[Taxacom] "Why would you waste your time editing Wikipedia?"

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Wed Jul 30 13:43:25 CDT 2008

I just received a private communication asking this question. I think 
the answer, at least, can be said in public, and I can be fairly 

Let's face reality - whatever organism one considers, the number one 
link people will get in Google is pretty much going to be the 
Wikipedia link (as long as the organism is listed in Wikipedia). Now, 
and even more so in the future. Whatever other resources we may 
develop on our own, or as a community, I rather suspect Wikipedia 
will ALWAYS come out as the first link. As such, I do a greater 
public service by working to ensure that Wikipedia contains accurate 
information, since more people in the public will see it. I get 
dozens of questions a month regarding Jerusalem Crickets and 
Solpugids, for example, and it was suggested that I make web pages 
about them for our museum's website. I countered that since our 
webpages would rarely be visited, while Wikipedia's respective 
entries were both the top hits in Google, why waste my time and our 
resources to reinvent the wheel when I could simply keep an eye on 
the Wikipedia pages and direct people there? It also takes LESS of my 
time to help maintain a Wikipedia entry than it does to WRITE one 
myself and maintain it.

The standard horror story about Wikipedia is that since anyone can 
edit it, that it's full of nonsense edits, falsehoods, urban legends, 
and so forth - that vandals, ignoramuses, and fools determine the 
content. First off, it isn't true in general, and the "trouble spots" 
are not evenly distributed across all segments of Wikipedia 
(biological articles seem to have relatively few problems). Things 
that aren't legitimate get deleted as fast as they're spotted, which 
is generally pretty fast. Other disputes tend to be over matters of 
opinion, which Wikipedia policy is structured to avoid (two of the 
most important rules are "Neutral Point of View" and "NO Original 
Research"). Yes, Wikipedia has rules, and people who break them get 
banned all the time - it is not a free-for-all. It operates more like 
a ratchet - articles tend to improve steadily over time, but do not 
go DOWN in quality over time. Generally, the more editors, the better 
the article becomes over time, not worse. I've created hundreds of 
articles now (not so many any more), and very very few of them have 
not improved since I created them, even if I never personally touched 
them again. So, if someone tells you that any effort you expend on 
Wikipedia will be UNDONE or corrupted by those who follow you, DON'T 
believe it.

It is not a waste of time.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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