The Professor Versus Wikipedia

Friday, March 09, 2012


Professor Timothy Messer-Kruse has devoted the last ten years of his life to one topic -- the 1886 Haymarket Riot. But when Messer-Kruse tried to correct a wrong fact about the event, he ran afoul of Wikipedia's thorny editing culture. Brooke talks to Messer-Kruse about his editing travails, and Phoebe Ayers, Wikimedia Foundation member, about Messer-Kruse's experience from Wikipedia's side.


tUnE-yArDs - Killa

Comments [7]

David from Durham, NC

Um. Both you and your guest should have looked here:

The prof really isn't showing much academic or intellectual mettle if he couldn't grasp some basic policies of Reliable Sources, Citing standards (which you'd think a college prof would grok immediately), Bias.

Sorry, Brooke, Wikipedia isn't broken, what broke was the prof's resolve and willingness to stand his ground, and (or?) learn from other editors on The Right Way To Cite His Sources. There are already man precedents in which expert editors have been able to provide cited, verifiable sections to WP.

Mar. 19 2012 11:52 AM
Geoff from Seattle

I support and admire Wikimedia's overall mission, however, I found board member Phoebe Ayers's assertions in her interview to be dubious at best. As a professional librarian, she of all people should be keenly aware of the fact that while Wikipedians may understand the organic, collaborative process that underlies the creation and maintenance of an article, the vast majority of *users* of Wikipedia (including students at UC Davis) consider whatever they happen to cite at the moment they happen to read it to be settled matters of fact. Ms. Ayers's refusal to acknowledge this reality smacks of...well...something you might read in Wikipedia.

Mar. 13 2012 05:51 PM
chang c chen from taiwan

It is nearly impossible to write anything pertaining to China for Wikipedia with its censoring troop made up mostly of anonymous Chinese editors and administrators. They are called the “50 Cent Party” and appeared to be hired by the Chinese government to monitor the internet. They guard this hugely popular web site (Wikipedia) with vigilance. Any article that is remotely anti-Chinese would be deleted and substituted with a revised version within days. For example, I wrote an article entitled “Legal History of Chinese Americans” in January, within a few days of my uploading the article on Wikipedia, it was deleted without any legitimate reason. And in about a week, a replacement article entitled ”Legal History of China” appeared on the web site.
According to my publisher, no one would be interested in such an un-sexy topic, I was glad I could publish my article on Wikipedia, a free platform where anyone can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles. I quickly realized that I was wrong and so was the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. We both underestimate the will and the desire of the Chinese government to monitor content through the state-employed internet commentators. As far as the Chinese are concerned, Chinese Wiki platform is as free as the government allows it to be. The existence of the 50 Cent Party explains why there are only one tenth articles (roughly 400,000) on Chinese Wikipedia compared to English articles (about 4,000,000) even though the Chinese speaking population is three times the number of the English speaking population.
Then, I found Wiki Taiwan. The editors there like my article and they ended up changing the title from “Legal History of Chinese Americans” to “Legal History of Taiwanese Americans”.
And yes, I thought about suing Wiki for the censorship I encountered on the Chinese Wikipedia. But, no one ever sued Wikipedia and won. First, Wikipedia is a charitable organization with no money. Second, since anyone could contribute to Wiki’s content anonymously, Wikipedia does not have the real names of those so-called contributors. The most Wiki could give you is a list of e-mail addresses of those anonymous editors who deleted your article. However, for your defiance, Wikipedia will block your computer’s access to its pages forever.
The best weapon against the ruthless “delete” or “revision” is to counter it with repeatedly “edit”. However, to accomplish this, you would have to hire a full time help to guard your Wiki pages around the clock, as while you are asleep, the 50 Cent Party is still awake and lurking somewhere in the world.
After a three month struggle on Chinese Wikipedia to fight for and protect my content, I have had enough. I choose not to fight the numerous anonymous Chinese censoring troops as I have other options- I could still publish my work. But, can you, the 50 Cent Party guy?

Mar. 13 2012 02:26 PM

Speaking of Wikipedia, this would make a great story:

Mar. 13 2012 12:46 AM

Did you ever tell us how the mis-information ended up on wikipedia in the first place?

Mar. 12 2012 01:55 PM
Academic author from Japan

Brooke Gladstone suggests that Timothy Messer-Kruse "walked away because that's what you do in academia" when a new idea is not published. This is not quite accurate. Top academic journals reject as many as 95% of the submissions they receive. Authors of rejected articles often submit them to other journals in the field without changes. Other times, articles are altered to reflect reviewers' comments and submitted elsewhere. "Walking away" no doubt happens, but it is not the norm among academics.

Mar. 12 2012 09:18 AM

The policy on notability is applied when? One year? The month of Feb 2012 is behind us now and yet the location of the Tomb of Eve came up in a classroom discussion (in the halls of academia) and on a tablet this Wikipedia was found and verbally cited (excerpted here):

Jeddah Economic Forum - The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia's general notability guideline. Please help to establish notability by adding reliable, secondary sources about the topic. If notability cannot be established, the article is likely to be merged, redirected, or deleted. (February 2011)

Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia. It has become the region's (middle east) strategic think tank focusing on regional and international economic and social issues.

If the OTM audience can cite secondary sources on this, OTM can then claim more "notability" I posit.

Mar. 10 2012 07:03 AM

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