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Wikipedia, or "The Encyclopedia Any Teenager Can Vandalize," is an Internet project which aims to create a comprehensive encyclopedia by allowing any user to create and edit its articles. The project was created in 2001 as a project of the Wikimedia Foundation, an organization created by Jimmy Wales (who also co-founded Wikipedia itself).

As of 2013, Wikipedia boasts over 26 million articles[1] in 285 languages.[2] Despite criticisms over accuracy and content, most famously from the people who produce the well-established Encyclopædia Britannica, Wikipedia is frequently used as a basic reference and a starting point for deeper research.

Wikipedia attempts to maintain a neutral point of view, and although there is admitted difficulty in attaining this goal, efforts are constantly made to try to filter out and resist pervasive bias. In practice, normal people find it quite useful. Sensible ones even realise it's mostly written by ordinary people and has almost no formal quality control, and they know better than to believe something because it is well-formatted and extensively footnoted. It's also quite useful for procrastinators, as it gives them an excuse not to learn about things they should be checking out, and instead jumping from link to link learning useless stuff they'll ever only once use in a conversation only to end up being ignored.

The Wikipedia project has inspired a great many other, smaller wikis such as Homestar Runner Wiki[3] and Citizendium,[4] using the same wiki software designed by the Wikimedia Foundation. Although many are encyclopedic in nature, some, such as Flu Wiki,[5] are used for information sharing for a specific purpose. Some wikis such as Uncyclopedia[6] and Encyclopedia Dramatica are parodies of the wiki phenomenon, while Wikia is a monument to obsessive fandom of all kinds.

Contents

[edit] Size

Wikipedia boasts over 26 million articles in 282 languages, of which 280 are not American and therefore incomprehensible and irrelevant. The Simple English variant is spoken in Alabama. The remaining one is full of spelling mistakes, most notably lots of "u"s where they don't belong and misspelling of words ending in -ize. Wikipedia has been compared, once positively, to Encyclopædia Britannica;[7] Despite this praise, it's often frowned upon to use it as a reference in any serious work, but it does make a nice starting point for those who can't be bothered to go past the first result on Google. It's also a great place to learn that George Washington took a shit on a stick and then told everyone to have unprotected sex.[citation NOT needed]

It also occasionally edits itself, possibly indicating that it has become self-aware.[8] This being the case, it is rigorously monitored by conspiracy theorists due to a "supposed link to Project Blue Beam."

[edit] The management

[edit] Admins

English Wikipedia has about 1500 administrators, of which about six to seven hundred are active. Administrators have the power to perform certain tasks that could be very disruptive in the wrong hands, such as deleting articles. They are also empowered to enforce behavioral guidelines, primarily through the use of user blocks.

A common misconception is that administrators oversee Wikipedia's content.[9] This is not their intended role; in fact, Wikipedia policy expressly forbids administrators from using their authority to influence content. In practice, however, administrators have quite a few ways to influence content. These include tools such as 'protection' (which prevents other editors from editing an article); user blocks; and the authority to "close" debates (including deletion discussions), in effect declaring one side a winner and enacting its views.

Administrators are appointed for life and have complete autonomy (like other editors, though with greater powers). They can intervene in any dispute they like, and being human, play favorites — sometimes blatantly, sometimes unconsciously. The admin corps is for the most part well-meaning and well-behaved, but with very little oversight, it pretty much takes the wiki equivalent of a shooting spree before an admin's powers are revoked. Accusations of "rogue" administrators are common, because all administrators are rogue agents.

[edit] ArbCom

Particularly contentious disputes, including disputes that involve administrators, are handled by a committee of arbitrators — Wikipedia's Supreme Court. As with administrators, the arbitrators are expected to focus solely on behavioral issues and avoid any role in shaping content.[10] Arbitrators have much less autonomy than administrators: they handle only high-profile disputes, there are only 12 or so arbitrators at any given time, they must act jointly, and most importantly, must undergo community-wide reelection every two years. As a consequence, Wikipedia's arbitrators do, for the most part, act cautiously and impartially.

The chief problem with Wikipedia's arbitration committee is that it is the sole legalistic body on Wikipedia with any real power, and the arbitration process is so arduous that they can only handle a few dozen cases a year. All other disputes, little and big, are left for editors to hash out amongst themselves, through much screaming, edit-warring (the doing and undoing of content changes), and the occasional admin swooping in to declare one side a winner, until the fight flares up again a few months (or days) later.

