Wikipedia has recently been flexing its muscles lately, I’m sure you have heard about their powerful one day blackout protesting SOPA. And why not? Wikipedia is one of the top five used Internet sites, how many of us tried to use Wikipedia that day and got the black shadow screen? I joined the Twitter group #DaywithoutWikipedia and after 1,200 tweets from the group in an hour I ran away. I tried to look up sites twice during the day and as an editor I should know better. Just a natural reflex I suppose.
As I mentioned, I am an editor of Wikipedia, helping to create the most awesome encyclopedia in the world. The price is great, free in price as well as free from ads, viruses and pop-ups. Summer 2011 I launched a focused campaign aimed at the skeptical/secular community asking them to become editors and focus on improving critical thinking content in all languages on Wikipedia.
The project has several goals all of which require people to join in our movement to learn how to edit Wikipedia either improving articles by adding critical thinking articles, removing unsourced opinions on paranormal pages to improving the pages of our spokespeople. I’m writing here today to discuss this project which I call We Got Your Wiki Back!
We know that people are using Wikipedia as their source for neutral general information. We also know (using this cool tool) that whenever anyone/anything is in the public eye there will be a spike in hits.
As an example I’m going to bring up the Rebecca Watson elevatorgate event. Please set aside your opinion and just see this exercise from a quantitative viewpoint. Normally Watson’s Wikipedia page receives 100 hits a day. We can see this in May – June 2011. In July 2011 she averages 675 hits a day, on July 2nd Popular blogger P.Z. Meyers wrote about the elevator story on Pharyngula Blog. That same morning Richard Dawkins responded in the comment section which was like dumping gasoline on the embers. About July 5th (as this statistics tool is off by a 24-36 hours) Watson’s WP page hits 2,038. August and beyond go back to normal plus 10% hits (about 110 per day.) I do not follow Watson’s career so I don’t know if there might have been other reasons why she had nearly a 2K percent spike in people wanting to know more about her on that day.
As I said, I am using this solely as an example. People are using Wikipedia as a source of neutral information. We don’t always know when suddenly the public will become fascinated with one of our own. Sometimes like in the case of the CFI conference we know who the speakers are going to be, and know that a few days before and after there will be an influx of people wanting to know more about these women. Are we prepared?
The Center for Inquiry is sponsoring a Women in Secularism conference May 18-20, 2012 in Virgina. They state “Outspoken, influential secularist speakers at Women in Secularism will discuss and examine the role religion has played in the repression of women.” Who are all these influential women that are representing the secularist community? I don’t know all these names, and doubt that most people do. So I’ve done what most people will do and looked them up on Wikipedia. Here is what the world will see if nothing changes between now and May 2012.
Lauren Becker does not have a Wikipedia page.
The Ophelia Benson page is a stub, missing a picture as well. 457 hits Dec 2011 – almost all the references on the page are by Benson. In order to prove notoriety, prominent secondary sources need to talk about her.
Jamila Bey does not have a Wikipedia page.
The Greta Christina page needs a bit of work also. She received 867 hits Dec 2011. The page has a reference flag which means that only primary sources are used. This challenges her notoriety, as in Benson’s case prominent secondary sources need to be found. The writing on the page needs some work as it reads like a fan has written the page.
Elisabeth Cornwell does not have her own Wikipedia page, but is mentioned in a sentence on the Dawkins Foundation page.
Annie Laurie Gaylor has her own page but like Benson’s it is a stub. 2,176 hits for Dec 2011.
The Debbie Goddard Wikipedia page was flagged for notability Sept 2011. Without a lot of improvement the page will soon be removed. 117 hits Dec 2011. Reading over the talk page for Goddard it seems that its deletion is only waiting until the editor remembers it was supposed to be pulled down months ago.
Jennifer Michael Hecht has a well tended page. 663 hits for Dec 2011.
The Sikivu Hutchinson page is in terrible shape, 3 flags from August 2011, one even stating that the page has no other links to it making it a “orphan”. Its only a matter of time before this page gets deleted. 212 hits to her page Dec 2011.
The Susan Jacoby page looks to be in pretty good shape, though missing a photograph of her. 1,713 hits in Dec 2011.
The Jennifer McCreight page has been improved a lot in the last few months when McCreight noticed that her page was on the list for deletion because of notoriety. McCreight wrote a blog about how it felt to have a Wikipedia page and then to have it taken away, this led to an outpouring of support by her fans. They sought out references and made a good effort to improve the page, the noteworthy flag remains. The page received 535 hits Dec 2011.
Wafa Sultan has a nicely written page though missing a picture. The page had 3,217 hits Dec 2011.
The Rebecca Watson page has 3 flags (one for notoriety) and a nasty bright red citation error in the references section. Hits are 5,961 Dec 2011.
Some might see the glass half-full and be thankful that our female representatives even have this much prominence. I’m usually a pretty optimistic kind of person, but in this case I’m a bit embarrassed. These are some of the top female secular speakers we have and 2 don’t have Wikipedia pages, and several are near deletion. Of the remaining pages only a few are in good shape. I will be bold and say that these sorry excuses for Wikipedia pages ALMOST matches the bad shape that some of our male spokespeople’s pages are in.
Why has this been allowed? These are our representatives, whether or not you agree with their message, by allowing these pages to turn into litter filled vacant lots we are giving the impression that we don’t care about our spokespeople and the world probably shouldn’t care either. If we don’t have their backs who will?
What to do about it? There is a lot that can be done. It isn’t that difficult. Can you supply a current nice portrait of one of these women? Can you help find the links necessary to improve these pages? Improving the writing/grammar on these pages will help make them more scholarly and readable. My blog Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia has hundreds of ideas of how to edit. My offer to virtually hand-hold anyone willing to learn editing stands. This is your chance to make a real difference in the skeptical/secular movement, improving the visibility and prominence of our spokespeople (both female and male) by editing Wikipedia pages is a win-win for everyone.
If you can help, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org