10/03: Wikipedia: The untimely rise and expected fall

Wikipedia... When one hears this name, one thinks of one of the world's largest encyclopaedia which relies on community members contributing articles.

Being a student, I have been a huge, though passive, supporter of this project. I say passive, because I have used it for finding information but rarely have put in any information myself. However, my primary interest in Wikipedia articles lies with topics relating to computers and various other non-political topics. I have looked at political and controversial articles on Wikipedia before now but that has happened infrequently.

Wiki logo

During the last few days, I have been taking a look at various political articles. My interest in such articles relates primarily with articles on South Asian political topics. On one of the forums I frequent, some members complained about some administrative abuse issues with Wikipedia in a thread titled "Indians bragging on Wikipedia". I first thought of this to be the usual case of vitriol, and to find the truth for my own self, I spent a couple of hours browsing various Wikipedia articles, reading user pages of various community members and administrators and looking at article histories to see when and what editing was done.

What I found was slightly shocking and depressing for me.

My findings from these couple of hours spent browsing Wikipedia are plain and simple.

There exist extensive lobbies and groups of people of like minded interest literally waging an online war by editing Wikipedia articles to favour their own point of view. These groups have members in the Wikipedia administration team who have considerable influence and power to quiet any opposition.

Looking at article histories, I found a constant revert war by certain users. Wikipedia has a '3 revert rule' as part of its policy according to which users can't revert an article more than 3 times in a fixed amount of time. Members of any particular group abuse this rule by individually reverting any particular article the allowed number of times round the clock. Obviously, the group having more members wins this childish game.

My primary concern in this regard is the role of the administrators, in particular Rama's Arrow and his flagrant abuse of administrative powers. For the record, this person is of Indian origin and a follower of Hinduism. While this should, in an ideal world, have little consequence on the matters discussed below, in the real world this gives an insight to Rama's Arrow's motives.

I found out that just this month, the Wikipedia arbitration committee banned four Pakistani editors for a period of one year at the behest of Rama's Arrow. Admittedly, I also found that two of the editors were in violation of Wikipedia policies multiple times but the other two were banned for no particular reason other than that they were there at the wrong time for being targeted. These members were banned, while the fellow cohorts of Rama's Arrow were openly violating the same policies that the now banned editors were violating. This particular administrator has been suspending members who disagree with his point of view and has his own band of supporters. I am, frankly speaking, disgusted by this abuse of power and deliberate biasing of Wikipedia articles.

I no longer trust Wikipedia articles, particularly those of a political nature. This weakness of the Wikipedia architecture has been its downfall. If anyone can come in to edit any article, how are the site's visitors to know that Wikipedia is presenting factual data? After all, the reference to any assertion can be a random rag which has no credibility. Neutral administrators who are not in the know about the topic of the article might think of it as a valid reference which is particularly damaging to the quality and reliability of any information in the article. Now, when one administrator is fooling a bunch of other administrators, who's the actual fool for even allowing this to happen?

Just yesterday, Wikipedia lost a lot of reputation when one of its most prolific contributors who claimed to be a professor of religion having advanced degrees in theology and canon law was exposed to be a 24 year old college drop-out. His name on Wikipedia was Essjay. His true name is Ryan Jordan and he is from Kentucky. He was a Wikipedia administrator (a member of the arbitration committee). This fake person contributed to 20,000 Wikipedia articles using texts such as Catholicism for Dummies!

This stands testament to my observations mentioned above. If this is the actual standard of Wikipedia administrators, it is hardly surprising that the site is going to the dogs!

Now, the Wikipedia arbitration committee page lists him as retired. So much for credibility of the arbitration committee which banned the Pakistani editors!

Here are some excerpts from Nadir Ali's user page:

I follow Unblock-en-l and your case appeared in it, hi. Anyone who belongs to the dominant block of opinion on any subject can get anyone else blocked. Wikipedia has no policies, applied consistently.

All the admins who talk on Wiki-en-l (Unblock-en-l was set up separately from it summer 2006) openly admit counting any shred of personal fairness as mattering less than developing Wikipedia as they wish. Blocking of only 1 side when 2 sides have done exactly the same thing that the block is supposed to have been for, is routine. It's what happened to me, and claiming to have any rights against a biased 2-day block actually was the offence that got me permablocked, after only 5 weeks' membership. Look at all these:

A voice from within Wikipedia's own system describes how the ArbCom and dispute resolution systems are rigged with discretionary catch-alls that always enable admin to win [ Link ] on how force of group numbers dictates Wikipedia pages's content [ Link ] this is actually called "don't bother reporting abusive admins" [ Link ].

