Wikipedia, Fandom Waving Goodbye?

Readers quickly answered Fred Pohl’s plea for help fixing Wikipedia’s article about opera singer Toti dal Monte:

…I saw [her] performance in 1945, and I’m absolutely positive of the date because, although I was in Italy before that, it was 1945 before I could wander around Naples on my own. But I looked up Toti in the Wikipedia the other day, and it says flatly that she retired in 1943.

So what do I do about that gross error?

They answered so quickly, in fact, I imagined fans screaming “Wait, Fred, no-o-o-o-o!” at their computer screens as they hurried to save him before he innocently ran afoul of Wikipedia policies and suffered some rude remarks by Wikipedia’s vigilante editors.

For there’s disappointment in store for anyone who naïvely thinks he will be allowed to add facts to “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” simply because he personally witnessed them occur.  Wikipedia policy sharply curtails the use of primary sources, bluntly commanding: “Do not add unsourced material from your personal experience, because that would make Wikipedia a primary source of that material.”

Stop and think for a moment. Fans took it for granted that even the testimony of Fred Pohl, subject of his own Wikipedia article, and editor of the Hugo-winning prozine If, subject of another Wikipedia featured article, would be treated as having no credibility. I find it remarkable to see so many science fiction fans passively accepting – enabling – this silly state of affairs.

And no, Fred could not satisfy the policy by citing his blog as the source because that would violate a different policy.

I didn’t always know this. I found out when John King Tarpinian wrote an eyewitness account of Carla Laemmle’s 100th birthday event and I added the information to her Wikipedia article, citing my blog. Here’s what I added:

On October 20, 2009, she celebrated her 100th birthday with a guestlist which included Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Bela Lugosi, Jr., Sara Karloff and Ron Chaney.

Sometime later I revisited my addition and found it changed to “[citation needed].” An editor going by the handle “DreamGuy” had eliminated the cited link to File 770. When questioned, he pointed out that blogs do not meet the criteria of WP:RS policy for reliable sources, and added this shot:

It’s just some blog with no history of expertise or reliability. If that page can be used as a source, then any page on the Internet by anyone could be, and that’s not how an encyclopedia works.

Yes, the internet never stops proving how good manners suffer when people are allowed to work anonymously. Though even I had to laugh at DreamGuy’s final fling of Wiki hypocrisy — he left my line untouched, deleting only my citation. Yes, the source was too unreliable for Wikipedia to mention, but he kept the information the source provided!

How ironic is it that the Internet’s leading online encylopedia privileges the printed page above anything else? Why can’t Wikipedia’s corps of editors learn enough about their fields to recognize credible sources when they see them? Obviously, publishing house editorial staffs have had to learn those skills.

Wikipedia is also plagued with “editors” who get their rocks off deleting other people’s contributions. Within the past week a Wikipedia editor has been gunning down entries for America’s most famous and historic science fiction clubs.

Articles about the Northwest Science Fiction Society of Seattle and the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society have recently been deleted, the former by request of an editor whose handle is RadioFan, the latter by request of RHaworth.

A list at the WikiProject Science Fiction page shows RadioFan also wants to delete entries for the Bay Area Science Fiction Association, Orange County Science Fiction Club, Ottawa Science Fiction Society.

While I was at it I checked the entries for several other clubs and found RadioFan has also recommended deletion of the articles for LASFS and NESFA.

It’s not as though fandom needs acknowledgement by the Wikipedia. What offends me is how easily some jackass can vandalize all the work people have done on these entries over the years.

Don’t let the vast dimensions of the Wikipedia project blur your understanding of what it is – a social milieu that’s actually quite similar to science fiction fandom with both the good and bad parts, the bad including the familiar dominance games, passive-aggressive behavior, and people at odds with each other. The Wikipedia is just a very bad clubzine, where quality is sacrificed because it is a battleground for rival members, driving off potential contributors, and leading participants to problem-solve by enacting rules that blindly cause as many problems as they suppress.

28 thoughts on “Wikipedia, Fandom Waving Goodbye?