The ultimate arbiter, thus, of who gets to shape Wikipedia is persistence: whoever insists on their version of content (at the article level) or policy (at the project level) day after day, year after year, while staying within behavioral norms, will ultimately win. (This is not to say that an individual can overpower a crowd: a group tends to have more stamina than an individual, and can get a particularly pesky Don Quixote beaten banned.)

[edit] The Grand Poobahs

In theory there is a formal layer of management on Wikipedia, that of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, and their employee, the Executive Director of the Foundation. In practice, the Foundation is in charge of little more than Wikipedia's ongoing hosting (software, hardware, and technicians) and funding. They make occasional grandiose speeches about the importance of Wikipedia and are responsible for the well-received[11] slogan, "Wikipedia Forever" "WIKIPEDIA FOREVER".[12] Their oversight of Wikipedia's content mostly takes the form of embracing restrictive "Biographies of Living Persons" and "Non-free Content" policies for fear that one big lawsuit could bring the project to its knees. The upshot of this is that you cannot mention gerbils anywhere in the proximity of Richard Gere's anus article, even to point out that it's a hoax,[13] or post copyrighted (but fair use) content anywhere that would make sense, such as putting a picture of a Muppet on the List of Muppets page.

Perhaps it's just as well that Wikipedia has as little oversight as it does.

[edit] Criticisms of Wikipedia

Critics of Wikipedia often cite the fact that anyone can edit it as the reason that it is unreliable. It is certainly true that Wikipedia's open editing policy sometimes causes problems, known as vandalism or "wandalism." This is the main criticism brought up in popular media, where actual knowledge of how the wiki operates is seldom in evidence. While it's true that anyone can add misinformation, it's also true that anyone can remove it. The MediaWiki software even has a handy button to do this, and numerous bots and editors patrol recent edits to make sure none are obviously malicious — the average unwanted edit usually lasts about one minute on Wikipedia. Coupled with the fact that any article likely to receive attention from vandals is protected or semi-protected from anonymous editing,[14] the wiki isn't in much danger of being overridden by obvious vandalism. More subtle vandalism, errors, and distortions (intentional or otherwise) are another matter entirely.

In reality, one of the major drawbacks of Wikipedia is its excessive bureaucracy that is evident when you get deeply involved in writing for it or patrolling its edits. Its pages on policy and style are numerous, and probably larger than the whole of RationalWiki (that's including talk and non-mainspace entries). The implementation of its rules in letter rather than spirit by its senior members is also an issue.

[edit] Bias in Wikipedia

Wikipedia attempts to maintain a neutral point of view, and although there is admitted difficulty in attaining this goal,[15] policies are in place to try to filter out and resist pervasive bias. Unfortunately almost no one agrees on what "neutrality" actually means.

Semi-protect the Constitution.

When used by wingnuts, the phrase "bias in Wikipedia" is insider jargon for Wikipedia's aspirations to objectivity, citable fact and reality, rather than subjectivity, irrationality, and extreme points of view in the creation evolution of their encyclopedic articles. Naturally, they consider everything else (especially things that are neutral) to have a liberal bias. When one considers that anything not far-right is by its very nature, to the "left" of that conservative stance, their logic is impeccable.

When used by moonbats, the phrase "bias in Wikipedia" means the site is run by libertarian drone armies and controlled by the CIA.

When used by alties, the phrase "bias in Wikipedia" means that science that works has better references and this is unfair.

Various well-heeled organizations, including the CIA, Microsoft, Fox News, and Diebold, along with many presumably less well-heeled celebrities, have altered Wikipedia entries to suit their own agendas and make themselves look good.[16][17][18] Promotional language is easy to spot once you're used to Wikipedia's dull gray house style, and Wikipedia regulars are very good at picking up on it.

[edit] Attitude toward expertise

The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: "Experts are scum." For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War — and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge — get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved. And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse with Randy until the sword-skeleton theory can be incorporated into the article without passing judgment.[19]

One of Wikipedia's more controversial points is that experts and expertise count for nothing. The site's "anyone can edit" ethos means that someone who has published dozens of journal articles on a topic gets no more consideration than a certifiable moron. All material must be cited to established secondary sources with no "original research" (i.e., the editor's own knowledge or interpretation).[20] The intent was to avoid credential bullying. While the need to cite secondary sources is in principle a good thing, in practice there are so many sources saying so many different things that cranks can often find an obscure source to support them, or selectively quote from more prominent sources. Wikipedia recognizes this, and includes an article on the "Randy in Boise" problem.[21]

Experts get sick of dealing with perpetual blithering idiocy and being expected to just put up with it — then being penalised when they finally blow their top. That said, you can hardly move on Wikipedia without bumping into a Ph.D. Wikipedia is not for everyone, and genuine experts quickly learn that what matters is not their knowledge but their ability to remain unfailingly polite in the face of provocation.

