Why I Don’t Edit Wikipedia

Every now and then I find a mistake in Wikipedia. Often, I note the mistake on one of my blogs or, more often, on my facebook page. Usually, somebody fixes it. But also, usually somebody tells me that I should just go and fix it because I can easily do that because Wikipedia is the people’s encyclopedia and everybody can fix it.

I don’t do that, and here’s why. There are actually three reasons. The first and least important reason is that making a change in Wikipedia is part of a community process in which the change I make may be unmade by someone else, or challenged. There’s nothing wrong with that … that process is how Wikipedia manages to get to a point where the articles (depending on the article) are reasonably accurate and useful. The problem is, I can’t tell in advance what that process is going to entail. I may make a change and it gets revised to be better. That’s good. But I also might make a change and find myself in the middle of a pre-existing fight (or a fight that emerges simply because I made the change) that I wasn’t planning on getting involved in, and once I’ve gotten involved in it … especially in the case where my change caused the fight … I’d have the responsibility to continue engagement. There would be a risk that a change I’d make would lead ultimately to a change I would be very much against if I don’t maintain my involvement. I don’t want to do that because I’m already engaged in more fights than I want to be engaged in.

Second, as a writer I like to write my own tuff. Other people can certainly critique or comment on the things I write (especially if it is on a blog where they can comment) but it is still my writing. I am perfectly happy with collaborative writing, and I’ve done plenty of that, but I don’t consider any involvement I’d have in Wikipedia collaborative unless I more fully engaged in it and became part of some sub-community maintaining certain pages. Again, I chose to not expend my energy in that particular area.

Third, although it seems to be easy to get involved in Wikipedia page writing, editing, and maintenance, I don’t think it is all that easy. The people who do it make it look easy, and I very much appreciate their efforts. But for me to assume that I can engage in this activity without learning to become effective, and backing up my inputs with a longer term commitment, is hubris. I’d be very happy to help any Wikipedia contributor working in an area where I have some expertise or knowledge by providing information I have at my fingertips. But, I think engagement in Wikipedia is a responsibility that involves some skill and knowledge and a longer term commitment which I’m not interested in doing at this time.

There is a fourth and less specific and less well articulated reason that I should mention. I think Wikipedia is great, but it also has the potential for messing up the information that is available on a certain topic. Since it is collaborative and often does not include the perspective of experienced experts on a topic, it can become too homogeneous and even in its treatment of sources. Here’s an example. If you try to find out in Wikipedia what the proper divisions of the geography of Africa are (what countries should be included in terms like “West Africa”, “Central Africa”, “East Africa” etc.) you’ll find, I think, something that you’ll never or only rarely see in an actual course, or module in a course, on the divisions of the continent, or in a standard textbook. This is, I think, because there are multiple government agencies or NGO’s, such as the US CIA, various units of the UN, and so on, that have taken the more traditional ways of dividing the continent and revised them significantly for their own purposes. These particularistic paradigms of division address institute-specific issues like which languages are spoken, where an agency has resources, or other large scale economic, political, or cultural issues that are useful for those specific organizations but that conflict with other requirements. The best overall geographical divisions are probably those that include a large number of factors and have a strong link to historical background, and also, that are relatively stable. In other words, there really is probably only ONE way to divide up a continent like Africa, and this way will have problems for every single division (should Rwananda be part of Central or East Africa?) but by having one single method, terms like East Africa, North Africa, etc. will have general utility. Last time I checked Wikipedia on this there was no single best method proposed, and none of the methods discussed were the classic method that I learned in school and that the vast majority of my colleagues in Anthropology and Geography actually use.

Thank you to all the people who actively engage in making Wikipedia so useful. But I’ll need to continue to use my current method: Suggesting changes or pointing out problems now and then, and hoping others with the skills and experience that I don’t have consider addressing those issues.

A Republican Failure in Massachusetts

And a win for everyone else. Ed Markey is projected to win the special election for the Senate seat recently vacated by John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State. When Hilary Clinton first announced that she’d be leaving that position, Republicans promised to stop Susan Rice from getting that seat, for totally bogus reasons. The real reason was to increase the chances that Kerry would be appointed in that position, so they could take that Senate seat in Massachusetts.

They didn’t.

