by E. A. Barbour
In our research on paid editing on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, we discovered a number of administrators whose financial interest conflicted with their involvement in the project. One example stands out.
Editor Wifione joined Wikipedia at the beginning of April 2009, although he did not start editing properly until the end of June. The gap may be explained by the rumor that he was the reincarnation of another editor (Nichalp), a Wikipedia ‘bureaucrat’ (senior administrator) who was forced out in disgrace after he was found to have used sockpuppet accounts to edit for payment. Nichalp was the first bureaucrat in Wikipedia history to be removed “for cause”.
In his four year career at Wikipedia, three of them in a position of trust, Wifione has been part of a campaign of censorship and misinformation that has been waged across the internet by powerful vested interests. It is a campaign, according to one commentator, that is in some ways more damaging than China’s practice of locking up dissidents, because it is more insidious and less visible.
This is the story of how such a thing was possible in a project where the principles of free knowledge and freedom from censorship are held as sacred and inviolable.
Indian Institute of Planning and Management
Wifione’s mission was to promote the interests of a group of Indian business schools, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, owned by flamboyant millionaire businessman Arindam Chaudhuri. You cannot escape the Institute’s advertising presence in India: bold, glossy ads promising job placements for its students, multinationals recruiting on campus, affiliation with other accredited institutions, awards of degrees from those institutions and so on. Hundreds or thousands of supporters – almost certainly paid supporters – promote his interests on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, other internet forums. Chaudhuri’s Facebook page currently has four million likes. It seems to be money well spent. Its ‘degrees’ are practically worthless, but unsuspecting parents are persuaded to mortgage the family farm, or take out loans of 10 lakh (about £10,000) or more to send children to the Institute.
Wikipedia is simply part of its campaign. Before Wifione arrived, Chaudhuri’s agents relied on an army of sockpuppets. This sockpuppet investigation shows the sheer scale of their operation. This page shows how socks can be used to give the impression of numbers and apparent weight of opinion against an opposing editor. “As the controversy section is fairly outdated and holds no relevance now, given the High Court rulings favouring IIPM, I propose deleting the complete controversy section,” says paid editor Mrinal Pandey. “What makes you say it is out of relevance?” asks Joshua Artgobain Benedict, a sockpuppet of Pandey. “Seems to be sensible”, chips in Addy kundu, another sockpuppet. “Yes, delete!” Deborah Fernandes adds her voice to the chorus. But she too is another sockpuppet. (And so say sockpuppets -Sumitpatel12 and Ianchapell, and all the rest).
This approach was not particularly successful, largely down to the heroic efforts of a user called Makrandjoshi, who was not deterred by the sockpuppets, nor by threats of violence, nor death, nor destruction. Wifione’s approach was entirely different. He deferred to Wikipedia’s cultural norms, using one account and being polite at all times. Most importantly, he used his comprehensive knowledge of Wikipedia’s policy to make his edits stick. One pillar of the ‘neutrality’ policy is the requirement forreliable sources. But there are few extant reliable sources about Chaudhuri’s empire. The Indian mainstream media depends on the Institute’s advertising revenue – it is supposed to have spent the equivalent of 8 million dollars one year – and are unlikely to carry any criticism. Media without a wide circulation are not reliable sources for Wikipedia and, in any case, they are likely to be banned through India’s defamation laws, where almost any kind of criticism amounts to defamation, and where truth is not enough if ‘malicious intent’ can be established.
When Rashmi Bansal wrote an article in JAM magazine in 2005, accusing the Institute of misleading students by advertising rankings which were no longer current, claiming wholly unrealistic job placements, and making false statements about corporate recruiters, Chaudhuri’s agents filed a case for defamation, and after a court ruling, the article was removed from the internet. In parallel with that, Wifione removed any claims sourced from Bansal’s article, appealing to the ‘Reliable Sources’ policy.
Though JAM calls itslef [sic] JAM magazine (I guess Just Another Magazine), there is no confirmation that this is a magazine. There is no registeration[sic] of it as a magazine or a newspaper. I tried to search but could not find. I propose some editor kindly [our emphasis] give confirmation of the same. As I guess we can give references of only authentic newspapers or magazines.
