[Ira Matetsky, guest-blogging, May 13, 2009 at 11:15pm] Trackbacks
Wikipedia and the Biography Problem:

My thanks to everyone who has commented on my first two posts about Wikipedia, the collaboratively edited online encyclopedia. (For those coming in late, I've contributed to Wikipedia for about three years and am an administrator of the site and a member of the in-house Arbitration Committee; my username there is Newyorkbrad, after New York, where I live, and Brad, my middle name.)

Tonight I'm going to continue discussing the impact that the content of Wikipedia's biographical articles can have on their subjects. (By the way, I'd like to thank those Wikipedians, and Wikipedia critics, who have helped me hone some of my thinking in this area. I would thank them by name, or at least by Internet pseudonym, but since I may not be in full agreement with their recommended solutions, they might not appreciate being named.)

As is widely recognized, if someone notable enough to have a biographical article about himself or herself on Wikipedia (and doesn't happen to have a very common name or a name that is also a word), that article will be one of the very top Google hits on a search for that person. Indeed, the Wikipedia article will very often be the highest-ranking Google result for anyone who is the subject of an article. The most common exception is if the person has his or her own website, in which case that site will often be number one, with Wikipedia right behind it.

Let's try the experiment with a randomly chosen well-known person … how about, say, Eugene Volokh. I've just typed Eugene's name into Google, and the first two hits are pages from this site, which counts as Eugene's website; the third and fourth hits are his faculty bio and publication pages at UCLA; and the fifth hit is [[Eugene Volokh]], his biography on Wikipedia, which could use a little updating and sadly fails to mention [[HCSSiM]].

When Wikipedia was founded in 2001, no one involved anticipated that it would become as successful as it has, and no one anticipated the interplay between the link structure of Wikipedia and the algorithms used by search engines, which would raise Wikipedia biographies (and other articles) to such prominence. More generally, I don't think anyone anticipated, and certainly no one thought through, all the implications of the fact that what was meant to be a harmonious, educational, collaborative corner of the Internet would be used to hurt people. Whether the site would have been set up differently had that outcome been predicted is destined to remain in the realm of thought experiment.

In the intervening years, though, it's become more and more clear that malicious or simply thoughtless content added to Wikipedia BLP's ("Biographies of Living Persons") can be very damaging. A series of serious and widely reported incidents have brought the problem to public attention. Among these: the [[Siegenthaler incident]], in which an article was vandalized to accuse a completely innocent person of suspected complicity in an assassination, and no one caught the problem for four months; the incident in 2007 in which a Turkish academic was detained for several hours by immigration officials in Canada, reportedly based on an inaccurate allegation in his Wikipedia article that he was a terrorist; the lawsuit brought by a prominent golfer against the person who added defamatory content to his article; the blatant attack page created against a well-known California attorney, allegedly as part of a negative public relations campaign launched on behalf of one of the companies he was suing.

The Wikimedia offices have been contacted often enough by subjects of BLPs that apart from the usual network of on-site discussion pages and noticeboards, there is now an elaborate e-mail network (called OTRS) to which article subjects are referred. Concerns about defamatory BLP content are only a fraction of the inquiries received by OTRS and by administrators on-site: ironically, for every article subject demanding that his or her page be deleted or retracted, there is another inquiry by someone wanting to know why his or her page was not kept on the site. (Usually, the answer is that the person was judged not to be notable enough to warrant an article.) I think it is certainly fair to say that when Wikipedia was dreamed up, no one realized it would someday need a round-the-clock complaint desk.

In 2006, the English Wikipedia adopted a new policy on Biographies of Living Persons. It urged greater sensitivity to the effect that articles can have on the subjects, and in particular, provided that no negative or controversial content discussing a living person should be contained in an article unless a reliable source for the information is provided. Edits to enforce this policy were exempted from some of the usual editing regulations, particularly the "three revert rule," which forbids changing any article back to a previous version more than three times in a 24-hour period. The policy is considered one of the most important we have, and it's helped, but only some.

Articles about notable individuals suffer from the greatest amount of inappropriate or disputed editing — frequently to score points in political campaigns or other real-world disputes. One example was discussed in an article in The New Republic discussing the primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, here: . Another prominent dispute (which resulted in an ArbCom decision that I wrote) arose last September over whether various allegations belonged in [[Sarah Palin]] and related articles. But the most serious victims of BLP violations are not prominent people whose articles may watched, so that bad edits are quickly corrected, by hundreds of people; they are articles about less well-known people, on which libels or mistakes may go unrecognized or linger for weeks.

There have, of course, been lots of discussions about what to do about all this. Clearly, at this stage of its evolution, Wikipedia is not simply going to drop all the biography articles. (Even if it did, statements about living people would come up in hundreds of thousands of other articles. BLP applies on every page of Wikipedia, not just in the biographical articles themselves.)

