Monday, July 30, 2012

We got your Wiki Back! - Mary Roach

I noticed a post in the Bay Area Skeptic's Facebook group months ago by someone named Chris Parker.  She was looking for someone to give her "must read" material for a college research assignment on psychics she had to present in class.  I contacted her and gave her some ideas, and linked her with Mark Edward who is an expert on the psychic business (see Psychic Blues on Amazon).

Chris did her essay and wrote to tell me all about the professor and the other students reactions.  I thought she was a terrific writer and felt that a blog would be in order.  She worked it up and Mark decided that he wanted to post the story on his blog, and did so in July.

In the mean time Chris shared that she was not taking college classes this summer and liked to keep busy, wondered about this Wikipedia project she kept seeing me yammer on about all over Facebook.   We exchanged emails for awhile and I asked her if she could pick a Wikipedia project what would it be?  So she spent a day and wrote me back with the suggestion that Mary Roach's current Wikipedia page was a stub and how sad that was.  She had been to one of Mary's lectures being that they both live in the Bay Area, and thought that if I showed her how, she would work on that page.

So, Chris and I went back and forth for a couple weeks, and then a few other editors from the project helped with ideas and how to cite some sources when I was at TAM.  Chris asked really great questions which helped me learn a lot about the gaps in my blog instructions and the reality of what I actually mean.  When you live and breathe this Wikipedia project daily, you tend to forget that others aren't as "connected" to the project and not reading and memorizing every word I write.

Want to point out that until this re-write I don't think Chris had ever edited Wikipedia.  I also don't suggest brand new people start with re-writes, but in Chris's case she was so excited and motivated that I thought "why not?".  She communicated with me clearly, asked lots of questions and we sent emails many times a day.  We started with the very basics, and once I pointed her in the right direction, she just took off.  I'm totally self taught, and Chris seemed to be learning the same way with only a bit of guidance.  One reason why I felt that Mary's page would be okay for a beginner was because her current page had a lot of external links to interviews and videos that only needed to be watched and quoted to expand into the article.  I knew Chris wasn't going to be searching for months trying to turn up secondary sources. 

We made a brand new user page for Chris's rewrite and made it "un-searchable", and on that page we had constant conversations about what should go where, and what to expand on and so forth.

Only after Chris was almost done did I approach Mary to get further citations we were missing, and had her upload some personal pictures (which warm my photographer's heart) they really make the page extra special,  I'm reminded of Lei Pinters's re-write of Kendrick Frazier's WP page a couple months ago. 

There was so much info on Mary Roach out there and Chris watched every video and read every link she could find.  (and yes, she even had a Google alert on her for incoming items) Now if Chris ever gets on Jeopardy and the category is Mary Roach, Chris will clean up.  One comment I remember from Chris, was she was surprised that interviewers always asked Mary the same questions over and over again. I suppose, now that if they start by reading Mary's new Wikipedia page they will be able to have a much well rounded interview. 

Okay, I know you have waited long enough.  Time to show you the before and after.  Hold your breath.

Mary Roach before

Mary Roach after

So wondering, Chris what's next?

As usual, if you would like to help with this project, I will keep you more than busy.  You don't even need to do as much work as Chris did, I have many tasks that await you, I will train.  Just please contact me at and lets get to work. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Spanish & Portuguese Wikipedia - a starting point

As regular readers of this blog knows, we are on week one of the Wikipedia World project.  We have groups formed for English, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Turkish, French and German.  Hopefully in the next couple weeks we will have doubled that number.

I asked several of the groups if they would give me their opinion of skepticism and science topics on Wikipedia this moment in their language.

Nix Dorf sprang to the challenge and supplied us with a lot of information about what the Portuguese and Spanish pages look like.  I'm really shocked about some of these pages, homeopathy in particular.  The last 10:23 campaign was  global, the videos created can easily be cited on the homeopathy page, we just need volunteers to help out.