Using another policy, Wifione removed a link to a copy of a letter from Stanford University held on MBA-Channel, with the comment “It’s only a career portal. Only reliable secondary sources are to be placed in exceptional claims”. He was referring to the Wikipedia policy that “Exceptional claims require exceptional sources”, which was to prevent the sourcing of self-published information from wacky fringe sites. But in the Stanford letter case, the information was perfectly reliable! It was a clearly genuine copy of a letter from Gale Bitter, Associate Dean, denying the Institute’s claim – in a major advertising campaign across India – to have a partnership with Stanford.
Neither the Stanford Graduate School of Business nor the office of Stanford Executive Education has ties of any kind with IIPM. Any claims to this effect are false and misleading.
And in any case, the letter was what Wikipedia calls a ‘primary source’, which is not allowed either. After removing the link to the letter, Wifione comically added a ‘citation needed’ tag.
Another of Wifione’s targets was a magazine called Careers 360, a publication which also tried to reveal the truth about IIPM. In June 2009 they published ‘IIPM – Best only in claims?’ Like Bansal, they found that the IIPM degrees were worthless. “For us only registered institutions with accredited programmes are considered credible”, said the Belgian government agency. Employers denied having any association or recruitment process with IIPM. Academic sources like McCombs Business School, University of Texas at Austin, said they were unaware of any association between the McCombs and IIPM. The ‘international’ job placements were low-paid and the terms poor. An ex-student told them that they were frequently taught by students who had just graduated from IIPM. You would not know this from reading Wikipedia, which said that Careers 360 was ‘poor in quality and a shady new yellow journal that ran illogical and brazenly false stories about IIPM’. Its source was a story in The Sunday Indian, the newspaper edited by Chaudhuri himself. Wifione claimed the story was unreliable, although editor Mahesh Peri told us that Careers 360 is the largest career magazine in India, launched by Dr. Kalam, former president of India. “We knew who we were taking on, hence stuck to facts.”
In the West, the investigation by Careers 360 would have certainly drawn action from the authorities. In India, it was the other way around. Chaudhuri’s agents took legal action against them, and a summoning order was passed on 12 Oct 2009 by a magistrate, forcing them to take the article down, and to prepare a legal defense. “A lot of things can be done with money”, Bansal told us. “Also Indian courts admit all kinds of cases without merit and then drag them on for 10-15-20 years. The system is a joke.” She never knew about Wifione’s role, though. “It’s deeply distressing to know this is happening on Wikipedia.”
The High Court of Uttarkhand eventually dismissed the case as an abuse of the law, saying “Truth is also the best defence in a case of defamation. A truth spoken for public good can never be called defamatory”, but this was never reported on Wikipedia. Wifione removed any reference to the High Court judgment, using the ‘exceptional claims’ policy as before. “Please don’t use ‘Lounge’ pieces for exceptional claims” (Link). On 24 January 2012 he managed to completely revise the section about Careers 360, under the pretext of “reformatting” the article. The section now said that the courts had admitted IIPM’s defamation cases against Outlook and Careers 360, and that the contents of the Careers 360 article were “prima facie defamatory”. This entirely misrepresented the legal process.
As well as promoting articles about Chaudhuri’s business, Wifione added derogatory material to articles about Chaudhuri’s competitors, particularly Amity University, repeatedly adding claims that its founder was wanted on fraud charges (link), (link). In the introduction to the article about the Indian School of Business, he claimed that its Chairman Rajat Gupta had been sentenced for insider trading, with the comment “reformatted intro to balance the whole article” (link).
His persistence, the veneer of civility in which he couched his insults, and his command of policy succeeded where death threats had failed. In August 2010, after Wifione removed a reference to a UGC censure, a reference to EFMD removing an affiliated institution IMI from its membership, and a link to the Stanford letter, Makrandjoshi simply gave up, and never returned.