A solution sometimes proposed is to allow subjects unhappy about the existence or content of their articles to demand their deletion. This will surely never be implemented in full; Wikipedia will not delete [[Barack Obama]] or [[George W. Bush]] or other articles about high-profile people even if the subjects were to ask for it.

On the other hand, in cases involving people at the margins of notability, which is subjective enough anyway, there can a place for taking the subject's own feelings about the article into account in deciding whether or not to retain it. Sometimes this has become a de facto tiebreaker (in either direction) in close deletion discussions. (A few Wikipedians have urged that giving this factor even tiny weight in deciding what to keep or what to delete violates a philosophical principle that notability exists independent of the subject's views, a view I would find more persuasive if application of the notability guidelines weren't so often subjective in any event.)

Related to that is a proposal that subjects be allowed to "opt out" of Wikipedia if they aren't prominent enough to have attained notability as measured by a well-defined, objective standard, such as having been the subject of offline "dead tree" biographical coverage such as a book or a hard-copy encylopedia.

Out of curiosity, if anyone reading this happens to be the subject of a Wikipedia article — please tell us in the comments whether you would exercise the option to have your article deleted on request, if that option existed, and why or why not.

I've gone over the recommended word limit for one of these posts (which won't surprise anyone who's come to know Newyorkbrad on-wiki), so I'll write about semiprotection and flagged revisions and Section 230 tomorrow.

24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
1. While WP's internal linking no doubt plays a role in WP's results rising to the top, the main reason is because useful idiots keep linking to them. If you need to reference something in WP, put the link in bare text format:, i.e., no "a href". If you have to use "a href", add a nofollow tag: rel="nofollow" right after the rel="nofollow" href="..." part.

2. Are documents obtained under a state FOIA request a "reliable source"? If so, why was a blurb about this deleted from her article at least three times?

3. Isn't WP spreading disinfo about her by avoiding any mention of those IL documents or her role in the Blago issue? Doesn't her WP entry have the ultimate impact of lying to people about her?

4. Should WP's biographies - or even each and every entry - have a big disclaimer at the top warning people that nothing in that entry can be trusted? Should Google add a "this page might damage your knowledge" tag below each WP search result?

5. How many people visited in early May 2005 (before he was elected) and weren't informed that he was a former leader of a racial separatist group? Was deleting that information as an infamous editor did a public service? See: Talk:Antonio_Villaraigosa#Distortion_from_supporters (I'm LonewackoDotCom from that page; I was forced to change my username earlier this year after using LonewackoDotCom on and off for several years. An admin busted me for the very special no-URLs-in-usernames rule after I dared to post some facts to BHO's *talk* page.)
5.13.2009 11:40pm
Anon Y. Mous:
I would like to take issue with Wikipedia's whole notion of notability. Sometime in mid 2008, I started reading Megan McArdle's blog over at The Atlantic. I was curious to know more about her, so I looked over at Wikipedia. Putting up her full name got nothing, but since I was unsure of the spelling of her first name, just searched her last name instead of backtracking to her site to find out. Anyway, I ended up at a page with a list of McArdles, including her:

Megan McArdle - a Washington-based blogger and journalist

However, clicking on that link went nowhere. I did some more poking around, and it turned out there was a page, but it had been deleted because she was deemed to be insufficiently notable. Her page has since been restored, perhaps because she is more widely quoted of late (one of the arguments for deletion was that she wasn't linked to enough).

It seems pretty silly to take the position that someone who regularly writes for a publication as prominent as The Atlantic is insufficiently notable to have a page at Wikipedia. Someone had gone to the trouble of putting the whole thing together, only to have his work thrown on the trash heap and made invisible to most of those who would have been happy to see it.

My perception is that there is just too much arbitrariness by those that pull the strings at Wikipedia.
5.14.2009 12:12am
greenish (mail):
The real issue, I think, with less-notable people is the risk that the page will be created and not maintained or corrected for lack of interest (in the above example, not the case). Any reason that isn't the metric instead?
5.14.2009 12:18am
privatemusings (mail):
It's very hard to cover some of the problems Wikipedia faces without mentioning the way in which project governance works (or doesn't!) - the only 'authority' on wikipedia is 'the community' - meaning a discussion is required, and 'consensus' must be formed for change to occur (I use the inverted commas because on wikipedia, consensus has a rather idiosyncratic interpretation). I look forward to reading more perhaps on this front.

