Tilting At Wikimills

Tilting At Wikimills May 23, 2011

Originally appeared at PNC-Minnesota.

I’ve been engaging in something that may be an exercise in futility, working to improve (read: keep from being deleted) an article on Paganistan on Wikipedia. The article has been tagged for deletion for not being note worthy enough.  Not enough sources they consider ‘reliable’ have written about Paganistan, which is short hand for saying the mainstream press hasn’t written much about us and the other sources listed aren’t reliable for one reason or another.   From the discussion on the Article For Deletion page, it’s looking like this article, as the one on Sacred Paths Center which was already deleted, is on the fast track to non-existence.

So why have I been tilting at this particular windmill?  Because too many articles on Paganism are being deleted on Wikipedia. Because this action on Wikipedia highlights the difficulties Pagans face gaining acceptance and inclusion in mainstream society and how the rules are discriminatory in practice, if not in intention.  Because Wikipedia matters and is used as an initial stop for information gathering for the Average Joe and for media, like it or not.  Most of all, because Pagans and Paganism are noteworthy.

One of the reasons Pagan articles get put onto the fast track to deletion is that they lack sources Wikipedia considers reliable, which then makes the entire topic ‘not worthy of note.’  After all, if it was worth noting, people would write about it, right?

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this policy as it helps ensure that the articles and sources are solid.  When this policy is put into practice with under-reported minority groups such as modern Pagans, that’s where the unintentional discrimination happens.  Mainstream media simply doesn’t cover our news.  When they do it is usually for a Halloween story or a hit-piece like what was on the National Post.   So finding mainstream news articles about the important people, events, and places within Paganism is difficult.  We were able to find several mainstream articles that reference Paganistan, but these were deemed not significant enough.  The goal line moves again.  This difficulty and lack of primary reporting of Pagan news is what lead to the creation of the Pagan Newswire Collective and the Minnesota bureau.

…without original reporting coming from the local level we become overly dependent on a news industry that increasingly doesn’t have the time or inclination to cover what we feel is important. Without our own journalism we miss newsworthy events that aren’t covered by traditional media, and become over-reliant on editorial, rumor, and rants. We need to build a new Pagan journalism from the grass-roots up, and PNC-Minnesota is a first step down that road.  – The Wild Hunt, Building a pagan Ecosphere and Why That’s important

PNC has staff with formal journalism degrees, experience working as a reporters, producers, and editors in mainstream media, and PNC-Minnesota follows an editorial process similar to most any other newsroom in the country.   Yet PNC-Minnesota is dismissed as  “a self-published group blog which isn’t going to meet guidelines for reliable sources.”

Discounting sources is a common theme in the Paganistan deletion discussion.  A paper by Dr. Murphy Pizza, an anthropologist who spent five years studying the Paganistan community, is also considered not a reliable source because she is a Pagan.  I’m assuming this same standard would then apply to The Pomegranate:  The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Chas Clifton’s book “Her Hidden Children:  The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America,” and is probably the reason Ronald Hutton will not publicly say he is a Pagan.   So are experts involved in the environmental movement not reliable sources for information about environmental issues?  Are experts who write about Christianity who also happen to be Christians not cited as sources on Wikipedia?  Experts are usually associated in some way to the topic they research and write about, it’s what drives them to devote so much of their life to a particular topic.  Are first hand accounts of the community in question using the term allowed?  No, they are also not reliable enough for Wikipedia.

I don’ t believe Wikipedia is engaging in some secret mission to wipe out all references to Paganism.  There are many articles on various Pagan topics on Wikipedia and many of them are poorly written and need a helping hand.  But there is a shift in editing philosophy that is hitting newer Pagan articles harder than mainstream religious articles.  The editors and administrators seem to be moving away from allowing articles plenty of time to be expanded, sourced, and improved (inclusionism) and are now deleting articles much more quickly(deletionism), mainly for not being notable.  This speed to deletion along with lack of mainstream media coverage of all things Pagan and disallowing sources such as books, experts, and news media if they happen to also be Pagans themselves puts us at an extreme disadvantage in following Wikipedia’s content and article guidelines.

