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Skeptical Adversaria article

C'mon, be fair regarding the Skeptical Adversaria article. A lead like "On Wikipedia Review ... a user going by the name of Peter Damian announced that he had published an article about Wikipedia" is highly inflammatory, given that many Wikipedians have such negative feelings about Wikipedia Review. The lead should be Skeptical Adversaria, that's the relevant venue of publication. Wikipedia Review was one place, among several, where it was discussed, for obvious reasons. It's a subtopic, hardly the first thing a reader should see - "In a discussion on Wikipedia Review ...", etc. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 00:15, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Thank you Ed, for taking care of it. Cla68 (talk) 04:44, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I think you are reading too much into this. The main reason to mention the WR thread in the lead was the good custom to state the actual source(s) this Signpost article was based on: I didn't have access to a paper copy of the Skeptical Adversaria issue - in fact it does not seem to be available in too many libraries -, and I wouldn't feel comfortable quoting from a random PDF on Dropbox without evidence that it is genuine, so the WR thread was linked. It would have been dishonest to pretend otherwise, and it is not acceptable to change an article that carries my byline to make it appear that I follow such journalistic practices. If someone else thinks they are OK, they should at least take responsibility themselves.
And if you feel that there are unfair aversions among Wikipedians against WR, that is not the Signpost's problem. If there is relevant material on Wikipedia Review, it should be cited like any other website. Declaring it The Website That Must Not Be Named is not a solution (cf. WP:BADSITES).
Regards, HaeB (talk) 04:56, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Just to clarify against any confusion in this threading, I have made no edits to the article myself (I generally don't edit these articles, being unsure of the etiquette involved, and not wanting to get into edit-wars, especially over this sort of material). I wouldn't object to linking to the Wikipedia Review thread, or even noting it as the source in specific. But having it be the very first words in the item does a disservice, in my view. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 05:10, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, sorry, I didn't mean to give the impression that you had made such edits. An additional remark: After finishing this article and before the publication of this Signpost issue, I notified User:Peter Damian via email (relying on the very obvious and plausible assumption that it is the same person, but allowing for different possibilities in the article itself), inviting him to point out possible inaccuracies (which unfortunately seem to have occurred in discussions prompted by that newsletter article elsewhere). Of course he may not have been able to read emails yet. Regards, HaeB (talk) 05:58, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

The burden of proof...

The claim that "The burden of proof, for those who wish to remove claims, is to prove that the claim is not supported by ‘reliable sources’" should be accompanied by an explanation of what the actual Wikipedia policy is. Guy Macon (talk) 03:35, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

The claim is wrong. The policy is Wikipedia:Verifiability, which states

The burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds or restores material. You may remove any material lacking a reliable source that directly supports it. (emphasis in original)

I wish everyone would take that more seriously—I see it as Wikipedia's most important mechanism for quality control. Adrian J. Hunter(talkcontribs) 05:39, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I spotted that too. I consider myself a skeptic and I see where the guy is coming from but I think his conclusion is too dramatic. Wikipedia does a decent job at being neutral most of the time. Jason Quinn (talk) 17:50, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
The claim is not wrong. Sure, we have a Verifiability policy, and so one can remove information that is not supported by reliable sources. To do this, however, one must often explain Wikipedia policies, and explain why a certain source is not reliable, or explain that a certain reliable source does not support a given claim. This burden of performing this repetitive task falls upon editors who know enough about a given topic to distinguish the reliable claims from the fringe ones. Those of us who choose to edit Wikipedia regularly have accepted this burden, which constitutes a massive but largely unacknowledged expenditure of manpower, as part of the package. I can certainly understand why many scholars decline to invest their time in this repetitive endeavor. —Kevin Myers 03:46, 28 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
The Skeptical Adversaria article sums this up well: "Removing bogus claims is a tedious, time-consuming and emotionally draining process." I can't vouch for the "emotionally draining" part, since I'm happy to ignore any article in which removing bogus info becomes a problem. I figure I'll come back to it later, when the person who insists on the unreliable information has moved on. I can do this because I mostly work on obscure humanities subjects that attract the occasional naive editor rather than "true believers" in fringe theories; I can imagine how maintaining high-profile topics with dedicated fringe advocates would be more stressful. —Kevin Myers 04:18, 28 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]


"In the conclusion, the author says his advice to sceptics 'is emphatically not to edit Wikipedia. It is painful and one-sided and stressful. A better practice is to select some area of pseudoscience or cultism or crankism, and document its treatment on Wikipedia.'"

He's absolutely right. If you're a skeptic or scientist or expert on anything, why bother fixing anything yourself if you can write about it in a reasonably well-known journal or website? Then everyone on here will try to fix it and they'll probably do a better job anyway. Recury (talk) 19:48, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

If you really don't like Wikipedia, why don't you steer clear of the entire phenomenon, there are plenty of other things to do than write for/about Wikipedia. Jztinfinity (talk) 23:24, 26 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Well, there's extensive PR and evangelism about Wikipedia. I think it's reasonable for people who don't like it to have a say as well as those who do. I view articles such as the above as part of the rebuttal to the argument that experts should work for free in order to bail-out the failures of Wikipedia's flaws. Essentially, advice not to try it, it'll just be a bad experience, the time and effort is better spent showing why the system is a failure rather than throwing good after bad. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 00:15, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

From the author

I am Edward Buckner, the author of the Skeptical Adversaria article. The article is available on the web here. I am a bit uncomfortable it is being associated with a Wikipedia user name which may or may not be mine. I have already had two Wikipedians complain to the editor of the journal that Damian is a 'banned editor', as though that had anything to do with the content of the article.