[edit] Homophobia and transphobia

If I had a Wikipedia article and then I suddenly claimed to be a dog, or a cat, would they change it to reflect such a non-sense? Biologically he is a man and will die a man
—Comment on the talk page of Chelsea Manning, deemed acceptable by Wikipedia's operators[22]

Wikipedia has been strongly criticized for transphobia and homophobia among its editors and even in the upper echelons of its management. For example, on the Croatian Wikipedia, a group of far-right administrators have imposed both a dirtbag worldview in particular and routinely banning opposing editors from the site, even leading Croatia's Minister of Education to warn against using Wikipedia because of its "falsified" and extremist content.[23][24]

In September 2013, following a discussion rife with hate speech against trans people, the English version of Wikipedia decided to move the article on Chelsea Manning back to her birth name,[25] despite her wish to be referred to as Chelsea, in a move widely described as transphobic:[26]

[The] fact that a group of people held a vote on whether or not to call a trans woman by her preferred name, and then lost that vote, is seen as yet more evidence of a painful lack of diversity of experience amongst active Wikipedia editors.
—Alex Hern[27]

In October 2013, despite having an arbitration case very few of the editors who had made transphobic comments were banned. The move was met with condemnation from LGBT rights groups such as Trans Media Watch and widely criticized for "implying that accusations of transphobia are as bad as actual incidents of transphobia."[28][29]

The German version of Wikipedia demonstrates an equally strong and unusual bias, insisting on referring to Manning as "Bradley" and "he" months after she came out as transgendered. On the talk page, many editors reject the very existence of transgendered people and the scientific consensus in the medical community, one editor arguing: "A wolf in sheep's clothing is not much of a sheep."[30] The French version of Wikipedia continues to refer to Lana Wachowski as "he" even years after she came out as transgender. One editor argued that transphobia is "strongly encouraged in... France."[31]

[edit] Skepticism on Wikipedia

As a consequence of Wikipedia's open editing policy the skeptical group Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia is able to work tirelessly to insert a more skeptical line in Wikipedia's articles. Wikipedia's content policies — cite everything, peer-reviewed science wins — means that this can be done without infringing its policies.

Despite being an Objectivist, Jimmy Wales has endorsed a sources-based viewpoint. A group of alternative medicine practitioners created a Change.org petition[32] asking him to "create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing". This was because they found the existing strict requirements for things like "facts" and "evidence" excessively burdensome. Wales' response, in full:

No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.

Wikipedia's policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals - that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.

What we won't do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of "true scientific discourse". It isn't.

[edit] Copycats

For a fuller list, see Category:Wikis

While wikis existed before Wikipedia, it is easily the largest and best known, and has inspired a great many other, smaller projects using the same Mediawiki software designed by the Wikimedia Foundation.

Some wikis such as Uncyclopedia and Encyclopedia Dramatica are satirical takes on Wikpedia; others, such as WikiSynergy or Wiki4CAM, are general projects that aren't necessarily encyclopedic in nature but gather information and resources for people who are interested in certain things and find that Wikipedia is a bit too strict regarding notability and neutrality.[33]

[edit] My God, it's full of PORN!

Don't be a dick.
A place where a cartoon episode about an anal probe provokes a firestorm, but a true story of murder and dismemberment is fine and dandy (as you know).
— Comment on the oft repeated criticism of main page content[34]

As it is a global educational resource, and also caters for mature grown-ups, Wikipedia has a firm NO CENSORSHIP policy. This means that the detailed etymology of the word "fuck," pictures of men sucking their own penises and the close-up of a vulva (which made the front page on the German language Wikipedia in April 2010)[35] are there for entirely educational reasons.[36] As a result, be careful when hitting Special:Random at work. In any case, it is clear that people go to Wikipedia primarily for its educational content, particularly Wikimedia Commons and its painstakingly categorised images.[37]

The squeamish of the world are most often horrified and appalled by this and complain to the authorities. It is unfortunate that those most keen to complain about mature images held by the Wikimedia Foundation are those who prefer "personal responsibility," yet don't seem to take the "personal responsibility" to install something like Net-Nanny, or set their preferences to restrict mature images. Right-wing wannabe media giant WorldNetDaily complained to the FBI concerning an image of the cover of Virgin Killer by the Scorpions. The Internet Watch Foundation in the UK filtered all of Wikipedia because of the same image, but backed down when they were pilloried in the media. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of Citizendium, also lodged a complaint concerning "child pornography," over line art drawings of lolicon.[38][39] Not even the Register commenters bought it, Mike Godwin left it at pointing out how completely wronger than wrong Dr. Sanger was,[40] and the general response was people noting how the "complaint" was basically a plug for Sanger's Citizendium and WatchKnow projects.

