The Wiki-workers and their amazing knowledge-optimisation strategy (?)
Ever wondered how Wikipedia can be so reliable? Or indeed if the curious workforce of amateur wiki-elves really has reliably husbanded the world’s knowledge?
Maybe you’ve found that as with newspapers, Wikipedia is usually ok except on topics you know about yourself, and perhaps this is why: the basic stuff such as where people were born, or even the annual number of gunshot deaths, is what people usually seek, and those things are easy to get right. Deeper, subtler issues cause problems; but it’s not just your own special knowledge that falls into this category, sometimes it’s whole areas. Ancient events for example are easy enough for experts to mess up, so we shouldn’t be surprised at what amateurs have done…
The Mysterious Past Is Not Rocket Science – It’s Worse; Simple Wiki-ing Doesn’t Work For It
“Reconstructing the past” is hard: check the book (later!). Most people investigate anything by trying to discover the ‘facts’ right away, but the moment they do that in long-range detection, they’ve gone wrong. Especially if they misuse a ‘protofact’ to the point of ignoring it completely until they’ve got ‘100% proof’ of it. It’s not about “just the ‘proven’ facts”, it’s about developing, selecting and honing theories, and even if it were about facts, they would only emerge after much theorisation. At least with rocket science, non-experts know they can’t do the differential equations or relativity they’d need; but with palaeontology, people dive in, not just without the obvious specialist knowledge, but without knowing that they don’t know how to theorise. And unfortunately, most of palaeontology, apart from where and when the bones were found, is almost entirely about presenting, discussing and selecting alternative theories. That’s why in historical disciplines, encyclopaedias must present candidate theories, and fairly; not pretentiously offer supposed but one-sided ‘facts‘.
Wikipedia’s Dangerous New Idea Is: Democracy Of The Mediocre
This makes it fertile ground for fashions and cliques, and it makes it hard to demonstrate their folly; but by great good fortune we’ve recently been offered a blatant example of pure clique-based anti-scientific practice on Wikipedia itself. Usually when I highlight a point where current beliefs are wrong it’s not immediately obvious to an outsider, but this time an eight-year-old can see it. Now, they can also smell corruption. Those who habitually slur productive thinkers as alien, and it’s standard practice amongst members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, usually aren’t stupid enough to make their lies so transparent any child could see through them, but wiki-workers are, as we shall see.
Bird evolution, much of which involves dinosaurs and so is better called dinobird evolution, is particularly puzzling partly because dinobird biology is and was so incredibly bizarre, and partly because humans are not set up to understand evolution: unlike the emotional landscape or simple physics, solving evolutionary puzzles has paradoxically never had survival value. But for those folks who hate thinking and couldn’t get anywhere in real science, but are interested in animals, and like to see themselves not just as scientists but above all as members of the Good Guy’s Gang… This Is What Yer Do:
[Compare these points to Clay Sharky’s three patterns in A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy]
* Establish a set of principles that don’t require much thought and are easy to follow;
* Learn to distinguish members of your group from outsiders;
* Try to silence any outsiders irrespective of any clearly superior sophistication they may show, and vilify them as unsavoury marginal characters.
Case In Point
So back in the summer when some funny-thinking unsavoury character with the temerity to draw on multiple academic subjects at once – that would be me – decided to inject some science into the Wikipedia dinobird pages, I took care to correct only blatant rubbish, and in the simplest possible ways.
Count The Bones? No. Veto That.
The first point I made is exemplified by the image at the top of this posting showing in red the undisputed bones of the right hind leg of the pig-sized thing trying to survive the Velociraptor attack. In electric blue is the Protoceratops’ left hind leg as revealed by the discoverers. But do not imagine that those bones exist. They can’t, because outsiders must not be allowed to criticise the mob’s claim: in this case, that only one leg of the Protoceratops remained: the right rear one.
Yes, my pointing out that two legs remained was reversed as if I were some unspeakable moron, with no genuine justification. Why? Because no paper had been written on it! Presumably if I were trying to correct the claim that 1+ 1 = 1 , the same thing would happen. Oh wait ¬- that’s exactly what did happen.
Pretending To Explain Tail And Teeth
My next amendment concerned the peculiar tooth and tail design of Velociraptor and its near relatives. Big-game-hunting dinosaurs have serrated teeth, but Velociraptor’s and its relatives’ serrations are bigger on the back edge than the front. It had been claimed that this, and its cane-like tail must have been enhancements for prey capture – but this is no explanation since other predators also catch prey! It’s like saying BMW’s are more expensive because they have wheels. Pseudo-explanations like this have no place in any kind of knowledge store… unless you’re the kind of dolt happy with any old justification; however, “no paper had been written on it” (though of course the point must appear in anything defining the nature of explanation.)
The page had implied that the Velociraptor’s tail could not bend in a vertical plane, yet the photo itself showed even the stiffest section of the tail bending up through 60 degrees without needing bone breaks. This visually blatantly obvious error of course needed to be corrected, so I did. Guess what? Removed repeatedly due to the accusation that it had not been published.