On the point about verifiability, my point was that it is very difficult to prove an article is not supported by RS. I had in mind the cases where RS are given, but misrepresent the sources, as was clear with the Jagged85 case. With every kind wish, Edward. (talk) 18:01, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

The low-hanging fruit is still plentiful within various specialties. You'll see it if you know that specialty.

"On average, articles created early in Wikipedia’s life received many more hits than articles created more recently, suggesting that newer articles tend to be about low-interest topics." Yes, no doubt entirely true. But this truth is only indirectly related to how good and comprehensive the coverage is on those hit-magnet topics. Lots of people are going to hit the page "oxygen", because oxygen is an important and basic and prominent part of life all around the world, and lots of students study it, and lots of adults may occasionally wonder about it. But when they land on that page, is the content that they find there good and thoroughly comprehensive? That's a question semi-independent of the point quoted. Granted, it's related, indirectly; because if the content sucked badly enough, hit traffic would collapse overall (for lack of value to the users). But given a "pretty good" encyclopedia, which Wikipedia is nowadays (and sometimes it's even great), traffic is assured, and from there, the questions become more independent again. Yes, nowadays there will already be a Wikipedia page in existence called "topic XYZ". Yes, it was probably created as far back as 2002 to 2005. However, in many cases on Wikipedia, its content is still very much lacking full development. People who are knowledgeable about the topic see this immediately in many cases. They sometimes complain about it on a talk page. Sadly, and at least slightly hypocritically, they complain that no one else has fixed it, or is fixing it, but they don't bother to fix it themselves, despite their professed superiority of knowledge. But that's just humankind for you. It's really more about proving social superiority (pecking order rank) over others, or bitching and moaning for its own sake, than it is about truly identifying and solving a problem.

Anyway, my point here is this: If you look around Wikipedia and don't see anywhere left to do sorely needed content development on existing (but underdeveloped) pages, it doesn't mean that there are none left; it just means that you're not knowledgeable in the areas of life where they *are* left. The challenge we face is getting more people, and more diverse people (such as blue-collar tradesmen) to contribute to content development. I can say with certainty that en.Wikipedia's coverage of machining, which is a hugely important part of human economic, technologic, and military affairs, has gotten as far as it is today only by being led and driven by the work of less than 10 humans on this large and generously populated planet. Sure, tens of thousands of good people have contributed some edits to this coverage here and there, but it's still surprising to me that, when you stand back and look at the fifth heaviest-trafficked website on Earth (and arguably the number-one most useful and educational and socially and economically valuable one), you find out that millions of humans will pour countless person-hours into playing Angry Birds or solitaire or MMORPGs, or shopping for trinkets, but only a half dozen (!) will bother to explain even the most rudimentary basics of an important industry to the 90% of humans who know basically nothing about it. And WP's coverage of this area still has huge areas of missing content, yet to be developed.

People are funny. They badmouth Wikipedia and refuse to help build it, but then they rely on it for substantial value when no one's looking. — ¾-10 03:21, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Playing the above games is generally enjoyable. Playing the Wikipedia game is generally not enjoyable. That's the difference. See the discussion above. Also, people say fast-food is not nutritious, but often eat it anyway (when no one's looking) - are they supposed to say it is nutritious because they eat it sometimes? Or grow their own food? -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 04:41, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Good points. But maybe improving Wikipedia is like "eating one's vegetables"—maybe not as fun as brain candy [eg, Angry Birds] for any person at any moment, but the epidemiology numbers will show better public health if everyone does the right thing at least once a week. In this view, improving or maintaining Wikipedia is a civic virtue—boring, but valuable to the common good. — ¾-10 21:38, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Ah, but eating one's vegetables makes for better public health by contributing to the individual's health. Improving or maintaining Wikipedia is then like digging or cleaning sewers - it may be a public good overall, but it's a very unpleasant, possibly even unhealthy, job for the person doing it (again, see above skeptical article). People use the sewer system all the time, but they sure wouldn't want to volunteer to clean it out. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 03:54, 28 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
An very interesting point, and dead-on, I believe. That fact is a very sharp double-edged blade. I guess I'm an outlier in the respect that I'm willing to clean the sewer for free, simply because I hate living in a world where the sewers are backed up and overflowing. Guess I'm one of the type that exhorts others, "Come on now, if we all pitch in, it won't be too much work for any one person." And I eat my own dogfood in the respect that I'm right in there up to my waist like anyone else that I'm exhorting. I still stand by the idea that of all the skilled person-hours available planet-wide each day, the world could be a very different and much better place if 95% of humans didn't coast on the world-improving increments (however tiny) of the other 5%. I do realize, though, that the 95 and 5 comprise different individuals across domains, so that, given one particular person out there, he never improves Wikipedia's coverage of EMT work, but that's OK, because he earns his keep civically by spending that time actually providing EMT care or giving CPR lessons. In his domain (EMT work), he's in the 5 and I'm in the 95. But it's quite different with, say, an accountant who does 4 hours of Angry Birds and 0 hours of Wikipedia in his week. He should instead be doing 3 hours of Angry Birds and 1 hour of improving Wikipedia's coverage of accounting topics. Not creating new articles, just expanding and filling the gaps in existing ones. If one views a crowdsourced, open, nonprofit, noncommercial, free, NPOV encyclopedia as something that needs to exist in human life in order to make the world suck less (as I do), then one could argue for Wikipedia improvement or maintenance as civic duty. Can't have a volunteer fire department with no volunteers. However, I agree with your points, both that sewer-cleaning often sucks and that most people are not civic-virtue outliers; and that's why it seems to me that we're going to need some endowments to pay for good people—e.g., university-educated, and also recognized top-notch blue-collar tradesmen—to edit Wikipedia as a full-time job on a sabbatical basis. The COI potentials can be managed via checks and balances. — ¾-10 04:25, 28 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I think it is terribly inappropriate to portray people who raise concerns about the quality of articles while doing nothing to remedy the problems as hypocritical, elitist know-it-all freeloaders. We don't know the reason(s) why they are not fixing the problems. All we know from observing their "complaining" and their subsequent inaction is that they haven't fixed the problem(s) themselves. That's it. Reading anything more into it would be baseless speculation. Speculating as to why the "complainers" haven't put any effort into fixing the problem(s) themselves can produce scenarios that are not critical of their character and motives just as easily as those that do. Rilak (talk) 04:40, 28 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

