Wikipedia Follies: Response to Anonymous Dissident

Anonymous Dissident wrote a very kind and pertinent reply to my complaint that he had taken down the links to Acta Pauli that I put in articles in the French and German Wikipedia on Acts of Paul and Thecla (etc).  I reproduce his reply, which shows that he is a thoughtful young man with a great future:

Anonymous Dissident Says:
May 1, 2009 at 9:55 pm

The action I took in removing links to this site was not the result of the ill-discretion of a twelve year old (who is now approximately two years older than posited by this entry — while you may possess PhDs, you’ve neglected to review your sources and their dates of publishing properly here), but rather one prescribed by Wikipedia policy. See [this link] for more, with particular attention to the recommendation for blogs in the “links to be avoided” section. Posts like this one, which does not concern anything remotely educational or pertinent to an encyclopedia, lead me to believe that this blog does not meet the criterion thereat explicated.

My Wikipedia related-posts are a signal to scholars and others interested in the Acts of Paul that Wikipedia will be unhelpful if they want reliable information on Acts of Paul related subjects–I could spend the time to critique its articles line by line, but the rapidly changing content of that platform creates a significant challenge.  Why provide a critique against something that could soon be gone?

I therefore recommend that scholars like myself not bother to make edits on that platform where any non-specialist can take them down within seconds. Scholars don’t have the time to waste on such games. My posts about my personal experience with trying to edit Wikipedia are therefore of interest to other scholars in our orb (specialists in Bible, history and theology) who may be tempted to participate in Wikipedia. That is why it suits the threshold of Acta Pauli, which is an international scholarly discussion of the Acts of Paul.

As a co-founder of the blog, my goal is to make it the go-to site for the academic study of the Acts of Paul. If you can point me to a better site, please do so. I think your Wikipedia readers would be well-served by a link to Acta Pauli; however, I challenged your judgment as an editor because you let stand another link, Le Champ du Midrash: by reproducing a French translation of  a 5th century text by Ps. Basil as though it were the 2nd Century Acts of Paul and Thecla, it is only approximately 300 years off the mark. Consider also, that numerous articles and my PhD dissertation are available at Acta Pauli in PDF format, and a link to Dr. Jeremy Barrier’s PhD dissertation, and it is arguably already the best academic site on the WWW.

“See [this link] for more, with particular attention to the recommendation for blogs in the ‘links to be avoided’ section.”  I have read the rules against blogs and self-published works; in general, I would have to agree because it is difficult to determine the credibility of the authors. Let me cite rule 11 under links to be avoided:

11. Links to blogs, personal web pages and most fansites, except those written by a recognized authority (this exception is meant to be very limited; as a minimum standard, recognized authorities always meet Wikipedia’s notability criteria for biographies).

I would think that the authors on this blog would meet the criterion of “recognized authority”, possessing degrees from accredited universities, Barrier and Merz are professors; Willy Rordorf, who has contributed was my mentor and is a professor emeritus at the University of Neuchatel; I have taught in recognized schools in Canada and Africa at both the graduate and the undergraduate level. Prof. Willy Rordorf more than the rest of us merits the so-called “notability criteria”.  If we who have spent many years of academic research on the Acts of Paul and have articles in peer-reviewed publications and presented papers at academic conferences are not “recognized authorities” than nobody is. But notability and “recognized authority” are two different standards.  Not every professor who is an authority on a subject is also worthy of an article, though I have seen a few vanity articles on Wikipedia.

“…while you may possess PhDs, you’ve neglected to review your sources and their dates of publishing properly here”.  Now that is an interesting criticism.  Perhaps you examined some of the posts and found that we have not provided detailed bibliographic information in every case.   This may the case in the discussion posts.  But you will notice that in all the articles and dissertations posted on Acta Pauli, standard bibliographic information is given.  In posts, we have tried merely to give sufficient information so that readers possessing a bibliographic knowledge of the field may find the sources.  For full bibliographies of the Acts of Paul, see my dissertation and more recently Dr. Jeremy Barrier’s.

8 Responses to Wikipedia Follies: Response to Anonymous Dissident

  1. Anonymous Dissident says:

    Thank you for your extended and comprehensive response. In spite of the time you’ve invested in responding to my concerns, the fact that this particular post is on the front page of the site you linked to on Wikipedia only strengthens my case. This is what the Wikipedia reader is immediately subjected to when they open your link – and it is not pertinent in any way. For blog links to be sustained on Wikipedia, the linked blog must be rigidly on-topic and must not stray into areas that diverge from the topic of the article where the link was posted.

  2. P. W. Dunn says:

    You’re welcome. Thanks too for your detailed explanation of your editorial decision. You do what you have to do. But as a result, it will remain very difficult for Wikipedia to get any kind of respect from scholars. I understand that it is is easier to try to censor sites that are critical of Wikipedia than it is to actually try to change it for the better.

  3. Anonymous Dissident says:

    You contend that, because Wikipedia has strict policy on external linking, its scholarly respect is condemned? Heh, interesting thought. I think the more common view is that Wikipedia’s content damages it in professional eyes rather than where it links to, but each to his own.

  4. P. W. Dunn says:

    Thanks again for this remark. I guess you, as an editor, must be very aware of the criticisms of Wikipedia, much more than I.

    Yesterday I was speaking to friend, a PhD (ABD) student in history. He said he uses Wikipedia and especially explores the external links. Wikipedia would be enhanced by both accurate content and by external links to quality websites. Your view of our website notwithstanding, I have no reticence in recommending Acta Pauli, and so your allowing a link to it would have improved the Wikipedia articles in question. We’ve only started this site in January, so be sure that our content will grow with time.

