Wikipedia vs. Pagans [updated]

[UPDATE 5/22-24/13] Qworty, the Wikipedia editor primarily responsible for targeting Pagan articles for deletion (usually with demeaning and bigoted comments on the accompanying Talk pages), has been unmasked on Salon.com as Robert Clark Young, a writer with a years-long history of abuse of Wikipedia policies. His violations include personal vendettas against other artists and using sock puppet accounts to write and edit his own bio page. Wikipedia has finally blocked him from editing and launched an investigation. Read further coverage on The Wild Hunt and a special feature on Qworty’s anti-Pagan activities on Salon.com.

********

[11/20/12] This week, a notice from Tony Mierzwicki went out advising Pagans that several Wikipedia articles about important Pagan leaders were being considered for deletion. Patricia Monaghan (only days after her death), M. Macha Nightmare, Luisah Teish, Louis Martinie, David Jay Brown, Trance Mission, Matthew Abelson, Kenny Klein, Donald Michael Kraig, LaSara FireFox, Ian Corrigan and Raven Grimassi were all targeted. Tony and others were especially alarmed because of the bigoted and sometimes vicious language used by the Wikipedia editor who was recommending deletion. Religiously-based hatred seemed to be driving the attempted deletions.

I headed over to Wikipedia to read some of the discussions myself. Indeed, the editor recommending deletion of these articles does clearly have a personal beef with the Pagan community. S/he seems to be retaliating by deleting information about our movement from an important online information source. On the other hand, I was happy to see that other Wikipedia editors were fairly evaluating the articles according to stated Wikipedia guidelines.

Wikipedia has specific guidelines for determining whether a person or subject is notable enough to be included and for whether an article is unbiased. Specifically, the editors want to avoid articles that are written as self-promotion, or that are written by close friends or associates of the people mentioned. A number of criteria are used to establish notability, but the most important are secondary sources. Secondary sources are pieces written about a person or subject by a disinterested party. The most widely accepted secondary sources are established newspapers and academic books and journals.

A number of people have wondered what they can do to defend the Pagan movement’s presence on Wikipedia. The answer is simple: become a Wikipedia editor and learn Wikipedia’s guidelines.

  1. Add content to Pagan articles that provide evidence of notability, particularly from newspapers or academic sources. Google Scholar, for example, allows the user to search for a person’s name in academic books and journals. These sources can help to establish that a person is a notable authority.
  2. Use the Wikipedia dispute resolution process. Wikipedia has procedures to deal with editors who are using their powers abusively.

At this point, I have not seen any evidence that Wikipedia as a whole is anti-Pagan. However, Wikipedia is making an effort to tighten up its content by deleting articles on subjects that don’t meet notability or other guidelines for inclusion. Some content on minor subjects remains because no one has yet flagged it for deletion.

In the case of the Pagan articles, many of them require more citations and expanded information. Although the hostile editor may be targeting the articles unfairly, they still do need improvement to meet Wikipedia’s guidelines.

Wikipedia has rules. Let’s win this fight by using them.

******

[UPDATE 11/22/12] Due to an intermittent problem with comments, Tony Mierzwicki sent me this comment via private message. Since it contains important information about Wikipedia articles to watch, I’m including it here.

Tony writes:

Thanks for your comprehensive summary of the Wikipedia situation.

I’d like to make one minor correction. I was one a number of people who sent out notices. I was forwarding information from author Mike Nichols [http://www.witchessabbats.com/], who in turn was forwarding information from Mari Kosik Aubuchon.

There is indeed strong evidence of two Wikipedia editors having a strong dislike of the Pagan community. They have focused on the deficiencies you mentioned. A number of Pagan friendly Wikipedia editors are improving articles to meet Wikipedia’s guidelines, but we can always do with more. So, if anyone has editing skills and wants to get involved, there’s no better time as there are numerous other Pagan articles on Wikipedia that may be targeted in the future. We are also looking at creating new articles on leaders yet to be honoured.

