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Scrubbing Parliamentary biographies; Wikipedia's invisible history

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By Gamaliel and Jonatan Svensson Glad

Parliament IPs scrub MP articles of embarrassment and scandal

The Daily Telegraph reports (May 26), in a story widely circulated in the British media, on Wikipedia editing to articles of Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom prior to the May 7 United Kingdom general election from IP addresses assigned to Parliament. The editing included the removal of a sex scandal and involvement in the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal, as well as the addition of "flattering" details. Many of the edits have been restored or removed by other editors. None of the politicians contacted by The Telegraph admitted that they or their staffs were responsible for the edits. A spokesman for one MP, Joan Ryan, denied responsibility, pointing out that she "did not even have access to the Parliamentary Internet network from which these changes were made" as she was not in office until the May 7 election. The Telegraph wrote: "It is impossible to prove the changes were made by the MP in question or their staff. However it is unclear why people unconnected to the politician or party would gloss up the Wikipedia biographies from inside Parliament."

The news outlet provided details on changes made to the articles of twelve MPs, listed in the chart below. G.

MP Party Constituency Content of edits
Stephen Hammond Conservative Wimbledon Removal of his frequent use of chauffeured cars available to government ministers. Hammond was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport until 15 July 2014.
Craig Whittaker Conservative Calder Valley Removal of a 2012 arrest for assault. The case was not prosecuted.
Gordon Birtwistle Liberal Democrats Burnley Removal of his opposition to same-sex marriage; addition of a long promotional section called "Record Of Delivery" praising his "delivering jobs and growth".
Gavin Barwell Conservative Croydon Central Removal of a Croydon Advertiser editorial calling on Barwell to "stop launching campaigns" that it viewed as self-promotional.
Stewart Jackson Conservative Peterborough Removed comments by Prime Minister that he was "appalled" by the revelations of the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal, of which Jackson was one of many MPs involved.
Joan Ryan Labour Enfield North Removal of an expense claim on her second home as part of the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal; removal of report from The Independent on over 30 attempts to remove this information.
Robert Blackman Conservative Harrow East Removal of citations about his 11-year affair (Blackman is married); modification of material about inaccurate mileage claims.
Geraint Davies Labour Co-op Swansea West Modification of material about repaying mailing expenses, second home renovation and taxi fare expenses, and staff and office costs.
George Freeman Conservative Mid Norfolk Modification of coverage of his loss in the 2005 United Kingdom general election; addition of his appointment as Minister for Life Sciences.
Natascha Engel Labour North East Derbyshire Addition of award of Parliamentarian of the Year in 2013 by the Political Studies Association.
Bill Wiggin Conservative North Herefordshire Addition of promotional section called "Campaigns for improve rural communications networks".
Robert Jenrick Conservative Newark Addition of Jenrick as purchaser to the article Eye Manor.

Invisible history: women on Wikipedia

Inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr

The New Statesman writes about gender bias on Wikipedia and asks "does it matter if our biggest source of knowledge is written by men?" (May 26) The Statesman notes the failure of the Wikimedia Foundation to increase the number of female editors from around ten percent and provides more examples of the disparity in article coverage: the well-maintained List of pornographic actresses by decade versus the "sprawling dumping ground" of List of female poets and the single article for six seasons of Sex in the City versus the 43 articles about Top Gear. The Statesman interviewed several women about their experiences on Wikipedia. Zara Rahman spoke about her negative experience editing the article on inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr, where Lamarr's discoveries were de-emphasized in the introduction in favor of information about nude scenes and a male film director's opinions about her appearance. (Rahman has previously blogged about her experience.) Theresa Knott (User:Theresa knott) became a Wikipedia editor in 2001 and was an administrator and member of the Arbitration Committee, but she stopped editing in 2012. She said about Wikipedia "The women who were on there were more likely to be people like me...Very geeky kinds of females who thought in a certain way and kind of fitted in with the men. There weren’t many women who would not traditionally be in a male sphere." Claire Millington, a PhD candidate in classics at King’s College London, began editing at a 2013 editathon. She said "There’s a pattern in what’s written about women and their achievements, and it’s basically that they’re not written about. I don’t want Wikipedia to be a place where women are written out of history again, because if it’s not on Wikipedia, it’s not visible." G.