    My criticism of Wikipedia stems from trying to add content myself; I am aware that others have criticized it for a variety of reasons. Before my experience I considered making improvements to the Acts of Paul related articles. But why would I do that now, when an editor who knows little about the Acts of Paul can remove my edits within seconds?

    By the way, I would argue that my Wikipedia-related posts on Acta Pauli are “rigidly on topic”. If Wikipedia offers information about the Acts of Paul, 3 Cor, Thecla, etc. then these articles will be critiqued by this website. The fact that you have latched on to this as your main reason for denying the link smacks of censorship.

    Wikipedia enjoys a preeminence on the internet that many believe it doesn’t deserve. Unfortunately, the editorial process as I’ve experienced it, becomes adversarial.

    Despite our disagreement, I admire you because, I have had many students at the undergraduate and graduate level who are less articulate than yourself. That is why I respond to you as one who able to grasp critical nature of this conversation. Are you considering an academic career?

  5. Anonymous Dissident says:

    I’ve spent over 2 years of my life editing Wikipedia, and in that time, one does become aware of the criticisms of the site. One has to; to ignore them while simultaneously expending that much time on the site would be extremely naive and would seem a poor decision indeed.

    I suspect the problem here is a difference in understanding in what I meant by “on topic”. Sure, some of your posts might be relevant to Wikipedia, but this does not mean that they should be posted on Wikipedia without consideration for the article you’re adding that link to. If your blog does not solely or almost completely concern the Acts of Paul, it should not be linked to from the Acts of Paul article or any of its child articles.

    Now, I’ve taken the time to have a scroll through your content. Much of it presents educational discussion. Other parts of the site’s content – such as this particular post – do not present educational discussion, or even have any bearing on the Acts of Paul (which is all we care about when we consider a link to here from the Acts of Paul article(s)).

    Your link was removed for the above reason, mostly. I won’t comment on whether the authors of this site are notable enough to merit having their blog externally linked on Wikipedia; it’s not material here and it might become a disagreeably inflammatory discussion not worth having. All I’ll say is that none of you have Wikipedia articles at the time of this writing. This does not necessarily equate to you not being notable enough for such articles, but it’s a factor to be taken into consideration here.

    It may seem ironic and even laughable that Wikipedia should opt for a strict linking policy when so much of its body content is in such a poor state. However, an apt [Wikipedia essay provides great insight into the matter; and it’s largely for reasons elucidated there that I myself have remained on the site for as long as I have. To quote the particularly powerful first paragraph:

    “Wikipedia is, by number of articles, the largest encyclopedia ever to exist. It contains a lot of information, and has been edited and viewed by millions of people, many of whom have found it useful. Unfortunately, much of it really isn’t that good. Many people have eagerly pointed this out – often failing to give weight to the notion that it has been created entirely by volunteers, from nothing, in just seven and a half years – and some have even suggested that the Web would be better off without it. However, in airing their complaints, they frequently miss out one crucial detail: Wikipedia is not finished. Not even close. In fact, we’re barely getting started.”

    We’re a perpetual work in progress, and there is indeed much work to be done. But there aren’t any time constraints, so taking the time to formulate a strong and careful policy on external links in the face of much larger problems isn’t a mistake at all.

    With regard to the matter of censorship: the Wikipedia ideal is that the content not be censored, in any way. I think, perhaps, that claiming my removal of your link “smacks of censorship” is a bit below the belt. I say this because, from what I’ve seen, your site does not present any fringe views or left-field ideas that an interested party would actually care about censoring, even if I were such an interested party. I have no reason to “censor” your website. In my youth, I have few connections and few well-developed opinions or invested interests; in that way, I’m the perfect person to go about removing links when needed. I’ll state here that I’ve no agenda other than the maintenance of Wikipedia’s quality. On a final note, to assert that Wikipedia censors against its criticism is slightly misguided when the site has an article on “Criticism of Wikipedia”.

    As to your last remark: thank you for your kindness. I am considering an academic career. Particle physics seems to be my bent, and I’m quite proud of my work on Wikipedia’s article on “Quark”.

    Thanks again.

  6. P. W. Dunn says:

    Good luck in your chosen field. Again it is refreshing to see a young person with articulate skills in English and evidently the ability to read French and German.

    I only meant that your reason for removing the link “smacks of censorship” because it is precisely my posts criticizing Wikipedia which have caused you to say that our site is not “on topic”.

    Your decision to remove the links to Acta Pauli are a disservice to the readers of Wikipedia. In the future, if you continue to follow Acta Pauli (I can notify you when it happens), I will further critique the actual content of the Acts of Paul related articles.

    Finally, it is ultimately unimportant to any of us whether you or anyone from Wikipedia consider us notable. That none of us have Wikipedia articles is not even germane. You could be as inflammatory as you like. Your opinion has no bearing on our stature as scholars and authorities in the field. Perhaps you are aware of rules at Wikipedia (though I think you are applying them too rigidly in this case), but you may not be aware of how one gets to our level the academic world.

    All the best in all your endeavors, and I thank you for having participated in our discussion. It was certainly informative and enjoyable for me.

  7. […] In view of the extended correspondence that I’ve been able to have with Anonymous Dissident, a Wikipedia editor,I’ve decided to begin to critique of Acts of Paul related articles in Wikipedia.  Let’s start with the French.  It should be understood that I am critiquing the French article as it looked today and that it can change at any time. […]

  8. […] Compte tenu de la correspondance que j’ai pu avoir avec Anonymous Dissident, un éditeur de Wikipedia, j’ai décidé de commencer à critiquer les articles lié aux Actes de Paul chez Wikipedia. Commençons avec le français. S’il vous plaît, garder à l’esprit que je fais l’évaluation de l’article tel qu’il est examiné aujourd’hui, mais qu’il peut changer à tout moment. […]

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