Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia

Time to abandon Wikipedia? / Another site destroyed by poor design

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As I have noted in the past, redesigns of websites almost invariably turn out for the worse—it would have been better to stick with the earlier design. Indeed, there are some websites where the usability, readability, or whatnot was worsened to such a degree that I decided to abandon them, including FML ([1]), Etymonline, and the Daily Sceptic ([2]).* Also see [2] for a little more on the general issue.

*Links go to prior discussions. Linking to the site in question seems counterproductive.

Now, however, there might be a truly horrible problem—Wikipedia!

I first saw a weird misdesign some months ago in the French version, but, while being puzzled about the idiotic design, I did not dwell on the issue. (While I do use French Wikipedia, it is a far from everyday occurrence.)

Over the last few days, I have, again and again, seen a similar misdesign on English Wikipedia. Give or take, about half my visits have given me a page with the sensible old design—the rest, something absurd.

Apart from a different look-and-feel of the main page contents, which might or might not be an acquirable taste,* there are at least three overlapping** issues, with the suspicion that I would find more on a deeper investigation:

*It is very important to keep the difference between the misdesigned and the merely new, unaccustomed, different, whatnot in mind. That said, I am not an immediate fan of the new look-and-feel.

**Overlapping to the degree that I could have drawn the borders between the items differently or divided them into a different number of issues.

  1. The extensive old left-hand menu has been removed. Some of the entries appear to have no new correspondent, while the listing of language-versions has been moved to some type of separate element.* This has the considerable disadvantage, in general, that it is impossible to get a good overview of the available language-versions at a glance** and that it requires more steps to find the links to other language-versions. From a more personal point of view, I note that the other languages are much harder to get at without a mouse*** than before and that one common personal use-case now has so much additional overhead that it is not worth the bother: when I look something up in English, I often check the corresponding Swedish and German names merely by searching for “sve” and “deu”, respectively, and seeing what link is displayed (ditto, m.m., when I look something up in Swedish or German).

    *And a highly misdesigned one at that: It looks like a button but behaves likes a select element and/or an improvised menu, thereby violating one of the fundamental rules of design—element behavior should be consistent with looks. (Unfortunately, an increasingly common problem.)

    **A common use-case for less proficient English speakers is to open the English page for an unknown word and then to navigate to a native or otherwise better known language in order to read both pages in parallel or otherwise rely less on the English one. (While this does not apply to me personally, I do use the same approach with e.g. the aforementioned French.) Note the risk of building frustration when, for page after page, there is not just an increase in effort—but also a considerable risk that effort is put in in vain, as the lack of the right language-version only becomes detectable after effort has already been put in.

    ***I have increasingly abandoned mouse use, do not usually have one attached to my computer, and would, were it not for the many tools that are built under the assumption of a mouse, recommend others to follow my example. Not using a mouse is easier on the fingers and with the right tools faster and more comfortable.

  2. The left-hand side is now occupied with what appears to be the table of contents, which has no place there, is rarely helpful at all and/or is rarely helpful except for a first overview or first navigation (implying that a constant display is pointless), and which takes so much more space horizontally that the main text is both reduced in width and artificially shifted sideways. This is highly sub-optimal on even a 16:9 display—and could be a major problem with narrower dimensions. (A smart-phone used to show the same design, e.g., might have considerably more table of contents than main text on the screen, if held upright. The user would then be forced to turn the smart-phone sideways—a decision that should be his, not Wikipedia’s.)

    A complication that I have not investigated is what happens when the table of contents grows unusually wide, but the result is bound to be either an incomplete display of the table of contents (making the pointless even more so) or an even further reduction-in-width and/or shift of the main contents.

  3. The implementation appears to use some variation of “position: fixed” or “position: sticky”. Both are illegitimate, should never have been invented, and should never or only in very, very rare exceptions be used by a professional web-designer. Also see [1], especially for a discussion of “position: fixed” with regard to top menus.

What to do now? I have not made up my own mind yet, but in light of the deteriorating quality of and increasing Leftist agenda pushing in the contents of Wikipedia (cf. e.g. [3]; things have grown even worse since then), it might well be time to abandon the English version. The German and Swedish versions still (knock-on-wood) have an older interface and are not as bad in terms of Leftist distortions. For English contents, a source like infogalactic.com might be useful: this is a fork of an older version of Wikipedia, it still has the old interface, and it has to some (but insufficient) degree been edited to counter existing Leftist distortions. On the downside, it is sometimes out-of-date and receives less new content. (Other replacement candidates exist, but I have not yet had the time to investigate them.)

For those wishing to remain with Wikipedia, some experiments with “skins” might help, but these require the user to be logged in, which is idiotic for reading (as opposed to editing), as it allows Wikipedia to track any and all readings on a personal basis. It might also be counterproductive for Tor users. A URL parameter “useskin” is available, but will only affect the page immediately called—it is not propagated when links are opened, which makes it borderline useless. In both cases, the user is still ultimately dependent on what customization Wikipedia allows, which, going by general software/website trends, is likely to be less and less over time. The mobile* version is slightly better than the regular/desktop version, but not by much.

*Replace “en.wikipedia” with “en.m.wikipedia”.

There might or might not be a solution available over userCSS (or whatever the local browser equivalent is called); however, I have not investigated this, the amount of work could be out of proportion to the benefit, and even so trivial a change as a renamed element could cause a solution to fail again. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any given browser will support it.

Equally, there might or might not be a solution over some type of external reader program. This, too, I have not yet investigated.

(Of course, any workaround for the design issues will still leave the content problems. Cf. [3] again.)

Note on date and state:
The time of writing is January 20, 2023, and the text reflects the state at the time of writing. The future is likely to bring changes.