Hey, @JoeKleinTIME, Kiss My Ass

Hemant Mehta has a write up on how Time author Joe Klein went out of his way to accuse atheists and secular humanists of having not helped out in Oklahoma after the tornados. This is on top of that fiasco of Wolf Blitzers, and contrary to the fact that atheist and secular humanist groups instantly went into action to help. Instantly.

Joe Klein should look into his own heritage for people making broad brushed UNTRUE and derogatory statements about entire groups of people. Then he should hang his head in shame. And then, after he’s done that for a while he should issue a very sincere apology.

I actually like much of the stuff Klein writes. But this comment of his is absurd, offensive, exclusionary, and biased. Not only that but the TIME editor that let that comment slip by needs to learn what being a professional editor at a magazine like TIME involves, because this is not that.

The details are here, at The Friendly Atheist.

Mr. Klein’s twitter is in the title of this post, in case you want to comment directly to him.

Growing Up as a Zealous Jehovah’s Witness

My friend James wrote this book:

Deliverance at Hand!: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah’s Witness is James Zimmerman’s fascinating story of growing up as a zealous Jehovah’s Witness. It is a gripping account of the unique difficulties and all-consuming nature of belonging to an insulated, apocalyptic community. James is held up as a shining example for other youths in the religion, is given unprecedented privileges, and spends his youth proselytizing. He may very well have knocked on your door.

But as he matures, fissures begin to form in the bedrock of his fundamentalist Jehovah’s Witness belief system. Is the bible the literal, infallible word of God? Can the story of Noah’s ark really be true? Are these the final days before Armageddon? Will the Witnesses soon inherit paradise while the nonbelievers are destroyed? Is the day of deliverance truly at hand?

As James’ doubts grow, so does his predicament: Leaving a religious community that teaches its members to shun former members would have deep and painful ramifications. He must make the decision between intellectual honesty and his way of life.

At this point I think you can only PRE ORDER it but go ahead and do that!

LA State Government and Jindal Rip UP US Constitution

… To protect gun owners by repressing journalists.

On Tuesday, the Louisiana Senate passed a bill that would imprison and fine journalists who intentionally publish information about the state’s concealed-carry handgun permit holders. Reporters who violate the law would face penalties of up to $10,000, six months in jail, or both; public safety officials and police officers who leak permit information to the press would face penalties of up to $500, six months in jail, or both. Journalists in Louisiana say the bill is clearly unconstitutional, but that won’t stop it from becoming law: After the Senate vote, it headed to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk for his signature.

MJ has the details on why this is bad.

The thing is, I know this blatant oppression of the Constitutional Rights Rights of Americans can’t happen becase the 2nd amendment allows us to protect ourselves from an oppressive government. I assume the members of the Press in Louisiana will all now by guns so when Jindal’s black booted storm troopering thugs come to get them, the Journalists can defend themselves.

Worst Person In The World: Emma Way of the UK

Emma Way (formerly @EmmaWay20, but she has deleted her account) was driving down the road and turned into oncoming bike riders who were in a race. She hit one of them, knocking him into the woods. He’s OK.

She tweeted abut how proud she is of having done that, making the claim that this was OK because bikers don’t have the right of way and don’t pay road taxes.

The police picked up on her tweet and tweeted her a suggestion that she report the incident and DM them back. Others picked up on her tweet and scanned her social networking streams and found all sorts of other horrid things. Apparently she was into doing selfies of herself (obviously) tailgating other vehicles and driving at excessive speeds.

Emma Way is a horrible, terrible, awful person. Is she redeemable? I don’t know. Maybe you found this blog post because you are googling her and she’s a job applicant. If you hire her and find out that she’s reformed, post a comment and let everyone know!

(And she will be looking for a job. Her current employer appears to be poised to fire her.)

The UK does not have a road tax.

How To Get Rid Of Fur Balls: Caturday Book Recommendation

Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat

Got fur balls?

Are your favorite sweaters covered with cat hair? Do you love to make quirky and one-of-a-kind crafting projects? If so, then it’s time to throw away your lint roller and curl up with your kitty! Crafting with Cat Hair shows readers how to transform stray clumps of fur into soft and adorable handicrafts. From kitty tote bags and finger puppets to fluffy cat toys, picture frames, and more, these projects are cat-friendly, eco-friendly, and require no special equipment or training. You can make most of these projects in under an hour—with a little help, of course, from your feline friends!