… why I started investigating bad science on en.Wikipedia

I had been reading some plant articles on en.Wikipedia that were classified as “Good Articles.” The area where all the Good Article Reviews are posted, and the description of the project, and the template all invite other editors to post comments about the article. I posted a comment, and immediately got a response, “GA reviews have one reviewer unless a second opinion is asked for, I didn’t ask for one. So please, do not interfere with my review.”

The editor who wrote this response was nasty beyond belief, and it piqued my curiosity–what was going on?

My initial intention was to try to work with one editor who wrote a lot of Do You Knows and Good Articles in the area of plants and get him to stop putting seed planting how to’s in the articles. He seemed to be, from an initial inspection of his talk page, willing to work with other editors in areas where he lacked knowledge. But the nastier the reviewer became, the more curious I became about what was going on with these articles, the supposed newest and best of en.Wikipedia. The problem was the WikiCup, I soon found. These editing areas contribute to points for the WikiCup and require that, in order for articles to be stamped as Good or a DYK, the editor must review another editor’s contribution. There are far more editors contributing extremely poor science articles (more about why later) than there are editors willing (and able) to promote them. This means that editors with no knowledge in these areas must read and okay these articles. If you have someone, like me, looking too closely, you might raise the issue to the community that a lot of crap is being promoted as science on en.Wikipedia. A lot of bad science. Many metric tons of granitic lava flows being promoted all across the web so editors can give each other barnstars.

Correcting the bad science on en.Wikipedia, or, more particularly, interfering with the collection of WikiCup awards, is considered a very bad thing for editors to do on en.Wikipedia, and users who do this are going to face rampant hostility for doing so.

I corrected a couple of sentences in the Desert article, for example, and removed a sentence about all cacti not having leaves (some do) and a sentence implying that C4 photosynthetic plants, like CAM photosynthetic plants, open their stomata at night to allow gas exchange. The editor scolded me for making the article unpretty by removing the incorrect information about cacti, then returned the incorrect C4 information. In spite of this, and in spite of the amount of garbage produced by this editor, he was still willing to make the corrections I requested and work with me to improve his cultivation sections. A little grudging, but certainly willing.

Knowing full well how bad the Pedra da Gávea article geology section is, it should be removed immediately from en.Wikipedia. Instead, the editor who promoted it to Good Article is fighting tooth and nail, via personal attacks, to keep the information on en.Wikipedia. This is generally a successful way to maintain bad science on en.Wikipedia, be nasty to chase away editors with knowledge who can interfere with your article creation.

Wikipedia is not about knowledge. It’s a boys’ camp. Atta boy.


4 thoughts on “… why I started investigating bad science on en.Wikipedia”

  1. J Milburn said:

    I’m not quite clear what you believe any of this has to do with the WikiCup. You also make a number of false claims/inferences. For instance, you claim that “These editing areas … require that, in order for articles to be stamped as Good or a DYK, the editor must review another editor’s contribution.” This isn’t the case. While there is a policy at DYK which requires /some/ editors to review the work of others before the article they have nominated can be featured on the main page (see point five of the criteria- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Did_you_know#Eligibility_criteria), there is no such policy at GAC, and there has, in the past, been a real hostility to one being introduced. Further, the WikiCup has no in-house rules mandating this kind of reviewing.

    If you feel there are particular problems with the WikiCup, it would be good if you could outline them. We would also welcome your contribution to the discussion – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:WikiCup/Scoring#Next_year.27s_competition-_brainstorm – about how the WikiCup could be improved next year.

    • Thank you for taking the time to post. When I started investigating these problem articles, I looked at User:Cwmhiraeth’s contributions. The rules at both GAC (thanks for the correction) and at DYK are scattered over multiple pages making it difficult for any outsider to understand the rules and easy for any insider to hit someone over the head with the rules, for example, User:ColonelHenry telling me that only one reviewer was allowed to comment upon an article, in spite of there being multiple requests for additional inputf.

      One aspect of the rules for the articles is verifiability. However, this is generally not checked in either process, in spite of it being a tick point for Wikipedia policies in GACs. The processes, the need to speed to accrue points for a WikiCup win, and the general attitude of the community is not content oriented. I got told by User:Cwmhiraeth that the problem with my correcting his science in the Desert article was that it made the article look unpretty. I’m sorry, but appearance is a very low place holder after scientific accuracy.

      Looking through User:Cwmhiraeth’s contributions to try to understand what was going on with these farcical articles being promoted to DYK main page queues and Good Article status, I came up with the WikiCup, and last year’s winner, User:Cwmhiraeth. I have checked some of his contributions and will be featuring them on my blog. I see he has gotten better with time; but his understanding of biology is extremely limited, and his articles are reviewed and promoted by people with lesser understanding than he has, or possibly just careless reviewers. He was antagonistic to me when I removed crap from his desert article. Crap? He guessed! Then he assigned sources to his guesses and argued with me for removing the information! He did not have a reliable source or any source that said C4 photosynthesis plants open their stomata at night–he cited this to an article on CAM photosynthesis, and, heck, it looked good, and no reviewer has the ability to question biological information, so why not! Why not, indeed! Cwmhiraeth got over 7000 hits on his sentence that tunicates MAY have a notochord. The correction to the main page was ignored, as the history of Errors to the Main Page will show you is most common. So, WikiCup encourages editors to gobble up points for posting crap on the main page, and the mechanism for correcting errors doesn’t work. 7000 hits on bogus science. No student with a single college biology course would have added the qualifier “may” to the tunicate hook. And, just like User:ColonelHenry defending his review of the sources in Pedra da Gávea. ColonelHenry did not compare the article to the sources, or else his ignorance of geology is so profound that he simply could not read the article. I suspect that Cwmhiraeth’s ignorance of biology is so profound that he cannot sift the information he puts into articles.


      The top ten DYK producers: Dr. Blofeld, Nvvchar, Rosiestep, Cbl62, Alansohn, TonyTheTiger, Geschichte, Billy Hathorn, Casliber, Crisco, include three editors whose ability to understand geology and biology are in serious question. DYK does not have a mechanism for removing and/or correcting bad information on the main page, and the en.Wikipedia community does not care if bad science sits on the main page for however many hours scoring 7000 hits. The WikiCup awards points for DYKs; the DYKs and GAs by the winner of last year’s WikiCup were created by an editor who does not understand biology and guesses what things mean then falsely attributes them to a source. I call this vandalism: Vandalism is any addition, removal, or change of content in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia. Check out Cwmhiraeth’s talk page edit history; he has been warned in the past about his inability to understand biological information. He even acknowledged it at one point in a discussion with an irate editor. In spite of knowing he cannot understand biology well enough to transfer information from a source to an en.Wikipedia article, he continues to do so. I believe his articles compromise the integrity of Wikipedia, and he deliberately continues to create biological articles with the full knowledge that he is ignorant of biology. He should take a college or high school course in biology or zoology before he continues. I am not one of those who say non-experts cannot write en.Wikipedia; but you do need some quality control, and you have none; you’ve given it up for a barnstar.

    • FYI, Dr. Blofeld has some good ideas about how to fix the WikiCup, or at least he’s willing to start a dialogue about DYK problems. The community has really beat me out of participating in en.Wikipedia from Day 1. I suggest you invite Dr. Blofeld; the desire to improve things goes a long way, imo.

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