In September 2010 Wifione was promoted to Wikipedia administrator. This did not confer any special privileges for editing articles about the Institute, but it provided considerable protection against other users who were questioning his conflict of interest. For example, in January 2012 a complainant alleged that Wifione was putting spin into the IIPM article, and removing criticism. Was this a PR exercise? “Whenever the user has been asked about any affiliation with IIPM, he/she has evaded the question”. But the complaint was slapped down by another administrator, saying that Wifione was not compelled to answer conflict of interest questions, and that “repeatedly insisting on it could be considered harassment”. Later, when we politely questioned him about his conflict of interest by email, he was able to complain of harassment as an administrator on the English Wikipedia, and requested that the account we used be blocked from Wikipedia. Administrators are held in such a degree of trust on Wikipedia that it is almost impossible to challenge them.
Is it harmless? Wikipedia is only an internet site, after all. And there are thousands of other articles created by editors with a conflict of interest. But in many cases these merely promote local bands, books, small businesses and so on. Wifione’s activities are more damaging. Wikipedia is one of the few channels that Indian students can use to check the fraudulent claims of ‘schools’ like the Institute. Even warnings by the University Grants Commission are targeted by Chaudhuri. In February 2013 he got over 70 URLs blocked, one of them belonging to the Indian University Grants Commission which had merely publicised the fact that IIPM was not recognised by them. This provoked free knowledge apostle Cory Doctorow to protest.
Such misinformation can destroy lives. One parent spoke of being ‘ruined’ after taking out a bank loan. All they have is misinformation. “We got lured by the fake ads coupled with newspaper news praising IIPM institute,” said one parent. And as Chaudhuri’s lawyers were blocking official sites that may have helped the students and their parents, Wifione was at work on Wikipedia, removing statements like “Historically, IIPM has also been by far the largest advertiser among Indian educational institutions,” and “IIPM has been involved in controversies with respect to its advertising.” (Link)
Acclaimed writer Siddhartha Deb, who has also been a victim of Chaudhuri’s campaign of censorship, says that this kind of suppression can be far more insidious than the way China locks up dissidents, because it is much less visible.
It passes without notice in the west, but what is more significant is how damaging it is to India’s fragile democracy. It promotes, in a country that is diverse but also deeply hierarchical, a culture of cringing before the rich and the powerful.
Despite the fact that the Institute was running a blatant scam, Wifione has, for a long time, been able to use his deep knowledge of Wikipedia policy and his connections to its administration to prevent any of this being divulged. Yet, given that the Western media have largely ignored the issue of India diploma mills like IIPM, and given the effective censorship of criticism under the draconian laws on defamation, Wikipedia is often the only place which students can – in theory – reliably depend on. It is deeply ironic that this censorship and suppression has reached into the very heart of a project like Wikipedia, which was based from the very beginning on the principle that knowledge and truth ‘want’ to be free.
This article incorporates material from the forthcoming book, Wikipedia through the Looking Glass, copyright Edward Buckner and Eric Barbour.
Image credit: Flickr/Gadgetdude ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
||As is sometimes the case with highly insular organizations, Wikipedia has developed an elaborate jargon, incomprehensible to outsiders. It has been made even more bewildering to the uninitiated by being expressed almost exclusively in the form of acronyms. Increasingly, this serves to defend the project against newcomers who actually believe that “anyone can edit”; in content disputes, it gives the advantage to entrenched persons who can cite policy with great facility (and greater selectivity.) Here is a survey of some of Wikipedia’s most popular acronyms, with some jaundiced commentary on the definitions:
AGF (WP:AGF) – Assume good faith.
In theory: come on, people now, smile on your brother. We’re all in this together to provide accurate information to a benighted world. If someone seems to be applying policy in an oddly incorrect and seemingly self-serving manner, it is surely an honest mistake.
In practice: when you are busily gaming the system in order to tilt a particular article toward your preferred bias, and someone calls you on it, you may indignantly cite this policy. “Moi?”
AN (WP:AN) – Administrators’ noticeboard.
In theory: a place where Wikipedia administrators and other interested parties can freely discuss problem users and resolve complex issues.
In practice: here you may swiftly assemble a lynch mob for any occasion, and with a little luck, get the precipitous action that you desire. Or not.
ARBCOM (WP:ARBCOM) – Arbitration Committee.
