Wikipedia: Serious Editors, Serious Criticism

Wikipedia is subject to multiple criticisms. I was also subject to multiple criticisms when I encouraged my students to consider contributing to Wikipedia, such as when they completed assignments on scholars in accounting or in sociology, when I have taught those respective subjects.

I acknowledge that Wikipedia can never be used as a primary academic source, given the diversity of knowledge and expertise of contributors. However, it is that very diversity of knowledge and expertise that makes contributing to Wikipedia so important, in my view. This becomes particularly evident when one is trying to make a contribution in an area where others have studied the subject in far greater detail.

Most of my contributions to Wikipedia have been in relation to music. Wikipedia enables anyone to see the history of anyone’s contributions. My contribution history may be reviewed here. Articles originally created (as opposed to contributing to existing articles) are listed here.

I recently encountered a situation which provides an example of the degree of seriousness to which edits to Wikipedia pages are subject to review. I had wanted to add some dimensions to the portrait of Michael Clarke, the late drummer for The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Firefall.

When one searches these bands, the first hit that generally comes up is a Wikipedia page. In addition, with the exception of the page on The Byrds, all of the pages contain editorial cautions as to improvements required. This is because people who either edit Wikipedia generally or have a particular editorial interest in a band are very concerned about accuracy in the portrayals.

It is important to remember that Wikipedia is created by volunteers, including those who are granted rights to function as controlling editors. In my experience, what they do here is admirable, despite some initial concerns on my part that I was about to get thrown out of the Wikipedia game, as a result of weaknesses in my contribution to the Michael Clarke profile.

Here is an example of an editorial exchange, as related to Michael Clarke, with editor Kahoutek1138 (the expected form of Wikipedia contribution being by way of pseudonym). Even if you simply skim what is below, I hope that you will share in my impression that these volunteers who ultimately control Wikipedia content are extremely dedicated and, as illustrated here, try to be constructively critical.

The link to the text below, in relation to the editor’s concerns, is here.

Warning about non-verifiable content – November 2010

Please stop adding or changing content without citing verifiable and reliable sources. I see from your talk page that you been warned about the lack of verifiability in your edits and your use of unreliable sources a number of times in the past. Yet you seem to have ignored these warnings and continue to add content without supporting references. With regards your recent editing of the Michael Clarke page, I am afraid that I have had to delete some of what you have added over the last few days because it is largely unsourced (and in some cases factually inaccurate). However, I have tried, where possible, to leave some unsourced information if it is not too contentious. I will attempt to add reliable inline references to support these unreferenced facts over the coming days, in order to save these parts of the article from deletion.

In addition, your use of the “References” section as a repository for lots of unsourced notes that are, at best, non-essential and at worst, totally irrelevant to the subject of the article, is rather inappropriate I feel. Yes, inline citations can be used to display text that doesn’t fit into the main body of an article, but I would’ve thought it was obvious to anyone that this should be the exception, rather than the rule. I’m especially gob-smacked that you saw fit to remove a “Refimprove” tag from the Michael Clarke page when you have only added two, possibly three, references that meet the reliable sources criteria laid out at WP:V.

Inline citations should be used to cite reliable, independent, third-party sources, as clearly explained at Wikipedia:Inline citation and Wikipedia:Citing sources. They are not really meant for largely irrelevant, un-sourced notes. Verifiability is of the utmost importance on Wikipedia and I think Jimmy Wales himself says it best here: “it is better to have no information, than to have information with no sources.” Unfortunately, you seem hell bent on ignoring this important aspect of editing on Wikipedia. As an aside, it probably wouldn’t hurt for you to learn to use proper citation templates too, many of which can be found here.

I’m sorry if my comments seem harsh, but I have had issues with your editing on Wikipedia for a number of months, but have turned a blind eye to it for the most part. However, enough is enough. If you persist in adding unsourced content to Wikipedia articles and cluttering up the References section with unnecessary notes, I will be forced to report your conduct to the Administrators’ noticeboard. I sincerely hope that it will not come to that. I want to make it clear that I am willing to help you source reliable, third-party references for the Michael Clarke page if you want me to.

–Kohoutek1138 (talk) 20:35, 3 November 2010 (UTC)

I realise that you were attempting to improve the Michael Clarke page – there was never any doubt of this in my mind. My concern is that much of what you contribute, good though it is, is lacking inline citations that support the statements in your text with reliable third-party sources. If I may be so arrogant for a moment, I am something of an expert on the history of The Byrds and I must say that most of what you added was absolutely correct – which is why I tried to refrain from deleting all of your unsourced additions. But to quote WP:V, “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” If you want to improve an article, adding reliable supporting references is just as important as improving the quality of the article’s text itself. This is especially true regarding any text concerning living people (such as Roger McGuinn or David Crosby) as laid out at WP:BLP.