The following is guest editorial by Nix, he asked me to correct his grammar, but I'm not touching a word.


Portuguese presence in Wikipedia as whole.
Nowadays Portuguese speakers are around 240 million native speakers in the World. Roughly 180 Million are Brazilians and the rest are mainly Portuguese, Angolan, Mozambicans and some other nations. But the bulk internet traffic comes from Brazil and Portugal, which are the most industrialized countries in this language. Brazil has about 81 million active Internet users, which make them the 5th nation in the world by user access. Portugal has 5.5 million more users.[3]

Portuguese isn't wide spread as English and Spanish. Portuguese is 6th most spoken language. But Portuguese Wikipedia has more than 742,000 [4] articles which is larger than WP in Chinese, Hindi-Urundu and Arabic which have a larger speakers base.
Considering that Spanish WP has approximately 900,000 articles while having roughly 400 million native speakers (it is the 2nd or 3rd most widespread language in the world [5]). That makes Portuguese to have a higher speakers/articles ratio, if that is really a valid way of measure anything. I’m just guessing based on the WP data available. But it looks like that the more industrialized the countries that speak a given language the more WP articles they seem to have. So my conclusion is that’s why German, Japanese and French have much more articles per speakers than Hindi or Chinese. But this doesn’t explain why Polish speakers have 900,000 articles with 40 million native speakers.

No language even compare to the amount of articles available in English. Even so English is not the most spoken language in the world as the number of native speakers; there are lots of people that have English as its second language and most English speaking countries are very industrialized too. On top of that USA is a well-known leader on all that happens online.
Skeptical presence on Portuguese Wikipedia.
In general the articles for uncontroversial subjects are often fine. The ones that are Brazil specific can be very rich, while depending on the subject attention, some other articles may vary a lot on how well written Portuguese articles are compared to the English ones. Usually you see some few claims that are ungrounded or biased like it is on other languages, but the fact is that Portuguese Wikipedia probably may not have as much editors as needed to keep it 100% clean (I guess no language really can claim to have it).

But when we get to evolution, homeopathy, religion, skeptics then it gets worse. Let’s go to a few examples.

The Randi article is very bad, compared to the English version. When I was changing it, I couldn’t resist and had to change Randi's picture itself. The former one wasn’t very nice and it had no bio info (birthdate, birth place, etc).

When you go to other skeptics, they don't even appear. I was unable to get individual bio pages on Penn and Teller for instance (there is a draft article for “Penn & Teller” together[1]). Even HBO used to air Penn & Teller Bullshit! on Brazil’s cable.
Michael Shermer[8] and Adam Savage[6] are just drafts. I would say that Mythbusters is a well-known show, at least in Brazil and I would guess in Portugal too, since the show itself has a decent page. Joe Nickell doesn’t even have a page.

Evolution pages have some discussions and back and forth reversals on ID and some had been blocked for edition sometimes. But the pages aren’t much biased. But they certainly should be improved.
Homeopathy page[9] cites for example a Word Health Organization "publication" called "Homeopathy: review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials" that was a draft from 2005 that was never published (I believe that this report was heavily criticized by an article on The Lancet and never made a respectful scientific Journal [2]). Even though it is still there as a favorable point towards Homeopathy, while it is not even cited on the Spanish and English WP versions. The article is listed as a medical especially, and not as an alternative medicine. So the article doesn’t seems to be very pro Homeopathy but is too soft into criticize it in my opinion. And it barely mentions Randi, what a shame!

To be honest, the article on skepticism itself is very poorly written and in my opinion it is has some bias towards the skepticism. If we plan to keep ourselves unbiased we may have to pay attention and fix this kind of bias too. It requires lots of discipline to be actually “fair and balanced”.

My personal pet peeves are the Articles on Spiritualism. With more than 3 million followers it is a big religion in Brazil. One of the most important icons was very famous woo woo called Chico Xavier[10], that is called by Wikipedia as a medium (not a supposed medium) and is very mild on criticism, while almost states that he was the true thing. When you compare these spiritualist articles with Shermer’s, and Randi’s you realize how big are the challenges that we may face.