Wikimedia Commons has, however, quite enough pictures of old, white penises attached to fat German men, to the point of having a penis photo rejection template.[41] After Jimbo went mad with an axe on Commons in May 2010,[42] there's been a bit of a drive to raise the technical quality of the porn educational images of the human body as well. So if you're hot, upload images of your genitalia to Wikimedia Commons today! Must be uniquely educational.

[edit] Accusation of being a shill

Conspiracy Theorists love to pull the shill gambit with Wikipedia, because it's neutral, and doesn't promote their theories.. Claims include deleting articles about known cranks because of "disagreeing with them", and spreading disinformation about the NWO, 9-11, and Big Pharma.[43] While this does happen, this is usually because of the lack of reliable sources these articles have. Sources like 'Infowars and Natural News won't fly on Wikipedia. Conspiracy theorists hate this, because sites like those, plus Youtube, are the only sites that support their theories, hence, Wikipedia is a Shill.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Grand Total of Wikipedias, Wikimedia Foundation
  2. All Wikipedias ordered by number of articles, Wikimedia Foundation
  3. Homestar Runner Wiki
  4. Citizendium
  5. Flu Wiki
  6. Uncyclopedia
  7. Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica, CNET
  8. Uh oh.
  9. For example, see this academic paper on Wikipedia
  10. Wikipedia guide to arbitration.
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2009-11-16/Fundraiser
  12. Considered, but rejected: "Wikipedia: The Dark Knight Rises" and "Wikipedia: Arkham Asylum"
  13. http://www.snopes.com/risque/homosex/gerbil.asp
  14. Every time xkcd mentions something obscure, the relevant Wikipedia article which would explain the joke gets locked down pretty tight.
  15. Perhaps they should just delete and protect the article?
  16. See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign, Wired
  17. Wikipedia Scanner
  18. 5 Celebrity Wikipedia Entries They Clearly Wrote Themselves, Cracked.com
  19. Lore Sjöberg, The Wikipedia FAQK. Wired, 19 April 2006.
  20. The "no original research" rule was established to get the physics cranks to STFU. As it turns out, it's a good summary of what an encyclopedia is: a secondary or tertiary source.
  21. Wikipedia, "Randy in Boise"
  22. Wikipedia's "arbitration case" on "Manning naming dispute" (with sub pages)
  23. Trolls hijack Wikipedia to turn articles against gays
  24. How pro-fascist ideologues are rewriting Croatia's history
  25. Wikipedia decides Chelsea Manning will remain 'Bradley' for now
  26. Even Wikimedia's Sue Gardner is calling it out.
  27. Chelsea Manning gets put back in the closet by Wikipedia, New Statesman
  28. Chelsea Manning name row: Wikipedia editors banned from trans pages, The Guardian
  29. Another editor has left Wikipedia following arguments over Chelsea Manning, Trans Media Watch
  30. German Wikipedia discussion on Chelsea Manning
  31. French Wikipedia discussion on the Wachowskis
  32. The "Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology"
  33. Also known as "a bias towards reality"
  34. diff
  35. Reddit discussion, NOT SAFE FOR WORK screenshot
  36. Because if you're using Wikipedia just for porn, you're plain Doing It Wrong.
  37. "Commons does not need you to drop your pants and grab a camera. If you want to, try to fill a real gap in our collection."
  38. Larry Sanger's complaint to Wikimedia Foundation
  39. Wikifounder reports Wikiparent to FBI over 'child porn', The Register
  40. Exchange between Sanger and Wikipedia attorney Mike Godwin (The Cliff's Notes version is Godwin's statement "Since you have expressed a disinclination either to understand the law or to discuss it, I won't trouble you further about your profound misunderstandings.")
  41. Dig that icon.
  42. Jimmy Wales wades into Wikipedia porn debate
  43. [1] Look in the comments section.


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