[Taxacom] The strain between Wikipedia and Science

Francisco Welter-Schultes fwelter at gwdg.de
Fri Feb 11 08:53:29 CST 2011

Well, I have no problems in addressing some of the problems I 
had in mind, if this is considered useful for a discussion here. 

In the survey the question for the e-mail is for getting informed 
about "other related initiatives", this is extremely unprofessional. 
But such is the nature of the project, so this survey does not badly 
represent it.

A big problem of Wikipedia is one of social interactions of so-called
experts of internal circles of the Wikipedia community who claim 
that they know things better than experts. This has not been asked. 

But it should be known that this is one of the main problems. In 
German this is called "Platzhirsch" behaviour. I don't know the 
English term. 

Related to this one and as such one of the biggest problems is that 
90 % or more of the contributors seem to be male, the proportion of 
female contributors is definitely too low. This has significant 
negative impact on behavioural standards in this community, which 
makes it increasingly less attractive for women to participate. 
Nobody in the WP community seems have understood this problem. 
Neither did the designers of this survey. "Polite" has been asked, 
but this does not reveal awareness of the full extent of the problem. 
A community governed by typically male behaviour will always have 
problems directly associated with this precondition, it is 
particularly difficult to teach the majority in such a group to 
become aware that they do have this problem, and to estimate the 
consequences of not taking any action in this respect. 

Non-scientific standards were established in Wikipedia, arbitrarily by
amateurs, and they would not like to align them with scientific
standards. Usually because this creates work.

It is impossible to correct errors in Wikipedia, if these errors are
repeatedly published in scientific publications, mainly in the
secondary literature. It is extremely difficult to get an error
corrected in Wikipedia even if this error was published only once in
one single scientific publication - and the amateurs do not know that
this publication is not significant, at least in what concerns this
special statement. 

Some proportion of scientific knowledge has not been published at 
all, for example very simple and basic facts - it is occasionally 
impossible to mention such knowledge in Wikipedia. 

Inconsistent application of different rules applied for WP 
contributors is also a problem - well-known members of the inner 
circles of the Wikipedia community feel allowed to publish anything 
they like, but a scientific expert who likes to contribute is forced 
to provide published references for every single statement. In cases 
of divergent opinions concerning a special question, the amateur who 
knows the rules and how to win such a case, will always win, 
regardless of the expert providing published references to support a 
view or statement. 

They also feel free to delete every contribution they like. This has 
been addressed in the survey. The rule is that you can delete 
anything you like, just by saying "not encyclopedia relevant", 
without any consequences. 

I have been forced outside the biological section of the German WP 
community and today I contribute mainly to the English WP where such 
behaviour is less strongly developed, and I experienced more 
tolerance. I also learned that other German bioscientists were 
equally chased away, and they also started contributing to the 
English section. I would have wondered if this would have been my 
single personal problem. 

There are also some technical problems, which were not addressed in 
the survey. 

The previous design of the web presentation was changed and replaced 
by a new default design. I reinstalled my previous website design. I 
am still used to the old design, and everytime I work at another 
computer in the institute I get confused since it shows the new 
design. Shifting to the old design is not possible in the current WP 
version. They did not ask poeple if they liked to have a new 
design, and after installing it the users were not asked if they 
would like to keep it or get it undone. If I contribute occasionally, 
it is not good if every time I get to the page, the web design has 
changed. I don't like losing time. 

History of articles is overloaded with useless information on robot 
changes. It is difficult to see where somebody really modified 
content. Also costs time.

If a person modified a page 5 times within a few minutes, the 
system records 5 history entries. Should be lumped to one. 

The idea of Wikipedia is not bad, I like especially the open access
and non-commercial nature of the project. It is not a bad project, 
but several things would have to be improved. Maybe it is worth 
investing some time to talk about it. Possible that someone may 


University of Goettingen, Germany

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