Bad Theorisation And Bad Evolution: Must Be Preserved
One more example deals with elementary but important theorisation: the suggestion that Velociraptor’s long arms meant it might have been on the way to evolving flight (that would be over 70 million years after flight was actually evolved). Long arms consistent with pre-flight? Even if you agreed, long arms are certainly at least as consistent with post-flight – in other words its ancestors rather than its descendants might have flown (as mentioned in multiple references already on the page). I made this point. If the evidence is at least as consistent with the opposing theory, you can’t say it supports your theory. This is something that doesn’t have to be justified by some published paper, it should be embodied in every Wikipedia article. But again, it was repeatedly removed.
Experts Most Unwelcome
These points and every single other contribution I made were reversed, sometimes on the grounds that I was justifying them by dint of having written about them in my book. I did write about them in my book, and referenced it to allow those interested to access what is arguably the best explanation of dinobird and Velociraptor evolution (and if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have written it). But the points didn’t need my book to justify them since as I’ve said, some were noted in books already in the page’s reference list. And the claim that nothing can be contributed to Wikipedia if the contributing author had written about them in their own book, is about as self-defeating as you can get (don’t forget, this is in a science subject).
The first dickhead who’d reversed my changes soon gave up reversing them. Then a second, a certain Mr. Martynuik, known to me as a keen amateur dinobirder and amateur scientist, stepped up and started reversing my changes; but again it didn’t alter the fact that two legs were visible, etc. etc., so I reversed them back. Finally, characters completely unknown to science, whose seniority depended on devoting their creativity to really heavy-duty Wikipedia-fiddling ,‘helped science’ by putting editing above my level of privilege.
Oh, Right – Some Of My views Right, But I’m Still Wrong?!
There have been developments on the leg front: the claim that only one leg is visible has now been removed from the page. My view has therefore been acknowledged, and incidentally implicitly acknowledging that the multiple reversals of my view were erroneous. But also emphasised is the point that despite my insights, I am not allowed to make changes that others of little or no scientific nous, are entitled to make – once I’ve pointed them out. And other blatantly pseudo-scientific errors I’ve pointed out are reinstated.
No Original Research On Wiki… Unless It’s Away From Groupthinkers’ Territory
Here’s another thing. I carefully avoided making any novel contributions to the Velociraptor page. However, earlier, I actually had made significant novel scientific contributions to the bird breathing pages. But no-one seemed to care about that. Why? Because the main issue was whether some special interest group had had its pride violated by my contributions, and anything like bird breathing is safe from the Velociraptor gang because it’s a hard subject. In fact, even after I’d pointed out my novel contributions on bird breathing to the idiots on the Velociraptor page, they still didn’t try to remove my contributions to the breathing pages. Therefore the principle of no novelty that they quoted (invalidly) to stop me on ‘their’ page, was clearly not one they actually considered important.
As a result I’ve removed the insights I offered free on the breathing pages: you’ll have to go to my book to understand why penguins’ lungs don’t collapse hundreds of meters below where whales’ lungs collapse, or what the neopulmo is for; and as a result the value of Wikipedia as a source of elucidation has been drastically lowered in that area. (Duncker agrees with me that the German page on bird breathing is (or was, summer 2012) complete twaddle from beginning to end, but I won’t bother with that either now.) Again, this is of no interest to the Velociraptor mob. Their whole behaviour is clearly the simple resistance to anyone they consider to have violated their influence on a territory they claim as their own.
And The Moral Is…
At first Wikipedia was a quick source of information perhaps hard to find elsewhere, but these days all the info is readily available lower down the Google ranking. Though quick, Wikipedia is now poisonous: it can veto all views but one in any area where understanding requires skilled construction and slow selection of theories, but which also attracts influential but unskilled interest groups as with dinosaurs, or in other areas, groups politically or morally biased. To emphasise the incompetence of the swine I cast my pearls before, the standard scientific principles I used in passing to justify my points were described by Martynuik (who wasn’t toilet trained when I got my second degree some years after my first, and who has never worked in research or made any scientific contribution, nor opened a book on the philosophy of science) as “…barely published manifestos full of extremely idiosyncratic ideas”. Translation: Popperian principles are idiosyncratic. Note that the word “manifesto” is intended to bring to mind the Unabomber, and, presumably of equal standing to Martynuik, Marx. Be warned: Wikipedia is packed with activists who always describe anything new to them as alien and unsound, and who would much rather destroy than learn. Martynuik apparently used to work in an HR department. I feel sorry for anyone Martynuik doesn’t identify with. The chances of their career getting honest unbiased handling seem vanishingly small. Surely messages should be sent to possible employees of the firm, warning them not to expect reason or justice if their name crosses his desk. It now seems he’s become a teacher. That’ll be worse.
Who’s Violating Wikipedia Principles?
Any action supposedly made on behalf of Wikipedia must observe its five principles… which inevitably means that anyone sordid-minded enough will twist and ignore them as required to defend any viewpoint. It hardly needs pointing out that those ‘No Left Rear Leg’ merchants have violated at least two of the rules, by working hard to sabotage a fair representation of views, and also by behaving as though they owned Wikipedia. But any science writings should also obey at least one requirement whoever writes the rules: You Must Not Present Pseudo-scientific Blatant Nonsense To The Public As Good Science. This they have done, and have continued to do so, even when their evil is resisted. This won’t change on its own, so Wikipedia must be attacked until it understands and observes the basic principles underlying this episode and the presentation of science in general. We need not imagine that it provides some essential service now, even if it ever did.
What then, when the matter is taken to the Wikipedia “Higher-ups”?
Check out the next, worse episode