Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/09

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Gossipedia

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[Note:  The editors at Taki’s Magazine have kindly given me permission to reproduce the column below. Several Taki readers were kind enough to go into Wikipedia and amend some of the more egregious errors in my Wiki page. Whether their amendments will be accepted or not, I don’t know. In any case, the Wiki page I am referring to will likely have changed, removing the sense from some of my comments. However, with that low cunning for which the English are well-known, I preserved an image of the original Wiki page here.]

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The first thing I noticed about my Wikipedia page, when someone directed my attention to it, was that they got my name wrong, there in the very first line!

Not the spelling — they at least managed to get that right — but the pronunciation. Their rendering in the International Phonetic Alphabet is  / ˈdɑrbɨʃər /  That includes two fricative-lingual r sounds. In fact there are no r sounds at all in the pronunciation of my name, fricative-lingual or otherwise. It is pronounced with pure vowels:  / ˈdɑːbɪʃə /  (DAH-bi-shuh). I refer interested readers to §773 of Daniel Jones’ classic Outline of English Phonetics:  “[I]n London English the r is never sounded when final or followed by a consonant.” The following §774, “Words for practising the omission of r,” is also helpful. Prof. Jones does not give a phonetic transcription of “Derbyshire” in standard English but he does, in §287, show  / ˈdɑːbɪ /  for “Derby.”

Trust me on this. It’s my name. I’ve been pronouncing it since the Truman administration.

The second thing I noticed was that my Wikipedia page was written by an AAM — that is, an Angry Asian Male. This needs a bit of explanation.

Among East Asian males, there is a large subgroup who are flipped into a mode of blind fury by the thought of Asian women consorting with non-Asian males. In the young-adult cohort of mainland-Chinese males, I would estimate the subgroup as about one in three. These are the AAMs. One recent target of their rage has been Chinese movie star Zhang Ziyi, whose affair with Israeli venture capitalist Vivi Nevo has stirred quite horrifying levels of vituperation against Ms. Zhang on Chinese-language blogs.

After hanging out among Chinese people for forty years on three continents, and having been married to a lady of Chinese ancestry for twenty-three of those years, I am exquisitely well-sensitized to the AAM mentality. I can, as it were, spot an AAM at five hundred yards. That the author of my Wikipedia page is an AAM shone out loud and clear.

In fact, you really don’t need to have my level of sensitization. Just look at that first subheading: “Conflicts of peoples.” Pure Chinglish — no native English-speaker would write that.

Having grasped that my Wikipedia page was an AAM production, I was not much surprised by its contents. For example: “During a debate with [white nationalist] Jared Taylor at the Robert A. Taft club in August 2006 Derbyshire joked that the only reason he was not an open white nationalist was because ‘it would get me in trouble at home’.” Did I?

Here is a precise transcription of the relevant part of the debate. You can listen to it yourself. It’s at 9m 22s into the “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. (The link on my Wikipedia page does not work directly — rather a lot of Wikipedia links don’t work — but if you scroll down on the error page you can find the audio file. Or you can just go here.) I am talking about Steve Sailer’s “citizenism” concept, which I agree with:

Our government, our authorities, ought to regard us all equally, and they ought to prefer our interests to the interests of the other six billion people in the world, which currently they don’t. I’m on board with that. I’m kind of on Steve’s side on that. I’m not a white nationalist. I’d be in trouble at home if I was. [Laughter.] But I agree with Steve: citizenism.

That’s what I actually said. Is it what Wikipedia says I said? Judge for yourself.

The following sentence on my Wikipedia page is — how shall I put it? — a bare-faced lie. To uncover the lie, you unfortunately need to listen to all 69 minutes of that “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. I guess my AAM-biographer calculated that very few people would be bothered to do this. I guess he is right.

My Wikipedia page is pretty much downhill from there.

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Now, I am not much bothered by this kind of thing. I have a congenitally thick skin — a terrific asset in the opinionating business. I did recently start thinking, though, that with a book coming out in the fall, I might be coming to the attention of a lot of people who know nothing about me. For some of them their first point of reference would be my Wikipedia page. Did I really want these innocents to get the AAM-slanted view of John Derbyshire?

I decided that I didn’t, and so set about editing my Wikipedia page.

This was not easy. For editing purposes, Wikipedia has a mark-up language all its own, a superset of ordinary HTML (in which I am fluent — in which, in fact, I am writing this post). There is also a mass of protocols concerning style, copyright permissions, and so on. I spent a few hours reading through all this, then set to work on my page.