  1. I can practically smell the ferric sparks of axes a-grinding!

    My only real beef with Wikipedia is that I’ve never figured out how to upload an image successfully. Yeah, some of the additions I’ve made over the last two or three years have been altered in minor ways. For instance, a list of toys related to the subject was scrapped, including several I had added. It apparently exceeded Wikipedia’s remit to cover such broad tie-ins.

    The only time I did suffer a few moments of anxiety was when one of those contentious “editors” you spoke of challenged the entry for “Taral Wayne.” The challenge was based on the rule that I had to be important enough that anyone would ever need to look me up. I assume the editor thought I wasn’t. But the challenge failed, and you can still find the article on me just about as I wrote it. Oops… should I have admitted that? Actually, I did’t write the orignal piece, but did substantially add and alter it once I discovered it was there.

    In any event, any reference source that gives me as much space as Hendrik van Loon or Enzo Ferrari can’t be all bad.

  2. You’re being too harsh with Wikipedia, which is a project run by human beings trying to do the best they can.

    It should be noted that a number of fen are Wikipedia editors, and a few of us are even admins.

    Fandom runs into the same problem as any other minority/deviant community, in that our history is contained in our own publications, and that when the majority media write about us they often get it wrong.

    I’ve fixed the Laemmle problem, by the way, and will watch the article.

  3. Wouldn’t it be more productive to familiarize ourselves with the rules of the road on Wikipedia and get these articles to a point where they meet those rules rather than complain about the process or individuals? Seems like a much more effective use of time and energy here.

  4. This is one of the big reasons why there have been projects to set up alternatives to Wikipedia, most notably Citizendium– the problem of recognizing expertise, respecting it, and then the endless struggle to preserve a decent entry once it’s written.

  5. Small correction: Northwest Science Fiction Society and Philadelphia Science Fiction Society (PSFS) were both tagged for deletion by RadioFan. I am the jackass who deleted both of them. I have no particlar bias against science fiction and I imagine Radio Fan is the same.

    My reason for deletion was quite simple: absence of references to “significant coverage in reliable, independent secondary sources”. This is a rule which applies to EVERY Wikipedia article. The Taral Wayne article (see earlier comment) does contain references and so is fairly safe from deletion,

    As to PSFS, I have to ask: how is it that in the four years of the article’s existence no-one has seen fit to add any references? I give warning that if references do not appear pdq, I shall put the article into another of Wikipedia’s arcane deletion processes.

    In any case, I am genuinely dubious about the society’s notability. I attend a group local to me: the Croydon Decorative and Fine Arts Society (CroyDFAS). Just like PSFS, CroyDFAS meets monthly usually with a guest speaker (some of whom have Wikipedia biographies). I would never consider CroyDFAS notable enough for Wikipedia. Indeed even their umbrella organisation the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies does not have an article.

  6. “RHaworth” wrote:

    “As to PSFS, I have to ask: how is it that in the four years of the article’s existence no-one has seen fit to add any references? I give warning that if references do not appear pdq, I shall put the article into another of Wikipedia’s arcane deletion processes.

    In any case, I am genuinely dubious about the society’s notability.”

    I honestly mean no offense but it seems more than a little surreal to me that someone with enough knowledge of Fandom to find their way onto the FILE 770 website could know so little of Fandom’s history that they would be “dubious” about the notability of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. Not only dubious, but “genuinely dubious”… Is it unfair of me to read this as meaning, “I don’t already know about it so it probably isn’t important”?

    The PSFS is one of the oldest SF fan groups on the planet. It grew out of the Philadelphia Science Fiction League; a local chapter of the Science Fiction League; which was established as a general fan club by the editor of WONDER STORIES magazine in the mid 1930’s. It should be easy to locate the references that “RHaworth” calls for since the PSFS – like many of the other fan groups recently targeted by Wikipedia – are documented in Harry Warner’s ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – which is one of the foundational books of Fannish history. And of course, the PSFS is mentioned in many issues of WONDER STORIES itself in the SFL club news department. Check any issue from about May 1934 to June 1936.

    But I’m a little disturbed by the apparent arrogance of Wikipedia’s review and verification process if the standard for that process allows adminestrators to blithely delete whole entries on topics they admittedly aren’t well informed about. This sort of thing reminds me that Wikipedia is no substitute for having access to a good old-fashioned library.