In theory: the buck stops here for dispute resolution.
In practice: here you may put on your powdered wig and expound your arguments at great length, with faux-legalistic gravitas. This will have little effect on the Committee, which is anxiously trying to avoid disturbing the status quo.
BLP (WP:BLP) – Biographies on living persons.
In theory: the policy that says Thou Shalt Not Defame.
In practice: to the extent that it is enforced, this is the policy that says Thou Shalt Not Defame. There is really no down side to this policy, and it is deeply resented by the Wikipedia Old Guard.
COI (WP:COI) – Conflict of interest.
In theory: we presume that Wikipedia discourages biased editing, and therefore, if someone has a real-life position that might tend to bias their editing of a particular topic, he or she probably shouldn’t be editing there.
In practice: this is a handy policy to cite if you find yourself in a dispute with a credentialed expert. Of course, if you had a genuine conflict of interest, would you disclose it?
What does it all mean?
HA (WP:HA) – Harassment.
In theory: Wikipedia discourages editors who are involved in contact disputes from trying to make life miserable for their opponents in hopes of driving them away.
In practice: context is everything. Remember, when you are following your opponent from article to article in order to cause him maximum vexation, or trawling the net for info on his girlfriend’s employer, you are Defending the Project Against a Disruptive User. When he does it to you, it is WP:Harassment.
NPOV (WP:NPOV) – Neutral point of view.
In theory: Wikipedia seeks to discourage bias in articles, so all points of view must be included, in proportion to the degree of emphasis they receive in Reliable Sources.™ This is the “no viewpoint left behind” policy.
In practice: this means your bias should receive greater emphasis in an article relative to the emphasis given to your opponent’s bias.
RS (WP:RS) – Reliable sources.
In theory: information added to articles is supposed to be cited to reputable published sources that engage in some sort of fact-checking, or else to some newspaper.
In practice: This is often the essential arena of your typical WikiBattle. It goes without saying that your sources are reliable, and your opponent’s are not.
SPI (WP:SPI) – Sockpuppet investigations.
In theory: since the Wikipedia editing process operates by consensus, one wouldn’t want to distort the apparent consensus by having one user participate using multiple accounts. Also, once an editor has run afoul of an admin and gotten himself banned, one would not wish him to return under a new assumed identity. Why, that would be disruptive.
In practice: The quickest and most effective way to prevail in a dispute over article content is to get your opponent denounced and banned as a sockpuppet. See also WP:9STEPS.
V (WP:V) – Verifiability.
In theory: Wikipedia could not possibly be held responsible for the accuracy and truthfulness of its content. Therefore, everything must be verifiably cited to published sources that can take the rap if the heat comes down.
In practice: ”All the news that’s in print, we fit.”
Photo credit: Flickr/ jACK TWO , licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Photo credit: Flickr/edenpictures , licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Once upon a time, Gomi of the late great Wikipedia Review compiled an introductory survey of criticism that is intended to provide the public with a range of different reasons to shun Wikipedia as an authoritative source of information.
1. Wikipedia contains incorrect, misleading, and biased information. Whether through vandalism, subtle disinformation, or the prolonged battling over biased accounts, many of Wikipedia’s articles are unsuitable for scholarly use. Because of poor standards of sourcing and citation, it is often difficult to determine the origin of statements made in Wikipedia in order to determine their correctness. Pursuit of biased points of view by powerful administrators is considered a particular problem, as opposing voices are often permanently banned from Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s culture of disrespect for expertise and scholarship (see below) makes it difficult to trust anything there.
2. Wikipedia’s articles are used to spread gossip, abet character assassination, and invade the privacy of the general public. So-called “Biographies of Living Persons” are often the result of attempts by powerful but anonymous editors and administrators at humiliating or belittling those real-world people with whom they disagree. Wikipedia’s “anyone can edit” culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet. When the family, friends, associates, or subjects of these biographies attempt to correct errors or insert balance, they are often banned from Wikipedia for “Conflicts of Interest”. Subjects of these hatchet jobs usually must resort to legal action to get the articles removed or corrected, a course not available to all.
