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WikiProject COVID-19: A WikiProject Report

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By Puddleglum2.0

For this issue of The Signpost, I interviewed members of WikiProject COVID-19, to get a community view on the pandemic and how this project is reacting to the outbreak.

The interviewees are Tenryuu, Bait30, Kencf0618, Username6892, MarioGom, Magna19, Gtoffoletto, Bondezegou, and Liz. Special thanks especially to Tenryuu, who was instrumental in helping me gather members of the project.

Please note that The Signpost is not encouraging new editors to edit coronavirus related articles: in the words of one of the interviewees Liz, It's not a good place to learn, it is very unforgiving. Edits have to be completely accurate, it's not an area where we can tolerate mistakes. Editors that are completely new to Wikipedia are not likely to have a positive experience. They should learn the practices and guidelines in quieter areas of the project where they can make mistakes and learn from them.

Can you give us a little bit about why you normally do/what topics you edit on Wikipedia?

  • Tenryuu: Normally I work with the Guild of Copyeditors in copyediting articles for better structure, flow, spelling, and grammar. Topics are varied depending on what people request and/or what is in the backlog.
  • Bait30: I like to do more of the smaller tasks; I don't really enjoy actual writing that much. I find myself going on these sort of edits streaks. For example, I was filling the {{album ratings}} template on a bunch of albums for a while. I also went around updating academic journal Impact factor scores and even fixing a lot of improperly formatted musical artist infobox images. I also sometimes contribute to AfD discussions. I just like to help out where I can.
  • Kencf0618: I am all over the map.
  • Username6892: Normally, my scope is transport-related articles, specifically those relating to the Greater Toronto Area.
  • MarioGom: I usually work on articles related to politics and Socialism. I also spend a fair amount of time dealing with integrity (e.g. WP:COIN) and bias (e.g. Women in Red) issues.
  • Magna19: I normally edit science and boxing articles, just because these are the things I know the most about.
  • Gtoffoletto: Anything. Mostly science/technology related. But I tend to go deep on a topic and focus on that for a while and then move on.
  • Bondegezou: I mostly do edits around UK politics and elections, or around the music I like, but I also do edits related to my work in health research.
  • Liz: I'm an admin and I spend most of my time doing admin work, particularly deleting categories and redirects that are no longer needed. I use to spend most of my time categorizing pages & categories before I became an admin.

What motivated you to join this Project? Is it different than the topics you usually cover?

  • Tenryuu: The worldwide spread of it and how it's affecting my city is what gave me reason to join after Another Believer's invitation. It has made me look for sources and use them to cite ideas in the articles to keep them up to date.
  • Bait30: Obviously, the coronavirus-related articles are the most viewed articles on Wikipedia right now. With that comes a lot of edits, which in turn can lead to a lot of problems. For example, broken links/citations, content forking, and MOS issues. And then, because the volume of edits, it becomes difficult to go through the edit history to figure out what caused the error in the first place. I figured it would be better to join the Project in order to be a part of a more centralized "system" for editing these articles rather than just trying to edit things by myself.
  • Kencf0618: I have worked extensively on our Swine Flu timeline (we were shipping out body bags for that one), and began our COVID19 timeline. The global scope and local impact of this public health catastrophe is unprecedented in living memory – it's a long time since the Spanish Flu.
  • Username6892: When I first found out about this project, I was starting to edit the COVID-19-related articles. I joined because I knew the pandemic was going to last longer than I previously thought (which may cause more views for more time) and I was getting very interested in this topic at a time when schools were closed so I had much less else to really do at that time. With information coming out all the time and vandals trying to make it worse, why wouldn't I try to help?
  • MarioGom: Being in confinement and unemployed has left me with a lot of spare time. I checked COVID-19 statistics around the world everyday and started to update them on Wikipedia when they were outdated. Previous familiarity with research and reliable sources is helpful for my COVID-19-related tasks. Other than that, it is quite different from my usual Wikipedia work.
  • Magna19: The sheer scale of it needs a lot of editors.
  • Gtoffoletto: It's the greatest crisis ever faced by my generation and wanted to contribute to solving it by ensuring accurate information is readily available. I'm also from Milan, Italy. A region that has been hit particularly hard and "early" in the Western world.
  • Bondegezou: I work in public health, including now on COVID-19, so I was obviously interested in what Wikipedia had to say on the subject. Projects can be a great way of bringing editors together.
  • Liz: I became concerned in February about possible vandalism in COVID-19 articles so I started adding them to my Watchlist. Then I added more and more pages, there must be over 400 at this point. Joining the WikiProject seemed like the next logical step in order to stay informed about any standardization on the subject. One can't effectively patrol for vandalism and misinformation if you don't know the correct terminology or expectations. I have never worked on medicine-related articles so I'm still learning a lot from editors who are more experienced in this field.

What, in your opinion, is the main goal of this Project?