I think there are individual editors who look for content on Wikipedia they don’t like and specifically target that content for removal.  Anyone can nominate an article for deletion so this makes it easier for Wiki bullies and deletionists to ply their trade.  Once a nomination for deletion is made, a deletion discussion page is created and editors (anyone with a Wikipedia account) can vote to ‘delete’ or ‘keep’ the article and comment on why the article should be kept or deleted.  An administrator than counts to votes and checks for group consensus.   For Paganistan, as it has for many articles on Pagans and Paganism, the consensus is leaning towards delete.  New people are allowed to vote, but their votes seem to carry less weight than people who have been there longer.  Also, asking people to join a deletion discussion is no-no.  The Paganistan article is being worked on, new sources are being added.  It has also been tagged for ‘rescue.’

This editorial isn’t just about one article on Wikipedia, or even about Wikipedia, it’s about pushing back at the idea that what happens in our communities isn’t noteworthy. Making sure that good, solid information about Paganism can be found in the places that people go to look for it, like Wikipedia.  This is especially needed whenever there is another article reprinted in a newspaper that uses a tragedy as an excuse to warn readers of the “the risks involved in neo-pagan worship and certain New Age practices.


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  • The Wikipedia situation makes me angry. This has been going on for months, to the point that I no longer view Wikipedia as a reliable source for anything Pagan.

    Wikipedia was supposed to be the “people’s encyclopedia” but now they’re shutting the doors on minority communities. It’s sad.

  • The Wikipedia situation makes me angry. This has been going on for months, to the point that I no longer view Wikipedia as a reliable source for anything Pagan.

    Wikipedia was supposed to be the “people’s encyclopedia” but now they’re shutting the doors on minority communities. It’s sad.

  • What confuses me about this issue, is that The
    Christian Science Monitor is considered an excellent newspaper, and has
    won Pulitzers. It’s actually known for being a reasoned voice in the
    midst of media hysterics.

    Yet, reasoned Pagan media voices being
    covered by Pagan outlets are considered “unreliable” while
    attention-seeking, self-serving nuts covered by mainstream media are
    considered better sources.

  • What confuses me about this issue, is that The
    Christian Science Monitor is considered an excellent newspaper, and has
    won Pulitzers. It’s actually known for being a reasoned voice in the
    midst of media hysterics.

    Yet, reasoned Pagan media voices being
    covered by Pagan outlets are considered “unreliable” while
    attention-seeking, self-serving nuts covered by mainstream media are
    considered better sources.

  •  I don’t know enough of the history of the CSM to know if they have ALWAYS had that reputation.  I should look that up!

  •  I don’t know enough of the history of the CSM to know if they have ALWAYS had that reputation.  I should look that up!

  •  Been warning y’all for years on the podcast about Wikipedia’s evils but everyone just ignores me :D.

    Let’s stop and think about something though.  If there’s no coverage of Paganism on Wikipedia, who looks worse?  I say we wipe out all information from Wikipedia in a coordinated campaign to show Wikipedia how stupid their rules are, and advertise how inconsistently those rules are enforced.

    Before y’all think I’m still off my rocker, read through Wikipedia’s policies and realize that Wikipedia’s policies in practice essentially boil down to: those who know the most about a subject are forbidden from editing Wikipedia articles on that subject and we don’t want anything new added to Wikipedia and we need to keep our friends in mainstream media oblivious to the fact Wikipedia doesn’t like having informed content so they’ll continue to advertise us in their shows at no cost.- Dave

  •  Been warning y’all for years on the podcast about Wikipedia’s evils but everyone just ignores me :D.

    Let’s stop and think about something though.  If there’s no coverage of Paganism on Wikipedia, who looks worse?  I say we wipe out all information from Wikipedia in a coordinated campaign to show Wikipedia how stupid their rules are, and advertise how inconsistently those rules are enforced.

    Before y’all think I’m still off my rocker, read through Wikipedia’s policies and realize that Wikipedia’s policies in practice essentially boil down to: those who know the most about a subject are forbidden from editing Wikipedia articles on that subject and we don’t want anything new added to Wikipedia and we need to keep our friends in mainstream media oblivious to the fact Wikipedia doesn’t like having informed content so they’ll continue to advertise us in their shows at no cost.- Dave

  •  According to Wikipedia they’re had a stellar reputation for decades.

  •  According to Wikipedia they’re had a stellar reputation for decades.

  • A_Reader

    But maybe this case _is_ a windmill?  There seems to be a wealth of information about forms of paganism and world mythology on Wikipedia – some of it actually using almost academic quality sources.