Spanish Wikipedia as whole.
Spanish is the second (or 3rd) most spoken language in the world. It is hard to state that something is the biggest, tallest, or whatever in the world because it depends on so many variables, like native speakers, or national interests, or on different census criteria, estimates, etc. But even though Spanish is very important and is growing as a second language to many, especially in US. It is hard to compare, but while Chinese Mandarin and Hindi-Urdu are spoken by lots of people, they are mainly spoken on their original countries while Spanish is the dominant language in the American continent. Due the Spanish dominium on the seas during the Spanish conquests during the XVI century it got very spread.
The main nations on Spanish by internet millions of users are Mexico (31), Spain (30), Colombia (16), Argentina (14), Peru (10), Venezuela (9) and Chile (7)[3]. With all the Spanish speaking nations it may add up to approximately 120 million. This is a low number if you compare it to more than 400 million native speakers[5]. To give you an idea, Japanese native speakers are about 123 million (almost all on Japan) while there are 102 million native users[5]. Once again I’m working with the data available on Wikipedia and those numbers can vary. But, Japan has an 80% of the population as Internet, while several Spanish speaking nations are on underdeveloped countries.
Spanish Wikipedia has more than 900,000[4] articles and on uncontroversial articles it seems pretty fine. It looks to have a richer content if you compare it with the Portuguese WP, but less detail than the English version.
Skeptical presence on Spanish Wikipedia
The Article about evolution seems to be very complete and balanced and discussions and reversals are frequent, but not as frequent as the ones that I have seen on the Portuguese version. It lacks of a Evidence of Common Decent as we have for the Portuguese version. This subject is treated inside of the evolution[11]. This section needs to become an article and be expanded.
I’ve got the impression that the majority of the Spanish speaking countries are Catholic, which doesn’t require a belief on a literal truth of the bible, so perhaps the fundamentalists on those countries aren’t so willing to attack evolution. But my native Spanish speaking fellows might better comment on that.
Even the Article on James Randi[12] is much better than the Portuguese version; it still needs lots of dedication and effort to be brought to the English standard. It lacks of references and citations. The article on Penn and Teller is very simple, almost a draft. Penn Jillette doesn’t have an article while Teller[13] has one draft for some reason.
Michael Shermer [14] is pretty decent, but needs to be expanded.
The Article on Creationism has been edited and vandalized frequently on the last year. [15]
The article on Skepticism is really good, broken down in religious, philosophical, ecological and scientific types of skepticism. [16]
You can find pages for Ann Druyan , Harry Houdini, Susan Blackmore, Robert Todd Caroll, while Joe Nickell is missing. Most of the articles need some expansion and they are often drafts.
The article on Homeopathy[17] is pretty good, providing lots of valuable information and it takes the scientific side. It lacks of some of Randi’s confrontations, I would expand on that.
It seems that some battle has been taken place on the Talk and history pages. The article is protected from anonymous edition.
In my opinion it looks like that the greater number of editors is making the Spanish version better than the Portuguese one. Since I’m not a frequent Spanish Wikipedia visitor, I may be wrong. But some of the problematic pages on the Portuguese version aren’t with the same problems on the Spanish ones. The main issue is lack good information about skeptics.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Did You Know? Guest Post by Rick Duffy

The following is a guest article by Rick Duffy, he is one of the newest members of the English team.  He created pages for Stan Romanek, Skepticamp and Jeff Peckman as well as the Bryan & Baxter Wikipedia page that he just got on the front page of Wikipedia yesterday.

Want to also mention that in the 8 hour window Bryan & Baxter was on the front page it received 1,933 views.   These are mostly just the curious not necessarily skeptics.  This is not preaching to the choir, this is real outreach. 

