustration of the resilience and necessity of author-blind scholarly vetting procedures, vital for production process requiring consistency, balance and openness – as prone to the pitfalls of outdated or spurious claims as they may be. The text of the article was posted on the foundation-l mailing list.
Political staffer's editing meets with mixed reception
Republican candidate for the U.S. presidential election Newt Gingrich
, for whom communications director Joe DeSantis
advocated on Wikipedia, thereby landing himself in hot water with sections of the press.
A report by CNN.com casting a critical light on edits by Joe DeSantis, communications director for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, reverberated online this week, being picked up by Toronto Star, The Daily Beast, International Business Times, Slate, Wonkette, ThinkProgress, Global Post, Buzzfeed, and The New York Times. Although it noted that the Gingrich staffer had registered an account under his own name – Joedesantis – and disclosed his interest in the topic area on the account's userpage, the CNN report and articles it inspired portrayed him as having conducted an ongoing campaign to present a more favourable view of his employer, only curtailing after being reprimanded by Wikipedia's editors.
DeSantis' activity was initially flagged in an article by Politico last month (Signpost coverage), which, compared to the unsympathetic tone of some of the subsequent coverage, was restrained and noncommittal as to DeSantis' record of contribution. In a rebuke of the critical news cycle, marketing professionals' website Socialfresh published a critique of the CNN report, outlining how DeSantis had stuck mostly to talk pages as conflict of interest guidelines recommend and hadn't edited the articles about his employer or his employer's wife in over a year, and that Wikipedians' responses to his activity had been selectively quoted by CNN to give the impression that the encyclopaedians were generally critical (reception has been far from unequivocal). Jimbo Wales, who had taken a proactive interest in the issue of paid advocacy in the wake of the Bell Pottinger affair (Signpost coverage), declared that since being informed of conflict of interest issues, DeSantis' had been "following what I consider to be best practice ... he's openly identified his affiliation and he's interacting with the community directly and respectfully, but he's completely avoiding article space edits".
- A heuristic for truth detection? Pivoting off the Gingrich advocacy controversy, Discovery News's Rob Pegoraro laid out his methodology for ascertaining the likelihood that the veracity of a given Wikipedia article had been compromised by ideologically-motivated mischief. Advice for readers included checking the talk page for heated discussions and omitted information, the page history of the article for edit wars, and user talk pages of active contributors for criticism and warnings. He illustrated this by pointing out the squeaky-clean nexus of activity surrounding the article on his employer's parent corporation – Discovery Communications. The author's highest regard was reserved for another indication of article health, however—the number and frequency of the edits themselves, invoking the crowdsourcer's chestnut "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".
For a special edition covering the ongoing debates in the editorial pages of news media over piracy and copyright enforcement on the internet, see this week's "In focus" feature.
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