To illustrate - here are the links to an 'optout' proposal, and the 'straw poll' regarding its implementation;

Opt-out proposal
Straw Poll

The proposal is tight, and simple... I should know, because I wrote it. In many ways it's not the good faith, or competence of individual wiki editors which propagate problems which face the project, it's dysfunctional governance which is directly responsible for the real world harm the project causes daily.....
5.14.2009 12:23am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
6. There have been several cases of the MSM picking up on false information that was planted in WP. Has there ever been a case where those MSM articles have then been used as a "reliable source" for another WP article? Consider this case, where planted info made it into the UK Mirror. Couldn't that very same UK Mirror article have then been added as a perfectly valid "reliable source" to another article? In fact, if someone were fast and lucky, couldn't they plan it that way in order to prolong the hoax (and expose just how faulty WP's "reliable source" rule is?)

7. If the UK Mirror refused to print a retraction, and no other media sources wanted to touch the story, wouldn't WP just continue to repeat the hoax from their "reliable source"?

8. If a blogger (note: WP really doesn't like bloggers) who was personally familiar with the team posted about the UK Mirror story being wrong, could that link be added to the article? Or, would that be considered "original research", something that's forbidden? (

9. Repeating an earlier question, list some rightwing sources that WP considers to be "reliable sources". Doesn't the the WP version of truth have a leftwing bias?
5.14.2009 12:47am
Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
5.14.2009 12:57am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Notability is a fun issue. It is almost never clear where the line is. Are most authors sufficiently notable? Are most project leads of successful Free/Open Source projects?

Am I notable enough to get my own Wikipedia page? I can't tell from the policy :-) I suppose I could add a page and see if it gets taken down.....

One issue that I would draw some attention to though are edit wars. Some time ago, a rival company which makes a rival open source financial accounting application decided to change the license on everyone and try to conceal that fact. We brought it up on mailing lists and on his product's wikipedia page. After several attempts to delete this and us undoing his deletions, he resorted to copying his web page into the WP page and getting it suspended for violating his own copyright....

Still to this date, however, it isn't reasonable for us to cover the controversies surrounding his product including the horrendous security history etc. Our project's page DOES cover controversies both regarding the project we forked from and our own project, and we don't attempt to hide them.
5.14.2009 1:00am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
So a lot of the point of censorship is not limited to BPL's.
5.14.2009 1:05am
Daryl Herbert (www):
I would like to see Wikipedia open itself up by allowing third parties to create their own encyclopedias, not only with Wikipedia's software (which as I understand it is open source), but that these third party encyclopedias would sit on top of Wikipedia's content.

For example, if I started "Darylpedia," and wrote articles on Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If someone searched Darylpedia for "ice cream," they would be shown the Wikipedia page for [[ice cream]]. But if they searched for "Barack Obama," they would be shown Darylpedia's page for Barack Obama. And if they clicked on the link [[Joe Biden]] in the Barack Obama article, they would be taken to Darylpedia's article on Joe Biden. If they clicked [[Valeria Jarrett]], they would be taken to Wikipedia's article on Valerie Jarrett, at least until I could write an article for her.

That would give any community in the world the power to start creating their own encyclopedia, bypassing Wikipedia censors, without "vandalizing" Wikipedia pages, and focusing on subjects that Wikipedia might consider not noteworthy (or simply distasteful/biased). Meritorious content from these 3rd-party wikis would eventually make its way back to Wikipedia, so Wikipedia would benefit. Wikipedia would still be the central web site that most people would start with. But people who are frozen out because of political bias (like LoneWacko) would be able to create their own alternative site, which would not start bare, but would start with tremendous content.
5.14.2009 1:10am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
10. Quoting from an earlier (or moved) version of WP's "reliable source" rule: if the information on the professional researcher's blog (or self-published equivalent) is really worth reporting, someone else will have done so. Does anyone who isn't a complete mainstream hack think that's in any way true? Aren't there large numbers of perfectly valid topics and subtopics that the MSM has no interesting in reporting?

11. Consider this person: (I spot two major problems right away: "guests" and amnesty are not necessarily the same thing, and Bush is (IIRC) no longer our president.)

Back in 2005, I asked her a question that she couldn't answer. I haven't tried to edit her WP page to add that link, but I don't think it would stay there that long due to WP's "reliable source" rule. Yet, even if an MSM reporter had been standing right there they wouldn't have written about it because that's the type of question that the MSM doesn't want to discuss. Having read literally thousands of articles about this issue, I can assure everyone that the MSM has no interest in asking people like her real questions about the policies they promote. So, I have valuable information (at least in regards to her), yet it stands little chance of getting into the #2 search result for her name for various reasons.