Written by michaeleriksson

January 20, 2023 at 4:11 pm

Waukesha, Arbery, and absurdity

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It appears that the sentencing for Darrell Brooks, the mass-murderer behind the Waukesha massacre, and someone whose prior life demonstrates him to be a true piece of shit,* is in. Looking at Wikipedia on the Waukesha Christmas parade attack, he seems to have received six consecutive life sentence for the six deaths, as well as a slew of accumulated other punishments for the many injured and endangered. (A death sentence was ruled out in advance, as Wisconsin does not appear to have the death penalty.)

*Consider, e.g., the “Criminal History” section of the linked-to Wikipedia page and previous anti-White and anti-Jewish hate propaganda, including calls for violence.

So far so good—but he will still only serve life.

Consider the case, instead, of William Bryan (cf. Wikipedia on the Murder* of Ahmaud Arbery, [1], and [2]). He killed no-one and many who have performed worse acts have gone entirely uncharged or seen a short and suspended sentence. As is, he too is serving life on a state sentence. Yes, he does have a possibility of parole after 30 years—but parole is not automatic and there is that pesky additional federal sentence set at 35 years. As he was born in 1969, it is highly unlikely that he will ever be free again.**/*** (I am very sceptical to the treatment of the two McMichaels, too, and a two- or three-fold miscarriage of justice and/or law might be argued, but the case is particularly clear-cut for Bryan.)

*Wikipedia’s word—not mine. Cf. [1] and [2].

**Not even by pardon or an over-turned sentence, as he has independent convictions on the state and federal levels, and would need to have both removed. The presence of both sentences is, arguably, a systematic problem that violates the double-jeopardy limitations and disenfranchises (for want of a better word) the state’s justice system.

***I am unclear on the exact beginning of the sentence, how time served is counted, whether the sentences run concurrently or consecutively, etc., but even using the day of the event as a basis, we land at a minimum of 2020 + 30 resp. 35 years, at which point he would be 80 resp. 85—and that is assuming that only one sentence carries weight, that, in the first case, he actually receives parole, and that he is actually still alive at the time. On the off chance that he does get out, how is he supposed to start over as a free man at that age and having been cut off from society, friends, relatives, whatnot, for so long?

Then consider the many other problems around these two cases:

Publicity? The deliberate massacre, with six deaths and numerous non-lethal injuries, by Darrell Brooks had a short impact—the possibly accidental, possibly self-defense death of Ahmoud Arbery lead to an enormous coverage. For the former, race was downplayed or the perpetrator blended out (“an SUV drove into a parade”); for the latter, race was the main focus of reporting, and a sole motivation of racism seemed to be assumed in a blanket manner. This despite there being strong signs that the McMichaels and Bryan were merely following a suspected criminal (not a “suspected Black guy”), that they were doing so in good faith, and that the suspicion was strongly warranted (and not caused by racism). Moreover, despite the fact that Darrell Brooks was a known anti-White racist and while the parade and his victims were predominantly White.

Prosecution? Bryan and the two McMichaels were hit by both state and federal prosecution; Brooks by only state prosecution.

Wikipedia? In the Ahmoud-Arbery case we have the highly disputable title “Murder of Ahmaud Arbery”; in the case of Waukesha “Waukesha Christmas parade attack”. (Note: not “massacre”, not “murder”, but a mere “attack”.) The motive given for Ahmaud Arbery is “Anti-black racism” (with not one ounce of proof, cf. above); for Waukesha a paradoxical and disingenuous “Unknown” is given (cf. above).

Note on links:
I give versioned links to Wikipedia, as the contents of these pages might change over time, especially if revised by someone not pushing a Leftist agenda, and as the current contents are used to demonstrated the partiality of Wikipedia.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 17, 2022 at 6:09 pm

Karens and related topics

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Recently, I have repeatedly encountered the derogatory term “Karen”, in the sense of a White woman who overreacts against Blacks as perceived threats, criminals, whatnots. This notably in relation to the “Central Park birdwatching incident” (to follow the terminology of the linked-to Wikipedia page). As this tied in well with some of my observations and a few recent texts, I intended to write something on the matter. However, the definition of “Karen” provided by Wikipedia seems to be much wider. ([1] is the same page fixed to the version that I read.)

Below, I will first give an abbreviated treatment of my original angle (based on my original understanding of the term), and then follow with a few observations around this and another Wikipedia page. (The first as it might or might not apply to “Karen”, but definitely contains some important points in general. Also, partially, because Wikipedia often is faulty and partisan in contexts like these, which leads to the second; moreover, usage might well have drifted.)


While it might well be that some White women do have a particular fear or whatnot of Black men, there is fair chance that most alleged observations of this are specious—something that instead reflects undue fears in general among women and/or undue fears of men. This possibly in combination with the behavior of some Black men, or other parts of their appearance than skin color. If so, it is an excellent, multiple illustration of how people tend to jump to conclusions.* Specifically, many women display similar fear-driven behaviors even when the counter-part is not Black. For instance, Germany (a country with few Blacks) has instituted dedicated zones of parking houses for women—not because there is any actual increased danger for women, but simply because sufficiently many women have a greater fear than men and have complained long and hard enough. For instance, I (White) have myself had a few women very hurriedly change side of the street during walks after nightfall (in a manner that makes a coincidence unlikely).

*Examples are manifold, but one (with many variations) quite relevant to much of my writings is a woman who is fired because she did a poor job, but who instantly attributes this to her being a woman and the decision-maker an allegedly sexist man, without reflection on how e.g. her own behavior might have caused the events and without ever asking herself whether the same would have happened to a man with the same behavior. (Unless, obviously, to answer it with a resounding “NO!’, because she has already made up her mind that she fired because she was a woman.