3. Wikipedia over-emphasizes popular culture and under-emphasizes scholarly disciplines.Wikipedia contains more articles, of greater depth, on television shows, toy and cartoon characters, and other ephemera of popular culture than on many prominent historical figures, events, and places. Massive effort is spent on documenting fictional places and characters rather than science, history, and literature.
4. Wikipedia violates copyrights, plagiarizes the work of others, and denies attribution to contributions. Wikipedia contains no provision to ensure that the content it hosts is not the work of another, or that content it hosts is properly attributed to its author. It contains thousands of photographs, drawings, pages of text and other content that is blatantly plagiarized from other authors without permission.
5. Wikipedia, frequently searched and prominently positioned among results, spreads misinformation, defamation, and bias far beyond its own site. Wikipedia is searched by Google and is usually one of the top results. Its database is scraped by spammers and other sites, so misinformation, even when corrected on Wikipedia, has a long life elsewhere on the net, as a result of Wikipedia’s lack of controls.
Wikipedia Bureaucracy and “Culture”
1. Wikipedia disrespects and disregards scholars, experts, scientists, and others with special knowledge. Wikipedia specifically disregards authors with special knowledge, expertise, or credentials. There is no way for a real scholar to distinguish himself or herself from a random anonymous editor merely claiming scholarly credentials, and thus no claim of credentials is typically believed. Even when credentials are accepted, Wikipedia affords no special regard for expert editors contributing in their fields. This has driven most expert editors away from editing Wikipedia in their fields. Similarly, Wikipedia implements no controls that distinguish mature and educated editors from immature and uneducated ones.
2. Wikipedia’s culture of anonymous editing and administration results in a lack of responsible authorship and management. Wikipedia editors may contribute as IP addresses, or as an ever-changing set of pseudonyms. There is thus no way of determining conflicts of interest, canvassing, or other misbehaviour in article editing. Wikipedia’s administrators are similarly anonymous, shielding them from scrutiny for their actions. They additionally can hide the history of their editing (or that of others).
3. Wikipedia’s administrators have become an entrenched and over-powerful elite, unresponsive and harmful to authors and contributors. Without meaningful checks and balances on administrators, administrative abuse is the norm, rather than the exception, with blocks and bans being enforced by fiat and whim, rather than in implementation of policy. Many well-meaning editors have been banned simply on suspicion of being previously banned users, without any transgression, while others have been banned for disagreeing with a powerful admin’s editorial point of view. There is no clear-cut code of ethics for administrators, no truly independent process leading to blocks and bans, no process for appeal that is not corrupted by the imbalance of power between admin and blocked editor, and no process by which administrators are reviewed regularly for misbehaviour.
4. Wikipedia’s numerous policies and procedures are not enforced equally on the community — popular or powerful editors are often exempted. Administrators, in particular, and former administrators, are frequently allowed to transgress (or change!) Wikipedia’s numerous “policies”, such as those prohibiting personal attacks, prohibiting the release of personal information about editors, and those prohibiting collusion in editing.
5. Wikipedia’s quasi-judicial body, the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom), is at best incompetent and at worst corrupt. ArbCom holds secret proceedings, refuses to be bound by precedent, operates on non-existant or unwritten rules, and does not allow equal access to all editors. It will reject cases that threaten to undermine the Wikipedia status quo or that would expose powerful administrators to sanction, and will move slowly or not at all (in public) on cases it is discussing in private.
6. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the organization legally responsible for Wikipedia, is opaque, is poorly managed, and is insufficiently independent from Wikipedia’s remaining founder and his business interests. The WMF lacks a mechanism to address the concerns of outsiders, resulting in an insular and socially irresponsible internal culture. Because of inadequate oversight and supervision, Wikimedia has hired incompetent and (in at least one case) criminal employees. Jimmy Wales’ for-profit business Wikia benefits in numerous ways from its association with the non-profit Wikipedia.
Photo credit: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The basic reality is, (Wikipedia) is no more or less error-prone than other sources of information,” Jay Walsh, former director of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, says.
