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Writing on the frontier: Psychology on Wikipedia

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By Mabeenot
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This week, we spent some time with the minds behind WikiProject Psychology. The project was created in March 2006 and has grown to include 14 Featured Articles and 43 Good Articles. WikiProject Psychology is home to three task forces and a collaboration with the Association for Psychological Science. We interviewed WeijiBaikeBianji, MartinPoulter, and Looie496.

What motivated you to join WikiProject Psychology? Do you have an educational or professional background in psychology? Have you contributed to any of the project's Good or Featured Articles?
MartinPoulter: Psychology deals with questions of human bias and error, of happiness, of social interaction, and other things that are extremely useful or important to understand. So a central way a free encyclopedia can benefit the world is to raise awareness of what reliable, scientific knowledge there is about these topics. Writing about psychology is also an opportunity to write about the scientific method. Although my PhD is in philosophy, my academic interests have always straddled psychology and philosophy. Improving Wikipedia articles has been a great opportunity to develop my expertise, get feedback from other people and to make my writing more accessible. A weak article straddling psychology and philosophy was Confirmation bias, which I rewrote and took up to FA. Psychology still has the feel of a "frontier": it's rewarding to find a core concept of psychology which lacks an article, and start one.
WeijiBaikeBianji: I have had a personal research interest in the psychology of education and the theory and practice behind IQ testing for more than twenty years as a lawyer, a homeschooling parent, and a consultant on gifted education. My higher education degrees were in other subjects, but through my alma mater university I have access to a university library with very good holdings about psychological research, and I have been a participant in a graduate seminar ("journal club") on behavior genetics and individual differences psychology at that university for the last four school years. I have not contributed (yet) to any of the good articles or featured articles followed by WikiProject Psychology, but I take Confirmation bias, a featured article contributed to by other project editors, as a model article and an example I strive to emulate in editing other articles. The articles I work on most pertain to IQ testing, and some of those have been subject to very extensive edit-warring over the last few years.
Looie496: I don't think of myself as a member of this project, but I watch it because of its overlap with neuroscience. I'm writing here because it would be wrong to discuss this project without mentioning Lova Falk, who has been doing much of the maintenance for some time, and has been tremendously helpful to new contributors, even to the point of burnout. She is apparently on vacation and might not be able to respond before this interview appears, but it would be a shame not to mention her role.
MartinPoulter: Absolutely. Lova Falk is an incredibly hard working and exemplary Wikipedian, and does a lot of necessary maintenance and article development. We're all greatly in her debt. Only speaking up for her because she's on a wikibreak and not likely to answer herself.
WeijiBaikeBianji: I too agree that Lova Falk has been a consistent contributor of good content to many of the articles watched by project participants, and furthermore has been very encouraging to new editors, as I recall from when I began editing in 2010.
How detailed are Wikipedia's articles about psychological concepts? Has it been challenging to write articles that are substantive yet accessible to the layperson?
WeijiBaikeBianji: Most of the articles about human intelligence and IQ testing are an embarrassment. The articles are challenging to write or edit, yes, because almost everyone thinks they know something about those topics, but in fact many popular views on those issues are not supported by reliable sources from any author. I knew these topics would be controversial to work on, as I began as a Wikipedian in 2010, from reading the article talk pages and from my own experience in online discussion of these issues that goes back to 1992. So my first approach for a few years was mostly to compile a growing source list on those topics, sharing what I found in the university library with other Wikipedians, and linking to that list from the talk pages of many of the articles that badly needed revision. Sure enough, as I began more actively updating articles this year, I found that the IQ classification article started out with another editor's expert-attention-needed tag from October 2012, but once I did a massive expansion of that article, another editor tagged it as too technical. It's an art to write about a topic for which there is much detailed expert analysis and still communicate with members of the general public who have never checked what the experts say on the topic. I will be practicing this art for years, I think.
MartinPoulter: I agree with WBB above: a large proportion of psychology articles are an embarrassment. Psychology itself makes things hard because there is often a lack of expert consensus on terminology and theory: too many researchers come up with their own "laws" or "effects". It's hard to explain how these effects relate to each other when the academic sources themselves often don't say. There is also a lot of folk misconception and "pop" psychology about. There are some tremendously informed Wikipedia editors, but there are also contributors who push decisions about psychology articles based on other Wikipedia articles (which are just as bad) or on a Google search (when the best research is paywalled).