Then we have to consider what might increase the risk of such a reaction: In my case, I am 6’ 3” and often on the wrong side of 220 lb. Chances are that an already skittish woman is more fearful of me than of someone 5’ 3” and a 110 lb—and that is even somewhat understandable, despite my posing no danger whatsoever to her. Similarly, if someone wears a hoodie, has tattoos, is of over-average muscularity, speaks loudly or with poor grammar, whatnot, chances are that some mixture of own experiences, somewhat true* stereotypes, and built-in circuitry will cause a stronger fear reaction in a woman than would the stereotypical accountant.** These are also, in my impression, likelier to apply to a Black man than a White man. Then: was it really the skin color or might it have been the hoodie, the tattoos, etc.? Or, in light of Feminist propaganda, that it was a man (and not a woman or child), irrespective of skin color.

*Most people who wear hoodies are not criminals, but the proportion of hoodie wearers who are criminals is almost certainly higher than for the overall population. (Possibly, after adjusting for some other factors, e.g. age.)

**With many other factors potentially applying in a similar manner.

Finally, to the degree that skin color does play in, is it a matter of racism or a knowledge of crime statistics? (Remember the context of a woman who is already skittish for irrational reasons—or rational, for all I care. She is already scared as she walks home on an empty street late at night—and then she sees someone who is disproportionately* likely to be a criminal.)

*Note that that this does not imply “likely”, just “likelier”.


I will not analyze these articles in detail, but I mention a few specific oddities that I saw during skimming:

  1. There are no less than three mentions of “privilege” in [1]. None of them make much sense and the whole concept is highly dubious to begin with—and, if not, it has by now degenerated into a generic and argument-free debate blocker. It has no place in an encyclopedic text.
  2. [1] abuses “they” to refer to someone who has already been identified as a “he”. Abuse of “they” is indefensible in general, but when there is no ambiguity about either sex or gender, it is utterly inexcusable and, again, has no place in an encyclopedic text. (Either gross incompetence or blatant ideology pushing.)
  3. [1] claims:

    Kansas State University professor Heather Suzanne Woods, whose research interests include memes, said a Karen’s defining characteristics are “entitlement, selfishness, a desire to complain” and that a Karen “demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends.”

    This matches my impressions of very many women quite well. At least one or two of these likely apply to a majority of all women (and more than a few men, in all fairness). When it comes to mothers, at least up to a certain age of the child, the situation is even worse, as many seem to think that every non-mother is a second-class citizen. Note e.g. the rude woman in a recent text.

    However, I stress that “a desire to complain” might need differentiation: If someone complains e.g. for the sake of complaining, in the hope of some unwarranted benefit,* for some feeling of importance relating to the complaining (all of which I do have the impression that many women do), then it is a negative. On the other hand, if the complaint strives to point out flaws that could and should be rectified, unethical business methods, governmental waste or incompetence, or similar, then it is a positive—we need more of this type of complaint. (And I engage in such complaints regularly my self. Indeed, this very text could be seen as an example.)

    *For instance, during a restaurant visit, I once heard two women at a near-by table loudly complain to the waiter about the substandard meat and how they refused to pay (or wanted a discount?)—despite having actually eaten all of the meat … They were in the restaurant business themselves, and they knew poor quality when they saw it! (My meal, for the record, was excellent.)

  4. A less reasonable portion is:

    While the term is used exclusively in a pejorative manner towards a person of a specific race and gender, some have argued that “Karen” lacks the historical context to be considered a slur, and that calling it one trivializes actual discrimination. Others argue that the targets of the term have immense privilege, and that “an epithet that lacks the power to discriminate is just an insult.”

    For fuck’s sake! Why would a slur need a historical context? How does “calling it one trivialize[s] actual discrimination”? This portion is also an excellent example of abuse of the word “discrimination”. Later we see one of the abuses of “privilege”, and the claim “an epithet that lacks the power to discriminate is just an insult” is potentially* another abuse in the “discrimination” family and misses the point about slurs.

    *Depending exactly on what is meant: if the use parallels the preceding, it is an abuse; if it implies e.g. that an insult that could apply to anyone is not a slur, it would be correct use (but still a disputable thesis).

    To this I note that Wiktionary on “slur” says “An insult or slight.”, that Merriam-Webster gives “Slur definition is – an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo : aspersion.”, and that both match my own understanding well—a slur is a (one-word?) insult.*

    *This might be another case of significant modifiers being dropped by idiots, who do note realize that they are distorting the meaning of the core word, e.g. with “slur” as a short for “racial slur”, “sexist slur”, whatnot paralleling “discrimination” as a short for “racial discrimination” (etc.), while the true meaning of the respective word goes under in all the abuses.

  5. I followed a link to the page on “Woman card”. The very first sentence discredits the entire page: “The woman card, also called playing the woman card, the gender card or the sex card, is an idiomatic phrase that refers to exploitation of either sexist or anti-female attitudes by accusing others of sexism or misogyny.”

    If the author had left out “anti-female”, it might have been technically correct for some subset of uses (but highly confusing). However, with that portion in, it is clear that the entire concept is put on its head. The “woman card” is a woman* trying to get advantages of some kind, usually in a debate, by using the fact that she is a woman. This, in most contexts, is a irrational, despicable, and/or intellectually dishonest line of argumentation—and pointing it out is a good thing. Here, however, the “woman card” is twisted to refer to the one pointing the use out and condemning that as despicable—PC bullshit at its worst and entirely unworthy of an encyclopedia.

    *The page also gives Bill Clinton an example along the lines of “be pro-Hillary, because she is a woman”. This could conceivably be viewed as a relevant example of a non-woman, but non-women are definitely far rarer.

