William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Libertarianism’

It’s the Law! Wikipedia, Cato Institute and the U.S. Congress

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on March 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

Last Thursday and Friday, I participated in an independently-organized Wikipedia-focused project right here in Washington, D.C., one highly relevant to the city where it took place. It was called a Legislative Data Workshop, organized by Jim Harper on behalf of the Cato Institute and led by Pete Forsyth of Wiki Strategies. Here’s the three-line pitch from the Wikipedia project page about it:

Interested in the bills making their way through Congress?

Think they should be covered well in Wikipedia?

Well, let’s do something about it!

To add a little more background: Cato, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a libertarian think tank based here in the District. Among many initiatives, some of their personnel have been working on a project to annotate legislation before the U.S. Congress, and because of Wikipedia’s reputation as “one of the most popular, if not the most popular” sources of non-partisan information on the web, they wanted to investigate possibilities for collaboration. Cato’s views on government transparency match well with the larger Wikipedia community’s goals of freely available information—even if there isn’t complete agreement on every issue, as Forsyth explained on his own blog, there’s more than grounds for cooperation.

The actual event was split into two days: an introduction to Wikipedia on Thursday afternoon, and a day-long work session on Friday.

Jim-Harper_Pete-ForsythOn Thursday, Forsyth explained to attendees how Wikipedia works: articles, discussion pages, history pages, etc. Half the crowd comprised experienced Wikipedians from the District and nearby area, who knew all of this in their sleep, but seemed valuable for the Cato staff, interns and other attendees. The day concluded with a work period where the veterans helped the newbies work on existing articles. In an era where jobs “created or saved” has become a commonly-recognized phrase, we worked with Cato interns to create and save a new (stub) article about Events DC, which owns RFK Stadium and the DC convention center. One attendee, a software developer and Cato donor visiting from L.A., created perhaps the single greatest first-article ever: Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

On Friday, it was the all-day strategy session. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical: Wikipedia’s extensive “What Wikipedia is not” guideline, and my own experience as an editor, would suggest that every single bill introduced in Congress would not be deserving of its own Wikipedia article. But maybe my imagination was too limited—might there be a role for Wikidata in all this?

The result is a new on-site project called WikiProject United States Federal Government Legislative Data. If that’s a mouthful, you can also call it WP:LEGDATA Unsurprisingly, my own questions about following every bill was one of the first issues raised by an outside observer once the project was put into action “on-wiki”, as Wikipedians like to say. And so the project has listed “Targets for development” which do fit Wikipedia’s guidelines.

A more focused idea coming out of the project is to recommend a standardized page layout for articles about bills before Congress. I’m going to give that a try with a few bills myself. If this project sounds interesting, stop on by and propose a task or ask how you can help.

P.S. If you’re curious to see the notes developed during Friday’s session, you should be able to access them on Etherpad here.

Image via User:Slowking2 on Wikipedia.

Is “Atlas Shrugged” Getting Fair Treatment on Wikipedia?

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on April 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Lead-ins don’t get much more intriguing than the one for an essay by EJ Moosa for a libertarian website (and subsequently picked up by Instapundit), titled “‘Atlas Shrugged’: Why has Wikipedia Removed Key Elements?”:

    What happens when you combine “1984” by George Orwell and “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand? You get a Wikipedia entry that begins to redefine what the key elements are. You get a level of censorship that defies belief. Why is this occurring?

OK, I’m hooked. The article specifically refers to a version of the article about the doorstop of a novel on Monday, so take for instance the last version of the article as it appeared on Sunday night. So what’s the specific complaint? Allegedly, there is

    a major theme that is missing: The Failure of Government.

    Search for the “Anti Dog Eat Dog rule”. Or for the “Equalization of Opportunity” bill. … Any references to them are gone from the Wikipedia entry. Search for any of the legislation passed to control private enterprise. It’s no longer there.

    What is the reason that the references to these failed government actions have been deleted from the Wikipedia page on “Atlas Shrugged”? I have my theories. I would like to hear yours

Using the handy WikiBlame tool, I decided to check the past 1,000 versions of the page for occurrences of the phrases “Equalization of Opportunity” and “dog-eat-dog” (“dog eat dog” as well, just to be sure). In fact these phrases have occured just twice and once, respectively, since July 2007.

Back in August 2008, someone added 3,200+ words of commentary that included mention of both fictional laws, Googling some of the text, was clearly unattributed from CliffsNotes. Even if it wasn’t plagiarized, it was still far too long for a Wikipedia summary, and was therefore reversed (or “reverted,” as Wikipedia says).

Then a few days later, someone added approximately seven hundred words of what appears to be a rant about the Illuminati, which also mentioned Equalization of Opportunity. Somewhere there may be a wiki for ravings about the Illuminati, but Wikipedia is not it. And so it was quickly removed as well.

But here’s the funny thing: after the Moosa essay appeared, someone got in and edited the article in question:

    The “Anti-dog-eat-dog” rule, as passed by the National Alliance of Railroads, is an example of this mooching becoming codified into law.

This time, it’s even cited to CliffsNotes. And so far it has remained. It’s not perfect, but I certainly don’t get the impression that anyone is trying to obscure the meaning behind “Atlas Shrugged,” let alone is anything like censorship happening. EJ Moosa would have been better served actually investigating the situation, rather than just asking questions and reaching for Orwell on his bookshelf.

Far from censorship, I’d say quite the opposite is happening: the article is longer than most at some 7,000+ words describing the novel in a variety of ways. If anybody is keeping this page from telling the whole story about Rand’s magnum opus, the blame lies squarely with her biggest fans.