Regarding some of the sources you used, starclustermusic and the Terry Rogers site are self-published websites and therefore do not meet the criteria for reliable sources. You could argue that the Byrdwatcher website is also a self-published source, but it is arguably the premier Byrds-related website on the internet (and The Rough Guide to Rock even named it as such), plus a number of band members have agreed to be interviewed for the site, and it is the only fansite endorsed by the official Roger McGuinn/Byrds web page.

Furthermore, the Byrdwatcher site was subjected to a peer review on the reliable sources noticeboard during the Good Article review for Sweetheart of the Rodeo (see here), and the site was found to be a reliable source. Bearing all these things in mind, I’m satisfied that its use on Wikipedia is justified (although the site does get some silly facts wrong from time to time – Johnny Rogan’s Byrds’ biography is still the most reliable source for all things Byrds-related in my opinion).

Also, just to touch on your use of note-like references…don’t be afraid to put stuff in the main body of an article. If you think it’s interesting and relevant information, then the reader should see it…so put it in the text, don’t hide it away as a note. For example, when you mentioned that “Captain Soul” and “Artificial Energy” were two Byrds songs Clarke had a writing credit on, you should tell the reader which albums those songs appeared on in the article text itself because it’s important and relevant. No need to use footnotes.

[“Captain Soul”]

[“Artificial Energy”]

Looking forward, I think that the first thing we should try to do is find sources for all of the text currently in the article. As for the band Firebyrd, yes…you may well be right that it is relevant but it wasn’t sourced, so I decided to excise it. I have no problem reinstating this text as long as it’s got a supporting ref…and actually, I’ve just thought of a good supporting source for this info!

Take a look at another Byrds’ drummer’s page, Kevin Kelley, and see how almost every sentence has a supporting inline citation after it. This is ideally what we should be striving for with the Michael Clarke article…or any other article for that matter! I’ll try to add some more refs in the coming days. You obviously have a good handle on Clarke’s history and I have no shortage of Byrds-related reliable sources to use for refs. So between the two of us, I’m sure we can knock this article into better shape than it is in currently. —

Kohoutek1138 (talk) 02:06, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

No idea what happened to Byrdwatcher or why it stopped being updated in 1997. I expect the guy who runs it just got board with it. It’s a shame though because it was a really good site. As for sourcing more refs for the Michael Clarke article, feel free to start adding citations from reliable sources like the Allmusic guide, newspaper websites or any official website for the likes of Crosby or McGuinn. Books, magazines or even LP/CD liner notes can be used as well. In addition, Google Books can often be a good source for reliable third-party references too.

–Kohoutek1138 (talk) 13:50, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

Please don’t feel reluctant to edit the Michael Clarke page. Their were no real “deficiencies” in the contents of your edits, it’s just that they weren’t referenced properly. Your text was well written and basically all factually correct (I think there may’ve been one fairly minor inaccuracy but I forget what it was now). All you really need to think about are citing reliable references and using inline notes more sparingly. I really don’t mean to discourage you from editing Wikipedia, because your contributions are very valuable…they just need referencing. Anyway, I’m off now to try and answer some of your posts on the Michael Clarke talk page.

–Kohoutek1138 (talk) 12:54, 5 November 2010 (UTC)

Well, talk pages are for discussing the contents of the article and ways to improve it but it seems a bit silly to make suggestions for someone else to follow. You should just get stuck in and write additional content yourself. I tell you what, why don’t you resume adding info to the Michael Clarke article, using reliable refs like Allmusic, newspaper websites, books, magazines or LP/CD liner notes where you can. If, however, you don’t have a reliable reference just add a {{Citation needed|date=November 2010}} tag and I’ll try to follow up by adding refs. I’m gonna be adding additional refs anyway, so it’s no bigie for me.

–Kohoutek1138 (talk) 19:16, 6 November 2010 (UTC)

The link to the text below, in relation to my responses, is here.:

Michael Clarke (musician)

I appreciate your offer of editing help here. I honestly didn’t see what I was doing as involving substantially unsourced material. I was the one who added the “refimprove” tag in the first place, as you will note from the page history.

If I can’t contribute in manners that are viewed more consistently as constructive, I will have to address how to better use my time as a volunteer.

You may want to review my challenges to some of the harsher remarks on my Talk page. Please do not assume that there is a substantiated history of inadequacy here or deliberate contravention.