    The continuation is as bad: “The phrase is used to describe accusations [sic!] of women either mentioning their gender to gain an advantage in discussions or implying or accusing other people of sexism in order to garner support.” No: it is not the “accusations” but the “mentioning” (etc.) that the phrase refers to. (And this continuation removes the risk that the first quote was just extremely poorly phrased.)

    Note the recurring issue of a PC/Feminist/Leftist/whatnot double-standard: They are allowed to, and do, try to shutdown others with even entirely unwarranted accusations of e.g. “privilege” or “mansplaining”—but do not dare use a similar term against them, even should it have an actual objective justification!

    As an aside, “Karen” is an interesting example, as it might put two factions of the overall PC movement against each other: the Feminist, which would like to see it banned as anti-woman, and the “Blackist” (for want of a better word), which sees it as a means to shut-down non-compliant women.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 4, 2020 at 12:47 am

The video infection of Wikipedia

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As I noted two years ago, one of the problems with the current Wikipedia is:

Increased use of animations instead of individual images to illustrate processes. Individual images are usually the superior choice for illustration, seeing that the users can jump back-and-forth as they please and can take their time or not. In addition, animations are highly destructive when trying to enjoy other parts of the page—like trying to read a book when someone waves a hand in front of the page once every second or so. With (at least) earlier browser/computers and some forms of animation (notably Flash) this also meant a considerable performance drain, especially for users of tabbed browsing. (I regularly have dozens of tabs open for days or weeks.) Unsurprisingly, to compensate, many users prefer to disable animations entirely, and these then have the problem that the animations are reduced to a single individual image with little or no value.

Since then, I have evermore often encountered something even worse: the inclusion of actual videos in lieu of text—but if I visit Wikipedia, it is to read about a topic. Moreover, these often give the first* impression of having a self-promotional “Youtube-y” character. For instance, the first shot shown to the Wikipedia visitors is often an entirely uninformative image of a speaker, as with e.g. the current version of the article on Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Here there is a video described as “A video on the history of black lung disease” depicting an older man in a shirt, apparently about to launch into a speech.

*I never watch them, so more than a first impression will necessarily be absent.


If the maker of the video is one of the editors or otherwise wants to contribute to the page, then he should write a section on this history and put it in the article. If he is a third party, then his video might or might not be worthy of inclusion among the “External links”. To include the video in the middle of the actual article is utterly idiotic.

Apart from Wikipedia naturally being a text medium, I note that this type of video brings a number of disadvantages, e.g. wasted bandwidth, in-text searches that do not find the information, screen-readers who will stumble on them,* the security risks associated with active contents from unknown** sources, and the lower rate of information processing forced upon the viewer compared to the reader. Even from the Wikipedia editors’ point of view there are disadvantages, e.g. (in addition!) that it will be harder to discover and often impossible to correct the type of information that is consider unwanted*** in the article.

*In a twist potentially making such videos detrimental for those with impaired eye-sight.

**Note that while Wikipedia, it self, is a known entity, this does not necessarily apply to editors, uploaders, whatnot—anyone can contribute and malicious activities are not necessarily caught in time by the other editors.

***E.g. outdated science, sensitive or dubious information about living persons, and copyright violations.

Editors: Please, never, ever include videos in this manner—and throw those that you encounter out in a summary manner.

Visitors: Please, never, ever watch these videos.

Self-promoters, etc.: Leave Wikipedia alone!

Written by michaeleriksson

June 7, 2020 at 1:26 pm

Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and political correctness

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I have long been concerned with the infestation of Wikipedia by unencyclopedic PC propaganda, where it is clear that many see Wikipedia as yet another platform for furthering their private agendas—science and objectivity by damned. (Cf. e.g. parts of [1] and “young adult fiction” below.)

During the last few months, I have become a frequent visitor of Wiktionary, as a very valuable tool for the struggling author. To my distress, I found many cases of potential similar abuse even here, where it might seem implausible. While any individual case might be a coincidence, the proportion of the articles that contain odd examples and potential distortions is too large to allow coincidence to be the overall explanation. (For instance, any one of the below examples might be harmless or coincidental when taken alone. Possibly, the entire page discussed might be seen as a coincidence. However, when we look at the sum of all pages, this would stretch credulity.)

Consider e.g. Wiktionary on “sneer”. The English section currently contains three examples of use (given below). All three could have been chosen for their “PC value”; with one, it is outright likely. Moreover, two of them appear to be quite young, while the third goes back no further than 1963. This despite aspects like historical* use and somewhat stable** use being of great importance on a site like Wiktionary.

*While Wikipedia is silent on age, Etymonline gives estimations of 1550s (verb) and 1707 (noun). The examples, then, cover about a tenth of the life-time of the word.

**Examples from 2019 could reflect a temporary fashion, while older examples are more likely to represent a stable use and meaning. (A wish to demonstrate current use is still best met with examples that are, say, ten or twenty years old and still seen as “current” in meaning.)

Looking at these examples in detail, we have:*

*Note that some changes in typography and formatting might be present for technical reasons. Use of square brackets reflect the state on Wiktionary, and are not additions by me.

  1. 2019 July 24, David Austin Walsh, “Flirting With Fascism”, in Jewish Currents:

    During [Tucker] Carlson’s keynote, he wedged sneers at his critics for crying “racist!” in between racist remarks about [Ilhan] Omar, jeremiads against the media (“I know there’s a bunch of reporters here, so . . . screw you”), and an attack on Elizabeth Warren and her donors (“She’s a tragedy, because she’s now obsessed with racism, which is why the finance world supports her”)—all to gleeful applause.

    This example is months old, from a political/partisan source (and one with an apparent “anti-Fascist” take at that), and the quote at least represents someone as trying to criticize use of the word “racist” while actually being racist. Now, I am not aware of who Carlsson is or what his opinions are, but abuse of the word “racist” is a massive problem in today’s world, be it out of ignorance or in order to discredit opponents without having to address their arguments. (The same applies to e.g. “sexist”, “xenophobe”, “Fascist”.) I have discussed this repeatedly in the past, notably in [2].

