A new article in the academic journal PLOS ONE about Wikipedia's science coverage has attracted media attention. In the article "Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale", Professor Adam M. Wilson of the State University of New York at Buffalo and Professor Gene E. Likens of the University of Connecticut write:
|Here we present an analysis of the Wikipedia edit histories for seven scientific articles and show that topics we consider politically but not scientifically “controversial” (such as evolution and global warming) experience more frequent edits with more words changed per day than pages we consider “noncontroversial” (such as the standard model in physics or heliocentrism). [...] The high rate of change observed in these pages makes it difficult for experts to monitor accuracy and contribute time-consuming corrections, to the possible detriment of scientific accuracy. As our society turns to Wikipedia as a primary source of scientific information, it is vital we read it critically and with the understanding that the content is dynamic and vulnerable to vandalism and other shenanigans.
The article prompted alarming media coverage. Gizmodo warned that "Anti-Science Trolls are Starting Edit Wars on Wikipedia", writing "especially dedicated trolls have been sabotaging entries on politically controversial science topics like evolution and global warming." At the Washington Post, science journalist Chris Mooney wrote "What Wikipedia edits can tell us about the politicization of science", noting that "on these contentious topics, science doubters are constantly trying to get their point of view through, even as other Wikipedia editors steadily push back."
The Wikimedia Foundation disputed the findings of the paper to both publications, each quoting a statement from Juliet Barbara, senior communications manager: "The authors of this study do not seem to have successfully correlated the frequency of edits to controversial articles with an increased likelihood of inaccuracy." Barbara and Katherine Maher, chief communications officer, wrote a post on the official Wikimedia blog, which noted:
|...the study also jumped to conclusions about what this means for Wikipedia's reliability, overstating findings and inferring facts not in evidence. Much of the press about the study has repeated the assertion that controversial articles are also more likely to be inaccurate, despite a lack of strong supporting evidence: the study only references a handful of anecdotal examples of inaccuracies. Instead, the study simply seems to confirm that the articles chosen as controversial are, in fact, controversial and thus frequently edited.
Wikipedia editors also took issue with the paper. At ScienceBlogs, Dr. William Connolley (William M. Connolley), a Wikipedia editor with a long history of editing in politically-controversial scientific areas, dismissed the paper as "laughably thin" and "largely useless". The coverage prompted a lively discussion on User talk:Jimbo Wales, where Guy Macon wrote "I am shocked -- shocked I tell you -- to find out that Wikipedia articles that attract more readers also tend to have more edits."
In the Post, Mooney discusses the phenomenon of an article like acid rain, the science of which was once hotly contested politically but now receives little media attention. He writes:
|...those who previously had a big stake in contesting the science behind a given issue — say, acid rain — don’t suddenly rewire their brains to erase all that intellectual investment. They are likely to linger in their beliefs that the science behind acid rain was bogus, even though there’s less public interest in what they have to say.
Now and again, though, they’ll bring up the same arguments — and, just maybe, try to edit Wikipedia to the same effect.
"Wikipedia hates women", writes long-time editor
In Cracked, a humor publication which also discusses internet culture with varying degrees of seriousness, Wikipedia editor and administrator Abigail Brady (Morwen) (with Cracked editor J.F. Sargent) writes "Wikipedia Hates Women: 4 Dark Sides of The Site We All Use", discussing her experiences as a trans woman Wikipedia editor.
Brady began editing Wikipedia in 2003, when Wikipedia coverage was extremely spotty. As the number of articles and editors exploded, the disputes became more contentious and personal:
|I'm not sure what my gender or sexuality has to do with [the Wikipedia article on] Brixton, but if you're at all familiar with how the Internet works, you're probably recognizing the pattern: A woman has expressed an opinion and therefore must be destroyed. It wasn't like that before. So what changed? [...] The harassment came on the heels of one of the weirdest realizations a group of writers can have: People were starting to care about what we were saying.