12. In January, there was a minor hubbub about MichelleO no longer being license to practice law; some assumed that she had been disciplined. I made a quick phone call and found out it was nothing. None of this made it into the MSM, so it didn't happen. However, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that my link exonerating her would stand a far, far, greater chance of sticking in her article than the link in #11.
5.14.2009 1:19am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
14. What Daryl Herbert suggests is already highly possible: the software behind WP is available from, and it's only a plugin (or perhaps a built-in feature) away from linking non-existent articles to the ones in WP.

For instance, here's a wiki I created using their software:

I've since mostly abandoned that for my main site (that uses Drupal, not mediawiki) into which I've built WP-style features. Posts can have tags associated with them. In the body of a post if I write something like "[[Barack Obama]]" that will be converted into a link to That page consolidates all the posts tagged with his name, and can have an optional summary at the top.
5.14.2009 1:25am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
In addition to things mainstream sources just aren't interested in there is nearly nothing detailed they get right.

Legal, science, business, it's all watered down drivel. How are topics to be covered correctly when the sources that are to be consered reliable do such a miserable job?

And as a furthur example of msm silence consider the recent Nordike decision out of the 9th circuit. Going by MSM sources the event didn't even happen.
5.14.2009 1:51am
LoneWingnut (mail):
There is another problem with BLPs - people creating fictitious pages to promote themselves, their friends, or family.
[[Sonja de Lennart]] is one such hoax. It was created by her daughter Eleonora de Lennart and her daughter's business associate Pauline Chipponeri to promote the fiction that Sonja de Lennart created Capri pants (actually created by Emilio Pucci). This fictional page (they also vandalized the pages on Emilio Pucci and on Capri pants) was then picked up by an AP fashion writer and its central claim made it into news stories around the country, which are now used as sources to prove the article. A Wikipedia administrator has sided with the hoaxers, asserting that it is settled because it's verifiable, and banned the user who exposed it, even blanking his talk page.
5.14.2009 2:09am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
My experience with this was that I found someone had created an article on me, based on me being the Libertarian candidate for Texas Attorney General in the 2006 election. Evidently nominees of ballot-qualified parties in statewide elections were considered notable. But I found the article contained some errors, so I, not knowing the rules against editing one's own article, made the correction. The result was other editors deleted it, accusing me of having created the article, which I had not. They also blocked re-creation of the article.

Now I'm not claiming to be notable, even though I have been prominently discussed in two books, and a number of other publications. My issue is that, if others considered me notable enough, it seems I should be able to correct errors and update information. I'm not notable enough that it is likely anyone else will do that.

I also have an issue with my opponents from the two main parties having articles, and thus being notable enough, even if they lost. I suppose minor party candidacy is regarded as not notable. Or become unnotable if they lose.

I haven't bothered to edit anything else since. It just takes too much time to overcome the politically biased editors hiding their POV (point of view) under WP rules that can be bent to almost any result anyone wants.

But it does seem that subjects of biographical articles rated notable by others should be able to make corrections themselves, especially vandalism.
5.14.2009 2:17am
Wiki reader:
I've wondered how much even semi-notable figures are hurt by false information about them on Wikipedia. A political candidate, maybe, if a false claim could impact voters. Presumably other examples are where something takes on credibility of its own, either because it's maintained by someone or because it starts to be batted around publicly as a rumor. Neither seems especially likely from vandalism of Wikipedia.

If John Seigenthaler was hurt by his article, for example, I'm not seeing how so any more than if it had been posted on an anonymous blog (probably a more likely source for a meme to go viral). Meanwhile, the current article seems to recount every accomplishment he's ever had, up to the time he saved someone from a Nashville bridge in 1954. I don't kow, maybe I would be more convinced if I saw someone do anything based on snippets they read on Wikipedia.
5.14.2009 2:21am

I don't know anything about WP, but I'm pretty sure a link to the decision would count as a reliable source. It looks like WP has even more. Maybe if you googled the correct spelling you'd have better luck?


1) a) You can't possibly think that Pucci "invented" the article(s?) of clothing that is(are?) between "pants" and "shorts", can you?. Maybe I'm not up on the technical definition of capris; b) I hope [[whateverhernameis]] invents a 5/8ths length legging so we can put this controversy to rest. Oh wait, aren't those called "Jams"? Or are they "Bermudas"?

2) Five of the first thirteen comments. Not bad, but hasn't WP banned a few more stumpers deserving of our attention?
5.14.2009 2:33am
re: "In addition to things mainstream sources just aren't interested in there is nearly nothing detailed they get right."