    To boot, the structure of the example, with formatting, quotes-within-quotes, etc., makes it highly unsuitable as an example for other reasons.

  2. “Now here’s someone who should attend privilege workshops,” sneered she.

    There is no date or source given, but the reference to “privilege workshops” is a clear indication of a very recent origin, likely within the last few years, decades on the outside.

    The whole “privilege” bullshit is another staple of PC rhetoric, as I discuss e.g. in [3].

    A potential partial save of the example is the interpretation of the sneerer as evil, as with the above example and, possibly, the below. I am not much inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt these days, however.

  3. 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess[1]:

    It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man’s ravaged face.

    This is the example least likely by far to be an abuse, but combining the quote with the name of the source, there is at least a possibility that it too portrays or pretends to portray a scene of racism or other “ism”, e.g. something anti-Chinese. (I have not investigated this further.)

In a bigger picture, “collaborative” or “public contribution” sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are exceptionally sensitive to such distortions. Have just one high-school or college student out of one hundred spend an hour a week performing such deliberately abusive agenda pushing, and the legitimate editors would be flooded. (Even discounting the considerable risk that many of the legitimate editors have pro-PC or pro-Left biases that unconsciously distort their efforts.) That such deliberate distortive editing does take place is indisputable. A blatant example is the Wikipedia page on “young adult fiction”, which I encountered somewhat* recently. At the time, the page was dominated by the side-topic of “diversity”, another PC staple and one of a highly dubious justification—if nothing else, I did not even care if the heroes where human when I read this type of fiction… Currently, this sub-topic has been reduced to a shorter section—but at the cost of creating an entire new page on diversity in young adult fiction. This new page is almost as long as the main page…

*At some point in 2018. I intended to write a longer critical text at the time, but never got around to it.

Moreover, looking at the talk page, it appears that this is the work of a user Kaylac8215, who claims that “I will be working on this wiki for a class project. I will be doing basic copyediting and reformatting, as well as adding a section talking about Diversity in YA lit.”, which (together with other statements) shows both misguided intentions and an external motivation. (Entirely aside from the fact that the sometime abuse of Wikipedia editing as a pedagogical tool is inexcusable. The work produced is almost invariably well below the regular standard. Any teacher who pushes this should be summarily fired.) Her approach is later discussed negatively by others, but the result of this discussion was not the deletion of the major part of the text, just the move to a new page.

While I have not reviewed the current state of the text, I do recall that I found it highly one-sided and poorly written at the time of my original encounter.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Some problems with Wikipedia

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On several occasions, I have started a text on problems with Wikipedia. With too many items to discuss, I have always lost interest before I was even half-done. To finally get something published on the matter, I have taken my last attempt (from May 2017), struck out a few keywords-that-should-have-been-expanded-upon, and polished it a little (including a few links to more recent posts); I acknowledge that more specific examples would be helpful, but, with the intervening time, the old examples are long gone. The result is the rest of this text.

I have long been a great fan, avid reader, and sometime editor of Wikipedia. For at least some part of its history, I have considered Wikipedia worth more than the rest of the Web* together. The more painful it has been for me to see the gradual degeneration of Wikipedia, the loss of the encyclopedic ideal, and the takeover by politically and ideologically motivated editors in many subject areas. Below I will discuss some of the current problems, many of which could be explained by a drift** in authorship from people of over-average intelligence, from an academic background, and/or with more technical interests to members of the broader masses.

*Here it pays to make the distinction between Web and Internet. Email, e.g., is part of the latter but not the former.

**A similar drift explains many of the things that have changed for the worse on the Internet, in the Open-Source community, and similar, over time. Indeed, the people who dominated the Internet when I first encountered it (1994) form a very small minority by now. Also see a post expanding on these thoughts.

  1. A great proliferation of “popular culture”* sections that bring little or no value, but waste space and the editors energy. Why on Earth does every nit-wit who has just heard topic X briefly referenced on “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” feel the need to add this to the Wikipedia article on X?!?

    *The section heading is almost always a variation of, or contains, “popular culture”. The contents are not always compatible with this and I use this phrase without implying that it is well chosen.

    Discussion of films and books referencing X can have a valid place, but this requires some degree of significance of the work, that the presence of X in the work is considerable, and that it actually brings some added value. In rare cases, there might be reason to include some mention to show that X has had an influence on popular culture, but it is then almost always better to just state that it had an influence, rather than to attempt to list every single TV episode that made a fleeting reference. For an article on Mozart, e.g., the movie “Amadeus” is highly relevant; his (hypothetical) appearance on an episode of “Family Guy” is not; that a character on some-TV-show-or-other liked his music is utterly irrelevant and unencyclopedic.

  2. A decrease in the quality of language. This includes a drop in register and increasing deviations from encyclopedic language in favor of journalistic language; and a number of more detailed issues. (See excursion at the end.)
  3. A PC/feminist/whatnot influence, which includes spurious or irrelevant references to social constructs; uncritical support of “equality of outcome” as something positive, or an implicit assumption that any difference in outcome is caused by a lack of “equality of opportunity”; every second article having a section of feminism’s role for the topic, the feminist take on an topic, whatnot*; categorical and unscientific denial that races exist, even in articles where the claim has no obvious purpose or relevance; …

    *Notably, the relevance of specifically feminism is in most cases so low that another dozen movements and whatnots would have an equal right to be included—but rarely are. A particular idiocy is “feminist film analysis”, which does not even appear to be an honest attempt at applying a certain perspective and methodology on film analysis, instead giving every impression of just trying to extend the pseudo-science of “gender studies” to a new area.

