[Taxacom] Wikipedia rewrites

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri Feb 13 12:30:47 CST 2009

John Grehan wrote:

>Wikipedia offers a potentially unique situation in which orthodoxy has
>no necessary control over content. So they may not like it. But so what?
>Science is supposedly about evidence, not popularity. If 'people' think
>I am giving too much attention to the orangutan theory is that any
>different to my view that I think they are giving too little?

Yes, it *is* different. You are close to being correct, but the 
difference is an important one; Wikipedia's stance is neutrality, but 
that does NOT mean *equal weight* is given to alternative theories. 
If one theory has a lot more attention in the *relevant community of 
experts*, then it ALSO gets a lot more attention in Wikipedia - the 
essence of neutrality is acting as an impartial observer, and if one 
side of an academic debate has 50,000 supporters, and the other side 
has only 5, then that observation is significant and must be pointed 
out, so as not to mis-portray the minority opinion as if it had 
broader support. As you'll note from the excerpt I posted last time, 
the founder of Wikipedia *personally* laid out the policy explicitly, 
that a viewpoint held by a single individual/organization should be 
excluded from Wikipedia unless it is otherwise notable (and there is 
a formal definition of "notability"). It's not about popularity per 
se, but it IS necessary that someone other than the proponent of a 
theory has given it credence, or at least discussed it in a scholarly 
context even if only to condemn it.

So, it's NOT simply a matter of evidence; the policy states it 
explicitly: "If your viewpoint is held by an extremely small 
minority, then - whether it's true or not, whether you can prove it 
or not - it doesn't belong in Wikipedia". Evidence, in and of itself, 
does not compel Wikipedia to include something; the evidence has to 
be well-known, or at least well-sourced externally. I might have 
evidence that the Monarch butterfly is actually 12 different species, 
for example, but until I have published it in a proper manner, I 
would not necessarily be allowed to include it in Wikipedia; if any 
editors challenged it, I'd have no choice but to back down. More to 
the point, perhaps, is whether or not I maintain that the Monarch is 
a species complex, and whether or not I have evidence for it, I would 
not be able to go in and edit the Wikipedia entry on the Monarch to 
say that people are giving too little attention to my theory; until 
and unless the scientific community accepts and promotes my theory, 
it would be relegated to nothing more than a sub-heading of 
"Alternative theory".


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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