Wikipedia's reliable sources rule specifically includes academic publications as reliable sources and actually repeats your concerns:

For information about academic topics, such as physics or ancient history, scholarly sources are preferred over news stories. Newspapers tend to misrepresent results, leaving out crucial details and reporting discoveries out of context. For example, news reports often fail to adequately report methodology, errors, risks, and costs associated with a new scientific result or medical treatment.
5.14.2009 3:30am
Very interesting post. I am personally familiar with many Wikipedia BLPs -- mostly in the political arena -- that are defamatory and have been created by left-wing bloggers to advance some sort of politcal or ideological agenda. The problem is that when one tries to correct these entries, a biased "administrator" often blocks (or reverts) the change. As one earlier post noted above, it "just takes too much time to overcome the politically biased editors hiding their POV (point of view) under WP rules that can be bent to almost any result anyone wants." And even when some of the facts are correct, the WP entries often contain a slant that just spins the facts in the most negative possible light, again in the pursuit of some political or ideological agenda. At a certain point, maybe a lawyer will have to get involved. But it is ridiculous that a subject has to retain an attorney in order to discard this wholly inaccurate and libelous material on the Wikipedia. I sincerely thank and applaud you for trying to remedy a situation that is getting completely out of control.
5.14.2009 6:53am
Moulton (mail) (www):
Here is more on the governance model of Wikipedia.
5.14.2009 7:53am
Swamp Fox:
Any chance that our Wiki expert will address Wiki's practice of deleting reliable-sourced information that is nonetheless adverse to its favored politicians / political views? For example, Wiki refuses to allow any substantive reference to Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright in Obama's biography.

5.14.2009 8:57am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Editorial bias is particularly annoying in articles on legal topics. It takes several forms.

One is to resist anything that might cast doubt on the establishment doctrine on some point of law that may be very much in dispute. (I take the position that in politics and law nothing is ever really settled.) An edit war can resemble the old saying, "When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table."

Another is to push law office history over real history. Some of the lawyer editors insist that only lawyers are experts on law, but legal historians and linguists have a different view of that.

Still another is to push legal realism ("the law is whatever judges say it is") over history and logic, insisting that the last precedent is not only binding on courts but on public discussion by competent scholars. Editors are not allowed to cite to scholarly work that disagrees with judicial opinions in cases.

There is a distinct statist bias. It is not so much left or right as in favor of more power for government. That can be seen in the articles related to the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses, or on the income tax or making federal reserve notes legal tender.

There is definitely a need for more libertarian lawyers and law professors to become editors and administrators at WP.
5.14.2009 9:26am
Frater Plotter:
A note for those whining about not being allowed to add wingnut talking-points or hit pieces to Wikipedia: There's a project for you. Wikipedia does not accept content intended to defame, but those guys specialize in it.
5.14.2009 9:56am
Frater Plotter:
There is a distinct statist bias. It is not so much left or right as in favor of more power for government. That can be seen in the articles related to the Commerce and Necessary and Proper clauses, or on the income tax or making federal reserve notes legal tender.
Are you sure this isn't just another manifestation of the legal realism? Legal realism has a well-known statist bias.
5.14.2009 9:58am
Moulton (mail) (www):
Jon Roland writes:

I take the position that in politics and law nothing is ever really settled.

Compare the never-ending drama of politics and law to the remote world of pure mathematics, where an issue is settled when the appropriate theorems are finally proven with exceptional rigor.

Ironically, one of the more interesting theorems in mathematics demonstrates why nothing in the law or politics is ever really settled.

For most of human history, it was widely assumed that rule-driven systems (such as are constructed in politics and law) are inherently orderly, stable, and predictable, if only the right set of rules can be laid down.

It's only been a bit more than a century since a mathematical genius named Henri Poincare exploded the myth that rule-driven systems are inherently orderly, stable, and predictable. His breakthrough, known today as Chaos Theory, reveals that rule-driven systems are inherently chaotic, full of dramaturgical sturm und drang.

Perhaps that's why the long running series Law and Order is in continual reruns on a cable channel whose advertising motto is "We Know Drama."
5.14.2009 10:00am

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

This insanity is nothing short of asinine. Do lefties really think if they repeat a talking point developed by a hack comedian enough that people will believe it?

Goebbels lives on.
5.14.2009 10:02am
Hey Nope, Godwinning yourself is probably not the best way to make your point.
5.14.2009 10:24am
Joseph Slater (mail):

I dunno, do you think that if you call one of the most successful and best political satirists of our time a "hack comedian," that people will believe that?
5.14.2009 10:25am
Dave N (mail):
Frater Potter wrote:
A note for those whining about not being allowed to add wingnut talking-points or hit pieces to Wikipedia: There's a project for you. Wikipedia does not accept content intended to defame, but those guys specialize in it.
Nice straw man. The criticism on the comments have to do with Jeremiah Wright--who is controversial, and Wiliam Ayers, who is more so.

THe liberal talking point on the VC seems to be, "No one really cares about these two people and the President's past association with them because I don't."
5.14.2009 10:31am

Hey Nope, Godwinning yourself is probably not the best way to make your point.