  4. The common application of “feminist” to persons who lived before the term was invented and who e.g. have written on women’s issues, from a woman’s perspective, or using “strong women”; have been involved with some part of the women’s rights movement or expressed opinions in that direction; or even just have been successful women. Some of these might have identified with feminism; others would not have. Associating them with this poison of the mind in such a blanket manner is insulting, stupid, and/or intellectually dishonest (depending on the motivations). Giving feminism pseudo-credibility by claiming that historical persons were feminists is just atrocious.

    To put it down plain and simply: Someone who likes strong women is NOT automatically a feminist. Someone who wants men and women to be equal in rights and responsibilities is NOT automatically a feminist—indeed, more likely than not, a random feminist will not believe in true equality. Someone who thinks that women should have the right to vote is NOT automatically a feminist. Etc. To claim any or all of this is the equivalent of saying that anyone who wants to improve living conditions for the poor is a socialist or that all communists are revolutionaries.

    See also a recent post covering similar ground.

  5. Undue reliance on and abuse of the principle of citability:

    One of the core principles of Wikipedia, and originally a very good thing, is that Wikipedia should only reflect what can be supported by reputable sources—not personal conviction, rumors, speculation, or even (possibly faulty) synthesis of facts by the editors. This, in theory, should keep the articles low* in bias, speculation, pseudo-science, mere personal opinion, …

    *A complete absence is likely unreachable.

    With time, this principle has turned out to be very vulnerable to both abuse and incompetence, and it fails whole-sale in areas where pseudo- or proto-sciences (and other fields of “expertise”) are dominated by true believers, ideology, and similar. Gender studies is the paramount, but, unfortunately, not only example. Because there is no equivalent of astronomy, the “astrologers” are the only ones citable and the articles are, by analogy, filled with astrology instead of astronomy.

    Even in areas where there is no such dominating streak of “astrology”, problems are quit common, notably that individual editors refuse to reconsider a claim which is based on a single, often low quality, source; fail to realize that the opinion of the source is not sufficiently supported that it can be viewed as fact; or similar. The use of sources that either do not satisfy Wikipedia’s criteria for good sources or does-but-should-not (e.g. news-paper articles) is abundant. Changes in what main-stream science consider correct are not necessarily reflected and it is not uncommon that scientists with no or minor expertise in a subject area are used as authorities (most of the, absurdly many, references to Stephen J. Gould are unwarranted for this reason—to the point that a blanket ban on using his name might be a good idea).

    This well-intentioned principle can in the end be what kills Wikipedia, and I see it as a near necessity that Wikipedia (a) is more explicit on the difference between fact and opinion*, (b) forces a higher degree of plausibility checking and culling of sources**, e.g. by excluding news papers and other journalistic reporting for material that cannot be considered “current events”. With regard to (a), I also note that a good encyclopedia considers the risk that what is considered fact today can turn out to be wrong tomorrow, e.g. because a better scientific theory appears or because a higher court over-turns a conviction***.

    *Consider e.g. the difference between “The sun is a black hole[1].”, “According to Meyer[1], the sun is a black hole”, “Meyer[1] represents the minority view that the sun is a black hole; main stream science considers it a star[2][3][4]”.

    **However, great care must be taken. It is very easy for such checks to degenerate into “agrees with me, OK; does not agree with me, not OK”. Criteria could include strength of source; whether the claims are logically consistent; whether a claim is actually supported by the source it self or just taken over from another source (note how “facts” are sometimes uncritically propagated in feminist propaganda with no-one knowing when and where the claim originated, cf. the Woozle effect); whether the claim is actually present in the source; to what degree the claim represents personal opinion/speculation by the editor, respectively has a support in the scientific community. (Where “support” need not imply even a majority opinion, but should go beyond rare fringe views.)

    ***Generally, I urge everyone, not just Wikipedia editors, to prefer formulations like “murder convict” over “convicted murderer”, unless the level of evidence goes considerably beyond even “reasonable doubt”.

    This becomes particularly problematic when a given article has one or several self-appointed “owners” and these have a strong opinion. The result is typically that controversy* is not discussed in the article, often hidden behind a flawed consensus among the editors** of the article, and attempts to introduce alternate view-points often result in these being deleted and another several references being tacked on to the view point pushed by the self-appointed owners. (This can result in single statements having between half and a whole dozen references—without the reader having any greater certainty about the correctness of the claim.)

    *This is a scenario to be contrasted with the anti-evolutionary mantra “teach the controversy”: For evolution, there is no controversy within science, only in e.g. U.S. politics and popular opinion. The cases I discuss are often quite the reverse, with an existing disagreement between scientists or even branches of science, whereas the alleged consensus is often political, ideological, “popular”, whatnot. Worse, the latter type of consensus is sometimes allowed to trump a contradictory scientific consensus… Unfortunately, I kept no specific examples when writing the original version of this text; however, a typical generic example (not necessarily present on Wikipedia) of such a reversal is I.Q., where main-stream politicians and “enlightened” citizens “know” that I.Q. only measures how well someone can do an I.Q. test and that I.Q. tests are flawed, evil, and “culturally biased” to begin with—something entirely at odds with what science says on the topic.

    **As opposed to the “consensus among scientists”.

  6. Increased use of animations instead of individual images to illustrate processes. Individual images are usually the superior choice for illustration, seeing that the users can jump back-and-forth as they please and can take their time or not. In addition, animations are highly destructive when trying to enjoy other parts of the page—like trying to read a book when someone waves a hand in front of the page once every second or so. With (at least) earlier browser/computers and some forms of animation (notably Flash) this also meant a considerable performance drain, especially for users of tabbed browsing. (I regularly have dozens of tabs open for days or weeks.) Unsurprisingly, to compensate, many users prefer to disable animations entirely, and these then have the problem that the animations are reduced to a single individual image with little or no value.
  7. There are a number of issues on the technical side, including search terms being replaced by something entirely different when Wikipedia presumes to know better than the user what he should search for, use of page transitions (evil, should never have been invented), and highly intrusive* requests for donations when JavaScript is activated**.