    I think the criticism of Paganistan article is fairly legitimate – being a poorly written article on a topic that seems insignificant, or perhaps too obscure.  So what if a linguist wants to call Minneapolis by a new name?  It doesn’t seem to fit well…maybe if it was folded into an article on “pagan communities in the US” or something it might work.  As it stands (right now), the article’s definition of Paganistan makes claims that overreach the evidence provided about the importance of the term.

  • A_Reader

    But maybe this case _is_ a windmill?  There seems to be a wealth of information about forms of paganism and world mythology on Wikipedia – some of it actually using almost academic quality sources.

    I think the criticism of Paganistan article is fairly legitimate – being a poorly written article on a topic that seems insignificant, or perhaps too obscure.  So what if a linguist wants to call Minneapolis by a new name?  It doesn’t seem to fit well…maybe if it was folded into an article on “pagan communities in the US” or something it might work.  As it stands (right now), the article’s definition of Paganistan makes claims that overreach the evidence provided about the importance of the term.

  •  scary how much sence you make some days.

  •  scary how much sence you make some days.

  •  The sick irony in all of this is that for all their supposed concern about scholarship and neutrality, Wikipedia is not a reliable source for ANYTHING, pagan or not.  That site is full to the brim with articles which are shabbily written and organized, poorly cited, if at all etc. I treat it almost as I would a rumor. It’s a starting point for research, but I won’t take its word on anything I cannot confirm from primary sources or several other authoritative works in the relevant field. A number of college professors I have worked with warn students at the beginning of the semester that any work drawing on Wikipedia as a sole or even primary source will fail.

     As with most other things as a minority group, we have two basic options for fighting injustice. One, make life as miserable as possible for the offending party through lawsuits, bad PR, boycotts, what have you, OR create our own thing.  The first option is a lot of pain and trouble. It’s worth it when we’re being denied basic rights by governments etc.  The second option will probably serve us better in the long run.

  •  The sick irony in all of this is that for all their supposed concern about scholarship and neutrality, Wikipedia is not a reliable source for ANYTHING, pagan or not.  That site is full to the brim with articles which are shabbily written and organized, poorly cited, if at all etc. I treat it almost as I would a rumor. It’s a starting point for research, but I won’t take its word on anything I cannot confirm from primary sources or several other authoritative works in the relevant field. A number of college professors I have worked with warn students at the beginning of the semester that any work drawing on Wikipedia as a sole or even primary source will fail.

     As with most other things as a minority group, we have two basic options for fighting injustice. One, make life as miserable as possible for the offending party through lawsuits, bad PR, boycotts, what have you, OR create our own thing.  The first option is a lot of pain and trouble. It’s worth it when we’re being denied basic rights by governments etc.  The second option will probably serve us better in the long run.

  • I’m thinking hard about this one, because on some level, I believe part of the problem actually does lie with the Pagans. Yes, this is unfair. Yes, it sucks. I’m also pretty sure citing Margot Adler, Pagan or not, or anyone else who has their own, unmessed-with Wikipedia entry (say, Rush) might also help the situation.

    But there is a longstanding resistance to change within the Pagan community that puts in a situation where when we do attempt to adapt, the situations we attempt to adapt to have changed so much that our attempts bite us on the ass. This is just one such example. How many of us are even aware we’re using outdated technological platforms? How many of us still have complete complexes about using technology, or say, living indoors? I’m loving how lively the Pagan blogosphere has gotten in the past two-three years, but most of blogging in other topics looks nothing like what we do now – what we do looks like blogging in the mainstream world 3-5 years ago.

    We want to be treated with the attention we merit NOW, and Wikipedia is responding with “earn it.” Have we really earned it?

  • I’m confused, though… Their very first rule is “Ignore all rules. If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.” Do they not stand by their own rule to ignore rules that prevent the improvement of content? Or do they think that including accurate coverage of Pagan traditions doesn’t count as an “improvement”?

    In any case, dismissing an academic paper about Paganism simply because the writer happens to be Pagan is foolish. When it comes to how Wikipedia’s standards are applied to the PNC, however, I see their point. In their guidelines on reliable sources, they state several times that editorial oversight is a key factor in whether or not a source is considered reliable. As of right now, the PNC has no editorial oversight whatsoever (articles are published directly and immediately by the writers themselves and do not go through any formal process of fact-checking, etc.) and each bureau functions as an independent entity.