Uh huh, because another hack purports to invent an "internet law" everyone must automatically accept it's validity.

FYI: "Godwin's Law" is no such thing.
5.14.2009 10:41am
I dunno, do you think that if you call one of the most successful and best political satirists of our time a "hack comedian," that people will believe that?

LOL! Now that's actually funny.

Calling Colbert anything other than a hack comedian, much less "most successful and best political satirist" is comedy gold.
5.14.2009 10:44am
Ken Arromdee:
Only a few kinds of people would actually even bother complaining about Wikipedia in these threads:

1) Kooks. This thread has drawn out a lot of kooks. This includes creationists complaining that Wikipedia's biased against creationism, people who think Wikipedia Review is reliable and unbiased, and a bunch of right-wingers complaining about leftist bias. Many of them were drawn in by this discussion and rarely or never participated in the Volokh Conspiracy before.
2) Regular or formerly regular Wikipedia editors who got frustrated with the process and by pure chance already participate in VC. (I may in fact be the only one, and it really is an unusual coincidence. The fact that someone mentioned spoiler warnings, the single issue that made me fed up with Wikipedia, is an even bigger coincidence.)
3) Users of Wikipedia, who found problems and got frustrated trying to correct them. Usually also already participants in VC.

The second category is small. The third category is bigger, but it's unlikely that someone in that category will post about more than one or two problems, and may not understand Wikipedia enough to describe the problem as a complaint about a Wikipedia policy rather than just as "Wikipedia won't let me do this". Kooks, on the other hand are motivated to post a lot, and would readily respond to calls on Wikipedia Review and other sites to come to VC to take over a Wikipedia thread. (Sheesh, we even have Daniel Brandt here. Somehow I doubt he posted because he's normally a VC lurker.)

This means that most posts that complain about Wikipedia will be from kooks.

This makes it very easy to ignore the complaints as an unending stream of kooks. Please don't do this. There are a bunch of real criticisms buried in there and almost nobody in these threads have even paid attention to them. (Not to mention that kooks can stumble onto real problems, anyway.)
5.14.2009 10:52am
Joseph Slater (mail):

Fair enough, but the kooks can be entertaining. Who knew somebody would defend comparing Stephen Colbert to Goebbels?
5.14.2009 10:55am
Gregory Kohs (mail) (www):
While I am not personally the subject of a Wikipedia article, there is an article about the enterprise that I founded, MyWikiBiz.

I am relatively pleased to have this article within Wikipedia, not so much because it does a half-decent job describing my experience with the business, but more because it offers me the opportunity to observe how Wikipedia is often used as a public revenge platform. The following edits (or, often more specifically, their edit comment fields) are instructive:

* distaste for MyWikiBiz and Mr. Kohs...

* No link to the site's blog allowed.

* "...reinforced status as persona non grata..."

* Make sure the world knows where I work for a living, too.

* Make sure that Jimmy Wales is never, ever called the "co-founder" of Wikipedia. That's "contentious".

* Make the site sound like an infested Google ad farm, and add some original research about what "users find" at MyWikiBiz.

With its history thus far, I am rather convinced that eventually, something truly libelous will be entered on this article, and then I may have to hire Mr. Matetsky's firm to represent me against the anonymous, irresponsible IP address that impugned my enterprise. That will be fun, won't it Brad?

By the way, some of you may be interested in how much traffic this single Wikipedia article generates to my website. I would estimate about 5 to 10 click-throughs per day, or about 2% of all hits on my site.
5.14.2009 11:30am
Can't find a good name:
24AheadDotCom: In regard to your question about Valerie Jarrett:

Are documents obtained under a state FOIA request a "reliable source"? If so, why was a blurb about this deleted from her article at least three times?

I would note that most of those documents obtained and indicated at the link were annual reports prepared by officers of a certain organization of which Jarrett was apparently a director for some time. Hence, their reliability is dependent on the reliability of the preparer, not of the Illinois Secretary of State with whom the annual reports were filed. Just because a document was filed with the government does not mean that the government is vouching for the document's accuracy.
5.14.2009 11:57am
"... [Eugene Volokh's] biography on Wikipedia, ... sadly fails to mention [[HCSSiM]]."

The reverse is not true!
5.14.2009 12:15pm
Kent G. Budge (www):
I own a Web site featuring an online encyclopedia of the Pacific War. It's a hobby -- I am an astrophysicist by training and a computational physicist as presently employed -- but it is a fairly serious hobby.

I am not notable enough to have my own Wikipedia article. I'm okay with that, and my employer is probably even more okay with that. However, a number of articles in my Pacific War encyclopedia are linked by Wikipedia.