    *I have no objection against a valuable “pro bono” service asking for donations from its users; however, when it does so in a manner that dominates the page and comes close to an optical slap in the face, well, that is something very different. If nothing else, this type of behavior likely makes people less likely to donate…

    **This was true around the time I made notes for the first version of this text. I have not verified whether it still is. (I rarely allow JavaScript, in general; and doing so where anyone can add content, including malicious JavaScript code, would be quite dangerous.)

In addition, there are a few problems present that have been with Wikipedia from the beginning (and which I therefore do not discuss above), including a very poor or non-existent coordination between different language versions and that very many U.S. editors fail to understand that en.wikipedia.org is the English language Wikipedia—not the U.S. national Wikipedia. The least of the problems that arise from this is the constant abuse of “American” to mean “U.S.” (with variations). Others include writing from a purely U.S. perspective on an issue (including ignoring legal differences between different countries), not mentioning that a particular claim pertains only to the U.S. (including such bloopers like mentioning “the Department of Justice”, in a generic context, without specifying that the U.S. Department of Justice is intended), giving strictly U.S. pronunciations for English words commonly used in the rest of the English speaking world, etc. On a few rare occasions, I have actually seen articles use formulations like “this country” in manner that implies that both editor and reader are in the U.S.

Articles on movies and books tend to be of a particularly low quality, including being filled with personal speculation* about motives, events, and implications. An ever recurring special case is to claim that a character died, lay dying, fell to his death, or similar, even when the work described leaves the eventual outcome unstated. In many or most cases, death is indeed the most plausible interpretation, but drawing such conclusions is not the role of an encyclopedia—especially since they are quite often incorrect: Fiction is full of characters who appear to die only to come back at an (in)opportune moment.

*Barring explicit claims by the creators of the work, any interpretation is speculative. This is one area where even a reference to a credible source does not alter the irrelevance of the interpretation to an encyclopedia. (Still, personal speculation by the article’s editors is worse.) In fact, even when the creators do make a claim or have a very clear intention, some caution can be needed, as can be seen e.g. by the “death” of Sherlock Holmes—protests by readers famously forced Arthur Conan Doyle to revive him…

Excursion on language and related issues:
With the great number of editors, each with their own weak spots, it is impossible to give an even remotely complete list. However, the following are disturbingly common:

  1. An incessant use of constructs like “being X, he Y-ed”*. Hypothetical examples include “Born in Swaziland, he studied to be a surgeon.” and “A natural red-head, he was sued for malpractice.”, typically with a similar low degree of connection between the two parts of the statement. In the rare cases where a strong connection is present, they are more acceptable, e.g. “Going blind, he was forced to give up surgery.”; however, even then other formulations are usually preferable.

    *I am unaware of an actual name for this type of construct.

    As for the reason for these ugly formulations, I would speculate that we, by now, simply have editors following a hype or trying to use “cool” way of writing, without considering factors like coherence and understandability. Part of the earlier cases could have come from either (unfortunate?) moves of insertions* or the spurious removal of words** in a misguided attempt to shorten the text***.

    *E.g. turning “X, an experienced surgeon, was skilled in anatomy.” into “An experienced surgeon, X was skilled in anatomy.”, which to some degree misses the point of an insertion, and which would be better solved by the original from the next footnote. Note that the variation “X, as an experienced surgeon, was skilled in anatomy.” is also an acceptable starting point, and might be preferable for having a greater internal connection—and would lead to exactly the original of the next footnote. (The greater internal connection can be seen by comparing e.g. “X, a young Frenchman, was skilled in anatomy.” with “X, as a young Frenchman, was skilled in anatomy.”: The latter implies a connection which simply is not warranted, while the former combines the same statements without implying a connection.)

    **E.g. turning “As an experienced surgeon, X was skilled in anatomy.” into “An experienced surgeon, X was skilled in anatomy.”, which makes the the sentence harder to understand and increases the risk of any additional error distorting the meaning.

    ***An older text on my own lack of brevity contains some words on “The Elements of Style” and its corresponding recommendation.

  2. Annoying and (depending on the intentions of the editor) possibly offensive use of “their” and “they” to indicate the third-person singular, even in cases when it introduces ambiguity. Cf. another recent text.
  3. Endless repetitions of “then [s]he”, “[s]he also”, and similar in biographic articles, e.g. to list various movies in which someone acted. (Many biographic articles give the impression that the editor is a high-school dropout.)
  4. Insisting on putting things in prose that would be better handled by a list or a table. (Overlapping with the previous item: A formal list* would have eliminated the awkward formulations.) Annoyingly, there is even a tag that suggests that this-or-that would be better off as prose, which is usually applied to perfectly legitimate lists and tables, while there is no corresponding tag for prose that should be moved to a list or table. (Or there is one that is never used…)

    *E.g. what is created by the UL or OL HTML-tags. Note that I do not necessarily suggest the type of use that I often resort to on WordPress. (My use is partially driven by not wanting to use regular headings/Hx-tags within WordPress, where the effects are not under my control; however, in other contexts, headings are often the better alternative.)

