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User:JWSchmidt/Blog/25 March 2007

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JWSchmidt's Wikiversity blog
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Reliable sourcesEdit

Since Wikiversity passed the end of its initial six month "beta testing" period, I have been reflecting on the future of Wikiversity and trying to think about lessons that can be learned from Wikipedia. This page should be viewed as the third in a series that includes the previous blog pages about review of wiki edits made by anonymous editors and claims of credentials by Wikimedians.

In May 2005 an anonymous Wikipedia editor initiated the "Seigenthaler prank" by adding un-sourced claims to the Wikipedia article about John Seigenthaler, Sr.. This is the kind of editing by unregistered users that could be countered by having a "version flagging" system that required review of content added by anonymous editors. The "Seigenthaler prank" led to Wikipedia's policy for Biographies of living persons. The "Biographies of living persons" policy was created to make sure that biographical information is based on high quality sources. Wikiversity has a Reliable sources policy, but like Wikipedia, Wikiversity has large amounts of content that is not supported by citations to sources.

Wikiversity faces extra challenges that cannot be met by citing reliable sources. Since Wikiversity is open to explorations that concern the creation of new knowledge, some Wikiversity content extends into domains that cannot be built upon a solid foundation of existing published sources. I think this will lead to an unavoidable role for experts who can help guide the Wikiversity community in explorations of the boundary of knowledge. Can the Wikiversity community find ways to build upon the expertise of its participants with the goal of avoiding the dangers that exist in moving beyond the traditional Wikimedia Foundation policies for NPOV and NOR?

Case studiesEdit

The "Seigenthaler prank" had a simple solution: when the false and un-sourced information was discovered, other editors removed it.

Daniel BrandtEdit

In a strange turn of events, Daniel Brandt was the person who "cracked the case" and figured out the real world location from which the original bogus content was added to the Seigenthaler article. Daniel Brandt has complained about the contents of the Wikipedia article about him. The Wikipedia Daniel Brandt article has been nominated for deletion thirteen times. The fact that the page still survives and its rather extensive references list suggest that there are a significant number of reliable sources that can be cited in the article, justifying for the community that there should be a Wikipedia article about Brandt, even if he thinks that the article is unfair or should not exist. In a dramatic turn of events, Wikipedian administrator Yanksox repeatedly deleted the article and lost his status as a Wikipedia administrator because of his action in repeatedly deleting the article. In deleting the article, Yanksox cited "privacy concerns", and the Wikipedia "Biographies of living persons" policy is pretty clear about the idea that "Biographies of living people must be written conservatively and with due regard to the subject's privacy." I think one can still question if many of the cited sources used the Wikipedia Daniel Brandt article are suitable sources for a biographical article. In citing sources, many Wikipedians seem to have adopted the attitude, "I saw it on the internet, that is good enough for me".

Update. Brandt wrote to Jimmy Wales complaining about the Daniel Brandt article on Wikipedia, making his case that, "Wikipedia is incapable of writing a biography of me that is encyclopedic, non-defamatory, and does not invade my privacy," and suggesting that Jimmy Wales and the Wikimedia Foundation can probably be held legally responsible for, "invasion of my privacy". Jimmy Wales unblocked Brandt with the comment, "Courtesy unblock, he asked nicely, we are talking about a productive way forward in the future, it has been more than a year". It is not clear if this will shift the Wikipedia community's position with respect to having a biographical article about Brandt.

Update June. The 14 deletion discussion for the article was closed with a plan to move all information about Brandt into related non-biographical articles. Deletion review confirmed the merge plan.

Archimedes PlutoniumEdit

The references cited in the Daniel Brandt article can be compared to those cited in the Wikipedia Archimedes Plutonium article. One can wonder why Wikipedia biographical articles about marginally notable people persist even without reliable sources. I think the only thing that will change the existing situation is if the Wikimedia Foundation is hit with a serious law suit.

Barbara BauerEdit

The Wikipedia article about Barbara Bauer (deleted 25 March 2007) is apparently now part of a lawsuit, "BAUER VS GLATZER" before the Superior Court of New Jersey with the Wikimedia Foundation as one of several defendants. Like the "Archimedes Plutonium" article, the Barbara Bauer article was built mostly upon unreliable sources, persitently violating Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons.

Update. After initially being deleted (as mentioned above), the article's deletion was reviewed and the article was restored. The article was finally deleted again and survived another "deletion review". See: Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Barbara Bauer (2nd nomination).


The Wikiversity REIKI article is an example of one of the many Wikiversity articles that have been created without any serious attempt to cite reliable sources. I added the section REIKI#Related reading in an attempt to "start the ball rolling" on citation of sources for this article. I admit that I had been waiting to have a chance to start Topic:Complementary and Alternative Medicine. There are many medical practices that have little or no support from evidence-based medicine and systematic efforts to verify that medical practices are safe and effective. The first line in the REIKI article is, "Reiki is an ancient Japanese science of healing". Other sources suggest that Reiki had no existence before about 1910. What is the best way for Wikiversity to deal with content that is not supported by reliable sources?

Update. I created History of Reiki as part of Evidence-based medicine.


JW.. We seem to be on exactly the same page. I respect your desire to make Wikiversity more "wiki" versus estrangement by an interim panel or set of ethicists such as we would use in publishing in a credible scientific journal. However, I cant help but wonder whether or not a loose set of volunteer editors such as you have already alluded to could enhance the wiki-experience. That saying that we are all contributing and all editing. Perhaps a staged editor rating or even better a percentage degree of comfort from an editor of the references and citations provided by the writer. Eg poor to credible references may yield a rating of 25/100 if the content is barely adequate, but 90/100 if the content AND references are in line. Ultimately, thinking of statistics or using a Forest plot, we would expect the degree of correlations (percentages from editors) should be in line with other editors even if multiple editors review the same article and likely a high CI assuming all other factors similar. The resultant plot would be in line. Example:

This in fact would open up a whole new "wiki-" experience.

Reference: Joel Lamoure 23:15, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

I have a hunch that it should be possible to have useful rating/ranking systems for wiki content. My expectation would be that non-experts would rank some articles high while experts for that topic would have different ranking criteria and rank other types of articles high. Rankings might tell us as much about the people doing the ranking as they would about the wiki articles being ranked. User:Teemu has been pushing the idea that we should all use Knowledge user templates to let other wiki participants know what are areas of expertise and interest are. Some people question if such templates lead to unverified claims of expertise that would not be meaningful or useful. However, if people were honest, knowing something about the people providing article ratings might lead to an article ranking system that would be "two dimensional", allowing beginners to find articles that are suited for beginners and allowing more advanced learners to find content that is referenced with a higher level of rigor and more in their "comfort zone". At Wikipedia there is one article for each topic and it has been suggested that articles can start with basic information and leave the details for sections further down the page. At Wikiversity we can have multiple pages for each topic and try to craft individual articles for different audiences. Rather than push for all Wikiversity pages to cite sources with the same degree of rigor, maybe we need to allow a range of approaches to citing sources with different strategies that are suited for different audiences. When my son who is in the second grade reads his first book about whales, he is not really interested in seeing a reference list, while a graduate student in marine biology reading something about whales would want to see a good set of cited sources. --JWSchmidt 04:01, 28 March 2007 (UTC)