This makes me uncomfortable. Wikipedia articles should not be linking me as a reliable source. Of course, I try to be careful to use the best sources available, but, for some obscure topics, sometimes that is someone else's hobby web page. Though I do my best to "get it right" I'm sure I've gotten it wrong in many places. Like Wikipedia itself, my encyclopedia is a tertiary source, at best. I rarely link Wikipedia for that reason, and others.

The traffic coming to my site from Wikipedia is completely dwarfed by the traffic coming to my site from Google or even Yahoo. (I'm kind of at the mercy of Google's indexing, but that's a different topic for a different thread.) The fact I'm linked by Wikipedia does not seem to be increasing my page rankings. So, flattering as it is, I'm not getting much benefit from being linked by Wikipedia. (I should probably add that I am not responsible for a single one of those links, though I have corrected one or two.)
5.14.2009 12:28pm
geokstr (mail):
Ken Arromdee:

Is this you?
Ken Arromdee

That was really a forceful and righteous ad hom. Anyone who disagrees with you and/or leftism is a "kook", eh? Yeah, we hear that, and generally much worse, from all the leftist commenters all the time.

It's amazing how much you can tell about the political slant of a given arena just from the direction it gets criticized from. Funny that there is very little liberal complaint about Wikipedia, and 98% of the MSM, and Hollywood, and college faculties, isn't it, but lots of complaints from them about Fox and talk radio? And little complaint about Fox or talk radio from the right?

Just has to be a coincidence though.

Because everyone of any real intellect and compassion knows that exclusive of Fox and TR, the rest of the MSM, Hollywood, and the professoriat are all moderates who play it right down the middle.
5.14.2009 12:50pm
Patrick from OZ (mail):
Anon Y Mous above mentions Megan McCardle - of course she wasn't notable, didn't you know she is right wing?

More seriously, if there was one thing I would scrap about wikipedia it would be notability. What isn't notable will surely not get read, non?
5.14.2009 1:03pm
loki13 (mail):

And little complaint about Fox or talk radio from the right?

Is that still on the air? I'd comment further, but I have to run to Whole Foods- just ran out of arugula. Maybe I'll get a latte on the way.

Besides, I get all my news from Robot Chicken.
5.14.2009 1:19pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
15. Ken Arromdee's smear is pretty hilarious, but for the record I've been reading and commenting on this site for years. I've also run several sites for several years that aren't too difficult to determine since I'm not exactly shy about them.

16. It's easy for people like "gwinje" to get confused about a lot of things, including the fact that "LoneWingnut" is someone else.

16. "Can't find a good name" shows us just how incredibly flexible WP's rules are in order to prevent negative information from showing up in "protected" entries.

17. The link about Wright/Ayers and WP that someone tried to leave above is here.

18. An easier way to find out how to add "nofollow" tags to links is simply to view the source code of this page and do a find; all the links in comments have that tag. If you must link to WP using a "a href" link, please put a nofollow tag on it. Even better, just type it out in plain text: Sometimes I put a space before ".org" just to be extra careful. If many people stop linking to WP, they'll eventually fall in search results. If they don't, the fact that they're being hand-edited into top positions will become evident.

19. If you want traffic and you've got the time, start a more reliable version of WP at your own site. For instance, a BHO page that covers as much information as WP does but also includes the things that BHO's protectors won't allow to be added even to his *talk* page. Eventually that might get a lot of links.
5.14.2009 1:28pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
First, praise for articles on until-very-recently-living-persons. I've maintained an obituaries list page and when I've gone to Wikipedia for fact-checking a date of death has often already been added. (And in general for Wikipedia, both for attempting to categorize, and for being what the Web should have been all along.)

Today I've learned that not only do I have to Google myself, but I have to Wikipedia myself. Sadly, not only am I not a notable person, a simple search for Chesler doesn't turn up anybody. (The cartoonist Harry A Chesler has a page, but the only mention of a much more talented David Chesler, a developer of MRI, is only in a footnote and as DA Chesler.)

I'm no longer even mentioned in any footnotes to [[Co-op City]] as something like "a jerk who maintains the oldest existing Co-op City page, which this article formerly gave the appearance of drawing a lot from." (Apparently my external link was removed last August, "cleaning up links section again per WP:EL")
5.14.2009 2:21pm
Dave N (mail):

How dare you link ro Fox News? It simply is not a credible source. Those folks are hacks and completely biased. Wikipedia, of course, is neither.
5.14.2009 2:43pm
Dave N (mail):
Yes. I was being sarcastic.
5.14.2009 2:44pm
Gregory Kohs (mail) (www):
@Wiki reader:

You asked, "I've wondered how much even semi-notable figures are hurt by false information about them on Wikipedia."