The last page I submitted to DYK was for James Underdown.  That page hit over 5K views during the 8 hour window.  In that case I got a picture as well as the hook to appear on the main page.  You never know what kind of hits your going to receive.  It depends on other articles that are competing at that time, news events happening in the world, and the time of day the page hits.

I always forget how to go through this process, so I will be referring to this next time I launch a page.  Our goal is to try to get a DYK for every article we launch.  Also all of Wikipedia uses DYK, so no matter what language your writing in, we need to try and get the DYK.

Rick was very successful this week, he is also a wonderful editor and a much better writer as you will see. 


Did You Know …

The Wikipedia main page (at least the English one) features news, history, and various Wikipedia articles, and receives about seven million hits a day. Beneath the main article is a section called Did You Know (DYK), which contains links to a handful of interesting new content. These links are cycled to new links every eight hours.

You can nominate articles, even your own, to be included in DYK. This can help not only increase its exposure, but people may follow the links within your article, and find out more about the other subjects and people you talk about. This high visibility and propagating wave of browsing makes DYK a great tool for spreading skepticism to the world.

I recently had an article included in DYK, and this write-up explains the steps I followed to do it. At the end of the article I include links to the official DYK rules and procedures on Wikipedia. But overall, my steps were:

Step 1: Write new content
Step 2: Write a Hook
Step 3: Create DYK Nomination
Step 4: Add this new template to the big DYK Nominations page
Step 5: Work with the reviewer’s comments
Step 6: Watch the DYK Queue
Step 7: Tell Everyone

Step 1: Write new content

Only new articles of at least 1,500 characters are eligible for DYK. This means either a brand new article, or an article that has been so expanded that it is at least five times bigger that it was.

For DYK, “new” means the content was published within five day prior to its DYK nomination. So when creating your new article, develop it in your private space. And only publish it when you are done, and ready to nominate it for DYK within five days. But take your time and get it right, especially all the necessary citations, since once in the review process editors will be on the lookout for any violation or deviation from the standard content policies and guidelines. My first DYK attempt was rejected because I quoted too much content verbatim in my article, rather than summarizing or rewriting it.

Step 2: Write a Hook

The links under the DYK section have this format:

Did you know… <hook>?

For example:

Did you know… that paranormal claims investigators Bryan & Baxter do not investigate the paranormal, but rather the legitimacy of the paranormal claims made by others?

The hook is some interesting fact about your article that will ‘hook’ people into looking at it. It should be concise, under 200 characters, and contain the article name linked in bold. The hook also must be contained within the article itself, with a reputable citation.

Step 3: Create DYK Nomination

Once you’ve published your content, and have the hook in mind, you are ready to nominate your article. Usually Wikipedia requires everything be done from a neutral point of view (NPOV), so it might seem like a conflict of interest to nominate your own article. But in this case, it is ok, and is actually encouraged.

A lot of Wikipedia pages look like big articles where someone typed a bunch of text into the page. But actually some (maybe most) are assembled by Wikipedia itself by pulling in smaller templates of content and building a bigger page. The DYK process does this a lot, so you will be working on what seem like isolated page templates, but they all later get pulled into a bigger page.

To nominate your article, you go to this page:

This page really has everything you need to know about the DYK process, and you should probably read it all, but I’ll continue relating below how I worked through it.

Here you will fill in your article’s title, and when you press the Create nomination button it will begin to create a nomination template. For this example, I typed in the article name Test. It then displays a new page, with a bunch of explanatory text, titled:

Creating Template:Did you know nominations/Test

You will scroll down and find the page edit box:

And fill it in (you don’t need to fill in everything, just the following)

Notice in your hook, you make sure you bold and link your article name. In this case, I am pretending I created an article called Test. (Obviously you would use your hook, not my test hook about being deleted).