In brief

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 winner Måns Zelmerlöw

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  • I find it very sad that the "10% female" tale is still being told, when we have known for some time that the percentage is higher than that, and increasing. All the best: Rich Farmbrough22:06, 29 May 2015 (UTC).
Er, we have? But "the single article for six seasons of Sex in the City versus the 43 articles about Top Gear" is certainly nonsense. Category:Sex and the City has 16 articles, ok one on the film, and only one on an individual episode. But the List of Sex and the City episodes has a lot of info. Category:Top Gear heads a tree of 98 articles by my count, but this covers all foreign editions, and UK ones back to 1977. Heaven knows where 43 comes from. This comparison at least makes a change from the usual SATC/Sopranos one, pioneered by the New York Times 5 or more years ago. As usual the NS article fails to suggest that people unhappy about it should go and edit themselves - it doesn't seem likely they will encounter much trouble from existing editors in the area, since there don't seem to be any. It seems the world's media can only handle one Wikipedia story per decade. In the 2000s it was accuracy and "Wow, anyone can edit". In the 2010s it is gender imbalance. Johnbod (talk) 04:07, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
A good chunk of that article is about efforts by women to encourage other women to edit, so it seems they are suggesting that. Gamaliel (talk) 13:58, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Not really - but Jenni Murray did cut straight to the chase on Woman's Hour starts at about 16:40 in. Johnbod (talk) 18:55, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you, I'll give this a listen and include it in the next ITM. Gamaliel (talk) 19:20, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • While the real proportion of female editors is above 10% -the exact number is unknown- the big problem is that they are too few and that many of them prefer to hide their gender. It is not unfrequent to hear of female editors with female-sounding nicknames that ask to have them replaced with neutral or even masculine ones in order to avoid "problems". That's very worrying. B25es (talk) 05:47, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • re:An Aboriginal Wikipedia? disappointing article from my perspective as a Wikipedian who has been working on this project for more than 12 months. The article itself carries a lot of inaccuracies, many of the questions asked and left unanswered had as far as we knew been addressed more than 6 months ago. Unfortunately this may be a side effect of Clint being isolated in Sydney some 2500 miles from WA where the project work is happening, the joys of the Australian distance factor. The statistics quoted are of those that speak Noongar at home, does not include those who speak the language elsewhere, nor does it count people who are less than fluent. I think any who read the entire article should do so with the knowledge that its just one persons perspective and its more indicative of some of the challenges we all face in the development of long term projects. Gnangarra 06:20, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Politicians' biographies

The problem with that story is that as usual no one asks whether all the content that was removed was appropriate in context. No one asks whether Wikipedia biographies should properly be long laundry lists of any and all complaints ever published about a politician in a local or national paper. No one asks who the anonymous editors were who added the material that was removed. Would the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography use a source like "Quote of the day: “Bob was a terrible lover ...", London Evening Standard, 17 December 2012.?

There is a lack of clarity and vision as to what Wikipedia should be: A reputable reference work like Britannica? An anonymously compiled compendium of yellow-press gossip and hatchet jobs? A PR brochure? It is all of those, in part. Andreas JN466 18:26, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]

Well people do ask, and no doubt some of the relevant talk pages are full of discussion. But these matters involve subjective judgement in the application of our complicated rules and principles, and this is a summary. Without looking at these or the articles, the last two in the table seem clearly harmless/beneficial, the first one probably not. For most of the others one would have to dig. Johnbod (talk) 18:37, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]
An excellent point that is generally missing from the news coverage. Sometimes people add crap to politicians' articles and it should be removed. Gamaliel (talk) 19:20, 30 May 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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