  • Tenryuu: To provide up-to-date, readily confirmed, and factual information on the pandemic and the effects and responses it is having on all of our homes.
  • Bait30: To be a place where Wikipedia editors can collaborate to provide up-to-date information about COVID-19 for Wikipedia readers.
  • Kencf0618: As above.
  • Username6892: To organize and standardize the format of these articles while providing the most reliable and up-to-date information possible.
  • Magna19: As per all above.
  • Liz: To standardize sources for case counts and terminology on the subject so that they can be consistent over the hundreds of articles that have been recently created on aspects of COVID-19 and how it manifests across the world. Also, it helps to draw attention to COVID-19 pages that need some urgent attention.

Is working on articles relating to sickness and disease different from covering something like biology or military history? If so, how?

  • Tenryuu: I can't speak for covering military history or biology in general, but with how many people come to Wikipedia to get information on this ongoing pandemic, it is important to get facts from reliable sources so that people are properly informed and not needlessly panicked.
  • Bait30: I wouldn't say it's totally different. The pandemic can be looked at from multiple angles, from medicine to economics, politics, and pop culture. Because of that, you can join this Project and edit things in your area of expertise, and people with a completely different skill-set can help out with the other things you're not used to.
  • Username6892: If you look at biology (and most other science-related topics), it takes a while for each discovery to be made. The articles don't have a large amount of views or edits unless a new discovery is made. Updates don't normally happen often in those fields. In this current pandemic, there are many updates every day so people will come every day to check what the latest case numbers are and what the government and other institutions are doing about it, so editors have to make sure that info is reliable as well as up-to-date every day.
  • MarioGom: It is quite similar, although the bar for reliable sources is higher (WP:MEDRS). I don't touch any purely medical content anyway.
  • Magna19: Not sure about military history, but it's quite similar to biology just as it has a lot of biology in it. Lots of things that need to be medically correct by the proper sources. Magna19 (talk) 19:16, 24 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
  • Gtoffoletto: Yes, very different. The consequences for inaccurate, misleading or imprecise information can be serious.
  • Bondegezou: In a way, the same basic principles of summarising reliable information clearly still apply, but it matters more if you get it wrong because of how someone might be acting on what is written. That is particularly true when we're dealing with a pandemic where our only current weapon against it is behaviour change.
  • Liz: When I was younger, I worked as a copywriter of legal articles that were posted online for law firms. I was extremely conscious of the fact that people might be reading them for free legal advice and how careful I had to be in my use of language. This experience reminds me of that. In this case though, I'm not the content creator, as I have no medical background, I'm just checking pages & edits for possible vandalism or inappropriate content.

Do you see this Project lasting after the COVID-19 disease goes away?

  • Tenryuu: For a bit. I imagine there would be adding the aftermath of COVID-19 in each region and improving data collection and article layouts. Of course, due to the nature of the topic it covers, I consider this an ad hoc project that will eventually lose its relevancy once the virus is properly handled and eradicated. That's the hope, anyway.
  • Bait30: I can definitely see this project lasting, at least for a bit, after the disease goes away. This pandemic has caused entire countries to shut down and changed the lives of many people and I don't think there is another WikiProject that has the same global scope. After a while though I do expect the Project to die down and see different Projects take over the different aspects of the pandemic (i.e. expect to see WP:MED become the place to talk about the disease or WP:USA become the place to go for its impact on the United States).
  • Kencf0618: This project shall never end.
  • Username6892: The answer to this question really depends on how large this outbreak becomes. As of now, I would say it will probably last a couple of years before eventually merging into WP:MED, though if the pandemic is larger than I expect, I could see it lasting much longer (perhaps until the next pandemic).
  • MarioGom: I expect a gradual decrease of activity over time. At some point it will become either inactive or maybe merged into another project.
  • Magna19: I certainly don't see the project going away any time soon, just due to the unprecedented nature of it all.
  • Gtoffoletto: Not sure how long this ordeal will last at the moment. Still insufficient data to determine how it will end. If the pandemic is defeated it will gradually go away.
  • Bondegezou: This virus isn't going away any time soon. Even once we've come out of the pandemic phase, this will still be a disease that affects people's lives, and we don't know what the long-term impacts of infection or the social changes we're seeing are. There is going to be plenty to do for years.
  • Liz: There will probably always be a need for this WikiProject although I expect participation to decrease as the pandemic subsides. This is pretty typical with all WikiProjects which seem to have a natural lifecycle of initial enthusiasm that turns into a focus on the maintenance of articles. I expect there to be future pandemics and natural disasters that could use this WikiProject as a template for their own topics.

What words of wisdom, if any, would you give to new/inexperienced editors looking to join the Project, as I am sure there are many?

