Zed A. Shaw on Wikipedia and Notability

Notability on wikipedia is one of the most widely misunderstood wikipedia related concepts to the point where I generally avoid the term. For what its worth I generally define the term as there being enough reliable sources around independent of the subject to write a neutral point of view article without resorting to original research. Admittedly that’s an even bigger chunk of wikipedia jargon but it is slightly more self explanatory.

Recently there was a long thread on reddit objecting to the listing on articles for deletion a number of articles on esoteric programming languages.

Zed A. Shaw’s somewhat erroneous take can be found at:


I’m going to go through it in order although that may not be the best option in terms of coherence.

His summery of events is in error. User:Chris Mansanto is not an admin so can’t directly delete anything and the articles for deletion process he was listing the articles on involves having a debate about whether or not they should be deleted. Relivant process can be found at Articles for deletion.

The next section “Notability Is Avoiding The Slash” starts with a bold claim:

“Wikipedia’s stupid notability page creation rule is effectively working around their software’s inability to handle arbitrary paths to sub-pages “

In a word no. I’ve provided an outline of the reasoning behind notability in my opening paragraph so lets look at the subpage issue. Technically it’s true you can’t create true subpages in the article namespace. However you could when the concept of notability in it’s current form first started to appear (the ability to do so was removed because the software would read [[A/B_testing]] as “B_testing” being a subpage of “A”). Instead wikipedians use natural language subpages. If you look at say Hurricane_Katrina you have “Effects of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi” and “Effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans” as natural language subpages.

Shaw then moves onto what appears to be a case reverse special pleading.  That biographies are a special case where notability works unlike everywhere else. The issue that he misses is that wikipedia asks that sources be reliable rather than popular. Our science articles quite happily cite some quite obscure journals (articles on plants seem to do this rather a lot) while historical subjects can drift into obscure source deathmatch (your grandmother may have heard of The doctrine of equity: a commentary on the law as administered by the Court of chancery from 1855 but unless she studied law it seems unlikely). Of Shaw’s examples of where he thinks notability won’t work some of the very small Sub-cultures can be rather tricky but our war nerds normally cover revolutionary movements without too much trouble. Obscure ethnic groups tend to get coverage in anthropology journals.

Shaw then moves onto plans to subvert what he characterises as wikipedia oppressive regime. He prefaces this with “Well, I don’t know how Wikipedia really works, but I do know how to fight against oppressive regimes with subversive actions“. The wikipedia community on the other hand knows a lot about subversive actions and has had a decade to develop a fairly effective immune system.

So plan A

“Plan A is that we game the fact that notability only covers page creation, not page content”

The reliable sources policy however covers both. So any attempt to flood the Esoteric programming languages page will just result in someone taking a chainsaw to the uncited content from time to time. If it is cited [[List of Esoteric programming languages]] beckons. Frankly plan A is functional identical to normal behaviour from star wars fans (although they have got better of late).

Plan B is a standard attempt to manufacture sources. In principle there is nothing wrong with the idea but the execution is poor. The books wouldn’t pass wikipedia’s reliable sources guidelines and question wikipedia’s status as an encyclopedia is something that has been done many times without greatly concerning the community. Creating an open access Esoteric programming language journal pointing a review board and then sending out a call for papers would work rather better.

Plan C is basically bribery. Allowing financial concerns to influence content is one thing the community tends to be deeply opposed to (one of the reasons it rejects adverts).

His proposed technical solution in practical terms already exists with the sub-genres of content effectively being non wikipedia wikis. http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Main_Page for example includes all that information on pokemon that wikipedia doesn’t. This also neatly sidesteps the problem that in the real world things don’t divide neatly up into sub-genres.

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