  5. Insertion of a colon (“:”) where it does not belong, e.g. “Examples of names include: Jack, Jill, and Spot”, where “include” implies that no colon should be present, the correct version being “Examples of names include Jack, Jill, and Spot”. Similarly, there should be no colon after words like “are”. In contrast, “Examples of names: Jack, Jill, Spot” would use the colon correctly.
  6. Use of “may” as a replacement for “can” and “might”, apparently under the assumption that it is “fancier”. There is a difference in meaning between the three: “may” implies a permission, “can” an ability, and “might” a possibility.* They should not be used in each others stead unless the difference in meaning is sufficiently small in the given context.**

    *For instance, someone who “can come to visit” has the ability to do so, himself being the limiting factor; someone who “may come to visit” has been allowed to do so, the host (usually) being the limiting factor; someone who “might come to visit” is still waiting to make a final decision.

    **But I admit to not always doing so perfectly myself. I was particularly prone to replace “might” with “may” when I was younger. However, note that I am not complaining about the odd error here and there—some Wikipedia articles appear to use “may” as the sole word for all three functions.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2018 at 9:36 pm

The poor underrepresented women of Wikipedia

with 2 comments

For the second time in about six months, I today encountered a view that Wikipedia’s “gender” situation would be problematice. Below, I will briefly discuss and critique some of the ideas in the light of the premise that “less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women” (a premise which matches my own experiences reasonably well and which is not put under investigation):

  1. Efforts to increase the number of women are hampered by “traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women”.

    Leaving the issue of whether increasing the number of specifically female editors is a worthy goal aside:

    The traditions of the computer world are of disputable relevance.

    Obsessive fact-loving is a pre-requisite for a good encyclopedia. The facts must not be compromised in order to increase the proportion of female editors. Any solution must, therefore, involve making women involved despite their aversion or to change the women’s attitude—not Wikipedia’s. (This assuming that the claim was correct in the first place.)

  2. A stated goal is to increase the proportion of women, yet the discussion is based on an argument that “Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” and “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”—which is an argument to increase the absolute number of participants (be it of either sex or specifically women). Correspondingly, the goal should be to increase the number of women—not the proportion of women. Indeed, the way Wikipedia works, a sinking proportion can actually be good, e.g. when we see X new women and 100X new men instead of X women and X men (with X having the same value on both occasions; the conclusion is obviously symmetrical when the increase of men is fixed and that of women variable). This, certainly, is an exception, but the point that absolute numbers matter, not relative, stands clear.

    Notably, the other article (published in a Swedish newspaper; I do not recall the details) was largely based in a failure to realise this basic principle and the common Swedish fallacy that any difference in outcome is a sign of difference in opportunity that must be fought.

  3. “Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs.”

    The noticeably more famous Coco Chanelw and Yves Saint Laurentw have noticeably longer articles. In addition, the writings need not be limited to the “personal” articles on the designers, but can extend into e.g. articles on the companies they founded. For that matter, the articles on e.g. Charles Rollsw (as in Rolls-Royce) or Bentleyw are not overly long either.

  4. ‘Adopting openness means being “open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists,” ’.

    If Wikipedia is to be open, then it has to be open to everyone who does not misbehave and breaks the rules that are in place. To imply (as is done here) that men would have more difficult and high-conflict specimens than women, is … misandrist. Notably, in my experience, the proportion of women who fall into these categories is higher than for men; notably, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that misogynism would be flowering due to openness. The whole angle seems to be cheap rhetoric and additionally risks throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  5. ‘But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.’

    One of the beauties of Wikipedia is that complete anonymity is possible (as far as other users/editors are concerned). If the minority feeling stems from being a woman among men, the solution is simply to chose a male or neutral alias and/or to get over any irrational fixation on sex instead of opinion where others are concerned. If it stems from the opinion—well, it is the same for everyone with a minority opinion and being a woman is irrelevant.

    More importantly, Wikipedia is not based on personal opinion on this-and-that, but on references, scientific consensus, and similar items. Opinion is, then, relevant as to which scientific hypothesis is dominating, what sub-issue or hypothesis should be given what weight, what articles are not up-to-par quality-wise, etc. Long discussions, even fights, on such topics notwithstanding, the opinions in the actual matter at hand are easy to push through—just find a reference from a credible source and put in the text that “Smith [97] writes that …”.

  6. Much of the article can be paraphrased as “Women do not feel welcome and therefore do not participate.” (where, I argue, this feeling is largely irrational).

    Here it should be noted that Wikipedia is not intended for men—but it is intended for adults. Not participating due to the (usually) imagined feeling that one is not welcome, is not adult behaviour.

    Further, the question must be raised whether this is actually the explanation. Consider alternatives (which all match my experiences) like men being more likely to have a deep fascination with or knowledge on a particular topic (often referred to as “being a nerd”), simply having a greater drive for accomplishment, or being more prone to discuss bigger issues in a bigger forum (while women prefer smaller and more personal circles). Notably, the article it self claims “a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.”—to accuse e.g. “traditions of the computer world” is, then, absurd. To claim that it would be a minority issue does also not pan out—this might have been true for Wikipedia (where men could have had an advantage through a greater interest in computers) alone, but seeing that the same numbers apply where there has been no such entry barrier for quite some time, we would have to postulate explanations that are implausible from an Occamian view.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Unfair argumentation methods XI: Use Wikipedia’s guidelines to better your own argumentation

with 2 comments

Earlier today, I answered a comment with a reference to Wikipedia’s NPOV guidelinew. As subsequently struck me, a generalized version of this reference can be a valuable help for anyone who wants to better his own argumentation.

Wikipedia has a plenitude of information and guidelines on how to argue and how to not. While I personally do not agree with all of these guidelines (and many do not apply to anything but Wikipedia, in the first place), I feel that reading and comprehending them can be immensely beneficial to gaining an understanding of the principles of fair and unbiased argumentation.

My advice: Use the linked page as a starting point to explore Wikipedia’s take on the issue.

(Further valuable information can be found by reading up on various fallacies and similar, e.g. on Wikipediaw.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2010 at 5:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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