I look forward to your help and thank you again for your offer.

Dreadarthur (talk) 22:15, 3 November 2010 (UTC)

Could you perhaps have another editor take a look at what was excised? The German/Danish band histories, particularly of Firebyrds, is relevant, in my view, as illustrating the consistency of his active musical involvement and how this relationship with Clark then turned into the contentious “20th anniversary celebration”. Is the site that has been excised any more or less authoritative than the “Byrd Watcher” site, which seems frozen as of 1997 or so? I honestly don’t know. The latter has some references, but I don’t know if it is regarded as a generally authoritative text.

I agree that referencing Crosby’s later liver transplant, while perhaps interesting in terms of comparative life histories of Crosby and Clarke, is essentially irrelevant to a page on the life of Clarke.

Please appreciate that I didn’t originate the page, but was trying to improve on what was there, as well as to correct such inaccuracies as I might find. Perhaps compare what was there before I chose to volunteer my time to try to make it better. I believe I succeeded, to an extent. The external links taken out weren’t put there by me; I suspect placed by a Clarke family member.

On another note, things got much better with your involvement with the H.P. Lovecraft (band) page (as above), so I believe that things will likely get better here as well.

Dreadarthur (talk) 22:34, 3 November 2010 (UTC)

Many, many thanks for your thoughtful and constructive comments here, including your detailed justification for why the Byrd Watcher site is regarded as an authoritative source. (What happened to its originator? It’s like the site suddenly stopped, without succession arrangements, and despite having a discussion forum [“Ask Dr. Byrds’]) Unlike you, I am not an expert on The Byrds and so very much look forward to seeing how this page gets better through you. The H.P. Lovecraft (band) page is now an particularly good page through your input.

Many thanks again.

Dreadarthur (talk) 02:25, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

I am reluctant to do much more directly on this page, based on deficiencies in my previous edits. Instead, over the next while, I propose to raise on the Talk Page potential issues to address or points to include. I’ve already raised one point in relation to his age. Perhaps then you or others with comparable expertise could address adding to or editing in a substantiated manner the page itself. I have reviewed your Kevin Kelley page and agree that this is the level to aspire towards. I don’t have the Byrd biographies referenced, and so believe that others like you, in possession of similar information, are better able to get the Michael Clarke page up to the superior Kevin Kelley level. Does this seem reasonable?

The more I read about him, the more fascinating I find Clarke, in that he was consistently a musician for his entire life, while at the same time developing his painting abilities, going back to his time in Hawaii after the fractured Notorious Byrd Brothers sessions. In addition, despite various conflicts, he seemed to remain on good terms with all of the original members (and remained on good terms with Gene Clark throughout, including when the others were suing Clarke) until he and Gene Clark started the various “other Byrds” bands, and, in particular, when Clarke went out alone as The Byrds. His performance impairment through drinking appears to have first become evident in Firefall, when he started missing shows, yet others, such as Jerry Jeff Walker, continued to want him as their drummer.

Dreadarthur (talk) 17:37, 4 November 2010 (UTC)

I have read your comments on the Talk page and thank you for taking the time to provide such detail. In terms of the “fired or left, or both” dimension to the Notorious Byrd Brothers sessions, I suggest that some of what you have written should be in the main text or in a footnote, with the text sources referenced. I haven’t read these works, while you have; hence the great difference in the quality of perspectives here. This is perhaps where I have a problem in terms of Wikipedia expectations, in that I prefer to see qualifications or supplementary detail in footnotes.

I note that the Notorious Byrd Brothers page is largely yours. It is superb, in my view, adding much to music history.

Dreadarthur (talk) 15:46, 5 November 2010 (UTC)

Many thanks for your additions to the page in relation to The Notorious Byrd Brothers sessions. Better than many/most could have done, including yours truly. I will continue to add queries to the Talk page, as issues come up. Also to The Byrds talk page. Far better for me, at least, to be contributing to page improvements in this area through the “Talk Page” approach. Similar to what I have encountered with Van Morrison-related pages, such as Them, there is a very select group with superior knowledge (and superior sources) here.

Dreadarthur (talk) 17:41, 6 November 2010 (UTC)

I will try to add material as you have suggested.

Dreadarthur (talk) 06:48, 7 November 2010 (UTC)

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About brucelarochelle

Practising Lawyer and Part-Time University Instructor (Accounting, Commercial Law, Organizational Behaviour); Part-Time Federal Tribunal Member. Non-practising Chartered Professional Accountant (Chartered Accountant and Certified Management Accountant).
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