Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The dangers of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a collectively authored work purporting itself to be an accurate depiction of our history. What I am seeing more and more is that Wikipedia is a dangerous tool whereby a handful of editors can singlehandedly rewrite major portions of our history. It is often cited as a reference of absolute truth, which compounds this danger.

I have personally encountered several instances of having truth censored by editors. One such case was ebXML. I chaired the Technical Architecture group and also helped write several of the specifications including the Technical Architecture, Registry-Repository, and Core Components specifications. Wikipedia reported as fact that ebXML had only 4 parts when it in fact had 6 parts. When I changed this to reflect what actually happened, some editor (who shall remain nameless) removed my contribution and changed it back to 4. Only through perseverance and pushing the issue was I able to succeed in a compromise. It now reads:

"The original project envisioned five layers of data specification, including XML standards for:

* Business processes,
* Collaboration protocol agreements,
* Core data components,
* Messaging,
* Registries and repositories

All work was completed based on a normative requirements document and the ebXML Technical Architecture Specification."

This is still obviously errant as these are not and were never considered "data" specifications. There were 6 parts to ebXML plus the normative Requirements document. The page is riddled with errors. I cannot change it as my IP has apparently been suspended for "vandalism" (I guess that is what they call "writing the truth" in Wikipedia language). Yes - I could easily use another computer or IP address via VPN to change it but why bother?

The real danger here is that people who lack any reference to ebXML and use this as the single authoritative source for knowledge will leave with the wrong impression. What happens when those people turn out to be university professors, scholars etc? Simple - history is rewritten reflecting non-truth.

Wikipedia is one of the most dangerous institutions in our time. As people such as myself gradually concede and give up trying to make Wikipedia accurate after being whittled down by years of naive editors who think they control their petty fiefdoms, the truth becomes lost and replaced by the editors' version. This reminds me of a quote from Randy Rampage, the front man for a band I play in called "Stress Factor 9":

"you're getting what you pay for when your info is free"

Of course, you cannot look up Stress Factor 9 on Wikipedia as it was deleted. The reason was explained as follows:

23:42, 7 December 2007 Marasmusine (talk | contribs) deleted "Stress Factor 9" ‎ (CSD A7: Article does not indicate subject's importance or significance: content was: '{{db-band}} {{Copyedit|date=September 2007}} :''For other uses of the acronym, see DOA''. {{Infobox musical artist | Article does not indicate subject's importance or significance"

When I helped contribute to this page, we noted that the singer for SF9 was Randy Rampage, one of the founding members of DOA. DOA is a legendary punk band that influenced a huge section of modern music including everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Bif Naked. They are often considered to be the founders of the "Hardcore" sound. Also of note in SF9 was drummer Ray Hartman, the first drummer for the premier metal band Annihilator.

Note that on Randy's personal page, there is a link to Stress Factor 9 including my stage name "Duane Chaos". The link to my band's home page has also been removed as it was deemed insignificant. I wonder how that should be explained to the 100,000 + people who have downloaded our music or come to see us live?

The short end of this stick is that we (society) are having our collective history rewritten by a handful of editors who make decisions about what is important and what is not, what is truth and what is not. Even when confronted with facts, they are often unwilling to accept defeat and allow their own personal views to be recorded as fact.

I am not alone in this criticism of Wikipedia. They are many like me who have had our voices silenced including university professors and many more.

The press and media are watched by watchdog agencies. I think it is time we do the same with Wikipedia.


  1. The Law of Large Numbers says that if you flip a coin a N times the percentage of heads will approach 50% as N grows. But when N is small you can make few guarantees.

    I think that is the Wikipedia problem. An article that is widely read and has many editors will converge on the truth. That is the strength of Wikipedia. But the long tail articles, which are read and edited by relatively few, can easily stray far from reality.

    I wonder if some sort of numerical indicator could be reported on each Wikipedia page, taking account of its age, number of editors, rate of change,etc., that suggest its reliability?

  2. Hi, I'm Marasmusine. This speedy deletion process is in place because of the hundreds of unnotable bands that get added to WP every day.

    The content of the deleted SF9 article read:

    "Stress Factor 9 is a hardcore punk band from Vancouver. Their music is described as hardcore punk as the some of "founders" of the hardcore sound like Randy Rampage was a founding member of great punk band DOA and later joined drummer Ray Hartmann in the metal band Annihilator."

    To the editor who nominated the article for deletion, and to me, this confusing statement didn't seem to be an explictly show how SF9 were important. It reads like: "Well, SF9 sound a bit like DOA."

    What you could've done is left a note for me asking me to restore article, which I would have done if the information about the band members was clarified.

    Although no-one has tried to make an SF9 article since that single case 2007, I'll happily restore the article for anyone who is interested.

  3. Marasmusine:

    I am delighted that there are people at Wikipedia who are willing to be open about this. Thank you for writing in. I will take you up on your offer to re-instate the article.

    I still have an issue with the term "notable" though. Can you point me to the criteria for notable? I thought I saw it somewhere.

    Thank you again for responding.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. (just posted using my wife's identity - oops!)

    Hi, the guideline for notability for musicians is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Music, although as long as there is an indication of importance the article won't be _speedily_ deleted.

    Verifiability is also important. If you know of any reliable sources I can immediately look at (interviews/reviews on good websites for example) then I can use these to kickstart the article.

    You can post these on my WP talkpage at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Marasmusine


  6. Sorry for pushing up this old topic. But seems like this is still the case today.
    The wiki editors don't seem to know about standard practices about specialized fields out there and they would just censor information they have never heard of before as spam.

    Please read about my plight here:


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