    Well, at least “RHaworth” was able to deal with the “jackass” comment with a sense of humor. And I’ll admit that I don’t understand Wikipedia’s rules and policies – some of which seem quite counter-productive to me, though I imagine that someone implemented them with good intentions, at least. I’m also rather glad that I’m not important enough to have an entry in Wikipedia myself. I think I’ll try to stay unimportant…

    On a personal note – which is my way of acknowledging that what follows is my personal bias – I have a lot of trouble taking any comment seriously from anyone who uses contrived pseudonyms like “RHaworth” or “Radio Fan”. Fandom – the arena that we’re communicating within here – generally works on a first name basis. I sign my actual name to anything I write and post by way of saying that I stand behind my comments. Seeing comments posted by such pseudonyms conveys the impression to me that they wern’t written by anybody at all. It’s all so silly and distracting.

    Curt Phillips

  7. Curt: while I share your feeling regarding pseudonyms, I will note that RHaworth is not a “contrived pseudonyms”. Click on the link to his name in his posting here and one discovers his name is, roll of drums please, Roger W. Haworth. And there are photos, presumably of him.

    As for the PSFS wiki article, I will note that the page was created in 2006 by Keith Lynch, a fan living in Northern Virgina, with a few corrections by Lew Wolkoff, a member of PSFS. Perhaps this will be a wake up call to some PSFS member to tidy things up – which the page desperately needs, it’s something of a hodge-podge of facts and generic club info.

    I must agree that Mr Haworth’s comment “I am genuinely dubious about the society’s notability” shows a lack of knowledge of the field and perhaps he should recuse himself from making decisions regarding notability.

  8. Thanks for pointing that out, Michael. I hadn’t realized that the names in these headers are actually hotlinks. And my apology to Roger W. Haworth for assumning an intent to remain pseudonymous on his part.

    Curt Phillips

  9. My thought is that there would be room for a SF Fandom History wiki – a standalone project running the Wiki software. Contributors and editors could be given permissions on more or less the same basis as fan fund balloting. There’s probably oodles of oral history we’d like to get recorded without having to fight the Wikipedia wars of general relevance, and while being somewhat resistant to spammers and the hopelessly clueless.

    (Imagine the flame wars as fan feuds of the past are carried into the 21st century through dueling Wikipedia edits…)

  10. There’s a lot of “I never heard of it, therefore it isn’t notable” in certain Wikipedia circles. At various times I’ve seen attempts to have the article about the poet laureate of England deleted, someone refused to allow the death notice of a science fiction writer be put in the article by someone who knew him because it wasn’t in a newspaper, and so forth.

    Although there is a rule against “wiki-lawyering” in practice it happens all the time. A lot of hard work and real knowledge is removed this way because someone wants to feel “powerful.” It’s like Heinlein said about certain kinds of editors in Stranger in a Strange Land: they pee in it, then like the flavor.

    As Stephen Colbert has noted more than once, you have to give credit to an “encyclopedia” which gives more lineage to “truthiness” than to “Lutheranism.”

  11. 1. RHaworth is actually one of our sounder editors; he’s just being properly sceptical about an article that nobody had bothered to put any effort into properly documenting. “Because Keith Lynch said so” is no basis for a permanent encyclopedia article. He did jump the gun, though, with a speedy deletion.

    2. Hey, RHaworth is a more clear pseudonym than, say, Orangemike, one of the admins involved with this issue. Some folks (just like in fandom) have preferred to use handles, not their real-life names, in Wikipedia. Somebody angry at me over a Wikipedia edit once wrote a lie-filled hate-bomb of an article about me in their rock ‘zine, then delivered a batch of the zine to my mundane place of employment; legal and even death threats against editors are not unprecedented.

    3. Somebody provided RHaworth the link to this discussion. He’s not SF-savvy.

    4. “someone refused to allow the death notice of a science fiction writer be put in the article by someone who knew him because it wasn’t in a newspaper”: hell, yeah! Do the words “death hoax” and “Rumors of my death have been great exaggerated” mean anything to you? The editor demanded a proper, verifiable, published third-party source.