I was wary of how the umpiring of pages the whole world can fight over could possibly work well, but I was drawn into Wikipedia by a friend who was briefly (and no longer is, already!) having good experiences with sharing his medical concerns on a couple of pages on medical subjects. My Wiki name was Tern, and here are 2 administrators saying to me [ Link - Link ] "You are not entitled to anything" and "Wikipedia is not a democracy."

On the nature of Wikipedia:
SHOWCASING Abuses of Admin Power
Wikipedia is controlled by group bullying and hatefulness - Tern

Another recipient of this message contributed: Being unfairly branded a target in the midst of Arbitration, with the Committee turning a blind eye:
User Talk: Nobs02
User Talk:Dmcdevit

A former admin, leaving Wikipedia on 6 Oct 06 says, "Too many admins whose first course is to insult a new user in order to see if they get a "reaction" so that they can spank the new user for talking back to an admin. I've seen too many admins block accounts for infinite duration on flimsy evidence or mere whim.

I've seen more accusations thrown around of someone being a "sockpuppet" of another user. Time and again, I looked through the edits, and I didn't see it. Instead, what I saw were users who were systematically hounded until they finally broke down and broke the civility rules, and then as an afterthought someone came up and said "oh, it doesn't matter, they were a sockpuppet of X anyways", thereby removing all culpability on the part of the abusive users who had spent time hounding and abusing the newbie...

The Wiki is broken. ... We, the admins of wikipedia, broke it. We broke it by being stuck-up jerks. We broke it by thinking we are better than normal editors, by getting full of ourselves."

I encourage you to read the linked web pages in the above excerpts. They give a good insight into the current system and its pitfalls.

I am wondering on what note I should end this article. Wikipedia has definitely disappointed me. On top of that, the negligence of the top level administration is bordering on being criminal. People have tried complaining and trying to change the system to no avail. I personally feel that if I complain directly to anyone, I would be yet another addition in the list of those banned from the site or those ignored outright. Wikipedia has, in my view, lost a lot of credibility. Unless the administration seriously starts taking notice of their fallacies and the increasingly biased nature of Wikipedia articles, in a few years, Wikipedia will be just another mouthpiece for propaganda machinery of the groups which dominate the site. I just hope this does not happens, for if it happens, the academic world will lose a truly valuable resource.
Asad  Reviews 
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Comments made

Pretty spot on comments.

In reference to "the tyranny of the persistent", I've found the only course of action that keeps me sane is to pick one or two articles (Jeff Cooper and Harold) and defend them to the death, and punt on anything else.

And while I e.g. go first to Wikipedia for an orientation on the LVM or USB, and most math and CS articles are fine (although regrettably, a sacked MIT professor is a leading Wikipedia vandal on CS articles), anything controversial, political, or attracting nut cases (e.g. General Relativity) is right out.

Wikipedia can still be OK (don't know how the admin bloodsport tyranny you talk about will play out, though), but only in limited areas.

- Harold
10/03 05:17:12
@ Harold:

While focusing on particular articles might help keep one self sane, this won't help on hot topics which are constant victims of editing wars. Such topics include Islamophobia, WMD, terrorism, etc.

Most science related articles are okay. However, when you get into controversial topics like religion, scientology, evolution, etc, the editing wars start again.

There is little credible information about who is editing any particular article. The example of Ryan Jordan is proof enough. I read about Nature Magazine's review of Wikipedia vs Britannica Encyclopaedia. These same issues were highlighted at that time in the arguments presented by Britannica.

I was surprised to see inclusion of a reference to some random school in Kerala, in the Wikipedia article on Calculus. Having studied calculus and various associated courses in my studies, I found no such reference in any of the leading books. This was an example of blatant propaganda, trying to falsely give credit to some institute when it is not due. The talk page had a discussion by the editor citing unknown sources having no credibility. I have heard of winners writing the history but this is an entirely different phenomenon of lying and deception at work.
10/03 13:14:01
Its good to see someone speak up against the blind spread of moulded so-called 'facts' which are posted on Wiki-india ... err .... Wikipedia. The website has no credibility in my view and there should be an awareness in the online community about it!
10/03 18:40:50
We're in total agreement here, excepting:

Implicitly, you don't like the attribution problem. Me, I can live with that, I don't trust "experts" any more than I trust "regular folks", witness that MIT professor who did some really pioneering stuff that e.g. inspired Prolog and Scheme, but who is now a crank. Of course, at age 46, I have enough general knowledge of the way things work that I can do a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

The best definition of the purpose of a liberal education I ever came across was "To know when a man is speaking rot." ^_^ And I do pity high school and undergraduate students trying to use it for a resource.