It proved impossible to patch the thing up. It was too disorganized and unbalanced. I therefore rewrote it from scratch, striving to present a fair picture. (For example, I included more of the petty controversies I’ve been involved in, actually giving Derb-haters more material to feast on.) My finished product was, as best I could judge, well-organized, balanced, literate, and Wikipedia-compliant.

The rewritten page lasted just one day. Then the old AAM-angled page came back, and I got a message from the Wikipedia people saying that my rewrite was unacceptable because of “multiple style issues.” What were those style issues? They didn’t tell me, and there was no way to reply to the Wiki message. Perhaps the Wikipedia editors objected to my painstaking avoidance of crass Chinglish-isms like “Conflicts of peoples.” Or perhaps they were annoyed by the fact that all my links, unlike theirs, actually worked.

The only part of my rewrite that Wikipedia accepted was the photograph. So I can console myself with the reflection that readers of my Wikipedia page have at least an up-to-date portrait to go with Wikipedia’s gibberish “biography” of me.

————————————————————

That’s Wikipedia for you. They can say what they like about you, employing any level of sub-literacy for the purpose, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it, even if you are patient and computer-literate enough to master their mark-up language. I had heard this, but just hadn’t believed they are really so brazen.

I had heard it from, amongst others, Irish journalist Kevin Myers, who, at the slightest prompting, will give you a passionate forty-five minute harangue on the evils of Wikipedia. There’s a Myers column on the topic here, from which:

So who are the people who founded and run Wikipedia? I don’t know, and nor have I any foolproof way of finding out, because the only way of doing so is by consulting Wikipedia itself: a hole-in-bucket solution to a hole-in-my-bucket problem … And so — do these wretched Wikipedia people ever lie awake worrying at the damage that the evil or the impressionable might inflict upon those who have been maligned in their uncontrolled and filthy internet gossip-shop, whose very power derives from the complete fiction that it is an “encyclopedia”?

I doubt it extremely: for of all the lies of our time, Wikipedia is surely the greatest.

I’m still not very worked up about this — nothing like as worked up as Kevin, for sure. Ninety percent of what you read about people in the public prints and forums is malicious lies. Any adult who does not know that should stop reading and take up fishing. Any public person who is bothered by it should retire into private life.

I’ll go on using Wikipedia for quick links to merely factual issues, assuming that my readers know there’s a level of unreliability even there. (Last year I looked up the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Agincourt. It was long, detailed, and informative, except that it had the English side led by Henry IV, who had been dead for two years when Agincourt was fought. I see they have since corrected this particular blooper, but no doubt there are a hundred thousand
just as egregious lurking on the Wikipedia pages. If, as I have heard, high school and college students rely on Wikipedia for factual information, our academic culture is in serious trouble.)

I do think it’s probably a mistake, though, for Wikipedia to include living persons among its entries. The opportunites for Wikipedia’s anonymous, unaccountable editors to work off grudges, conduct vendettas, and vent the milder, AAM-grade varieties of psychopathology are just too tempting.

There is, unless I am out of date, a rule that postage stamps may not depict anyone currently alive. I recommend the postage-stamp principle to the managers of Wikipedia. But then, what do I know? According to Wikipedia, I can’t even pronounce my own name correctly.

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43 comments

  • Susan · July 28, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    The sad fact about Crappipedia is that whatever crackpot with a grudge gets there first and proclaims him or herself the expert gets to control whatever is written about a particular subject. This has happened to me. Apparently I’m less of an expert on myself than some fellow whose books sell considerably less well than mine. Irritating, but what can you do? Have a drink, I guess. :)

  • Tom · July 28, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I don’t know if you know this, but by editing the article on yourself, you violated Wikipedia’s policy on that topic.

  • Randall Parker · July 28, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I hate anonymous writing. At the very least people should use distinct pseudonyms so that you can at least form a judgment about each writer’s body of work.

    The Wikipedia phenomenon is tragic. People think it is more authoritative and more accurate than is the case. When I’m googling and get a Wikipedia page as one of the search results I usually avoid clicking on it unless I’m desperate. I try to find a non-Wikipedia source.

    I’ve also cut back on linking to Wikipedia pages in blog posts because a page might say something completely different by the time someone clicks thru on an old post of mine. Or even when my post is new someone might click thru to Wikipedia, disagree with a page, and change it.

  • friend · July 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm

  • Florida resident · July 29, 2009 at 2:47 am

    My unwavering support and love to Mr. D.
    Florida resident.

  • DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Gossipedia · July 29, 2009 at 5:20 am

    […] John Derbyshire, Patron Saint of Dyspepsia, encounters Wikipedia. The second thing I noticed was that my Wikipedia page was written by an AAM — that is, an Angry Asian Male. This needs a bit of explanation. […]

  • Jim Morrison · July 29, 2009 at 6:55 am

    A wikipedia edit never goes away once made.

    Here is the link to the last version of the rewrite by John Derbyshire: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Derbyshire&oldid=300939061

    Here is the link to the page as it appeared just prior to that rewrite: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Derbyshire&oldid=299894006

    Here is the link to the page as it appeared at the time this blog post was made: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Derbyshire&oldid=301075328

  • Jim Morrison · July 29, 2009 at 7:30 am

    I used to admin at one of the larger english-language wikis (a distinction still putting the wiki as far smaller than wikipedia) and the experience described here reflects a constant battle we waged with our processes and procedures. You want simultaniously to create a professional looking product, which conforms to a manual of style, which avoids falling into traps that often produce bad entries, which avoids vanity entries, and which general conforms to a whole host of standard practices, while at the same time allowing new editors the ability to make changes and corrections and add new content with a minimal amount of effort, so as to make sure valuable contributions are not lost.

    Those two goals are in tension because the way rules are set on a wiki is through a process of social evolution; that means they are made as the result of community practice, then documented, not created through fiat, so they may be very difficult for outsiders to grasp. There is, essentially, a small amount of social capital needed to enter the community of wikipedia editors.

    There is thus a constant struggle to create sophistication and reliability of process while keeping the amount of social capital needed to edit quite low. This is a hard balance to maintain, especially since the people managing it are those with the most social capital. In my experience you often don’t see the problem until a newbie complains and then sticks around long enough to gain social standing sufficient to persuade people.

    Wikipedia entries about living people are one of the cases where this balance gets tipped away from new users. For all the reasons that this story makes obvious, wikipedia needs to have a much more rigorous process for these articles, and that means it has procedures that, had John Derbyshire followed, would have allowed him to more quickly effect the changes he wished. But he didn’t follow them, because he didn’t know them. (And why would he?)

    Instead of re-writing the page, Derbyshire should have removed the blatantly false/defamatory material, and aserted that such material is uncited and violates Wikipedia’s policy on articles about living people. He should have then listed the major changes he wanted made on the Talk/Discussion page, possibly with suggested text. Making those changes himself, however, is considered a Conflict of Interest, and is thus disallowed. Finally, if he wanted to have specific quotes or descriptions of his views, he should have published them elsewhere (even on a personal webpage) and cited them. Putting them directly on wikipedia is not allowed because it is “original research” and wikipedia is intended solely as a secondary/tertiary source, not a primary source. Through all of this, talking with other editors could have been amazingly helpful. Contra Derbyshire’s assertion, there certainly was a way to respond to the comments directed to him (half a dozen in fact) and if he’d just tried to, he would probably have stumbled across one of those ways.

    As it was, Derbyshire’s full rewrite placed wikipedians in a tough spot. The rewritten article, while clearly better, was also unacceptable because of the Conflict of Interest policy. What was needed was to incorporate those changes into the body of the article, but that requires real work, which no one may have had time to do immeadiately. As a result, the page was simply reverted (takes about 5 seconds to do) and then only over the course of a long period of time did they begin to re-add the superior information.

  • j mct · July 29, 2009 at 9:33 am

    If the AAM in question ain’t Bruce Lee… well I’m not sure what I’d do since I’m happily obscure, but some anklebiter doing his worst to one on a Wikipedia page would seem to me to be far preferable to Bruce Lee doing his worst.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 29, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I’m obliged to Jim Morrison for his long and informative post up above, and for retrieving my own revision of my Wiki page. (I had kept the mark-up language source code, but had no idea the Wiki page was kept.)

    The constant monitoring of one’s page to prevent malicious entries re-asserting themselves is too much of a chore for most of us, though. I certainly can’t be bothered; and the procedures Jim outlined seem cumbersome and heavily tilted towards those who have the time and persistence to keep pages looking the way they want them to look.

    All in all, I’ll stick with my preference for there being no pages at all on living persons. Such pages will just fill up with malicious misinformation. Trying to prevent them from doing so, for a person who has a life, is just sweeping water uphill.

    Why does Wikipedia not have an “exclude me” policy, so that living people can insist on there being no page for them? The people I’ve spoken to who have been insulted in the way I have, all say this would be their preference.