The current situation is as follows:

KEPT : Patricia Monaghan, M Macha Nightmare, Luisah Teish, Donald Michael Kraig, LaSara FireFox, Louis Martinie, Matthew Abelson

DELETED : David Jay Brown, Ian Corrigan

DELETED IN THE PAST : Ted Andrews, Denny Sargent

STILL THREATENED WITH DELETION : Baba Raul Canizares, Kenny Klein, Raven Grimassi, Trance Mission [Pagan friendly band]

Last Sunday, Cara Schulz brought the matter to the attention of a top Wikipedia (paid) staff and a few of the administrators. She was told the matter would be looked into quickly and it looks like they are taking it seriously.

If this pattern of attempted deletions concerns you, click here to visit Wikipedia’s Contact page.

 

About Christine Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer is Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com. Christine holds a PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University. She has published widely on literature, popular culture, and Paganism and is the author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies (Patheos Press, 2012) as well as Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective (Routledge, 2013). Christine is also an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, where she served for two years as chair of the Theology and Religious History department.

  • JasonMankey

    Bravo!  It’s mind boggling to me that individuals with as many books in print as Raven Grimassi or Donald Michael Kraig could be marked for deletion.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6R4WFWYDXCAN5UJCKPSNI3FXUI Sterling Ericsson

    As a Wikipedia editor, I applaud this stance and thank you for making the right response because of your concerns.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

      Cheers!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    This is business as usual at wikipedia. Becoming a wikipedia editor requires one to become part of a toxic culture that makes the average internet flame-war look like friendly chat among close friends.

    A better solution is for people to learn how to think critically, and, in the process, to learn how to utilize actual sources of reliable information that make wikipedia unnecessary and irrelevant.

    Think about it: everything on wikipedia is supposed to be properly sourced, and wikipedia strongly encourages using sources that are readily available to the public on the internet. Therefore, anyone who knows how to read and can use google really has no need for wikipedia – assuming wikipedia actually followed its own guidelines. 

    • Terence Clark

      Wikipedia serves a rather valuable function as a clearing house for said sources.  It is also quite valuable for getting a broad overview of a topic from a site that, compared to the internet at large, is considerably more well-vetted, if imperfectly so.  

      I am a very capable ‘googler’ and am quite skilled at research on the internet as well as in the library stacks.  Indeed I used to work in the stacks at a university library.  But few things are as great a time-saver as a well referenced encyclopedia article or literature review, wikipedia included.  I know how to mill my own flour and make my own paper, but I still buy the majority of both at the store because I simply don’t have three days to wait for the pulp to dry to write down my work notes or an hour to grind my flour to make bread for dinner.
      Wikipedia’s editing culture does definitely get pretty vicious, but I don’t think the bickering under the hood justifies your complete write-off of it as a valuable resource.  Wikipedia has improved the utility of the web immensely and continues to do so.  We don’t need to learn to do without, we need to learn how to appropriately use it as the resource it is; a statement that is equally applicably to every other source both digital or in print.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fritterfae Eric Riley

    We should have a big Pagan, wikipedia write-in. Getting folks on laptops and doing big content edits and writeups.

    • Terence Clark

      Absolutely!

    • Terence Clark

      I’d also encourage any editors to join http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Neopaganism
      and use it as a framework for this effort.  Certainly you can make or improve all sorts of articles on the subject without referencing the WikiProject, but it does serve to streamline improvements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fritterfae Eric Riley

    And we should be careful to not lump in Wikipedia with any one person.  As a crowdsourced website, the actions of one person are a drop in the ocean.  An entire section of Wikipedia cannot be destroyed by a single person, because that’s not how Wikipedia works.  Social pressure pushing back against the actions of that individual can turn it around pretty quickly.  So, let’s not say that Wikipedia itself is gunning for Pagans, but rather there are people out there who really are trying to suppress Pagan history on Wikipedia.

  • Dazza

    I’m an outside individual who looked into this because a friend mentioned it and it stimulated by mind.  I followed the links to the review of the deletion discussion for David Jay Brown.  The discussion referenced that the Wikipedia article in general did not meet guidelines for sources and appeared to be self promotional.  I recovered the the page from internet caching (available at Google and reviewed it myself).  The page was in violation of Wikipedia guidelines.  Of the 26 references 25 were either by David Jay Brown or one of his partners in research.  This is in violation of Wikipedias standard for secondary sources.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:42 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:RS.