And, yep, articles like the general one on something as big as the calculus will attract cranks, but when you drill down one level lower, things tend to be OK (and reliable general introductions to the calculus, General Relativity, etc. are very easy to find, you don't need Wikipedia for that. Hell, Einstein wrote a great little book for the layman on relativity (probably just Special) that I still need to finish reading, except I think I lost it in my last three moves :-( ).

E.g. MIT's prototype class to replace the first part of its EECS core curriculum (6.001 -> robots run by Python, NOT an improvement (although some of 6.001 will still be taught), but I've come to believe that CS and EE should be separated for those who want to focus on CS, something the faculty do not agree with) references a Wikipedia article on a specific type of math as background material, and that's safe to do. If you want to be really safe in doing this sort of thing, you reference a specific version of an article that you've vetted (a reference for a class could lead to someone vandalizing the page to irk a classmate or three).

So, within limits, still it can be a fantastic resource, with things like call/cc, backups, etc. at your fingertips. I think in those sorts of areas it's a "game changer", and extremely important. I spent years learning the material in the backups article, and now it's available for all (before you go buy the new O'Reilly book on open source Backup and Recovery, which is a total gem).

Just totally ignore the political etc. areas.

- Harold
10/03 18:43:25
Mr. Achakzai: "Wiki-india" ^_^; heh, I'll remember that one, I've noticed it myself, and I "have no dog in this hunt",e xcept a general distaste for Hindu Indians based on working with and for them in the USA in programming/systems administration. I will never work for an Indian again, in my experience, there are no more callous bosses to be found. As peers, they can be not so good (indifferent to critical quality issues) to very good indeed.

What you're seeing is a concrete example of what has been generally termed "the tyranny of the persistent". There are a lot more Hindu Indians than Pakistanis (and probably proportionally more with net access), and therefore you'll tend to lose just because of numbers.

But that doesn't mean that Wikipedia articles that don't impinge upon India aren't useful, or that in lots of cases like the article on the calculus, you can just ignore the Indian chest puffing. Sure, they did some interesting things, but like that guy in Japan, they had no influence on the general development of the topic, and that's even evident in the article.

I'm sure it hurts (it's not my ox getting gored in these cases (but there is a lot of anti-USA stuff elsewhere, we too are outnumbered)), but please don't throw the baby out the with bath water when there is so much good and relatively unbiased stuff.

The real question for me (which was brought up by someone else) is entropy: the fact that articles don't get frozen when they get "good enough", that someone sometime will be motivated to "improve" an already fine article---this implies that all Wikipedia content will eventually degrade as the people who care about quality quit a losing game. I've pretty much done that myself, only staking out two articles for me to defend no matter what....

- Harold
11/03 03:38:09
@ Harold:

Not all Indians are bad. There are many Indians who are perfectly reasonable. Problem is that the good ones don't get as much attention or exposure as they deserve and they themselves remain passive and behind the scenes, often opting to lurk rather than actually participating.

Tyranny of the persistent... I like the term. :)

Your suggestion in the last paragraph is actually one which makes a lot of sense. They really should implements such a thing.

Such are the times when I wish one could 'imperio' the admins into adopting sensible policies. :(
12/03 02:40:48
I have been watching this development personally that some articles on the wikipedia, instead of being neutral are leaning toward one viewpoint or another. Until this revelation by Asad, I must say I always thought that I am being delusional. Some months ago I had shown Asad just the calculus article discussed above. In this article there have been mentioned (in a vague sense) the various contributions Indian philosophers in the medieval times to the development of calculus. I was rather intrigued when I found out this. I had to rack my brains and check some books( e.g. Thomas Finney) to be sure but I didn't found any. To be honest the credit really goes to Newton and Leibnitz.(What is Kirala school anyway?)
Now I am not advocating anti-Indianism because I think when It comes to the dissemination of information and knowledge we should keep these petty issues out of it. However there is no doubt that wiki standards are falling. The latest scandal of the revelation of the true identity of one of wiki's editors shows that wiki is in danger. It only exists because people really use wikipedia as a reference. When you even corrupt things you shouldn't like history then the thing really has gone too far. What happens then is easily predictable. It will change from a encyclopedia that everyone uses to a sort of blog site that is used for maintaining of spoof and cranky material. Everyone on this sight might not be familiar with one thing though that wiki is nowadays extremely popular in the physics community too. A lot of professional physicists( majority of them) use it as a reference too. And after all this I am sure they might stop using it.The disaster is clear. From now on wiki has no academic value. No one will believe or rely on it. There is only one solution to this.
Solution: All wiki admin resigns!