    5. There are a number of SF wikis, some of them run by fen; that’s as it should be.

    6. Colbert’s quote is as pure an example of bullshit as you could ask, even from Colbert (or should I say, the Colbert television persona). I’d wager there may be more wordage about Lutheranism in Wikipedia than in most mundane print encyclopedias; it’s just split among the hundreds of sub-topics involved, not in one big lump.

  12. ” “Because Keith Lynch said so” is no basis for a permanent encyclopedia article. ”

    Indeed, but I who mentioned Keith’s name made no such assertion. Just noted that a non-PSFS person started it and it would seem that PSFS is either largely unaware or doesn’t care or has no one to manage it or … or …

  13. @”Orange Mike”: Doesn’t it always seem like a responsible person like yourself ends up stepping forward to take it on the chin instead of RadioFan?

    Every organization is made up of human beings, who often are doing the best they can. What happens when unacceptable behavior is justified as advancing the organization’s policies, like RadioFan’s quest to erase long-standing Wikipedia entries about historically important sf clubs, and is abetted by someone in authority, like RHaworth? Surely then it’s fair to challenge the organization’s way of doing its business.

    Do you think Wikipedia is well-served by its notability policy? Not being a print encyclopedia, the production costs and needs to appeal to a mass market are very different. Wikipedia is, in its own way, a social network. An article that only serves an audience of a few hundred people is still of benefit. And, I would guess, needs the most minimal resources.

    (I’m always amazed at how you find the energy to do fanac, participate in Wikipedia, and do real world political work, all at the same time!)

    @Jeff Sampson: “Wouldn’t it be more productive to familiarize ourselves with the rules of the road on Wikipedia and get these articles to a point where they meet those rules rather than complain about the process or individuals?”

    That’s an oversimplification. There’s more than one reason these articles are under attack. Producing an article that conforms to Wikiepedia’s documentation policies won’t fix the fundamental problem of “editors” being allowed to come along at any time and say “Never heard of it” and getting an article deleted under the color of Wikipedia’s notability policy.

  14. Memory is unclear at this point as it was something I noted in passing, not involved in — I think it was a case of repeated reversions of John Scalzi, who was in a unique position to have information about R. A. Lafferty and was at the funeral or something equally intimate. (If details I state are wrong, that isn’t my point here, my point is that a wikieditor ignorant of the field kept reverting an expert in it until the obituary notices finally were published a day or so later, and with a snide, “why don’t you learn the rules, noob?” attitude to someone volunteering to put in a basic fact.

    As you say, RHayworth is not sf-savvy — they why doesn’t he have the basic decency to leave editing of science fiction related articles to those who are instead of lessening the quality of existing articles and deleting other quality articles of a field of which he is so ignorant? He is being a perfect example of the sort of wikilawyer who drives knowledgeable people from the project.

    The basic problem is the stupid (yes, I said it, stupid) elevation of verification over truth instead of making them of equal importance. We are at the point that false information from (for example) the Fox News websites is given preference over multiple eyewitness accounts which state actual facts. A lot of problems could be solved overnight and make the site both more valuable and easier to administrate simply by making truth equal to verifiability rather than subordinate to it.

  15. “I honestly mean no offense but it seems more than a little surreal to me that someone with enough knowledge of Fandom to find their way onto the FILE 770 website ”

    Which is to say that anyone who knows how to Google, use a Google Alert, read a hit counter, and so on, which has nothing whatever to do with “knowledge of Fandom,” but

    Meanwhile you’ll find a lot more fanzine collecting and old fanzines for sale on Teh Internet than at Corflu or mailing lists, and tens of thousands of fans who follow faandom on LiveJounal, blogs, the rest of the internet, and so on, then a couple of hundred people who isolate themselves do.

    It’s an odd form of blind spot.

    Not to mention that fans have been writing about Wikipedia issues as for many years. It’s been going on a long time.

    Meanwhile, arguing with One Guy who writes on Wikipedia is like arguing with The Internet.

