"Alternative facts" in Wikipedia

Richard Parncutt

May 2017

I am a big fan of Wikipedia. It's surely the biggest advance in research and knowledge since the invention of the printing press. Which makes we wonder why the universities don't support it financially. How about one dollar per student per year for starters?

But there is a problem. If you have the courage to criticize the strong for attacking the weak, the strong will attack you back. For this reason, anonymous climate deniers and their side-kicks, probably financed directly or indirectly by the fossil fuel industry, have been vandalizing my Wikipedia pages for years. I guess they are also regularly vandalizing any Wikipedia page that addresses climate change.

But that is no reason to stop reading Wikipedia. The problem is under control. Below are some extracts from the Wikipedia page called "Biographies of Living People". Like everything else in Wikipedia, these guidelines emerged from collaboration between many anonymous users, so a lot of thought and expertise went into them.

Material about living persons added to any Wikipedia page must be written with the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality, and avoidance of original research.

Contentious material about living persons (or, in some cases, recently deceased) that is unsourced or poorly sourced—whether the material is negative, positive, neutral, or just questionable—should be removed immediately and without waiting for discussion.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a tabloid: it is not Wikipedia's job to be sensationalist.

When writing about a person noteworthy only for one or two events, including every detail can lead to problems—even when the material is well sourced. When in doubt, biographies should be pared back to a version that is completely sourced, neutral, and on-topic. This is of particular importance when dealing with living individuals whose notability stems largely or entirely from being victims of another's actions. Wikipedia editors must not act, intentionally or otherwise, in a way that amounts to participating in or prolonging the victimization.

A living person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until convicted by a court of law. For relatively unknown people, editors must seriously consider not including material in any article suggesting that the person has committed a crime, or is accused of having committed one, unless a conviction is secured.

Experience has shown that misusing Wikipedia to perpetuate legal, political, social, literary, scholarly, or other disputes is harmful to the subjects of biographical articles, to other parties in the dispute, and to Wikipedia itself.

Wikipedia contains hundreds of thousands of articles about living persons. From both a legal and ethical standpoint it is essential that a determined effort be made to eliminate defamatory and other inappropriate material from these articles, but these concerns must be balanced against other concerns, such as allowing articles to show a bias in the subject's favor by removing appropriate material simply because the subject objects to it, or allowing articles about non-notable publicity-seekers to be retained.

Editors should make every effort to act with kindness toward the subjects of biographical material when the subjects arrive to express concern.

My special request for people reading my Wikipedia pages: If you notice something that contradicts the above guidelines, please delete or revise it. Anyone can edit Wikipedia! I could do it myself, but I don't believe that is good Wikipractice.

Further information in English: link link
Further information in German: link

The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal opinions. Readers who know and care about this topic are asked to contact the author with suggestions for mproving or extending the content: parncutt at gmx dot at. Back to Richard Parncutt's homepage