    An alternative would be for Wikipedia to do what the compilers of REAL encyclopedias do: identify the authors of articles. Half the fun of my treasured 1911 Britannica is looking up the authors.

    It’s really very shameful what these anonymous commentators can do. And no-one can stop them. I might, if I master the procedures Jim mentioned, get my page clean for a week or two, but then the slanderers would come slithering back. From what Jim has said, it seems to me there is really nothing to stop them. At last the defender gets sick of it, and the slanderers have their way.

    It’s a shame, because Wikipedia is actually not bad on cold, factual stuff. I often use it as a first look-up, though of course one should always cross-check. But then Wikipedia abuses that credibility by renting itself out as a vehicle for slander, abuse, and malicious misinformation about living persons. As Kevin Myers pointed out in his own case, this can actually be dangerous. The first Wikipedia-inspired murder can’t be far away. When it’s happened, everyone will be saying: “Why didn’t we see this coming?” Well, I can see it coming.

  • Jim Morrison · July 29, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    @Bradlaugh

    Just for further reference WP:BLP details Wikipedia’s policies on biographies of living persons, adopted largely because of their embarrassing Seigenthaler Incident. There is a section explaining how to contact wikipedia staff (rather than volunteers) with a complaint.

    You suggest that Wikipedia should display its authors, and again, if you have the requisite social capital, it already does. Given some snazzy tools or enough time you can go to the history and find out who wrote every solitary word of the article. In about two or three minutes you can get the jist of who the major contributors have been, which, out of curiosity I just did.

    There are many dozens of editors who have touched the page over more than 4 years of its existence, but I identified about 5 frequent or substantial editors who at one point or the other took an interest. The article originates as one paragraph containing the information that Andrew Sullivan has creating an insulting Derbyshire award, and stays basically the same for the better part of a year. It gets slowly built into a skeleton of an entry by 3 or 4 other users, none of whom seem too sympathetic to their chosen topic (in June 2005, one primary author admonishes a minor editor that “yes, Derbyshire sucks, but saying so in the article is vandalism”). All the primary editors appear to be male, though none gives evidence of being Asian, and several certainly are not.

    Some of these authors use their real names, but unless you have a unique name that’s essentially still anonymity. What matters more is that they describe themselves on their user pages, and all of the edits they have ever made to any article are easily reviewable to anyone who takes the time to do it. In short, they have an actual reputation within the (sub-)community of wikipedia which they are keen to keep up if they wish to be influential, and this is an actual restraining force on most editors.

    Apropos your comments about what has famously been called “babysitting the internet” no one intends that noteworthy figure should have to correct their own wikipedia entries: it’s all supposed to happen within the community. The goal of wikipedia’s software is to give good faith editors the tools to make adding and maintaining good information easier than adding bad information, and for the most part it works. On pages focused on subjects that are noteworthy enough, vandalism is banished within seconds. That’s because the MediaWiki software gives you the tools to monitor hundreds of pages for changes in a few minutes a week.

    But that breaks down on less notable (and thus less visited) topics. There it is much easier for a determined person to outlast the periodic interest of other good-faith editors. This high traffic vs. low traffic distinction is actually far far more important to the reliability of an article than any distinction between modern vs. historical or cold facts vs. things-needing-interpretation distinction. The history of the current conflict in Iraq is far more controversial and less a matter of clear fact than is the list of members of a committee tasked with updating taxation under a reformist Czar, but I’d easily trust a fact from the former unverified before trusting one from the latter.

    (In an extreme example of this principle, I was once looking at the beginner’s english version of wikipedia article on Batman, a four or five sentence long article which contained the simple cold “fact” that Batman and Robin are gay lovers. The edit was so long-standing that I had to check whether it was actually true, which it was not. Such an edit on the main Wikipedia page on the subject of batman wouldn’t have lasted 60 seconds.)

    This is another matter of social capital, but a savvy reader will be able to recognize which kind of article a page is almost immediately simply by the structure of an entry. Wikipedia’s John Derbyshire article is transparently not an article to be trusted, and this is easily identifiable by the fact that (so observes a commenter on the talk page) “It consists mainly of tendentious summaries of … randomly chosen public controversies … There is *no* attempt fairly & impartially to summarize either his career or his viewpoint as a whole.”

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Thank you once again, Jim. That is all immensely informative, though some of it — the high traffic vs. low traffic issue — are things one has surmised anyway on common-sense grounds.

