In the media
Indian political editing, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Congressional chelonii
Are Indian politicians "sanitizing" their Wikipedia articles?
The Hindustan Times speculates (September 18) that politicians and their supporters are "sanitizing" their articles in advance of the 2014 Maharashtra State Assembly election. The October 15th election is for seats in the Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral legislature of Maharashtra, the second most populous state of India. The Times notes the absence of significant controversies in the articles of particular politicians and the presence of heavily promotional language. One politician is praised for his "commitment to social work", another for her "elegant dressing" and her "fashion sense", a third is identified as a "youth icon". The politicians specifically mentioned by the Times are:
- Sachin Ahir, MLA from Worli, Nationalist Congress Party
- Devendra Fadnavis, MLA from Nagpur, Bharatiya Janata Party
- Shraddha Jadhav, former Mayor of Mumbai, Shiv Sena
- Patangrao Kadam, MLA from Palus-Kadegaon, Indian National Congress
- Baba Siddique, MLA from Vandre West, Indian National Congress
- Kripashankar Singh former Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president, Indian National Congress
It is not known who is responsible for these particular edits, but it is known that politicians in India have wanted such changes. The Times quoted a "social media consultant" from Pune, Maharashtra's second largest city, who said that politicians often sought "to sanitise their Wikipedia profiles. While some insist on weeding out inconvenient facts, others also insist on inserting words of praise." User:Tinucherian, a former boardmember of Wikimedia India, explained to the Times that Wikipedia editors and administrators don't always notice these sorts of changes to articles immediately. An examination of the edit histories of these articles shows that some of the edits in question were made well in advance of the current election. For example, all mention of the Disproportionate Assets investigation of Kripashankar Singh was removed from his article a year ago, in September 2013, by an IP address originating in Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra. What appears to be a pre-written promotional biography of Patangrao Kadam was added to the end of his article in July of this year by another Mumbai-based IP address.
Conservative "war" on Neil deGrasse Tyson reaches Wikipedia
The Daily Beast and Physics Today reported on the latest salvo in the conservative "war" on astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and perhaps the most prominent scientist in the United States. Tyson is a popular science communicator, frequent public speaker and television guest, hosted the widely watched 2014 television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and has 2.4 million followers on Twitter. He is an outspoken critic of creationism, climate change denial, and anti-scientific stances taken by politicians.
There is even more outspoken criticism of Tyson on the right, where he is "widely despised", especially in the wake of the success of Cosmos. A month following the final episode of the series, the cover story of the conservative National Review, "Smarter Than Thou: Neil deGrasse Tyson and America's Nerd Problem", accused Tyson of being "the fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up 'nerd' culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States." Some on the left have charged that Tyson "hatred" is the result of “anti-intellectual paranoia” or even a racist reaction against the success of a prominent African-American.
In September, Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, a year-old collective of conservative political opinion bloggers, launched a series of attacks on Tyson, later adding Wikipedia to his targets. Physics Today discusses the background of The Federalist, noting that the website's other co-founder and publisher was Ben Domenech, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank at the forefront of promoting climate change denial. Domenech also co-founded the conservative blog RedState and resigned from the Washington Post in 2006 following a plagiarism controversy.
Davis wrote a series of articles accusing Tyson of "fabricating" quotes and anecdotes in his public presentations, most notably claiming that US President George Bush never made the 2001 statement "Our God is the God who named the stars" attributed to him by Tyson, writing that Tyson "butchered" a 2003 statement by Bush in a different context, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. " Conservatives from Ann Coulter to Ross Douthat echoed Davis' claim that Tyson was a "serial fabulist", but a senior editor at The Federalist complained to The Daily Beast about the lack of a reaction to Davis' charges outside the right-wing, a reaction which Beast characterized as "overwhelmingly dismissive". Tyson later responded to a letter from Davis asking for comment, a request dated a week after Davis' initial article about the Bush quote, writing "I have explicit memory of those words being spoken by the President", but later conceding that "I transposed one disaster with another (both occurring within 18 months of one another) in my assigning his quote."
Davis took aim at Wikipedia when a short passage about the Bush statement was inserted and then removed from the Wikipedia article about Tyson. Among the insults leveled at Wikipedia editors by Davis were "cultists", "Pravda’s heirs", and "Tyson’s Truthers". Other conservative publications echoed Davis' take on Wikipedia. The Weekly Standard claimed that "Wikipedia editors have rigorously deleted anything less than flattering from Tyson’s bio," while the National Review asserted that "text-burning followers" of Tyson were engaged in the "willful suppression of information." None of the criticism discussed any of the policy-based reasons that editors used to advocate either for or against inclusion of the passage, even in Davis' Buzzfeed-like list of "9 Absurd Edit Justifications By Wikipedia’s Neil Tyson Truthers" (which included a comment by this author).
