The Signpost

Essay

Delete the junk!

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Adam Cuerden
This is actually an essay I wrote (under my old pseudonymous account) back in 2008. It's located at Wikipedia:Delete the junk, and this is the version as modified by various editors over the years. It shows its 2008 roots in its rather aggressively-sarcastic tone, and the specific way voters are portrayed – which is more relevant to how people acted here in 2008 than today, I hope – and the references to <ref> tags, which were just coming in at the time, and did, certainly help.
Throw out the junk, then start anew.

Sometimes, an article comes up for AfD (“Article for Deletion”), which, though its subject may be notable, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Perhaps its only source is a promotional, questionable website. Perhaps its material seems to be completely made up from thin air. In such cases, just delete it. Wikipedia lacks articles on a lot of things, and, if the people who found 87 blog and chatpage sources using the University of Google really cared about the subject, they'd find reliable sources to remake the article.

In the end, Wikipedia can only maintain articles at sufficient quality if there are people interested in improving them according to Wikipedia policy. Where large walled gardens exist, it may be necessary to cut them down to a few, manageable articles, so that they can be brought up to sufficient quality. This means going through the huge swaths of bad articles and picking out the worst and least notable for deletion. Likewise, fixing a very bad article on a small aspect of a larger subject may waste resources better spent fixing the articles on the larger subject.

On Wikipedia, we are all unpaid volunteers. Very often, "keep" votes on these sort of articles will be combined with an insistence that... other people rewrite the article from scratch, whereas the person saying this has no intention of editing the article at all. If you're insisting other people do work creating an article on your behalf, and claiming you have the right to do this, you need to rethink your position: If you are not willing to take responsibility for improving the articles you gaily vote to keep, then you are making the jobs of the people genuinely trying to improve Wikipedia by upmerging content, reducing walled gardens to a manageable number of articles, and trying to use limited resources effectively much, much harder.

Another reason to delete

It is worse to have an article on a notable subject than not to have it, if it contains information that is misleading, or could be slanted, due to a lack of sources to verify the text is still accurate. Some articles have been hacked or slanted with incorrect text, for weeks or months, because the text was not compared to reliable sources and corrected. That problem is being reduced by use of ref-tag footnotes ("<ref>...</ref>") that pinpoint each statement to a particular source, for rapid verification. (NB: That's a pretty 2008 thing to say, isn't it?) The goal is a balance: to make articles tamper-resistant but also allow for improvements, with updates for later research or news reports, by anyone in the world.

This sort of attempt at misleading the reader can often be identified at Articles for Deletion. Horrifyingly, though, some people don't care, and instead insist the article should be kept, even when the entire article is demonstrably full of such attempts to mislead, and thus cannot be trusted, in the idea that other people should, once again, fix the problems they don't want to do the work to fix. This is wrong. Neutral Point of View is a core policy, and if the article has no redeeming merits, then the mere theoretical idea that a (completely different) article could be written on the subject which would be acceptable under Wikipedia policy is not an argument to keep.

Why starting from scratch can be an advantage

Imagine you wanted to build a house, but the sewer main has just burst, spreading sewage across the area where it's to be built. You'd fix the sewage main and clean away the sewage first, leaving yourself with a clean, pristine area on which to build your new house. And yet, on Wikipedia, we can sometimes insist the sewage remains until the house is finished.

A badly written, poorly structured, and, especially, a POV-ridden article can be a nightmare to edit, and can intimidate editors away from it. It gives the perception of a monumental task, which has to be done all at once. And if there are any problems with claimed ownership of articles, any attempts at improvement can be halted before they even start.

However, a clean slate offers the chance to do things right. A new editor can come in, think about how best to structure the article, and create a much more useful framework for further work. It also gives permission for the article to be fairly short, but with the potential for expansion. It's just much more pleasant to work on a clean slate, than in a cesspool of sewage.

Alternatives to deletion

Of course, sometimes an article isn't entirely junk. Perhaps it could be partially salvaged?

The point is that it's better to have nothing rather than something that's actively misleading, unreadable, or, for more fringe subjects, part of an unmaintainable mess of interconnected articles. Lacking an article encourages people to create one. And they'd surely do a better job at it than whatever terrible mess got someone linking you this essay.