    But please forgive me. This “gafiate” has to repack from Corflu last week to leave for Potlatch this afternoon, and be read to do his panels at FOGCon next weekend, and comment on some more fan sites, while getting back to his Real Job on teh interwebs, where he mentions fandom and skiffydom and fanhistory a lot, and so to many tens of thousands of other people. 🙂

  16. My thought is that there would be room for a SF Fandom History wiki

    Well, yes, and there have been several, and still are.

    Ken, do me a favor, please, and write me at gary underscore farber at yahoo dot com with an email address? I don’t have one for you. Thanks. I can show you video of Pat Mueller/Virzi from last week, and did you know that Anne Laurie is another big name blogger in recent years?

  17. Fandom – the arena that we’re communicating within here – generally works on a first name basis.

    Gee, the fandom I know is one where people have always known each other by “names” like ATom, and WAW, and BoSh, and was having controversies about “badge names” that rose to major feuds over MidAmericon’s policies in 1976, and “Stanley From Beneath The Earth” (or “Mountain,” or something like that.

    I wonder what Morojo and Bjo and Hoy Ping Pong and 4E and “Ted Johnstone” might say.

  18. @Gary: This comparison with fannish nicknames is an unfortunate reduction to absurdity of the actual point. If I sent fanzine material to WAW or BoSh and they edited it, I would know who edited my material, wouldn’t I?

    Nobody submitted their material to RadioFan, and we don’t know who he or she is, much less whether he or she has any knowledge or expertise about sf fandom.

  19. I fear that I am partially responsible for this controversy because the entry for the local Science Fiction Club, the Ottawa Science Fiction Society (OSFS) which has been in existence since 1977 had their Wikipedia entry marked for deletion. I stated that the entry for OSFS was just as good as the long existing entries for a number of clubs and organizations, and if it was so bad, then why were the others not being deleted as well.

    Oops.

    I have learned a lot about the internal politics of Wikipedia…and it’s very true, it’s just like clubzine, or APA. All the best and worst parts of SF Fandom politics…and the whole “Deletionist” thing is whacked. I’m all for accuracy, but this whole notability criteria really needs an appeal process, and not the one that is there now. Just as a every respected reference work that exists has editors that are either experts or very knowledgeable about the field they are responsible for, so too should Wikipedia have such editors who have the ability to over-rule those deletions where they are based upon individuals clueless in that field, but feel the need to “delete”. But I fear it’s become an example of a sentiment expressed in Dune…if you can destroy something, you control it. And that is what the Wikipedia deletionist is doing. And I feel it compromises Wikipedia’s credibility. IMOHO, of course.

    ttyl
    Farrell

  20. Have a gander at the breadth and number of Wikipedia pages related to “gundam”. Or any other facet of manga/anime culture, for that matter. The amount of detail presented is staggering…..and (to dilettante fans like me) even useful.

    I’m not saying that the manga/anime pages should be forcibly limited in scope (quite the opposite, really). Just that the amount of detail presented gave me the false impression that the whole ‘notability’ nonsense had been abandoned. Ooops, I guess I was wrong.

  21. “Nobody submitted their material to RadioFan, and we don’t know who he or she is, much less whether he or she has any knowledge or expertise about sf fandom.”

    Mike, have you never read any of the zillions of fans who have had journals on LiveJournal for the past fifteen years? Like, all the Hugo winners, and people you know perfectly well? The Hugo administrators and Worldcon chairs, and on and on? They almost all use handles, too.

    So do half the fans who post to blogs.

    If “orangemike” wrote you about Wikipedia, maybe you could figure out who he is. But would you know?

    If “supergee” wrote you about LiveJournal, maybe you’d know that’s Arthur Hlavaty. But would you?

    Now, personally, this stuff often drives me mad with frustration, myself. It’s a small part of why I don’t do LiveJournal, and it’s a tiny part of why I don’t do Wikipedia, though the main reason is simply that I don’t have 45 clones.

    But it’s also reality. Most fans don’t post online under the same names, just as innumerable fans who go to cons use different names on their name tags, or use two names, and just as innumerable fanzine fans used multiple names or handles. Is it really absurd that David McDaniel, his “legal name” was known in fandom as “Ted Johnstone”? Maybe it was, but take it up with him, not me. 🙂 (Hard to do, I know, but I don’t think it’s an absurd point at all; YMMV.)