  • Tenryuu: Because information is constantly coming in at a high rate, and some may not be factual (e.g., treatments that are purported to prevent infection or even treat it) so a decent level of fact-checking is required. There's nothing improper about finding new information, but I believe that inexperienced editors should discuss it on the relevant talk page with more experienced editors so that it may be vetted and changes can be made before it is potentially added to the article.
  • Bait30: Don't be afraid to collaborate. If you have questions, ask them! If you get reverted, don't be discouraged. Discuss it on the talk page. We all just want to provide the best information to our readers and collaboration is the best way to do that.
  • Kencf0618: Ooof. Let's wade into WWII, shall we...? I would advise new editors to specialize in what they know on the ground – local coverage, in other words.
  • Username6892: As a less-experienced editor myself, I normally edit articles which provide local coverage for me, because I am more knowledgeable in that area, but asking questions on the talk page is a good idea, too. Especially if you want to make a major change, it is good to get the opinions of others before doing it.
  • Magna19: Just stick to the best, most authoritative sources and find as many of them as possible.
  • Gtoffoletto: WP:NOTNEWS. Don't rush to put everything in. Try to avoid news reports and focus on accurate scientific sources.
  • Liz: I don't want to discourage participation in this WikiProject but, at this point, if you have some concern with how material is being presented, it has probably already been discussed, possibly multiple times on article talk pages. Do not propose drastic changes or page moves without becoming familiar with talk page archives. Because the pace of edits and discussion has been moving so rapidly over the past three weeks, I'd encourage new editors to find a quieter place to learn editing because the world of COVID-19 articles can feel overwhelming. There are 6 million other articles that could use your attention, too.

What are some of the Project's main goals besides simply improving articles?

  • Tenryuu: As a result of collecting the correct data and reporting accurately, reducing global panic and informing readers about pertinent information.
  • Bait30: To inform our readers. People need to know the true scope of what's going on. Not just location-wise, but also field-wise. By that, I mean that the sports-minded people should be informed about the science of this disease, the scientists should be informed about the socioeconomic effects of this disease, etc.
  • Kencf0618: The BBC's live rolling coverage (hard to keep up with!) today has a bit explaining exponential growth and vectors in terms of football (soccer) passes, so yeah...
  • Username6892: To get the most up-to-date and reliable information, as well as making sure the articles don't fall to vandalism. There are many articles on the subject, so having a project on it makes it easier for us to make sure all of them are reliable and up-to-date in terms on cases and response efforts (Especially if the government announces a lockdown).
  • Magna19: To ensure that real-world consequences of the article are the right ones, but not letting that be the primary reason for any edit, it also has to be in line with the sources. See the issues surrounding the current lead, for example.
  • Gtoffoletto: Keeping things organised. There is and will be a huge rush of readers/editors. We must maintain order and efficiency in communication and collaboration.
  • Liz: Accuracy and also educating editors and readers. We see some people who come to the pages with their own concerns about COVID-19 or who are trying to promote their own pet theory/point of view. This is misplaced, as we are focused on writing, updating & refining articles, but it's natural for readers to come looking for more information or trying to share what they believe might be helpful (but often isn't).

Do you have any last words you would like to share with our readers?

  • Tenryuu: Don't panic or underestimate the virus, keep yourself prepared with the months to come, and stay in touch with friends and family for moral support. Go out as seldom as you can, and take proper precautions for you and others if you are heading out.
  • Bait30: Listen to the experts. Get your information from a multitude of sources. Do your research. Be informed. The pandemic is getting worse and worse because people are not doing those things.
  • Kencf0618: As per George R. Stewart's Earth Abides, we are going to keep this network running for as long as possible. Ours is an information network; he used power stations and water supplies as exemplary examples. We shall die and live at our stations.
  • Username6892: Nobody knows what will happen next, so underestimating is dangerous and panicking is often useless. Those in the medical field know what is needed to get through this pandemic, so listen to them instead of panicking or going to the beach (an easy way to increase your chances of infection) during this time.
  • MarioGom: Don't trust those who say this is just another flu or said that until recently. Be responsible: keep social distance, reduce contacts, stay home if you can afford it, prepare yourself but do not panic buy and hoard. Do this even if your Government is not forcing you to do it (yet).
  • Magna19: Stay indoors, learn from the Chinese response, keep the mind active and finally, hope for a vaccine.
  • Gtoffoletto: This will affect the whole world. Let's stay united. We are all in this together. Have faith in science and we will make it together.
  • Bondegezou: If you want advice on what to do, listen to your local health authorities. If you want to learn about the background to what is going on, we've got some interesting articles for you.
  • Liz: I hope this doesn't need to be said but don't rely on social media for accurate medical information and advice. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of editors working to improve Wikipedia's coverage of COVID-19 to make it reliable and accurate. But, there are also hundreds of articles on this subject and we are sometimes spread thin. We're all volunteers and doing the best job we can with our time & talents. Please join in the effort and help improve Wikipedia on subjects you are knowledgeable about. Join us! If you find yourself temporarily out of work or out of school, it's great to have the feeling that you are contributing to such a worthwhile project.
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