Are some branches of the discipline better covered by Wikipedia than others? Is applied psychology treated the same way as theoretical aspects?
WeijiBaikeBianji: I don't have a general impression of which subdisciplines are best served at present by Wikipedia. I have heard from friends who are clinical psychologists that they are angry that the Rorschach test editing dispute was resolved in a way that displays all the test items, along with interpretive information. (The test is no longer under copyright, but some psychologists don't appreciate the item content being shared with the general public if they still use the test clinically.) That's not my beef, but I get the impression that some psychologists self-select to not improve Wikipedia articles, not trusting the Wikipedia editorial policies as actually implemented.
MartinPoulter: My impression is that, while psychology is a huge and diverse subject, the number of very active editors is small, and our interests are also diverse, so there's not much overlap. This is worrying. As my interest is bias and error, I'm really glad the Rorschach test article is as comprehensive as it is. It's amazing that, not long ago, adults showed other adults inkblots to identify if they were homosexual (among other things). The story of how a profession fell into this error, and how the scientific approach exposed it, belongs in a free encyclopedia.
Have you found any resources that are particularly useful in sourcing articles about psychology? Are there any resources that would be helpful if an editor could make them available?
WeijiBaikeBianji: Yes, essentially all of the resources shared in my source list on IQ and human intelligence are useful, as are most of the resources shared in my source list on human biology, race, and genetics.
MartinPoulter: The most helpful sources have been actual physical textbooks. Whenever I feel that distilling the topic down into an article is impossible, I remind myself that if there can be an academic textbook on a topic, there can be an encyclopaedia article. I have a huge advantage working in a university and having access to paywalled research, but that shouldn't be restricted to people like me, and I advocate open access whenever I can.
Did the recent publication of the DSM-5 result in any changes that the project had to cope with?
WeijiBaikeBianji: The project has looming before it a messy process of renaming Mental retardation to Intellectual disability without resulting in a redirect clash. Many wikilinks, a few templates, and much article text will have to be updated just to take into account that change in DSM-5 terminology. I made sure to check DSM-5 before writing about low-IQ persons in my expansion of IQ classification. I suppose there are many more articles that are affected by changing views of psychiatrists and psychologists as reflected in the DSM revision.
Does WikiProject Psychology collaborate with any other WikiProjects? What could be done to improve communication between the projects that cover the various social sciences and medical professions?
WeijiBaikeBianji: I think there is informal cooperation through overlapping memberships of editors. I will have to look for more opportunities to collaborate. One thing I do now is remind editors working on articles on topics for which there is medical literature to refer to the Wikipedia guideline on reliable sources for medical-related articles. Whenever I look at an article, I look at the article's talk page (perhaps that is one defining characteristic of a Wikipedian), and when I do that, I note which WikiProjects follow the articles I watch.
MartinPoulter: I sense a bit of friction, or maybe friendly rivalry, with the philosophy wikiproject. They claim many psychological articles in a way that seems a bit imperialist. Psychology hasn't been a subdiscipline of philosophy for a long time- let it go! I'm more keen on external collaboration. I've been building a relationship with the British Psychological Society and contacting individual psychologists for pointers. Educational projects are the only real grounds for optimism about psychology on Wikipedia: if you find a psychology article which cites decent scientific sources, then it's probably been written by a student assignment. Though a minority of educational activities have had a bad press, I don't think Wikipedia can fulfil its mission without them.
Looie496: There is cooperation with WikiProject Medicine and WikiProject Neuroscience, largely through shared membership. There has also been cooperation with the Education project. The Association for Psychological Science recently sponsored a Wikipedia initiative that resulted in a number of university classes doing Wikipedia-writing assignments. Some of the results were painful, but some were good.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
WeijiBaikeBianji: I would love to see more editors who are well informed about psychology take looks at any and every article that pertains to human intelligence. Most of those are badly in need of revision, and I've already done the spadework of finding a lot of good current secondary sources.
MartinPoulter: It's true for any subject, but more watchlisting by more editors would be good, since too many articles are the work of just one person or aren't being worked on at all. Keep an eye on us and keep us honest!
Looie496: As with all academic topics, the most urgent need is for more people to write good articles.