Davis' post "Why Is Wikipedia Deleting All References To Neil Tyson’s Fabrication?" seemed to provide its own answer to that question, which was the political orientation of Wikipedia editors. Davis largely focused on one editor, User:Zero Serenity, highlighting the content of his blog and userboxes. Zero Serenity told the Signpost that "It felt like politics was the only reason The Federalist article was written...it seemed like The Federalist attempted to use Wikipedia to promote the story instead of letting it grow organically. Wikipedia is not meant as a tool to promote politics." Other editors on the talk page echoed his assessment, with one suggesting that, after the phrase "no evidence exists that Bush ever said" the statement in question was removed from the article following claims of inadequate sourcing, Davis included the phrase in a follow-up blog post in order to provide a source so that phrase could be restored.
When the Wikipedia article on The Federalist was proposed for deletion on grounds of notability, Davis charged that it was a retaliatory act by the "science-loving censors at Wikipedia". One editor, User:Gaijin42, told the Signpost he contacted Davis and attempted to explain the kind of sources that Wikipedia articles require, but Davis gave him the "runaround" and accused him of being engaged in "cultish religious zealotry in defense of Neil Tyson", despite the fact that he is politically conservative like Davis. Davis' article went on to compare the proposed deletion to book burning and defended the significance of The Federalist, ending by invoking Obi-Wan Kenobi: "You can’t win. If you strike us down, we’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still not a turtle
A Congressional vandal has struck again. User:188.8.131.52, an IP address assigned to the United States House of Representatives, was previously in the news for a series of what The Hill calls "controversial and juvenile edits" that were retweeted by the Twitter bot CongressEdits. (see previous Signpost coverage here and here) Some were legitimate but odd, while others were vandalism that earned the address a series of escalating blocks. Despite previous calls for an investigation, the identity of the person or persons responsible for these edits is unknown.
The Hill, USA Today, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Wonkette, The Week and New York were among the publications that reported on an example of the latest vandalism from that IP address after it was tweeted by CongressEdits. That edit, to the article for US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, read "McConnell is the first openly Otherkin member of Congress. His species identity is turtle." Comparing McConnell's facial features to a turtle, and more specifically the cartoon character Cecil the Turtle, is a long-running joke for many American comedians, especially Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, and websites, such as with the 2011 Daily Caller slideshow "Turtles that look like Mitch McConnell". In the 2014 Senate race in Texas, a Republican primary candidate even created a television ad which said McConnell "looks and fights like a turtle". The Cincinnati Enquirer noted, however, that "it was unclear whether [McConnell has] been called an otherkin before."
Buzzfeed reported that the same day the IP address also edited the article about the gaming website Kotaku. The edit accused the website of "being part of a vast conspiracy to promote Cultural Marxism through video games," citing the right-wing website Breitbart. Kotaku has been a target of the Gamergate controversy, a controversy that Buzzfeed calls a "movement of aggrieved and confused white nerds".
Following these and other edits, the IP address was blocked again, this time for three months.
||In terms of sheer numbers, there are only a couple of users which have near as many as me but the actual edit count is not as important as the quality. In that sense, many users have surpassed me. There are plenty of edits I make that have low value individually but you add them up and it makes the encyclopedia better. Other users put forth significant effort on a few edits that are very valuable individually. The thing that makes this project function is everyone doing their part. I'm impressed by anyone who puts forth serious, scholarly effort and freely shares that knowledge with the world, such as my late friend Adrianne Wadewitz. I am also particularly grateful to the software developers who make the back end structure of MediaWiki possible because they have skills that I entirely lack.
- Unsuccessful DC Mayoral candidate may have edited own biography: In the Loose Lips column from the Washington City Paper (September 19), Will Sommer concluded that Jack Evans, who represents Ward 2 on the Council of the District of Columbia, was receiving email and notifications from Wikipedia for User:Evansjack1, an account which has previously identified itself as Evans. (see previous Signpost coverage) Sommer obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request. Independently, this was also a topic on the Conflict of interest noticeboard. The editor in question repeatedly removed information that was unflattering to the Councilman and unsuccessful Washington, DC Mayoral candidate.
- Learning to hate Comic Sans: In a digest of the typeface Wikipedia article in The A.V. Club (September 15), Mike Vago wrote about typography's millennium old East Asian roots, the accelerated changes in typography over the last 65 years, the legal thickets necessitating that publishing houses hire font lawyers, the comic book supervillain named Typeface, and the wide-spread loathing for and misuse of the Comic Sans typeface.
- More articles on Antarctica than Egypt: Joseph Stromberg, in an article covering Wikipedia's geographical imbalance in article coverage on Vox.com (September 14), reported on the January 21, 2014 Oxford Internet Institute study, "Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty."
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