    His Wikipedia entry reads more like a resume then a critical analysis of his work.  There is no discussion of the merits of his work, rather just a list of his work.

    I have not read the deletion discussions in regards to the other people, but based upon the cached page, Wikipedias standards and the discussion, removal of this page was not religiously based hatred.

    The desire to become involved is an admirable one and people should become involved, but even then one must base his or her recommendations on the applicable standards and not personal preference.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

      You should read the other two discussions. “LOL she’s a witch” is not a valid reason to delete an article (and indeed, that discussion ended with a KEEP result). Also, see the original post by Tony for very ugly language about Italian witches that resurrects the old “they’re Satan worshippers” slur.

  • TurtleWitch

    Remember, Wikipedia is an editable format.  It is also a place where someone who has somewhat of a negative opinion may “substantiate” a source and change information.  This is terribly infuriating for website constructionists who are truly trying to educate the users.  It is inconceivable that an Editor would have such an objectionable opinion of such highly admired and scholarly individuals, within their fields; but this too may happen.  Using the knowledge of, and Wikipedia’s own standards is the only way to rectify this terrible situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dusty-Dionne/659882192 Dusty Dionne

    This
    must be the same person who targeted Pete Pathfinder Davis’ page when I
    was trying to create it. They made it so hard for me that I gave up,
    because I just couldn’t learn enough about Wikipedia Editing to keep up
    with this person who was obviously a pro at the loopholes on Wiki, and
    knew more about how to shut me down, than I did about how to keep it
    going. So Pete gets no Wiki Page because of it, and now I am a little
    more than incensed…

  • Anna GreenFlame

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. I added a comment, albeit ineptly for now – their editing process is rather opaque. From what I could read of the Wikipedia notability requirements, citation in peer-reviewed journals and is only one of the things that shows notability, yet it’s the thing keeps coming up. As a young religious movement that is only now being taken seriously by the academe, our authors and musicians simply don’t have a lot of citations or reviews in the mainstream world. 

  • Ldmurphy2000

    Sounds like censorship to me. Or has Wikipedia lost its,, or is running out of memory? I like the idea that you can edit or add to an article. But deletion? That’s blasphemous! I thought nothing gets deleted once virtual birth takes place.

    • Terence Clark

      articles on Wikipedia are deleted frequently and for a variety of valid reasons, though notability is probably the most common.  Wikipedia certainly has a lot of information to offer on numerous subjects, but some sort of outside recognition of the notability of the subject needs to be demonstrated.  Typically deletes are discussed rather extensively prior to any action being taken.  I haven’t seen any that really smack of ‘censorship’ when you really dig into the details on the deletion page.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1008725286 Christopher Chase

    I hope this becomes a teachable moment. Pagans (or any religious group) need to do a better job of adding references to existing Wiki articles as they are produced in religious and non-religious media—whether online, musical, print or artistic sources. Wikipedia should be a launching pad for further and more in-depth study–it can’t be that if huge numbers of citations and relevant information are missing.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7CSUE2G3GVGACPFMMQQQPUJ4XE Marie Gibb

    this is not surprising. Bravo for making this public

  • Robert Alvarez

    Christine, thank you so much for this blog post.  Great information and you have Divinely Inspired me to become a Wikipedia editor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Burkhart/650725305 Joe Burkhart

    So all it takes to be considered a Pagan leader is to have published a number of books?
    Plus last time I checked there were NO leaders in the Pagan community.
    Gotta be those Wiccan’s are at it again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Burkhart/650725305 Joe Burkhart

    Actually just wait until Rowan Pendragon can swoop in and take all the credit before considering doing anything further with this.

    • Aine

       Whoa, what’s with that attitude? Both of your posts are bordering on outright nasty behavior – there are definitely leaders within certain PAGAN religions, as much as you may want to ignore it because it doesn’t fit your idea of what Paganism is. And a personal attack against someone? What the heck dude?