    None of what you have said invalidates the fact that unless a person is willing to budget considerable time to monitoring his page, engaging in to-and-fro with Wiki editors, and mastering Wikipedia’s arcane procedures (they are not arcane to you because you know them: they are arcane to the rest of us), he will end up being slandered by ignorant fools with axes to grind.

    And that is assuming he’s around to budget that time. If I drop dead tomorrow, Wikipedia’s gross misrepresentation of me could, for all I know, endure a thousand years.

    Now I am beginning to get a bit heated about this. How on earth did such a project ever get under way, in which plausible encyclopedia-grade articles on specialist subjects carry along in their wake tendentious insults against living persons? Why isn’t there a colossal lawsuit in the works? There really should be.

    President Reagan’s Secretary of Labor, after being put through the mill by some bogus congressional inquiry, asked rhetorically: “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” That’s the question I’d like to ask the Wikipedia bosses. Who, I am beginning to believe, should all be in jail.

  • Tony · July 30, 2009 at 6:45 am

    @Bradlaugh

    “Among East Asian males, there is a large subgroup who are flipped into a mode of blind fury by the thought of Asian women consorting with non-Asian males. In the young-adult cohort of mainland-Chinese males, I would estimate the subgroup as about one in three.”

    One in three? That’s pretty significant (and plausible). Maybe you should write a wikipedia page about Angry Asian Males.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Tony:  I’m not sure AAMs need a Wikipedia entry. They already have several websites. There is for example Steve Sailer Sucks, run by a rabid AAM named Bill Lee. There’s an Angry Asian Male blog, though the blogger is disappointingly good-natured for the most part — I’m surprised his AAM membership card hasn’t been pulled.

    And then there are your seriously  Angry … Asian … Males. As I said in a previous post, we can’t be more than a couple of years away from the first Wiki-homicide. I doubt I’m the Number One candidate for victim, but I’m up there in the top rankings.

    Whoa, I just got a message from Wikipedia here. Not a word of apology for having let some irate teenage jerk slander me on their "encyclopedia."

    I guess now I’m supposed to diligently follow their procedures to clean up my page. Then I heave a sigh of relief, go back to my life … and some other 14-year-old AAM lefty creep slips in and insults me again on this comprehensive and authoritative "encyclopedia." Seems to me that a more productive use of my time would be to use what voice I have to broadcast the fact that Wikipedia articles on living persons are so many heaps of dog poop.

  • Jamie O'Neill · July 30, 2009 at 8:42 am

    You know you could always start your own article on Conservapedia?

    Last year it was the twentieth anniversary of my partner’s death and, in my cups as you do, I googled his name to see if anyone was remembering him. Every item had his cause of death wrong. I tracked this down to his Wikipedia entry. As I was mentioned myself in the entry, I didn’t feel it was proper to correct it myself. So I left a comment on the Discussion Page, and next time I looked the entry had been amended. Granted, anyone may have changed it since, but my comment on the Discussion Page will always be there. Nearly always when I read a Wikipedia article I click on the Discussion Page afterwards – just to see what editors have found controversial before. Very often the arguments detailed there are more informative than the article itself. Invariably they are more entertaining.

  • Susan · July 30, 2009 at 10:20 am

    A small point, but anything false and defamatory that appears on Wikipedia would be libel, not slander. The courts have traditionally regarded libel as the more serious of the two offenses, since it reaches a much wider audience. I suppose if Wikipedia were sued by JD, they’d argue that JD is a public figure (the bar’s higher than for a private citizen) and furthermore that any “criticism” of him is specifically allowed by the First Amendment protection afforded cultural, religious, and political commentary. Then again, the courts DO regard a person’s reputation as a tangible asset like a house or a car, and if someone writes something false and defamatory about an individual that prevents that individual from making a living, the courts would side with the maligned individual. The two worst things a libeler can do is falsely accuse someone of being a criminal or insane.

    That said, libel suits are pretty hard to win.

  • D · July 30, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Some quotes from Bradlaugh’s edit:

    “Following the departure of Bill Clinton from the White House in 2001, Derbyshire vented his disgust with the entire Clinton family with a column wherein he confessed that “I Hate Chelsea Clinton.” [29] To the consequent tongue-clicking from guardians of public taste, Derbyshire posted an unrepentant reply.[30]”

    “Bailey’s book spoke approvingly of a psychological theory which, while scientifically respectable, is strongly disliked by transsexual militants. Derbyshire gave Bailey’s book a friendly review.[32]”

    “For some months thereafter, a google on “John Derbyshire” brought up anti-Derbyshire rants from transsexual websites, which lost some of their force by including every other author named John Derbyshire[33] that the transsexuals were able to find on the internet, none of those authors related to, or even known to, this John Derbyshire.”