Next week, we'll head to the stomping ground of the Java Man. Until then, find unity in the diversity of our archive.

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I'd love to hear more on how effective was the Association for Psychological Science program. Was it useful? Was it trying to engage the WikiProject? What was done good, what was done badly, what was improved, what could be improved? A similar project by ASA ([1]) as far as I know resulted in noone (but me) caring. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 03:51, 7 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]
The ASAAPS program has generated a great volume of content which is reliably sourced, thorough and reflects an academic view of the subject. The content could be made more accessible for a lay audience, and there could be less duplication between articles. So it hasn't produced a lot of top-quality articles but it is making a huge, huge, improvement over what was there before. When you find an experimental psychology article with a lot of citations to reliable academic sources, it was most probably created in a student assignment, and most probably one encouraged by the APS. A great many articles related to memory were improved by a Canadian university course (not part of the APS program) and there are some really interesting articles on the psychology of self and identity that were created or overhauled by final-year undergrads in the University of Southampton, UK (predating the APS initiative).
The APS has also encouraged academic members to contribute directly, as well as students: that's how the Stereotype threat article got improved to GA. Personally, I wish there were more attempts to engage the existing Wikiproject infrastructure, and to put more information on Talk pages about who is improving them and over what time period. Then again, as my colleagues and I say above, there aren't enough active Wikipedians in this area to do all that needs doing.
There's cleanup to be done, but I'd rather have an article that needs cleanup or simplifying than no coverage of the topic at all. It's when educational activities cause disruption that they get talked about on noticeboards or here in Signpost. That's understandable, but it's easy for us to ignore, or just not hear about, the very much greater amount of improvement that is going on quietly. And of course we are giving undergraduate students a real experience of publication and all the other great educational benefits. I used to despair about psychology on Wikipedia ever getting any good, but the arrival of educational assignments has lifted that despair. MartinPoulter (talk) 14:04, 7 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]
@User:MartinPoulter: thank you for the answer, it's very interesting. Do you know what APS has done to attract people to this project? It would be a very interesting case study. (Also, I think you mean APS not ASA in your opening sentence?) --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 16:13, 7 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]
@User:Piotrus: Thanks for the correction. I'm not very familiar with how the APS encouraged participation because I don't follow their internal communication, but the initiative has been publicised in their internal newsletter and web site. Cheers, MartinPoulter (talk) 16:40, 7 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Not sure if this was related to the APS efforts but one of the schools that contributed created a great deal of copyright infringement per [2]. As there are few long term Wikipedians in the topic area much of it still sits on Wikipedia making us look bad. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) (if I write on your page reply on mine) 18:07, 7 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]

@Piotrus: I served as Campus Ambassador for a Psychology class under the APS-initiative. This class focused on biographical articles about psychologists, rather than articles about psychology, so it didn't have the impact discussed here. Beyond the normal stresses inherent in any student-program on Wikipedia, some good content was added and students were introduced to editing. Initiatives like these are great cover for those of us trying to bring Wikipedia in front of the generally-hostile faculty. I wish every association representing an academic discipline would hold similar initiatives. Chris Troutman (talk) 05:37, 8 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]

@User:MartinPoulter, User:Chris troutman: Thanks for more information. I've been somewhat involved with launching the ASA initiative, which sadly seems to be a failure (as in - I am not aware of a single lasting series of Wikipedia edits that originated thanks to it). Compared to it, APS is as you've pointed out much more successful. Yet ASA initiative was also promoted in similar ways to your description of promotion for the APS initiative - it was endorsed by its leadership in speeches/newsletters, there is a webpage and a portal both modeled after APS ones, WMF had booths at two ASA conferences (at least in 2011 and 2012, I haven't heard if we had one in 2013); I helped manned the two former - we passed leaflets, held a workshop, send invitations for the Education Program, etc. So on the surface the projects look very similar - why is it such a success for APS, and a failure for ASA? I can't help but think that APS did something more (or better) compared to ASA, and understanding that something is a key to working out the best practices for such projects. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 06:36, 8 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I wouldn't worry too much about "imperialism" by the philosophy project Martin. Like some other wikiprojects they had one or two people who went banner-crazy a few years ago. In reality I think they are just as sensible and undermanned as most other wikiprojects, including this one by the sound of it. Johnbod (talk) 13:31, 9 September 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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