Perhaps you should read about the trouble that Professor Taner Akçam experienced, thanks to Wikipedia.

I don't know how you'd feel, traveling to another country, but missing your appointed guest lecture time, all because some customs/security guard took some Wikipedia vandalism very seriously, but I would be pissed. Akçam is clearly more of a mild-mannered gentleman than I am, because he hasn't raised that much of a stink about his four-hour detainment in Montreal, courtesy Wikipedia.
5.14.2009 2:58pm
I think the problem with BLPs will sort itself out soon enough. Folks learn pretty quick about the Wikithink, and after a while you take it into account. If nothing else, the people who are most passionate about their prejudices tend to be most clueless about the degree to which those prejudices show up in their writing. So you can pretty easily spot those statements and discount them. The more subtle bias present in a much more professionally and competently edited encyclopaedia would be more dangerous.

To answer the question actually posed: I do my best to keep my real name out of the Internet, precisely to avoid things like getting a BLP. If I had one, and there was an avenue for asking for its deletion, I would, no matter what its content. I'd as soon appear in Wikipedia as on an FBI Most Wanted list.

But I would have to argue you (those running the Wiki project) have a bigger problem, and that centers around the pure information part of your project, the part that doesn't more or less just record pop culture and redo "People" magazine online. You know, the traditional purely informative articles on geography, science, technology, history.

The problem is that this nonsense about democratic voting on reality, the any fool can edit business, and the reward structure of contributing seriously discourages, I suspect, people who are experts in these things from contributing. For example, I happen to have one or two areas of science in which I'm probably one of the world's top experts, or, more modestly and accurately speaking, it's the case that I know as much about the state of the art as the world's experts.

Occasionally I've been tempted to add what I know to the Wikipedia, or at least correct bogus info where I see it. But I don't, because there is this strong perception that I'm throwing pearls before swine. That some arrogant high-school smartass who just got an A in AP Physics is going to deface my careful work, and a hundred other similarly half-educated folks are going to back him up. By definition, there are always more people who think they understand a subject than people who actually do, and if fools get the same vote as wise men -- well, the wise man has better things to do with his time.

It's no loss to me. I don't need the fame, such as it might be. Within my community, my expertise is known and rewarded sufficiently, as it is for all real experts. But it is a loss to the greater community, is it not? Does it not, in the end, make a bit of a mockery of your goal, a free resource of high-quality information?

The problem, as I see it, is that the people motivated to contribute technical and factual information to Wikipedia are those for whom Wikifame is rewarding, who do not already have stature in the community centered on the field in question. Graduate students, say. Not senior scientists. The senior people are if anything antimotivated to contribute.

So how are you going to solve this problem? Or are you going to rely indefinitely on amateurs and newbies and the occasional senior crank gloryhound (they exist in small numbers) when it comes to technical fields?
5.14.2009 5:28pm
Bolie Williams IV (mail) (www):
In regards to the notability criteria, I just noticed that a number of relatively obscure porn stars are considered notable while others who are probably known by more people and are definitely more mainstream, are considered not notable. I do not understand why there is not a strong bias towards assuming notability given how little storage space a short bio page takes on a server...
5.14.2009 6:16pm
Andy Felix (mail) (www):
I think that one major important factor is that others link to wikipedia with a do-follow link and wikipedia links to others now with a no-follow link, this coupled with wikipedia's internal linking structure as well as their hundreds of thousands of indexed content - whose quality is generally good has made it enormously powerful seo-wise. As far as individual biographies are concerned- like you can't stop news channels or media from reporting about a celebrity even if that celeb insists, there is no reason why should wikipedia stop with the bios.

Herpes cure
5.15.2009 11:11am
Out West (mail):
The problem with Wikipedia, as I see it, as an educated nonlawyer, is that although the erudite individuals on this website can in many cases discern fact from fiction or bias, there is a whole generation growing up that does not. They then think that Wikipedia is actually the factual, academic source, as opposed to Facebook or MySpace, which is what they usually inhabit.

The idea that one can make something up and post it is totally OK with them. There are falling academic standards, anyhow, and the small pool of well-educated persons is not going to necessarily be committed to Wikipedia, in the interest of correcting fact from fiction or slurs. They may actually be working or devoting time to ventures other than Wikipedia. This leaves a vast pool of people who want to fool around on the Internet and could care less about accuracy.

Maybe accuracy is overrated though. Any of you who have worked with the general public recently or watched the reality cop shows that the vast majority of American kids grow up with (coupled with video games) may be accepting that the movie "idiocracy" is more fact than fiction.

In the future, Wikipedia may be the shining light and the closest we can come to truth.
5.15.2009 1:17pm

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

That's funny! Naive, but funny!
5.17.2009 5:25pm

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