S
In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

"Sometimes, an article comes up for AfD (“Article for Deletion”), which, though its subject may be notable, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Perhaps its only source is a promotional, questionable website. Perhaps its material seems to be completely made up from thin air."
If an article is notable, then reliable sources would exist for it to showcase that notability and it also wouldn't be made up. I understand that you meant that the article subject was notable, but the existing article didn't represent or use anything that is a part of that notability, but I feel like that was poorly laid out in this introduction. It just creates confusion on what notability even means if the article lacks notability in its representation.
Also, if a subject is notable (which would only be representable via proper reliable source coverage that has a significant amount of information), then I find it hard to see how any argument other than Stubbify/Re-write a stub paragraph from scratch is viable. That one act alone is what should be done in all cases of a notable article subject that has the issues you are pointing out, but is a notable topic. End of story, that is the action to take. And AfD isn't it if the person nominating knows the subject is notable, they should be the ones stubbifying/rewriting it themselves. SilverserenC 00:57, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Not entirely accurate; if Wikipedia is better without the current article, and no one is willing to write a better one, then the article should be deleted or redirected. Ideally, there would be someone willing to write a better one, but we don't live in an ideal world. BilledMammal (talk) 01:09, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
A single paragraph with a minimum of a single reliable source is not a high bar to reach. Anyone who is willing to put in the effort to create and go through an AfD should be equally willing to stubbify and write 3 sentences for an article. Having a single paragraph article with a proper reference is even more so better than having no article on a topic. SilverserenC 01:12, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
  • I completely agree, and would have added a comment to the effect of this comment if someone else had not already made it. Bahnfrend (talk) 02:35, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    @Silverseren, Bahnfrend, and BilledMammal: There's been a trend of "stubbifying" that's come up after 2008, and, yes, it helps deal with the issue. I decided the main essay shouldn't be overly changed, but I added the last section - alternatives to deletion - for the republication since we have more options now. I do think that upmerging can be better than stubbifying, as context is often more helpful.
    It's probably also worth noting that what I was editing in 2008 included a lot of pseudoscience pages, where you would get, for example, 300 articles on, say, Ayurveda, including a bunch of barely-sourced "medicines", which you could readily prove existed, and cover from an ayurvedic viewpoint, but WP:MEDRS required non-alternative medicine sources for, and those didn't exist. Basically, a degree of specialisation that no reliable source was going to cover if they hadn't bought into the concept already. Adam Cuerden (talk)Has about 8.1% of all FPs 17:56, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
@Silver seren:

starting with this just created an inherent contradiction from the get-go

I'm really not seeing this supposed contradiction, but your response seems to be based on some inferences that contradict the points in the essay.

If an article is notable, then reliable sources would exist for it to showcase that notability and it also wouldn't be made up.

An article can't, itself, "be notable" or not. The subject can be notable, but there's no such thing as a "notable article".

I unberstand that you meant that the article subject was notable, but the existing article didn't represent or use anything that is a part of that notability

Well, not just "meant" that, the essay said exactly that. And it's certainly possible for an article on a notable subject to contain falsehoods or fabrications. It's also possible for that article to lack any reliable sources — even if those sources exist (which, as you say, they must), that doesn't matter if the article doesn't employ any of them. It's precisely the articles filled with unsourced, fabricated, distorted, self-serving nonsense, that the essay is targeting; the ones that get "keep" votes purely on the grounds that "subject is notable", therefore we "must" have an article about it. (Even if it's a disaster?) FeRDNYC (talk) 03:58, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The options are not just keep in that form or delete it. My point was that an AfD discussion is inherently the problem. Because the point of an AfD is to determine notability of a subject. And if the article subject is already stated to be notable, then the entire AfD was pointless from the get-go. Complaining about Keep votes is entirely missing the point, since Keep is the proper response when asked about the notability of a notable topic. Which is why I pointed out that the automatic response to an issue of an article not properly representing the subject it's about should always be stubbify from scratch, not attempt to delete it. So I guess I am arguing against the central premise of the essay, in that it's fundamentally wrong. Since, yes, the point of Wikipedia is that if a subject is notable, we should have an article on it. Period. The end goal is to have articles on all notable subjects. The way to fix a "disaster" is as I already mentioned. SilverserenC 04:46, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
That's not quite true. Articles that have been on notable subjects, were fully sourced, and for that matter were quite popular with the readers, can and have been deleted at AFD under WP:NOT. Hawkeye7 (discuss) 22:07, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Under what part of WP:NOT? Because what that covers would inherently not be notable subjects in the first place (since, for example, dictionary words aren't subjects in the first place). SilverserenC 04:57, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
WP:INDISCRIMINATE: merely being true, or even verifiable, does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in the encyclopedia. That has been interpreted broadly to mean that if enough people don't like a particular subject area, articles on that subject area can be barred from Wikipedia. See Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Justin Bieber on Twitter for an example. This decision gave real teeth to WP:IDONTLIKEIT. Hawkeye7 (discuss) 07:02, 3 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
You could start with beauty pageants and their contestants. Have a gander at Miss Denmark 2022 (orphan) for starters. Or anything listed in template Miss Universe 2013 delegates, or 2014, or 2015. I took a swing at the problem with Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Lexi Wilson and it was a complete whiff. ☆ Bri (talk) 01:28, 1 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]
There would doubtless be a network theory way to do this just by analyzing the network of pages and their interwiki links to identify either full splinter networks (a set of pages that only link to each other) or edge isthmuses of the main network that only sparsely link across (especially if the only links are to extremely central nodes indicating possibly trivial links to pages like USA or similar). T.Shafee(Evo&Evo)talk 00:33, 26 September 2022 (UTC)[reply]





       

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