    This may be a case when they are choosing to selectively enforce their policies for certain issues but not for others (I’ve seen citations in some articles that reference webpages that were barely more than geocities sites)… but the truth is that the Pagan Newswire Collective is not just new on the scene, it also doesn’t have any infrastructure in place that would qualify it to meet the Wikipedia standards. We can complain about unfairly enforcing those standards for us but not for others… but in this case, I don’t think we have a leg to stand on.

    Does anyone know if other articles are being tagged for deletion or reevaluation? For all we know, this might be an overhaul of the Wikipedia site in general to try to raise the reliability of its articles and Pagan-related articles just happen to be swept up in the process.

  • I’m confused, though… Their very first rule is “Ignore all rules. If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.” Do they not stand by their own rule to ignore rules that prevent the improvement of content? Or do they think that including accurate coverage of Pagan traditions doesn’t count as an “improvement”?

    In any case, dismissing an academic paper about Paganism simply because the writer happens to be Pagan is foolish. When it comes to how Wikipedia’s standards are applied to the PNC, however, I see their point. In their guidelines on reliable sources, they state several times that editorial oversight is a key factor in whether or not a source is considered reliable. As of right now, the PNC has no editorial oversight whatsoever (articles are published directly and immediately by the writers themselves and do not go through any formal process of fact-checking, etc.) and each bureau functions as an independent entity.

    This may be a case when they are choosing to selectively enforce their policies for certain issues but not for others (I’ve seen citations in some articles that reference webpages that were barely more than geocities sites)… but the truth is that the Pagan Newswire Collective is not just new on the scene, it also doesn’t have any infrastructure in place that would qualify it to meet the Wikipedia standards. We can complain about unfairly enforcing those standards for us but not for others… but in this case, I don’t think we have a leg to stand on.

    Does anyone know if other articles are being tagged for deletion or reevaluation? For all we know, this might be an overhaul of the Wikipedia site in general to try to raise the reliability of its articles and Pagan-related articles just happen to be swept up in the process.

  • The primary issue with these articles is them being marked for speedy deletion for non-notability.  Yet, somehow Wikipedia considers biographies of fictional characters in the web series Red vs. Blue notable?  Go look up TV shows, even obscure ones, on Wikipedia and honestly try to convince me that information is much more important to present to the world than these content filled articles about North American Pagan figures, terms and culture?

    We can pretend they’re trying to be academic, but ultimately the actions of Wikipedia resemble the arbitrary actions taken by trollish forum moderators.

    – Dave

  • The primary issue with these articles is them being marked for speedy deletion for non-notability.  Yet, somehow Wikipedia considers biographies of fictional characters in the web series Red vs. Blue notable?  Go look up TV shows, even obscure ones, on Wikipedia and honestly try to convince me that information is much more important to present to the world than these content filled articles about North American Pagan figures, terms and culture?

    We can pretend they’re trying to be academic, but ultimately the actions of Wikipedia resemble the arbitrary actions taken by trollish forum moderators.

    – Dave

  • Anonymous

    I never go to Wikipedia for info as I find it a faulty source place to go to. The fact that people can amend and delete things so easily says a lot to me.

  • Ravy

    I never go to Wikipedia for info as I find it a faulty source place to go to. The fact that people can amend and delete things so easily says a lot to me.

  • I wonder if it isn’t Zealous Skeptic Crusaders who are too ignorant to know that all religions are not the same, and Pagan pages aren’t going to act like the pages of certain sects and zealously delete all criticism and try to paint a rosy picture to seduce converts. They may not realize we’re not the enemies of reason and science like some, and they just target any and all religion, with the minority ones being the most vulnerable.

    And/or Zealous Abrahamics. Because it would amuse me to see Christian journalists nixed as sources on Christianity, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • I wonder if it isn’t Zealous Skeptic Crusaders who are too ignorant to know that all religions are not the same, and Pagan pages aren’t going to act like the pages of certain sects and zealously delete all criticism and try to paint a rosy picture to seduce converts. They may not realize we’re not the enemies of reason and science like some, and they just target any and all religion, with the minority ones being the most vulnerable.

    And/or Zealous Abrahamics. Because it would amuse me to see Christian journalists nixed as sources on Christianity, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • I did find this: http://pagan.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

  • I did find this: http://pagan.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

  • The sentiment of your statement came up in a discussion about this last night on PaganPeople – http://PaganPeople.info

  • The sentiment of your statement came up in a discussion about this last night on PaganPeople – http://PaganPeople.info