The Signpost

In the media

Indian political editing, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Congressional chelonii

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Gamaliel and Peaceray

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:

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

Neil deGrasse Tyson

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 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

Not Mitch McConnell

A Congressional vandal has struck again. User:, 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 brief

Justin Knapp
Justin Knapp
Jack Evans (D.C. politician)
Jack Evans (D.C. politician)
Ban Comic Sans sticker
Ban Comic Sans sticker
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
  • Something funny's with the quotemarks here—are tehre supposed to be curly quotemarks? If there are, then “the fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up ‘nerd’ culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States." is broken. Curly Turkey ⚞¡gobble!07:19, 28 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Hardly a NPOV discussion of the Neil de Grasse Tyson issue starting straight out from title. Fact is there is a long history of his botching of quotes to make himself look superior. Even the venerated Washington Post indicates that The Federalist has "made a fairly compelling case". [1] and that Davis has been right all along. Responses to criticism like this does nothing to make Wikipedia appear neutral but only adds to the idea that it may be liberally biased.Thelmadatter (talk) 18:18, 29 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The language of the title is straight from The Daily Beast. The Signpost covers Wikipedia, thus the article isn't intended to be a discussion of the "Tyson issue", but a discussion of how the Tyson issue affects Wikipedia, so the truth or falsity of the allegations are immaterial. It's not about whether or not Davis "has been right all along", but about how Davis has written about and interacted with Wikipedia. Gamaliel (talk) 18:50, 29 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • So we copy the Daily Beast? The issue, as it relates to Wikipedia, is whether mention of negative information about the subject is being eliminated by POV-pushers. If they are eliminating information that is being shown to be true by various sources (and if the Daily Beast is worthy fo being copied, we better consider blogs of all political stripes) that is pretty strong evidence of bias. My main jibe, however, was the tone of this article. Lots of straw men and ad hominem attacks on "conservatives" ... certainly not NPOV.Thelmadatter (talk) 20:45, 29 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I just went through the talk page on the article, whose discussion is a lot more even-handed and considering of options than this article is.Thelmadatter (talk) 20:55, 29 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The Daily Beast is a mainstream media outlet, "In the media" reports on what mainstream media outlets are saying about issues related to Wikipedia. So basically, yes, the whole point of this section is to "copy" what media outlets are saying and add context from the perspective of Wikipedia editors. The Daily Beast and Physics Today aren't writing about "POV-pushers" eliminating information, so it would be adding a POV to adopt that perspective, something which might be appropriate for another Signpost section, but not here. I am willing to accept criticism of my tone, though I suspect what you might be detecting is not political, but my exasperation with Wikipedia critics of all stripes who know little about the encyclopedia's workings and react with WP:IDHT when those workings are explained to them. But if you wish to offer specifics, I am willing to listen. Gamaliel (talk) 21:05, 29 September 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Titling the section "Conservative "war" on Neil deGrasse Tyson reaches Wikipedia" is a bit of a slap in the face to all the editors who have been at least trying to reach some kind of consensus on that topic. It makes it sound as though the only reason anyone might want to add that information to Tyson's bio is because they are a conservative "warrior". Bonewah (talk) 02:04, 3 October 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I think that's a stretch. It's pretty clear from my piece that I'm discussing conservative pundits discussing and reacting to Wikipedia editors, not the editors themselves. I made a point of contacting two individual editors on each side of the divide for comment. Gamaliel (talk) 19:37, 3 October 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I see this article acknowledges Tyson's misremembering when Bush quoted scripture. But fails to note this speech wasn't an attempt to sow division between Christians and Muslims as Tyson claimed. I would agree that misremembering the date is no big deal. But that's quite obviously not the issue here.HopDavid (talk) 04:57, 10 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]

in Brief/More articles on Antarctica than Egypt

I do really wonder, why someone starts a study like this, because the results were quite predictable. The comparison "Antartica" (a continent, a topic of relevance for all humans) and egypt, a mid-sized country with few inhabitable lands, which ist not of worldwide interest (at least apart from it history/sites of touristical interest) is questionable. The study seems not to mention, that Wikipedia has no policy of "uniform coverage of all topics" at all. So the results do not mean anything "negative" concerning WP. Its a simple fact, that countries with low internet access with respect to numbers and band with, countries where many people have to work all day for their live support, will create rather few articles. WP relies on reliable sources. In the counties of the "third world" those are often sparse or absent. The personal interest of editing or creating articles tends not to be the same for different developed countries too. - Andy king50 (talk) 19:02, 3 October 2014 (UTC)[reply]

It is a natural result of the factors you describe, but studies like this are useful for illuminating accidental systemic bias. You are right about the sparsity of reliable sources for many third world countries, but there's really no excuse for Egypt, which has long been a fascination for the Western world and has been the subject of works by many generations of scholars. For Egypt, as with many of these places, the issue isn't the lack of sources, it's lack of interest, which is why we need to expand our coverage and our pool of editors. 19:37, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
Let's clear up some misconceptions. Egypt is the 15th largest country by population, which means that it has a larger population than any country wholly in Europe. Therefore, there must be a significant amount of habitable land within Egypt. Much of that is along the Nile, the longest river in the world. It is also the 15th largest country by number of internet users.
Egypt has a rich and long history, and has a vital and prominent role in Middle Eastern current events. There should be no shortage of articles about Egypt.
Peaceray (talk) 21:16, 3 October 2014 (UTC)[reply]
In keeping with the above discussion, I just saw this: Grants:PEG/User:Samir I. Sharbaty/Egypt Wikimedians User Group/WikiWomen Prize. Maybe we could get translations witten in English when the corresponding article does not exist. Peaceray (talk) 05:58, 4 October 2014 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0