    And so on; setting aside content, it’s hard to credit he ever expected wikipedia to let the text stand. The tone is clearly not intended to conform to wiki style NPOV, and sounds precisely like what it is – a dry, often self-deprecating, and fairly witty autobiographical post written for some inexplicable reason in the third person.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 11:57 am

    D:  So falsehoods are OK with the Wiki-editors, but self-deprecating wit is not? Got it.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Susan:  If you’re right, I should have let the insults pile up under the eye of my attorney until they reached some actionable mass. Guess I blew it. I would love to see someone sue these buggers though.

    (You drinking yet? I hold off till after dinner most days. Wine with dinner doesn’t count, of course. Mi casa es su casa.)

  • Susan · July 30, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    JD, it’s a hot day, the sun is WAY over the yardarm, I’ve finished laboring in the editorial/creative vineyard, and I’ve just poured myself a nice vodka and tonic. Pre-dinner. I do, though, agree with you that a fine single malt does make an excellent digestif. That is also true of a fine Irish whiskey or bourbon.

    What you CAN do, if AAM (or any other crackpot with Internet access) decides to start libeling you again, is take screenshots of the offending pages. Or simply print them out; your computer will date the printing at the bottom of the page. Take them to your lawyer and see if the material is actionable. What I don’t know is whether/how you can prove actual damage.

    The tricky thing with writers is that a really bad review CAN adversely affect his or her ability to earn a living. But…bad reviews are protected as cultural commentary. By extension, that might prove to be the case with nasty things said about the writer him or herself.

  • Chris · July 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks to Jim Morrison for pointing out that both the complained-of article and Derbyshire’s blatantly self-serving revision violate Wikipedia policies.

    Personally, although I am not a Wikipedia editor, I think their policy against allowing people to edit pages about themselves is a wise one. (Although, of course, it means someone else needs to police them. But that’s already been adequately addressed by Jim Morrison’s posts on that subject, I think.) I’m sure Bill O’Reilly would prefer for his page not to mention the Mackris lawsuit and associated falafel-related mockery, but it’s clearly better as an encyclopedia page if it does. Bill Clinton’s page should mention his impeachment whether he wants it to or not. Dan Rather’s page should mention the controversy about the story on Bush’s National Guard service. Etc. (Describing those as (name)’s page is actually somewhat misleading – they are *about* that person, not *owned by* that person.)

    If you want to have a page about yourself that you *do* control the content of, you’re of course welcome to make one, and you can probably get someone to link it from the WP page about you, too, so anyone interested in seeing your own point of view on any controversies you are involved in can do so. But self-interested edits have the potential to reframe or even conceal controversies in a very misleading way, and I think WP is right to prohibit them.

    Nothing prevents someone who generally agrees with your views from entering the debate, of course. (As long as it isn’t you in electronic disguise – that is called “sockpuppetry” and even more strongly frowned on.)

  • Susan · July 30, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Chris, I think the discussion is about whether someone should be allowed to write (and have stand) blatantly untrue Wikipedia entries as opposed to whether someone should be allowed to write true if unflattering entries. The problem with Wikipedia is that it permits people with grudges or vested interests to write their versions of the “truth,” which then get accepted as authoritative.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Chris:  Guidelines, schmidelines. What use are these “guidelines” if some Wiki editor can post blatant lies that stand there for months broadcasting slander (libel, whatever) about the subject? You’re buying into the whole fake business. Kevin Myers said it precisely: this is no kind of encyclopedia, this is a gossip shop.

    I do agree, though, that few people could be trusted to build their own Wikipedia page because few people are as wise, restrained, objective, and self-abnegating as I am. I’ll give you half a point for that. But please, don’t take these Wikipedia “rules” and “guidelines” as seriously as the Wiki-crooks would like you to. The results speak for themselves. It’s plain to me, at least, that anyone can say anything on Wikipedia, and that without investing a lot of time, you can’t do much about it. Encyclopedia? Pah!

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 30, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Susan:  I had a nice dinner with wife & son, and just ONE glass of wine, as I have to write up my Radio Derb transcript for recording tomorrow. One more hour & I can hit the liquor cabinet with a clean conscience. I’m experimenting with bourbon. WAY cheaper than single malts & goes down quite smoothly.