– How technology has redefined knowledge, Angela Hill, The Oakland Tribune, from San Jose Mercury News Education section
Really, Mr. Walsh? While there are some excellent science articles on en.Wikipedia created by editors who understand how to write accurate, well-sourced, up-to-date articles with readable prose, this is not the case for a lot of bad science which appears on en.Wikipedia’s main page.
The basic reality is that the crowd-sourcing format coupled with anti-elitist hostility favors a main page that highlights inaccurate science articles written and promoted by mostly male, Western, technology-savvy editors who do little but edit en.Wikipedia. These editors use jargon without understanding, jumble up word order to create the opposite meaning, simply guess at the science they don’t know, and have no ability to write prose in a logical fashion.
Recently, in celebration of Halloween, and in the race to the WikiCup, an editor expanded an article about a bat species, Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri) to get it on the main page on October 30, 2013. In order to show my Halloween spirit, I blogged about the article on the 31st. Then I started clicking through the internal links (wikilinks) in the article and seeing how well-supported the information was by other en.Wikipedia articles.
The article is about a microbat, a member of the clade (or grade, possibly) of bats that are known for using echolocation to catch prey. The article generalizes that all bats use echolocation to catch prey. (“Bats emit sounds at too high a frequency for most humans to detect and they interpret the echoes created in order to build a ‘sound picture’ of their surroundings.”) This is not true; only some bats emit these high-frequency sounds to create sound pictures. Even worse, this generalization directly contradicts one of the great mysteries of evolutionary biology, the evolution of mammals that fly and those that use echolocation.
The article is standard for en.Wikipedia bad science articles on the main page: a crazy quilt, a collage, a vomitous association of buzzwords plagiarized without understanding from a random assortment of sources, some appropriate, but also including pre-plate tectonics books for geology articles, pre-PCR biology (even for taxonomies), blogs, unpublished class assignments (see below), and even an unfinished PowerPoint from a junior high school website.
But let’s look at just one article. Natterer’s bat is a microbat and this bat uses echolocation. But, what the Natterer’s bat article says is that bats use echolocation. I’m confused. Can we use en.Wikipedia articles to find the truth of the matter, get us all on the same bat-channel?
In the bat article, I learn:
Bat (order): “Microbats use echolocation; with the exception of Rousettus and its relatives, megabats do not.” (unsourced)
Okay, Rousettus and its relatives are the only megabats that use echolocation. The relatives of a genus are other genera in the same family (Pteropodidae), or possibly subfamily. It’s unsourced, so I can’t verify the accuracy of the information.
Okay, let’s go to the megabat article:
Megabat (suborder): “In contrast to the microbats, the fruit bats do not use echolocation (with one exception, the Egyptian fruit bat Rousettus egyptiacus, which uses high-pitched clicks to navigate in caves).“
Finally, something that is sourced! And the source is …
“Matti Airas.” Echolocation in bats”. HUT, Laboratory of Acoustics and Audio Signal Processing. p. 4. Retrieved July 19, 2013.”
… a paper written ten years ago for a class, a postdoc seminar, but, a class.
“Airas, M., “Echolocation in bats”, in Proceedings of Spatial sound perception and reproduction (the postgrad seminar course of HUT Acoustics Laboratory), April 2003.”
The author sources his paper; en.Wikipedia editors could have used his sources.
Let’s get help from the microbat article:
Microbat (suborder): “Microbats use echolocation, whereas megabats do not typically (The Egyptian fruit bat Rousettus egyptiacus is an exception).” (unsourced; punctuation in original)
The bat article implies a family or subfamily of megabats use echolocation; but the suborder articles suggest it is a single species.
Okay, what does the family article say?
Pteropodidae (family): no article
I’m moving on to the genus. Does the Rousettus genus article talk about echolocation? No, of course not.
Rousettus (genus): nothing about echolocation
On to the species article. For a moment, I pause, as I learn that the wings of Egyptian fruit bat “feel like pantyhose.” Although unsourced (of course), it is properly wikilinked to “pantyhose.” I don’t have anything more to say about that.
Egyptian fruit bat (species): “Egyptian fruit bats, along with other species in the genus Rousettus, are the only megachiropterid bats to use echolocation, which they accomplish by emitting a series of sharp clicks with their tongues.” (unsourced)
So it’s a family of megabats, or it’s a single species, or else it’s the genus that is the sole exception to the non-echolocating megabats.