(Nice article Asad, your best yet I dare say.)
13/03 00:06:00
Excellent share asad !
Well as far as my comment is concerns, i would say.....something like this happens when someone deliberately puts a sharp knife in the open for others to get their hands on it. To me a knife it self is nothing but just cutting tool but in right hand it can save a life when used at operation table and in wrong hands it can cut somebody's throat for nothing.
It seems that throats are being cut if not literally .......
16/03 02:57:37
Nice blog! thanks!
23/03 13:13:33
nice article Asad ,
i have linked your page on my post. Thanks for the info.
24/03 02:54:32
Wikipedia , It quite is always not trustable, my personal choice when dealing with it would be to remove rights of peoples writing articles on religion and history better should based on personns qualified and bonafied citizen of that country.

For Examples :-

Indians bragging they had success in beating Pakistanis blue and black in 1965 seems that much di-illusional as saying Aurungazeb was a peaceful ruler based without archeological proofs and based on propagandic articles.

Making Pakistan look like a backward country is as di-illusional as saying Muslims are regularly killed in India.

Saying Hinduism was in dark age before Islam came is as mistaken as saying Akbar was'nt one the greatest

Claiming genuinity of articles based on Zakir Naik on Wikipedia is as much offensive as putting up articles by Professor Oak about Taj mahal.

Saying Islam did'nt destroyed the sassanid Empire is as much offensive as saying Crusades were meant for peace.

Christians claiming salah-e-din to be tyrant ruler is as much mistaken as they saying evangelism is saving poor souls.

Persisting on Zionism is as much offensive as persisting on non-secularity in many countries.

Persisting on persecution of Jews by Christians being fake as much cruel as justifying zykhlon-b from waffen-ss being non-jenocide.

So you see religion is counterproductive, and the best way to put up articles is from athiest viewpoint slamming all points of each religion that doesnt pertains to be social in todays world.

Wikipedia needs to do that

On war based articles Wikipedia needs to form a tabular and put up viewpoints of citizens of both countries backed up with proper sources, it is upto the reader to judge which one is correct and which one not.
Harold, Pardon by behavior, with the limited space of my knowledge I'm satisfied about the authenticity of the article on Calculus which I just checked; Is it not surprising that a 3 line extract on India is making you using adjective like chest thumping, when the whole article praises Europes contribution only.

May you like to look at a part of Indian mathematics, genuine research project and not fanboy project;
25/03 02:31:16
@ Abhay:

Your comments have been added just for the sake of having another point of view. This is in no way, an endorsement of the contents of your comments.

Your comparisons are foolish and wrong. You are deliberately mixing facts with propaganda and trying to justify one with the other. There is a saying that "lie so much that the lie seems to be the truth". This method is a cornerstone of propaganda and is frequently used by propagandists.

Religion is not counter-productive. There are plenty of examples of that all around us. Rejecting reality and living in a dream world bound by one's own delusions is what is counter-productive and dangerous.

One method of propaganda is to show selective viewpoints and ignoring others. This is what often happens with international media in regard to Israel but that is another vast debate.

Mathematics has evolved over time. Thee have been significant contributions by various powers of their times. Examples are Romans, Greek, Egyptians, Arabs, Europeans and recently, after the world war, America. All have added onto the knowledge of the previous discoverers and this is what has enabled the rapid development that we see today.

However, there is little evidence of Indian involvement in advancement of mathematics as can be seen in any popular book on mathematics used at graduate level studies and above. Arabs were the people who introduced advanced mathematical concepts of that time in India.

Unless India has made some significant breakthroughs in the last 1-2 years, stating that India was involved in the development and discovery of key mathematical areas, is entirely false and aimed at misleading the people who visit Wikipedia to get factual knowledge.
25/03 04:25:40
Removed for being deliberately provocative and offensive.

- admin.
11/04 04:13:09
That's really making me think about reading such articles, on wikipedia or any other place. but I really do that when ever I feel any fishy in that. may be it never come to me that much on wikipedia to read political or religious content. I would have noticed the same thing if it have come to my eyes.
but that one is really informative and appreciatable that you take off the cover on what you have found from this one of the leading article places.

Khurram A.
13/09 23:10:31

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