  • Susan · July 30, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I think Chris is also missing the point about what an encyclopedia is supposed to be, which is a compendium of objective information by experts that’s been juried and edited. Wikipedia is none of these things; it can’t be, in its present set-up. Any “information” site that allows its entries to be written or edited by anonymous individuals possessing no verifiable credentials isn’t an encyclopedia; it’s a gossip blog.

    JD: If you’re a red wine sort of guy–and you should be, given the health benefits–you might want to experiment with some of the Argentinian merlots and pinot noirs before the prices of both go through the roof.

  • D · July 30, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    @Bradlaugh

    Bradlaugh :

    Heh. I think that’s obviously not the point I was making, but here’s another go: a bunch of encyclopedia writers, angry or not, Asian or otherwise, put some effort into writing your page. You didn’t use any of what they wrote, and tossed it away, followed by complaint when they responded in kind. This would be one thing if your version (better or worse) were at least *meant* as an encyclopedic article, but it obviously wasn’t, which makes this sound more like theater than like a sober complaint about wikipedia accuracy/bias.

    Bradlaugh

    D:  So falsehoods are OK with the Wiki-editors, but self-deprecating wit is not? Got it.

  • D · July 30, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Another point worth noting: if you look at wikipedia articles on issues close to your heart, say on race and intelligence, you’ll see your view represented much more favorably than it would be in Britannica. It might be that the set of IQ wiki editors doesn’t bleed into the set of John Derbyshire wiki editors, but it’s not immediately obvious why that should be. Remembering that the meat of the evidence for your contention that AAM’s wrote your page is one infelicitous phrase, I claim your entire article collapses onto the fact that wikipedia interpreted an off-color joke literally, together with miscellaneous comments about pronunciation.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 31, 2009 at 6:59 am

    D:

    This would be one thing if your version (better or worse) were at least *meant* as an encyclopedic article, but it obviously wasn’t …

    I don’t know how “obvious” this is to other people, but I can assure you I did mean it as an encyclopedia article in good faith. I have in fact written an Wikipedia article for a friend: see Vladimir Fekula. I was doing my honest best here. The issue remains that on Wikipedia, an honest man’s honest best can’t stand against malicious lies from better-placed “editors.”

  • Roger Hallman · July 31, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Bradlaugh,

    A couple of years ago, when I started back to school, I had a PhD Theoretical Physicist teaching an astronomy class who admitted to getting some formula off of Wiki. That same semester, I’d had two humanities professors go on long tirades against Wiki, with one threatening an F on any assignment that referenced Wiki.

    For my part, I have recommended it simply as a tool for someone who needs a brief introduction to a topic and the terminology in a given field. I’ve also sent people to it when the conversation turns to, say, cosmology and I don’t want to explain ekyrosis.

  • MP · July 31, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    As an experiment, I have edited one Wikipedia article myself, a “stub” about a rather obscure novel that I happen to like. It’s obscure enough that nobody has bothered to edit the article since, although a note was added to the top saying that it might be improved by the addition of internal links, and by being “wikified”. Apparently this last means using the wiki markup language which Derb alludes to above. Frankly, if I can’t edit a page through some user-friendly newbie tool, without looking at actual html code, I can’t be bothered.

    Well, the computer geeks have sneered and stopped reading this now. I admit to using Wikipedia mostly for the kind of things which can’t be found in a normal encylopedia, facts about popular TV shows which I’ll never watch, or capsule bios of living people who I’m apparently supposed to have heard of, popular musicians or actors, mainly. After a couple of bad experiences, though, finding obviously inaccurate information in a couple of articles, I’ve come to doubt the plausible information in others. Yes, Wikipedia is a lovely idea, but there’s just not enough quality control. It’s the same problem as with a person who’s earned a reputation as a liar; he may actually tell the truth most of the time, but you never know.

  • Chris · August 1, 2009 at 7:29 am

    I’ve learned to be very careful with Wikipedia as poor quality extends beyond just personal entries. Their environmental articles are almost uniformly bad, casting value judgments as scientific fact (ie: overpopulation as a widely accepted fact when it is no such thing). It’s useful as a starting point or for brushing up on a subject, but not much beyond that.

  • Jim Morrison · August 1, 2009 at 9:22 am

    @Bradlaugh

    I should have let the insults pile up under the eye of my attorney until they reached some actionable mass.

