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. :frowning2:

    this is why we can't have nice things on the Net.

  2. Xris says:

    I'm currently having similar problems at work and recently came across this:

    "Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions."

  3. Far too many wikipedia "editors" are tinpot dictators trying to enforce their own version of wikipedia with others. Remember when the editors got into an edit war with one of the founders and creators of wikipedia? It is about time that wikipedia revise its standards and get serious about curbing the abuses of their current, sometimes overly vague, guidelines.

    Wikipedia is generally great for pop-culture, and is rapidly growing more and more useless for anything else.

  4. This has also been my experience (improper flagging for speedy deletion, deleted by RHaworth) a few months ago.
    I have now vowed to never contribute to Wikipedia again other than anonymous word-smithing. Yes it's that bad. The deletionists are in the majority and it is much easier to delete pages than create them.

    I would think there is a technical solution to this. With the open APIs available from Wikipedia, it should be possible for another site to 'skin' Wikipedia with additional edits and articles. Initially links would lead to identical pages, but over time as articles are added or edited a divergent git-type branch is created that would supersede the original. Its premise, I think, should be that nothing gets deleted - only versioned.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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