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 “.” 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.