Criticism and reaction

Critiques of Wikipedia remain hot topic, both outside and in

The volume level in the ongoing public debate over Wikipedia picked up again considerably last week. Arguments and rebuttals continued to circulate while Wikipedia editors reacted to these discussions by making changes in the encyclopedia as appropriate.

The second issue of the fledgling Free Software Magazine published an article last week entitled "The FUD-based Encyclopedia", written as a response to last year's article from former Britannica editor Robert McHenry, "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia". Author Aaron Krowne, one of the founders of PlanetMath, gave the glowing review, "I cannot remember the last time I accessed a Wikipedia article that was not of apparent professional quality." Krowne set out to rebut McHenry's commentary point by point, and the arguments were further aired in a Slashdot discussion about the article.

Digging up conspiracy theories

An article that was "not of apparent professional quality" was not nearly so hard to find for a blogger who posts under the name Callimachus, however. On a blog called Done With Mirrors, he told of finding the Cantor Fitzgerald article (actually, this is a redirect to Cantor Fitzgerald Securities) based on a Google search, and proceeded to quote it in full as it existed last Friday. At the time, it had three very short paragraphs, one "See also" link, and three external links. His verdict was that "this seems a curiously incomplete full entry for a major company that has been around since 1945." (Neither Britannica nor Encarta has so much as an article on the firm.)

Not only was the article sketchy, Callimachus commented, "It all looks like a lot of conspiracy theory hoo-ha." The article briefly mentioned the company's employee losses in the September 11, 2001 attacks (most of the article's history involved this, as a list of casualties was created, then later removed to the September 11 memorial wiki). It also mentioned an affiliated business called eSpeed, through which Cantor Fitzgerald worked on a wargaming exercise with the US Naval War College, with some rather "clumsy innuendo" suggesting that terrorists might find such an organization a logical target. (The information about eSpeed was added in 2003 as an "ironic fact" by an IP address in the 142.177 range associated with since-banned user EntmootsOfTrolls.)

Instalanche season in effect

Instapundit stirred up additional traffic on Friday by linking to Callimachus' post, and later updating it with a link to older criticism from Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk, who has been collecting examples of complaints about Wikipedia. The conspiracy theory material was then removed, but later readers coming from Instapundit still left their commentaries on the talk page.

This followed an earlier posting 20 February on Instapundit calling attention to the nomination for deletion of an article about blogger La Shawn Barber. While Barber said she did not want to be in Wikipedia, other bloggers and Instapundit readers campaigned for her inclusion, although many of the votes on both sides were being questioned. Votes of established users were fairly evenly split on whether to keep the article.

How to handle criticism?

In the middle of these arguments and counterarguments over critiques of Wikipedia, the article Criticism of Wikipedia was suggested for deletion for the second time. The first vote for deletion, which followed the article's initial creation in December, resulted in no action after a majority voted to keep it. The Wikipedia article also has a shorter "Criticisms" section, which now opens with a link to the Criticism of Wikipedia article. This practice is common for lengthy articles that spawn articles on more specific subtopics, and in fact the Wikipedia article is currently about 32 Kb in length.

The idea of merging the "Criticisms" content back into the main article was suggested by several people in the original vote, and Pjacobi mentioned this in opening the second vote for deletion, adding, "death to all POV forks". On the second attempt, the response was overwhelmingly to keep the article, although it was not always clear whether people saw this as an issue with article length or a way to siphon off a seemingly intractable dispute from the main article. Andries called Pjacobi's concept of what constitutes a POV fork "misguided", but Kappa stated a belief that the article was "specifically created to allow the main article to have a pro-wikipedia POV". A lone voice for a different solution came from Raul654, who said it was navelgazing that belonged on Meta instead.

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