On the clinical-case level, you're entirely correct, and I agree. I think my mention of a particular [hypothetical] person mistakenly implied that I felt informed enough to pass judgment on particular [real] persons. I totally don't. I'm not misanthropic or judgmental so much as simply disappointed in the human genome's neurological limitations from a systems engineering point of view. No one's fault—just reality. So—to un-digress—yup, you're correct. But on the epidemiologic level, your point doesn't negate the epidemiological numbers that are empirically observable. Or to use a different analogy, on the criminal-case level, you're entirely correct (none of us has enough information about person X to *know* that he was the one who did crime Y; that's why trials with dueling evidence presentations have to exist). But that doesn't negate the criminologic numbers that are empirically observable, i.e., aggregate human behavior demonstrably includes 14 times more murder, rape, lying, and assault and battery than it could if the genome's neurological coding were different [hypothetically speaking]. (I'm not saying we can change it; I'm just describing its current state compared to what could be imagined as alternate states.) — ¾-10 00:38, 29 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for being so open to considerations, ¾-10. Let me note that the problem is not only just the initial writing, but also the ongoing maintenance against vandalism and "Randy in Boise". And the more one attempts to pay people to do such maintenance, the more there will be tension between the paid and unpaid editors. Also, there's been immense resistance to paid editing in many quarters, it's a topic where feelings run high. So I don't think there will be much adoption of such ideas in the near future. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 09:35, 29 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Sigh. You're probably right. But we should continue brainstorming about reward mechanisms (or at least time-cost and annoyance-cost neutralizing mechanisms) in years to come. I remember the project in eastern Africa (was it Kenya?) where they gave away laptops in a get-out-the-editing type of drive, I think on a lottery-drawing basis. I know that one of the local Wikipedians was sad afterward because 90% of the editors dried up once the prizes were gone. He was kind of dejected by the mere reward-driven orientation and lack of idealism among the public. But I don't think he (or we) need(s) to feel bad about "the way people usually are" (which can't be changed) if we can simply have an endowment so that the prizes don't dry up—there's always another batch coming along. Perhaps if the "paid sabbatical" idea is rejected by Wikipedians, at least the "perpetual sweepstakes prizes" idea could be put to good use. Whatever it takes to get the general public motivated to help maintain and grow the content. — ¾-10 16:54, 30 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]
There are plenty of people who are prepared to do work cleaning the drains, whether it's the large communal drains or the bit outside their own house. However the question currently being posed to the community is; To what extent do we increase the number, effort and result by community interaction (collegial spirit: respect, tolerance and kindness) and contrariwise decrease it by being "bitey", picky and sometimes downright rude. And further, foolish though it may be to bite new or potential contributors, why do we persistently and repeatedly arrive in situations where established productive editors either feel constrained to retire, or indeed are on the receiving end of community sanctions? Given the answers to the above what do we do to change things? Rich Farmbrough, 22:51, 1 May 2011 (UTC).[reply]


Qwiki ( has been mentioned in the Signpost a few times (links to previous given in piece).

Around the time of the 31 January 2011 mention, there were two discussions raising concerns about Qwiki's license compliance, specifically attribution of Wikipedia content: WP:Village pump (miscellaneous)/Archive 30#WP site rip-off not attributing and WT:Wikipedia Signpost/2011-01-31/In the news. Flatscan (talk) 04:42, 27 April 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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