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Scholars and spin doctors contend with the emergent wikiorder

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By Skomorokh

Scholar confounded by rules fit for the everyman

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.

– Timothy Messer-Kruse, "The Undue Weight of Truth", The Chronicle of Higher Education

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 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".

In brief

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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  • Timothy Messer-Kruse came up against our system of content management, and our system of content management quite rightly won. Messer-Kruse may like to look at WP:HISTRS that covers Wikipedia's epistemological conceptions in relation to History articles. In particularly, Messer-Kruse can be confident that our emphasis on Review Articles and WEIGHTing sourced from the introductions to field survey books by historians is the basis of our WEIGHTing policy in History articles. If Messer-Kruse wants to change the article on the Haymarket martyrs, the first thing to change is the consensus amongst the scholarly community itself. Fifelfoo (talk) 03:11, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • I bumped into "Ownership Issues" at Haymarket affair also. I did get substantial corrections and improvements made, but not without issues. And I should probably go back and make sure the fixes stayed up, now that I'm thinking about it. You know who you are. Knock it off. Carrite (talk) 07:01, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Ugh, I see from the Chronicle of Higher Education article that somebody used The Supreme Wikipedia Idiocy™ on the professor -- the distilled 200-proof mind-numbing stupidity that "Wikipedia is concerned with Verifiability, not Truth." HORSESHIT!!! Wikipedia is concerned with verifiability and veracity. That other moron slogan needs to go in the dumpster. However, given our systemic ultra-conservatism with respect to policy changes that will happen when pigs fly. Still, any intelligent person using that Orwellian idiocy should be ashamed of themselves... Carrite (talk) 07:11, 15 February 2012 (UTC) Last edit: Carrite (talk) 07:18, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Given that this is a 10 year old project, with rapidly changing policies, I'd suggest that we're not that conservative for a militantly free as in beer free as in speech volunteer project that supplies more highly ranked google results than any other economic information project. Fifelfoo (talk) 07:21, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Checking the talk page, it appears that the professor tried to use a blog as a source. The two editors who appear to be heavily involved with that article, User:Malik Shabazz and User:Gwen Gale rightfully explained to him why that wouldn't work, but may have gone too far with the "undue weight" argument, as the article appears to be long enough to be able to present more information. Cla68 (talk) 07:50, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Sweetheart when you appear on the same page as the National Autism Society, Natural News, and Mercola you realise that Google is no arbiter of quality, but is mostly concerned with churn. John lilburne (talk) 12:35, 15 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • According to MesserKruse's User contributions page, he only made a dozen edits in 2009 and another dozen edits in 2011. He gives up too easily. He didn't understand some of the basic Wikipedia rules, like giving reasons for the changes in the edit box, and not using blogs as WP:RS. If you're writing a term paper, you have to follow MLA style. If you're writing for WP, you have to follow WP style. I concede WP style can be clunky and confusing, but so is any big style book. MesserKruse made the classic mistake of saying, "I'm an expert, I found this in my research, I'm right, Avrich is wrong, do it my way." People didn't accept his changes because he didn't follow the rules. We're happy to work with academics, but give us a chance. Learn the culture and follow the rules, just like you make your undergraduates do. Haymarket affair now incorporates his research (although not as unequivocally as he might like). I think Haymarket affair proves the opposite of MesserKruse's complaint in the Chronicle -- WP can incorporate the views of experts. I hope he's happy. Best of luck with the new book. --Nbauman (talk) 19:40, 16 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]
I think your comment about "not using blogs" highlights what many people can find confusing or off-putting about Wikipedia. In the original discussion on the Haymarket Talk Page and in your comment blogs have been written about as if they are completely ruled out for sourcing information (e.g. you wrote "not using blogs" rather than "not normally using blogs"). But WP:RS actually says blogs are, "largely not acceptable". The word "largely" is there for for a reason, I presume - but the discussion was 'citing a blog is wrong' rather than 'citing a blog normally isn't ok; what's the reason for thinking it might be in this case?'. Certainly it's fair to expect people to be willing to understand and follow Wikipedia's rule, but in turn I think it's also important that anyone citing rules at someone else saying "you've got it wrong" take care to be precise and correct in what they're saying. That too is often a problem, at least in my experience. Markpackuk (talk) 16:12, 20 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]


Original text: "The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers, mostly from friendly fire, and an unknown number of civilians."

So-called original research text: "The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers and an unknown number of civilians."

The first statement implies that 5 or more of the 8 police deaths were from friendly fire. There are NO published sources which assert that. The second statement, which MesserKruse attempted to install, is factually accurate and backed by sources. Only it's not the version preferred by the "Page Owner," it would seem... The first statement violates NPOV ("not only were the Haymarket martyrs innocent, the bomber didn't kill the cops anyway").


Merely switches content in a footnote gloss — the only reason a gloss is there at all is that the "Page Owner" prefers this method of footnoting and reverted my conversion to the Simple Standard System. No article content is changed at all.

In short, MesserKruse did nothing wrong other than come into conflict with an editor in serial violation of WP:OWN. NEITHER footnote gloss should be there and the inserted text of MesserKruse is NPOV, replacing still-standing POV text. Carrite (talk) 17:19, 17 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]


I'm pretty sure there's no paywall hiding this article. --Philosopher Let us reason together. 03:14, 16 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]

History recorded by historian versus history recorded by machine

I'm having some trouble checking the truth of M. Messer-Kruse's account of past events against the actual edit history of the article and account contributions histories, as recorded by MediaWiki. See User talk:Jimbo Wales/Archive 147#History recorded by historian versus history recorded by machine for details. Uncle G (talk) 08:42, 20 February 2012 (UTC)[reply]


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