  • http://www.mywingsofdesireblog.blogspot.com/ Helen

    Thank you very much for this article. I have been adding Pagan content to Wikipedia for the last month or so. I would like to mention that the problem is not only related to Pagan authors but to information on Paganism in general. I am a member of Wikiproject Neopaganism which could always use more help. Pagans have no hope of defending their image in public without decent Wikipedia information. We can write articles galore and post them in Pagan spaces but the non-Pagans who need to see them will not. Furthermore, malicious non-Pagans are going out of their way to discredit us on Wikipedia and we need to defend ourselves. I have experienced religious prejudice firsthand on Wikipedia already and have followed the correct Wikipedia channels which work.

  • Terence Clark

    It would appear that there is more history here than immediately meets the eye.  The targeted individual in question made a good number of edits and new pages for people, bands, and events specifically related to his event back in 2007.  He did so in a way that was a conflict of interest and came off as and advertisement and certainly not encyclopedic in nature. That said, this is not uncommon for new editors.  He was notified of the issues and arbitration was initiated and quickly closed when he showed strong evidence of understanding the rules of the road on Wikipedia.

    The mass deletion effort appears to have been a knee-jerk response to what the editor proposing deletion viewed as a resurfacing of those old issues.  The editor in question certainly violated wikipedia’s civility guidelines as well as a few guidelines on simple human decency, and I think he painted too many articles with the delete brush before reviewing their content.   That said, this seems very specific and almost personal in nature and not really any kind of trend motivated by the editor’s opinions of paganism (though clearly his opinions are quite negative).  He has a pretty good track record outside of this issue and I don’t see any reason to believe this is anything other than a gross misunderstanding and a horrific lack of good judgement in wording and behavior. I suspect this will become a non-issue quite rapidly.

    That said, one individual in the voting on these articles made the comment that the deletion nomination spurred a lot of research and improvement on several of the articles to bring them in line with wikipedia’s standards.  It’s a pretty terrible way to go about it, but some good came of it.

  • Alex Leon

    Most of the deletions seem to be made by a user named Qworty.  Looking through their talk page, the person has been warned repeatedly for harrassment, wrongful edits, vandalism, bais, insults, and discrimination.  How is this person still an editor??

    • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

      We probably need an established Wikipedia editor to take Qworty to dispute resolution. It seems there’s a tipping point that hasn’t yet been reached (in fact, one of the editors on Patricia Monaghan’s thread has said as much — that the majority of Qworty’s articles flagged for delete do indeed violate Wikipedia guidelines). Currently, s/he seems to be viewed as nasty and unpleasant, but still mostly doing his/her job.

    • Terence Clark

      I’ll note that Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has actually personally warned this individual on his talk page.  I can assure you he hasn’t gone unnoticed.  With several million editors, Jimbo doesn’t typically spend a lot of time looking at individual users’ contributions.

  • http://twitter.com/AngelaRose81 Angela Mitchell

    Are you kidding? TED ANDREWS?!?! He’s the one that got me started on my path. There are so many things about me that simply would not be if I had not read his books. 

  • WhiteBirch

    Holy smokes, I find it hard to believe they deleted Ian Corrigan. I am probably biased, and am not familiar with Wikipedia’s guidelines, but… /baffled

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000888026081 Portable Weirdness

    Thank you. You qualify for the Do Your Homework award for presenting practical suggestions for dealing with the problem instead of just amping Teh Outrages.

    (send the flying monkeys with Beer & Cookies)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7CSUE2G3GVGACPFMMQQQPUJ4XE Marie Gibb

    if they delete things like this what else will they delete …they are suppose to inform not use the platform for their bias beliefs bravo for bringing this to our attention

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Grant-Young/100000494581616 Grant Young

    We will not fly quietly into the night.

  • Eddie Vega

    Here is some information about the Wikipedia user who marked Pagan-related articles for deletion: http://www.salon.com/2013/05/17/revenge_ego_and_the_corruption_of_wikipedia/

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      Thanks!

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