WikiProject COVID-19 revisited: The interviewees of March 2020's WikiProject report join us once again to discuss the evolution and future of the project.
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WikiProject COVID-19 revisited

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By Ixtal

An illustration of SARS-Cov-2.

In March 2020, we interviewed members of WikiProject COVID-19 right as the pandemic was starting to spread. Two years later, we've invited them back to discuss how their work has progressed and adapted to the changes the pandemic underwent.

  1. How has the work of the project evolved for the last two years?
    Kencf0618: I do not know. There are forests and trees. Parsing is an art.
    Gtoffoletto: We have entered a crucial phase of maintenance after the initial flurry of activity.
    FormalDude: At the beginning of the pandemic, it was a rush to get the best and most important information onto the encyclopedia. Now that two years have passed and so much more research is available, the result is a comprehensive network of articles that in my view are some of Wikipedia's most useful informative content.
  2. How will the future look for the WikiProject?
    Kencf0618: I do not have a crystal ball.
    Gtoffoletto: A lot of consolidation will be needed now to reduce some of the excesses of the first years.
    Tenryuu: I don't watch a lot of COVID-19 related pages, but it feels like new activity has died down. Maintenance seems to be on the rise.
    FormalDude: There's some unanswered questions in the overarching narrative of the pandemic, that, if answered, will drastically effect articles and content from the project. I think neutrality in light of revelations will be something we have to continue to work towards.
  3. How has your work on the WikiProject reflected your own experiences with COVID-19?
    Kencf0618: Timing: I began the timeline article the day they shut Wuhan down. I had been following an epidemiologist on Twitter and he said he was getting masks; I followed suit. Two or three days later, they were not to be found (I gave my stash to clergy, a rabbi and my parents' minister ‐I figured that they would be on the front lines whereas I could just go to ground).
    Gtoffoletto: I was able to vastly increase my efforts during the lockdown phase. I felt ensuring our articles were accurate was my contribution to fighting the pandemic. Now I can contribute much less as thankfully the acute phase of the pandemic has passed and most are now vaccinated.
    Bondegezou: I found my own work on COVID-19 research, including advising government, left me unable to have the same input to Wikipedia because I had a conflict of interest and found it difficult to separate Wikipedia's epistemological positioning from that of my own work. It also made editing Wikipedia feel too much like work and I want to enjoy editing Wikipedia! I became much more of a user and less of an editor of Wikipedia's COVID-19 content. I often found myself going to Wikipedia for clear timeline information or details of what restrictions applied where/when.
    Tenryuu: I took over contributing to COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia for a while, but I haven't updated it much now that my life has gotten busier.
  4. The disease has become increasingly politicized as the pandemic progressed. How has your WikiProject dealt with this?
    Kencf0618: Documentation, documentation, documentation.
    Gtoffoletto: Stick to reliable sources.
    Bondegezou: We have long accepted that health information on Wikipedia is especially sensitive and we have special rules at WP:MEDRS for medical information. However, there are grey areas over what MEDRS covers. The community faced tensions around how to cover questions of the origin of SARS-CoV-2, particularly the so-called lab leak hypothesis. My experience was of many discussions and proposals over how to apply MEDRS that were really a back door for the same recurring argument over what credence and coverage to give to the lab leak hypothesis. These seemed a particular cause of Wikipedia stress. In those contexts, it remains hard for editors to reach a settlement that everyone can accept.
    Tenryuu: I find this tough to answer as many parties insist they have evidence supporting their hypotheses. Like Bondegezou mentioned above, WP:MEDRS is good for viral mechanics and trends, but not over any human-involved action.
    FormalDude: All COVID-19 related articles are under a stricter set of guidelines called discretionary sanctions, and that makes it easier for experienced editors to prevail even when POV-groups push fringe ideas. It ultimately is a group effort and it plays out much like it does on the rest of Wikipedia, where due weight is typically a primary concern.
  5. I imagine working in this topic area must have been stressful. Do you have tips for other editors working in contentious topic areas on how to deal with wikistress?
    Kencf0618: Heh. I am officially 100% disabled; I am an autistic; severe mental illness is my jam. "Wikistress" is, shall we say, bupkis. That said, I hove into subjects with great focus and intensity –and I rely on the corporate nature of Wikipedia thereafter.
    Gtoffoletto: I try to remember to take it slow and accept that no article will ever be perfect. Some trust is needed that the process will work in the long run.
    Bondegezou: I think it's important to be able to walk away and trust that everyone else will look after Wikipedia's work. That can be difficult with some less edited Wikipedia articles, but the COVID-19 articles generally all had so many editors contributing that I think it felt easier to rely on the community.
    Tenryuu: Find another niche here. I primarily focused on copy editing with the GOCE before the pandemic, and I continue to do so now along with frequenting the Teahouse to help newcomers.
    FormalDude: It is stressful, and I recommend taking breaks. Stepping away from the wiki, or at least a certain area of the wiki for several days or even a week can be rejuvenating.
  6. As a more positive note, what are the contributions to Wikipedia's coverage of COVID-19 that you are most proud of?
    Kencf0618: Undoubtedly the timeline. Swine Flu made a deep impression on me. An entire branch of my family does not exist because of the Spanish Flu.
    Gtoffoletto: I'm really proud of the way we were able to share the consensus reached in some articles across the entire project to ensure that we wouldn't be repeating the same discussion multiple times. I think this is something that can be replicated in other areas too.
    Bondegezou: I started Hedgehog coronavirus 1 in early January 2020 and then Beluga whale coronavirus SW1 the next month as a spin-off of reading about coronaviruses as the threat of the pandemic first reared. I'm still proud of those!
    Tenryuu: Timelines are quite detailed (at least, the big ones I've seen). Aside from PEIS issues, the large amount of citations helps support Wikipedia's pillar of verifiability.
    FormalDude: I created Chinese government response to COVID-19 that merged sections from two articles with another article. I really like working on scope related issues and finding the best way to present our content to readers, and this was the culmination of months long discussion, so it was really rewarding.
  7. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
    Kencf0618: Wikipedia has a steep learning curve.
    Gtoffoletto: Science rocks! We got incredible vaccines in record time. Really grateful.
    Tenryuu: Hopefully this will be an area that only historians will work on one day.
    FormalDude: It has been an honor to take part in Wikipedia's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you to all participants for their insight on a complex and vast area of editing. We hope to be able to publish more WikiProject interviews in the future!

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On behalf of us all, you're welcome! Wikipedia is the work of many hands –I am struck by how certain subjects take an emotional toll such that the curating editors in particular have to eventually take a step back, and by how fresh troop always show up. I began Timeline of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, and for I think the better part of month I was contributing to it daily until I had to let it go for the sake of my mental health (and too, in a sense, I didn't want to enjoy war anymore, even at our remove). In this wise the daily drumbeat of Idahoan COVID-19 cases and deaths took an emotional toll on a local investigative journalist, and that was mostly statistics; that beat was handed off to a colleague. Someone has to do it. And so it goes... kencf0618 (talk) 14:30, 30 May 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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