[Taxacom] Wiki vs EOL - simple question

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Mon Feb 8 19:16:03 CST 2010

Mike Ivie wrote:

>OK, based on these arguments, I just went and checked out a group I know.
>First thing, on the page itself, the casual 7th grader doing a report just
>sees what is last entered.  No caveat about who did the work, or how valid
>it might be.  Just presented as fact.

Editors are entitled to insert caveats, as long as these are 
published by others, and cited. See below.

>  Checking the history page, the
>contributors are hiding behind false names, and in fact, within minutes I
>found a case of 2 (two!) dunces battling it out over 2 (two) idiotic
>ideas, neither of which reflect modern concepts.  Looks like the good
>workers just threw their hands up and went to EOL.

I'd first ask whether you saw any evidence of "good workers" who had 
been there during this battle and then left afterwards. In my 
experience, pages can start bad and then become good, or start good 
and become better, but rarely do they become *worse*. Again, I've 
found that Wiki resources are ratchet-like, in that once an 
authoritative improvement has been made, it almost never gets 
reversed (temporary reversals aside). The more editors that visit a 
page, the LESS likely any "back-sliding" will creep in.

The second question is the same basic thing I asked Chris Thompson: 
when you saw the content was outdated, did you try to edit it 
yourself, so it DID reflect modern concepts, with appropriate 
citations? Unless you've experimented with it, and seen what happens 
AFTER you make an authoritative improvement, you aren't getting a 
realistic sense of how the process works. Why not try it on a few 
select pages? See what happens, and if someone comes along and tries 
to muck with it, see if they're well-intentioned (and can be reasoned 
with) or malicious (and cannot). You can always call for arbitration, 
if it's a technical but irreconcilable difference of opinion, or 
censure, if it's actual vandalism.

>Thus, the 7th grader should use EOL, not WikiSpecies.

If the 7th grader had been instructed to only trust pages that have 
links to primary peer-reviewed literature, and the page you're 
criticizing did NOT, then the 7th grader would presumably avoid it.

>Elitism is a good thing when it comes to quality of information.  Surely
>you don't let some anonymous source named "medicusmagnus024" provide your
>diagnosis of a the skin rash you  have, and then prescribe the treatment?
>Why would our diagnosis and prescription information be any less rigorous?

If "medicusmagnus024" provided a link to an authoritative medical 
source that backed up the diagnosis, then HIS opinion wouldn't 
matter; authority belongs to the source he is referencing! The 
fundamental Wikipedia concept is that editors are supposed to be 
*referencing* existing, authoritative sources, and NEVER interjecting 
their own opinions. It's one of the BIG policies, with its own 
well-known acronym: "NOR" - "No Original Research". This goes 
hand-in-hand with the "RS" policy: "Reliable Sources". Contributions 
which violate these policies are subject to deletion by any editor 
who challenges them.

>  Professional training is the same way.  We award a degree for a level of
>achievement, not just "hey, I think I am pretty good, so I'll award myself
>a Ph.D. AND an M.D."  We bestow respect on an amateur because of a history
>of achievement tied to her name. You can find a citation to support

If there is a debate in the primary literature, then THAT itself is 
citable, and both sides of the debate are represented according to 
how they are treated by the relevant authorities. In other words, if 
someone wants to promote a crackpot theory, then they might insert a 
citation to support it, but it ALSO gets a caveat inserted along with 
it that explains "This alternative explanation has met with 
substantial criticism, and is not presently considered viable by the 
scientific community". All citations, all viewpoints, may indeed be 
fair game for inclusion, but so is the meta-analysis that places 
these citations and viewpoints *into context*! When taxonomic 
disputes or alternatives are involved, then entries are supposed to 
be explicit. For example, look at the Wikispecies entry for 

"Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Monocots
Ordo: Asparagales
Familiae: Alliaceae  [+ Agapanthaceae + Amaryllidaceae ] - 
Asparagaceae  [+ Agavaceae + Aphyllanthaceae + Hesperocallidaceae + 
Hyacinthaceae + Laxmanniaceae + Ruscaceae + Themidaceae ] - 
Asteliaceae - Blandfordiaceae - Boryaceae - Doryanthaceae - 
Hypoxidaceae - Iridaceae - Ixioliriaceae - Lanariaceae - Orchidaceae 
- Tecophilaeaceae - Xanthorrhoeaceae - [+ Asphodelaceae + 
Hemerocallidaceae ] - Xeronemataceae

Note: families between square brackets "[...]" are optional in APG II


Asparagales Bromhead (1838)


     * Agavales
     * Alliales
     * Amaryllidales
     * Asphodelales
     * Asteliales
     * Hypoxidales
     * Iridales
     * Ixiales
     * Narcissales
     * Orchidales
     * Tecophilaeales
     * Xanthorrhoeales"

Then look at the corresponding Asparagales entry in Wikipedia; it 
gives four complete alternative classification schemes, and discusses 
them. Why do both Wikispecies and Wikipedia adopt the APGII system? 
Because that's the system in use by the majority of relevant 
authorities. In this particular case, there are no citations on the 
Wikispecies page, and there *should* be, to prevent mucking around - 
the "dunces" have no say in the matter, unless the door is left open.

>It is the value added of the interpreter that makes information
>worth the trouble. If the information is wrong, and leads to damage, who
>is responsible? Bugdude78?

Wiki editors are not supposed to be interpreting; they are supposed 
to be summarizing. Some of the most well-known misconceptions about 
the Wiki resources center upon what the "NPOV" policy means ("Neutral 
Point of View"). An editor with a neutral stance does NOT summarize 
both sides of a debate by automatically giving them *equal weight*, 
nor by simply mentioning the most popular view; as I noted above, 
viewpoints are supposed to be accorded exactly the same relative 
weights that the relevant community of authorities accord them.

That's the system, and it seems pretty reasonable to me. The issue 
here is that no matter how good the system is, it only works as 
intended if people who have familiarity with, and access to, 
authoritative source material - people like Mike Ivie - care to 
contribute to it, and help *maintain* it. The authority and identity 
of the editor - be it Bugdude78 or anyone else - shouldn't come into 
play, but rather the source material they are citing. The gap between 
theory and practice is a function of neglect. If we collectively 
neglect the Wiki resources, then they'll be crappy, relative to their 
potential. But self-fulfilling prophecies tend to work that way.


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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