As harassment increased in general on Wikipedia, Brady writes that "I decided to keep my head down and focus on articles about entertainment" out of fear of real-life consequences. Yet the harassment continued, including a series of hostile interactions with another administrator. She writes:
|Of course, I wasn't the only woman dealing with this shit, and eventually the toxic environment started ripping Wikipedia apart from the inside. Over the next five years, the number of Wikipedia editors shrank by over a third, with most of those that left being women.
Due to her involvement in the 2013 Chelsea Manning naming dispute Arbitration case (see previous Signpost coverage, Brady writes that she was subject to transphobic harassment and as a result chose to leave Wikipedia.
|That's when I left, and as of today I haven't considered going back. I love research. I love editing. I love being a part of big Internet projects like these. But I hate having to fight against threats and harassment just to be heard. They made it twice as hard for me as it should have been, and it just stopped being worth it. That's the story.
A number of editors expressed a desire for the Wikimedia Foundation to address the issues raised by Brady's article. EvergreenFir wrote "I'm thinking the only way things will change is through WMF intervention. Too much entrenchment, entitlement, and outright disbelief that anything is wrong." Jimmy Wales declared that "I will fight all the way to the top (and can guarantee success at that level, if there is community backing) at the Foundation to enforce strong community demand for positive change." Other editors dismissed the article. With the edit summary "Gender schmender", GoodDay wrote: "This female/male editors issue should be treated as irrelevant, by English Wikipedia. We're all Wikipedians, leave it at that." On Facebook, Tim Davenport (Carrite), a 2015 candidate for the WMF Board of Trustees, mocked the article: "...alas, there are mean people on the internet! And there aren't enough female editors and stuff." (Aug. 15)
"Bogus Wikipedia page" alleged to support domain name application
Domain Incite, a blog run by domain name industry analyst Kevin Murphy, has accused DotMusic Limited of using a "bogus Wikipedia page" to support its application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for .music, a proposed new generic top-level domain (gTLD).
Murphy claimed that the Wikipedia article music community, created in October 2014 by Dr. Blofeld, took text from the 2012 application of DotMusic Limited, highlighting three examples in particular. While the Wikipedia article created by Dr. Blofeld cited eleven sources, the particular sentences highlighted by Murphy were not individually cited.
|2012 DotMusic application
|2014 Wikipedia article
|The Community is a strictly delineated and organized community of individuals, organizations and business, a “logical alliance of communities of a similar nature (“COMMUNITY”)”, that relate to music...
|Music community is defined as a logical alliance of interdependent communities that are related to music...
|The Community and the .MUSIC string share a core value system of artistic expression with diverse, niche subcultures and socio-economic interactions between music creators, their value chain, distribution channel, and ultimately engaging fans as well as other music constituents subscribing to common ideals.
|The music industry shares a cohesive and interconnected structure of artistic expression, with diverse subcultures and socio-economic interactions between music creators, their value chain, distribution channel and fans subscribing to common ideals.
|Under such structured context music consumption becomes possible regardless whether the transaction is commercial and non-commercial (M. Talbot, Business of Music, 2002).
|Under such structured context music consumption becomes possible regardless whether the transaction is commercial and non-commercial.
Murphy points out that DotMusic's website declares that its definition of "music community" is "confirmed by Wikipedia" and noted that the phrase "logical alliance" employed by both DotMusic and Wikipedia "originates in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook".
In the comments of the blog post, DotMusic founder Constantine Roussos wrote "I did not create the Wikipedia page. No-one from my team did either." On Wikipedia, Dr. Blofeld wrote "I have never heard of the name DotMusic Limited or a 'new gTLD application'...The fact is I've contributed to a massive range of subjects and I'm sure once in a while somebody is going to complain about something or think something's suspicious. It's laughable that they would think I'd be in a such a position to have carried that off!" Murphy responded "Yet he used two sentences from the application without attribution in his article. If there’s an innocent explanation for that, I’d love to hear it and will be happy to correct anything I’ve got wrong."
The music community article is currently under discussion at Articles for deletion. (Aug. 10)