    You don’t, I don’t, a number of folks don’t. But we’re the exceptions, not the rules.

    The other thing about Wikipedia is simply what I’ve said before: we’ve had this argument about Wikipedia — that is, tons of us have — about a decade ago. It’s yet another reason I don’t do Wikipedia. It was clear back in 2002 that to bother to start writing pieces about fandom would become nearly a full-time job. Either I’d end up having to spend endless time writing in stuff and watching it get deleted, because I wouldn’t have eight hours a day to then stick around arguing why it should be there, defending it, and playing the politics and rules lawyering of Wikipedia, or I’d had to invest all that time to get it to stick — maybe.

    Life is too short.

    It’s true that maybe it makes sense to do a bit here, and a bit here, in increments.

    But as you may have noticed, I’m, personally, already spread a tad thin on the internets. 🙂

    And I don’t have my fanzine collection any more, so most of what I’d have to cite as authority would simply Be Me. And that doesn’t fly.

    There *is* still room for plenty of stuff I could make corrections on, and add stuff to, and point to other stuff documented in books or other online records, but all in all: maybe I’ll pencil that in for 2018. I’m a little busy, myself.

    Anyway, if you’ve just discovered all this, and want to fight the good fight: great.

    I just remember all the discussions so many of us had a good eight or nine years ago, and again five years ago, and again three or so years ago, so: good luck having that discussion again. 🙂

    Maybe this Wikipedia entry on Wikipedia might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia

    🙂

    Personally, I think a separate fannish wiki that’s devoted to Old Time fandom would be the way to go, and that’s what I said on Timebinders when Fancy III was proposed IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    But I was told that it wouldn’t work, etc., and editing it the way it ended up was The Way To Go. So, um, whatever.

    Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen it, you may find this site that’s been around for quite some time of, um, interest: http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Main_Page.

    Or this one: http://wiki.feministsf.net/

    Or any of these links: http://www.google.com/search?q=“Science+fiction+fandom”+wiki

  22. Let me add that I’ve always thought the whole deletionist attitude on Wikipedia was somewhat nuts. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to run out of paper, is it? As long as it’s not getting to the point where every truly obscure person in the world is getting a piece written up on them, I see no harm in allowing deeply obscure — to other people — interests and people to be written up.

    But that’s me, and that’s one reason I don’t do Wikipedia.

    But I figured that out in 2001-2002.

  23. Colin, anything related to pop culture is Very Big on Wikipedia. It makes sense. Stuff that’s of interest to a million people, or “even” just a few hundred thousand, is of interest, in their view, and rightfully so.

    Stuff that’s of interest to a few hundred of us — not so much.

    I don’t agree with that. But it’s how it works. It’s a lot harder for us to prove why, historically, stuff in sf fanhistory might be of general interest than it is to prove than anime, or comics, or tv, or similar stuff is.

    And yet there is, in fact, an awful lot of sf fanhistory on Wikipedia if you look for it. Just as there’s tons on obscure fanhistory on the web — and tons of old fanzines being sold on ebay every day.

    But you have to bother to go look.

  24. You did read this, right? And all the other posts written about your piece?

    You do have a Google alert on “File 770” and “mike glyer” and use your referrer logs and so on to follow at least some of the discussions about discussions here, yes?

    I’m doubtless asking the obvious, but just checking.

  25. @Gary: As for the school of thought that says “how come those darned sf fans don’t go off and start their own wiki”, they ought to realize that fans believe the Wikipedia itself welcomes coverage of notable aspects of science fiction literature, history and fandom, by virtue of the fact that it already has by its own count several thousand entries related to the genre. There’s no need to go outside and reinvent an entire Wiki structure. What’s needed is to keep “avowed deletionists” like RadioFan from making the project inhospitable to informed contributors.

  26. RadioFan didn’t even know that “sci-fi” was considered to have a derogatory connotation and RHaworth considers himself to have the right to delete articles the content of which he literally knows nothing.

    With some people there is no reasoning. They just want to see the world burn.

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