Enter an edit summary below the edit box like you normally would before saving any Wikipedia edit (e.g., Nominated TEST at DYK) and save the page as you normally save a page edit. You should then see a new page, something like this:

This is your nomination template for your article, where all the action will happen, and where reviewers will make comments. Notice at the top the tab says UNWATCH. This means you are watching the page, and any changes here will appear in your watch list. If it doesn’t say UNWATCH, then WATCH it. As editors come over and make comments, you need to notice them, and respond. If you don’t respond in a timely fashion, the page will not make it through the DYK process.

The review process could at this point go on longer than five days, so that limit only applies to nominating your page after you publish it, not how long it may take to get through the DYK process.

Step 4: Add this new template to the big DYK Nominations page

The big DYK Nominations page is:

Before reviewers will notice your nomination, you now must edit the above page (it’s actually the same page where you pressed that Create nomination button) and insert your new template under the date when your article was made public (which is not necessarily today’s date.)

So for our Test page, we add this line:

{{Template:Did you know nominations/Test}}

And then add an edit summary before saving (e.g., Listed Test DYK nomination for discussion).

Notice in the figure, it shows I scrolled down to the July 18 section, and inserted the Test template at the top of the section.

Like all things in Wikipedia, it helps to look at how others did something, and this big page is a great place to peek in on other nominations in progress.

Step 5: Work with the reviewer’s comments

If all goes well, reviewers will begin to view and perhaps add comments to your nomination template, which since you watched that page, will appear in your watch list as changes to the template you created:

From this point on, this is the only page you’ll be editing.

As editors make comments there, they will add four tildes ~~~~ at the end of each comment. As you edit this page and respond to them, you must also add ~~~~ at the end of each of your comments. This simply signs your name with a timestamp. So when you see a comment with something like this at the end:

Created/expanded by Rjmail (talk). Self nom at 20:08, 9 July 2012 (UTC)

You don’t actually type out all that text. Just append the four tildes ~~~~ and it will be replaced automatically with all that timestamp text.

Also, as you respond, you can prefix your responses with :, or ::, or :::, or :::::, etc. These colons simply indent your reply so it sort of creates a thread-looking discussion.

If the editor suggests a change to your hook, you can propose new hook text anywhere in the discussion, but prefix it with an Alt, like *'''Alt!''', or *’’’Alt2’’’, etc

You can see examples of these things in progress, and how my own discussion with an editor proceeded here:

If all goes well (which for me it did this for this article, but it didn’t for my first article), a reviewer will mark it as reviewed. And then another reviewer will hopefully promote it to the DYK Queue, which puts it on the real track to appearing on the Wikipedia front page.

Step 6: Watch the DYK Queue

If it gets promoted (which you’ll see on your watch list), your work with the hook is probably done. In fact, you can no longer edit your template. It is now in one of the queues on this page:

There is a PREP section (where your hook arrives first), and a QUEUE section, to which it will later (mysteriously) move. Once in a Queue, the hook will automatically be added to the Wikipedia main page according to the schedule listed on this Queue page:

In this sample schedule, if our hook had dropped into Queue 1, it would appear on the main Wikipedia page July 19 at 1AM Los Angeles time. And it will remain there 8 hours, at which point that section will be replaced by the hooks in Queue2, and so on.

Step 7: Tell Everyone

When your hook makes it to a Queue, it seems to be guaranteed to move to the main Wikipedia page (though, there is always the chance that some admin will notice something horribly wrong and decide to pull your article). But if things are looking good, you might want to spread the word that your article will be featured on the Did You Know section, between its given hours, and so try to drum up some additional traffic.

Any DYK article that gets over 5,000 hits in the time it is in the DYK section will be added to the high rollers page DYKSTATS:

Final Comments

This was based on my second try, and first success, in getting an article into the DYK section. I’m sure there are other circumstances and issues you may run into that I did not, but the reviewers seem very helpful and willing to shepherd the newbie.

Once you have submitted your fifth DTK, you can’t submit anymore, until you become a reviewer yourself. But you don’t have to worry about that for your first couple DYK nominations.

Finally, the following links seem to contain everything you’d ever want to know about the DYK process:

Good luck, and happy editing.