    You are unlikely to get an actionable mass, per se. Under current law, wikipedia is a forum for user entry, and like a common carrier, is not directly liable for content. It is actually the individual users that bear liability for each individual edit. Now, you can go through the history logs and collect IP addresses for the anonymous edits, and user names for the others. Then you can get get a subpoena or draw up a letter requesting the IP addresses of the named users. It that point you could file John Doe lawsuits against those IP addresses, and a court would order their ISPs to disclose their identities, and at that point you would be suing a real-life person for a specific set of words added to the page. It’s an onerous process, but it is doable. But the problem remains that you are not suing one person or thing.

    If your goal in a suit would be to remedy the page, you’d have much better luck sending a note to a wiki-overlord, who could come in and do prompt and real enforcement of the policies the offending entry breaks. If your goal is publicity, a lawsuit strikes me as a tin-eared move likely to cause a Streisand effect.

  • Jim Morrison · August 1, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Oops. Formatting fail. Post should have looked like this:

    @Bradlaugh

    I should have let the insults pile up under the eye of my attorney until they reached some actionable mass.

    You are unlikely to get an actionable mass, per se. Under current law, wikipedia is a forum for user entry, and like a common carrier, is not directly liable for content. It is actually the individual users that bear liability for each individual edit. Now, you can go through the history logs and collect IP addresses for the anonymous edits, and user names for the others. Then you can get get a subpoena or draw up a letter requesting the IP addresses of the named users. It that point you could file John Doe lawsuits against those IP addresses, and a court would order their ISPs to disclose their identities, and at that point you would be suing a real-life person for a specific set of words added to the page. It’s an onerous process, but it is doable. But the problem remains that you are not suing one person or thing.

    If your goal in a suit would be to remedy the page, you’d have much better luck sending a note to a wiki-overlord, who could come in and do prompt and real enforcement of the policies the offending entry breaks. If your goal is publicity, a lawsuit strikes me as a tin-eared move likely to cause a Streisand effect.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · August 2, 2009 at 6:46 am

    I was just looking up the Wikipedia article on the Royal Society, where I encountered this:

    In 1821 Humphry Davy became president …

    Richard Holmes in The Age of Wonder says it was November 1820, and my 1911 Britannica agrees.

    Encyclopedia? Pah!

  • pzed · August 3, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Bradlaugh :

    Bradlaugh

    Whoa, I just got a message from Wikipedia here. Not a word of apology for having let some irate teenage jerk slander me on their “encyclopedia.”

    it’s funny u should complain about a lack apology. even after a person has gone and researched the people who wrote your entry, u issue no such apology to the asian males you slandered when you published this post. in fact, u go on to further slander asian males by implying one of them is going to assassinate u? have u no shame?

  • Florida resident · August 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Esteemed “pzed” !
    What was the reason for you to use slang, like “u” instead or “you”, or starting the sentence with small (not capital) letter ? Did you mean to show that you despise Standard English grammar? If that was your intent, then I must conclude you were quite successful in it.
    Your F.r.

  • pzed · August 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Florida resident :

    Florida resident

    Esteemed “pzed” !
    What was the reason for you to use slang, like “u” instead or “you”, or starting the sentence with small (not capital) letter ? Did you mean to show that you despise Standard English grammar? If that was your intent, then I must conclude you were quite successful in it.
    Your F.r.

    it’s the internet where proper capitalization is passé and slang abounds. i’m not typing up a term paper here. if u find these grammatical transgressions aggravating, then avoid the interwebs. on the bright side, at least i wasn’t typing in cAMeLCasE.

  • Florida resident · August 3, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    To “pzed”
    I have counted: only 2 (only your) posts, out of 36 above, were typed in your manner. So I advise _you_ to avoid … .
    Your F.r.

  • Florida resident · August 3, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    To “pzed”
    Did your “passé” meant to persuade the reading pubic that you are versed in French, and that you like it better than English?
    Sincerely, F.r.

  • Florida resident · August 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Apologies for the typos. Should be:
    To “pzed”
    Did your “passé” mean to persuade the reading public that you are versed in French, and that you like it better than English? To type French “accent aigu” takes extra time and efforts.
    Sincerely, F.r.

  • pzed · August 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    @ F.r.

    in fact, i picked a word using nonstandard lettering specifically b/c i thought my choice might amuse u.

    btw, “Did your “passé” meant…” mmm-hmm. mote/beam etc etc.

    i apologize to other readers for this OT conversation. F.r. may have the last word if he wishes.

  • pzed · August 3, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    woops, didn’t see post #39 before i posted.

  • Susan · August 8, 2009 at 6:54 am

    I just looked up the poet Fanny Howe in Wikipedia, and her entry gives two different places of birth for her. I guess you’re supposed to take your pick.

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