Wikipedia Editing Day #msf13

29 Oct

Wikipedia-logoWhen I think of Wikipedia I think of my go to place for information. Sure, if I want in depth data on cell biology matters I’ll go to a journal, but if I want to know what years Elizabeth I reigned or who Vanilla Ice is, I go to Wikipedia.

What I don’t ever think about doing is editing Wikipedia. Why would I? Wikipedia is just a place I go to find stuff out.  But on Friday I got chatting to one of the organisers of the Manchester Girl Geeks Wikipedia editing day, which was part of the Manchester Science Festival. As we chatted I realised there were loads of pages on Wikipedia relating to aspects of my PhD that were sadly lacking. It suddenly occurred to me that if they needed changing I should do it myself, instead of waiting for someone else to come along and do it for me. So, I paid the bargainous  £3 and rocked up to Mad Lab to learn all about how to edit Wikipedia. Here’s what I learned:

  1. BE BOLD – one of the main reasons I never thought to edit Wikipedia is because I don’t feel qualified to. I’m not sure why this is – I can fact check as well as the next person and  there are areas that I am, dare I say it, an expert in (mainly pugs in clothes..but still). Despite this I was still I worried I might write something that wasn’t good enough.  It turns out, that’s not worth worrying about because if that does happen, someone will correct it, which brings  us back to the Wikipedia mantra: be bold. Add to the knowledge, if it needs refining someone will do that, leading us perfectly onto the next point…
  2. Wikipedia is a collaboration – I’m used to academia, where nearly everything you write is read, criticised, reread, re-criticised and ultimately improved. Adding info onto everyone’s favourite encyclopaedia seems very final. But it’s not. Wikipedia is a collaboration and actually incorporates the same reviewing tactics of academia but on a much wider scale. Anyone can contribute, edit and add to an article. All you need to do is share knowledge and it will be reviewed by others. You don’t own the article you have written, people will change it. It’s very egalitarian and a very good thing.
  3. Editing Wikipedia is really easy – there is mark up for Wikipedia but it’s extremely simple and makes HTML look like the enigma code. There are loads of features in the editing interface that makes things easy too.  I found the referencing tool really useful.
  4. Not many women edit Wikipedia – I think it was around 10%. This gives Wikipedia a slight gender bias in its tone. This isn’t because all the men got together and thought ‘Let’s all be dead misogynistic in a bid to insidiously undermine women by being in-perceivably macho in our writing style.’ I mean… I presume that didn’t happen, but if you’re a man and that memo did go round do let me know. What it does mean is that over the billions of contributions that make up Wikipedia, around 90% are written by men, so there could be a very slight gender bias, especially in areas relating to men or women specifically. For instance very few female scientists or technologist throughout history have decent pages. So there are two options: either 89% of the male Wikipedia editors stop editing to balance it out or women take to the keyboards and start contributing. I wonder which makes more sense….
  5. There can be beef* on Wikipedia – sometimes people on Wikipedia disagree about stuff. This can lead to editing wars. The constant changing of an article is a really bad thing and compromises the integrity of the encyclopaedia as a whole. To get round this every entry has a ‘Talk’ page, where editors can discuss issues surrounding the article and come to a mutually agreeable edit.  So that’s nice.
  6. You need to be impartial on Wikipedia – it’s not really a place for personal opinions. I guess this is pretty obvious, but I didn’t really think about referencing before. If you create a page, or edit a page, you have to make sure what you write is neutral but also try to incorporate references that are neutral. I created a page for the Manchester Science Festival (which will hopefully be added to) and I realised (i.e. someone explained to me) I couldn’t just use the MSF website for references as it’s not neutral. Instead I used press coverage of previous festivals and websites that weren’t linked to the festival in any way. The one caveat to the ‘no opinions’ rule is that you can state the opinions of others on a matter if it’s referenced to a reliable source.
  7. You need to use common sense when referencing – it’s pretty straight forward if you’re referencing an article about something academic, just use a peer reviewed paper or review. If however, you’re going to write about something that might involve referencing websites and blogs as a source, you need to use your common sense. It’s probably OK to reference the BBC or a blog from a distinguished expert in a given field, but probably not the best idea to reference the gossip column from a red top or some nutter’s personal blog who thinks there’s an overlord race of reptilians controlling us.  So, like I say – it’s just common sense.

Overall I would say the take home message is just get stuck in. Most of us rely on Wikipedia for knowledge, but how many people think about contributing? Why shouldn’t it be you that helps out and contributes? Be bold!

Also there was cake.

Best quote of the day: 'Unlike Wikipedia editing, cutting the cake cannot be undone'

Best quote of the day: ‘Unlike Wikipedia editing, cutting the cake cannot be undone’

*Arguments not meat.


2 Responses to “Wikipedia Editing Day #msf13”


  1. Scottish Women on Wikipedia | A new library world - November 18, 2013

    […] BioFluff – post about an Editathon in Manchester which also highlights the gender disparity […]

  2. Scottish Women on Wikipedia | Wikimedia UK Blog - November 22, 2013

    […] BioFluff – post about an Editathon in Manchester which also highlights the gender disparity […]

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