Why Scholars and Students Should Avoid Wikipedia


Craig Chalquist

 

I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, that they are misled. Let them know the truth and the country is safe.
— Abraham Lincoln

We ought never to do wrong when people are looking.
— Mark Twain


I have edit rights to Wikipedia, and when I had more time on my hands I used to correct the article on C.G. Jung. In spite of this, someone would come along and modify the article with wrong information. I gave up.

In 2007, I posted a short article on the new field of terrapsychology. The article was interpreted by unseen Wikipedia administrators as self-promotional and removed. At that time I had published most, though not all, of the material available on terrapsychology.

In five years more than a dozen people had published their own terrapsychological work, so I tried again. If state security agencies were allowed to say nice things about themselves at Wikipedia, and if millions of words of trivia could find a home there, with topics ranging from anuses to zylophones, why not an article on a significant new field?

A day after the article went up, someone put this on it--I couldn't tell who because the poster used a screen name, something we'd never permit in academia:

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.
A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. (December 2013)
The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia's general notability guideline. (December 2013)
This article possibly contains original research. (December 2013)
This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2013)

I thought: Do I have this right: I am not allowed to post a contribution from a field I helped found? Original research is bad? Primary sources are bad? Since when?

I wrote to Wikipedia and explained that as a published scholar who taught graduate research I felt entitled to say something about terrapsychology. I understood that they did not want anyone posting articles just to self-promote, but this article announced something new and creative that people other than me were actively working on.

The reply I received pointed out a legitimate weakness--insufficient citations--but also accused me of seeking a first-time publisher. I was bewildered by this. A first-time publisher? I had already published eight books and edited two anthologies. Why would I need a publisher? I am a publisher. I own my own publishing outfit and maintain my own websites. And what did what I was seeking or not seeking have to do with the legitimacy of my article?

I went in and added citations, but the ugly statement at the beginning was not removed. Another anonymous reviewer threatened to delete the article for committing the sin of original research.

These events and subsequent poking around online taught me some unpleasant truths about Wikipedia. It was founded, I learned, by Jimmy Wales, a scandal-haunted libertarian, pornographer, Ayn Rand follower, and doctoral program dropout. At one point his misbehavior online even cost him his edit rights. I mention this because the personality and habits of an organization's founder tend to trickle down into it. Other editors have been accused of taking money to heighten visibility of their clients' Wikipedia entries. Wales altered his own entry to delete all references to Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. For a time the chief operations officer at Wikipedia was a felon on parole. The more I read, the more it sounded like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's novel 1984.

Recently I looked up "ecopsychology" in Wikipedia. I am an ecopsychologist. The article lists "environmental psychology" as a form of ecopsychology, which is wrong. The article says ecopsychology seeks to remove people from the therapy office, which is wrong. It also makes it sound like Ted Roszak invented the field, when in reality he coined "ecopsychology" to encourage an organic worldview backed by original research of the type Wikipedia will not publish. He never worked as an ecopsychologist, as he told me before he died. Were I to add this correction it would be deleted for being a "primary source."

Wikipedia is, I now realize, a virtual Underworld where online trolls hiding behind cartoonish fake names can attack real scholars with impunity. Censorship, false information, and plagiarism are rife there. The editors who make changes are anonymous, as are the administrators, their actions lacking in transparency and accountability. Authors have been prevented from correcting inaccurate Wikipedia statements made about their own work. Articles can change in less than a minute from truthful to partially or totally erroneous, so there is no point in even citing them. Websites have been set up to protest this backwards and upsidedown anti-academic global behemoth whose tentacles reach even into the classroom.

I have told my students this story and asked them not to cite Wikipedia in their papers. It is not a legitimate academic resource. It is unreliable and, at worst, deliberately biased and revisionist. Its hostility to original research is openly stated and even written up as a policy.

In the end the clarity of our consciousness depends on the clarity of our thoughts and facts. Wikipedia wages war on both even while referring to itself as a respected knowledge source. Wikipedia is many things: a tabloid, a screen for psyops by unseen government agents, a breach of privacy, and a shield for anti-intellectuals envious of genuine scholars and published writers; but it is no encyclopedia. Until it reinvents itself it will remain a Wikimpedia.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Craig Chalquist.

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