Watching Wikipedia's extinction event from a distance

After being a major contributor for many years, I've cringed as Wikipedia slowly devolves like a dying coral reef. Today's example is hemovanadin, an innocuous article deleted through a mix of vandalism, bots, and incompetent humans.

Hemovanadin was a well-sourced article stub about an interesting blood protein. As with almost every article I created, it was on a list of missing articles. Here's the article stub as it appeared before speedy deletion:

Hemovanadin is used to refer to the pale green vanabin proteins found in the blood cells, called vanadocytes, of ascidians (sea squirts) and other organisms. It is one of the few known vanadium-containing proteins.[1][2]

German chemist Martin Henze first detected vanadium in ascidians in 1911.[3] Unlike hemocyanin and hemoglobin, hemovanadin is not an oxygen carrier.[4]

It had four references to published works like the journal Microscopy Research and Technique.

Obscure articles like this are what make Wikipedia great, but they are also most at risk under the current bureaucratic calcification. At some point, someone replaced the entire article with copy-paste text from a book. That triggered a bot that flagged the article as a copyright violation.

That in turn prompted an editor called KDS4444 to log the article for speedy deletion without bothering to check the article history.

This in turn prompted yet another user named RHaworth to delete the article, thereby scrubbing any edit history of the article and making it look as if I were the infringing author to someone uninvolved.

So what's the big deal about one tiny little article? Who cares if one little sea squirt on the reef gets destroyed? I care, but not enough to re-engage with Wikipedia's deletionists. Wikipedia went from people writing an encyclopedia to people writing rules about writing an encyclopedia, or writing bots to defend an encyclopedia, but without enough safeguards to save content from deletionists.

Sadly, this tiny article death is far from isolated. The same thing has happened to articles I wrote about psychologists, hip-hop songs, television hosts, and who knows what else since I took an extended break. I wrote a couple thousand articles and made 50,000 edits because I believed in the promise of Wikipedia. Some are improved, most are unchanged, some are objectively worse, and too many are dead. Sea squirts are pretty, and hemovanadin is an interesting chemical worth including in an encyclopedia. Brittanica covers it, which is why it was on a list of missing Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia used to cover it, but as the bleaching caused by bots, abuse of speedy deletion, and incompetent editors continues apace, will Wikipedia eventually reach a biotic crisis?

Images: Silke Baron, Bernard DuPont

Notable Replies

  1. You should've watched the Somalia article as it evolved 12-13 years ago.

    Or... not.

  2. daneel says:

    Misread as WWF. I am now disappointed.

  3. M_M says:

    I know. I'm all like

  4. M_M says:

    Never mess with The Panda.

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