I’m now going to add the Animal echolocation article, bat section.
Animal echolocation: “one genus of megachiropteran bats (Rousettus)” uses echolocation
Let’s run through this in order.
According to which en.Wikipedia article, —– which megabats echolocate?
- Natterer’s bat —– not megabats, but all bats (unsourced)
- Bats —– the family, genus Rousettus and relatives (unsourced)
- Pteropodidae —– no article
- Megabats —– the species Rousettus egyptiacus (unreliably sourced)
- Microbats —– the species Rousettus egyptiacus (unsourced)
- Rousettus —– no information
- Rousettus aegyptiacus —– the genus Rousettus (unsourced)
- Animal echolocation —– the genus Rousettus (unsourced)
Voting on the information runs thus:
- all bats —– 1 vote
- family Pteropodidae (or subfamily) —– 1 vote
- genus (but info not from the genus article) —– 2 votes
- species spelled “R. aegyptiacus” —– 0 votes
- species spelled “R. egyptiacus” —– 2 votes
Any truth out there? This point is important because it goes to the evolution of the bats. And, I can’t even verify that the en.Wikipedia articles are no more or less error-prone than their sources because the en.Wikipedia statements are not sourced.
The basic reality is that when an encyclopedia is getting tens of thousands of readers to an article from a Google search with something as shoddy as this bat article, or the recent article on Sea, it pushes away access to real science written by a writer who has to justify which sources her or she uses, has to use sources of the correct age (post-plate tectonics geology, often), has to read the sources, not just the chosen sentences, then has to coherently bring the information from the sources together, has to outline the article in some logical fashion, and then, finally, has to write well and cohesively.
Wikipedia editors can’t even see their errors, Mr. Walsh (such as in the vegetation section of the Wildlife of Chad article we are told that “Lake Chad in the southwestern corner of Chad …”, right next to a map that shows Lake Chad not in the southwestern corner of Chad); so, who is evaluating how error-prone Wikipedia is?
A disclaimer: I am not a scientist; I am a student just finishing up my degree. However, I have published in the life and earth sciences, and I work in the sciences. The errors I find are so blatant that any ninth-grade science student should catch them.
Image credit: Flickr/possumgirl2, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Having used a bra for some decades, I thought I knew a bit about them. That was until I hit the Wikipedia page for bras, called Brassiere (T-H-L), which, incredibly, is perceived as one of Wikipedia’s best articles, and gets viewed 1200+ times a day.
As of this writing, the article looks like this. As I read it, my eyes just became larger, and larger … at the end they felt like the size of an LL-cup. The article is filled with statements about bras which make them sound like modern-day torture instruments, which women only wear because of social pressure or vanity.
Where to begin? Let’s start just at the introduction: “other research has shown that going braless may also eliminate pain,” it proclaims.
Really? Perusing the article, I find a section entitled Bra-free relief from pain, citing a hodgepodge of studies.
For instance: According to a study published in the Clinical Study of Pain, large-breasted women can reduce back pain by going braless. Of the women participating in the study, 79% decided to stop wearing bras completely.
Sounds credible? Right. It is cited to a book called “The Secret of Health: Breast Wisdom.” Alas, searching a bit further, you find that the book also promotes Dressed to Kill (book) (T-H-L), published to promote a theory which has been totally debunked, that wearing bras causes cancer.
The reliability of this source just went through the floor. But that does not stop it being used on Wikipedia!
And so it goes.
Oh, but wait. There is a study that promotes the conclusion that back pain is reduced by not wearing a bra: Ryan (2000). Alas, that study does not have a control-group! And it is rather elementary that no conclusions about treatment can be drawn from a study without such a group. (Perhaps 95% would have had reduced pain with a bra in the same period. We simply do not know.)
Virtually every sentence under Bra-free relief from pain turns out to be wrong: Two studies have found that going braless can help resolve shoulder and neck pain and may be a preferred treatment over reduction mammaplasty. This is incorrect. It is sourced to Myint et al. (2012), and the above Ryan (2000). And Myint et al. (2012) simply report that women wearing large cup bras experience more shoulder/neck pain. (The “breast size” they use is in fact only chest size.)
Under Bras and pain you find: Among a group of 31 British women who requested reduction mamoplasty [sic], 81% complained of neck and back pain, while 77% complained of shoulder pain.
Women want an operation, because they are in pain. But what does this has to do with bra-wearing? Nothing whatsoever, from what I can see from the cited source (Netscher et al. (2000)). A source that does not distinguish between those who wear bras and those who don’t simply does not belong in an articles about bras. It might belong in an article about breasts, but not here. It is included simply to create the impression that women who are ignorant enough to use a bra are headed for pain and suffering.
And: One long-term clinical study in 1987 showed that women with large breasts can suffer shoulder pain from wearing bras. In the study, E. L. Ryan of the University of Melbourne and colleagues found that the inherent design of bras causes fatigue and possibly shoulder pain … This is a mixture of Ryan (1987) and Ryan (2000). It is fascinating to see how Wikipedia tries to “beef up” the credentials of Dr. Ryan by writing “E. L. Ryan of the University of Melbourne and colleagues”, when –
A: E. L. Ryan is not connected to the University of Melbourne. He is a private medical doctor;
B: he has done the research alone; and,
C: Ryan (1987) is not a study. It is simply a short letter to the “The Medical Journal of Australia”.
Myint et al. (2012) sum up Ryan (1987): “He suggested that the posterior straps of a brassiere act as pulleys over the shoulders, doubling the total downward pull on both shoulders. Associated neck, shoulder, and back pain could then be at least partially attributed to fatigue of the muscles …”
A 22-year-old letter which “suggests” a theory, and a survey without a control group: this is what is elevated to “The Truth” on Wikipedia.
And: Researchers in Turkey found that women with who wore bras with cup sizes D and above experienced upper back pain due to changes in the curvature of the spine. There is a study from Turkey about this, true, but that study links posture and back pain to the breast size, and nothing at all in it is linked to wearing or not wearing bras of any size. A slight difference.
Typical is the quote about the bra wearers who experience pain. (See note 96.) But they do not mention how many do not feel any pain. In fact, you can read the whole article without finding anything positive about bra use. The article carefully cherry-picks only negative statements about bras, and includes them as if they represented the whole of the story.
The whole Bras may increase sagging section is based on studies made on women in their 20s and 30s. And what is more, breast size is not mentioned! Even the researchers themselves said that the results may not be representative of all women. Alas, this caution is of course not included in Wikipedia. Neither is any criticism of the study.
In fact, when you look at the sources, women above the age of 40 are hardly mentioned in the article at all. And the pictures! There are 10 photos of present-day users, none of whom looks over 30 … and needless to say, many of the photos have little or no “educational value”. The one woman who really needs a bra (the one illustrating ptosis) doesn’t have one. Of 11 illustrations, ten are eye-candy and one is a freak-show.
Women are either an object of desire … or an object of ridicule. Good to know!
And the purpose of wearing a bra? “[T]o conform to what [women] feel are appropriate societal norms and to improve their physical appearance”, or so Wikipedia tells me.
I give up.
Besides the false representation of sources, cherry-picking, and using sources that do not meet WP:RS (T-H-L), the whole organisation of the article is … strange. What would a bra wearer want to know when she looks up this article? I would say a bit about types, sizes, measurement, something on health, and possibly a bit on history. Much of what I might have expected to see has been spun off to other articles, such as History of brassieres (T-H-L), List of brassiere designs (T-H-L), and Brassiere measurement (T-H-L).
What has been kept is puzzling in its emphasis; we have huge sections on Culture and fashion and Social issues and trends and Legal issues. Why is this not also spun off to another article, say “Social, legal and cultural issues of bras”?
Who has decided that this is more important than history, designs, and measurements? Surely it was not any woman who is looking for information about bras?
Ah, I forgot. This gives the excuse for having pictures like “Alyssa Pallett wearing a vest that reveals her bra.”
Now, that is educational value.
Image credit: Flickr/AJ Batac ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic