Dinner on Monday included the Chairman of a major media group, who was bemoaning the decline in the reputation of Wikipedia due to the antics of editors manipulating articles about living people.
Somewhat amusingly I found an illustration of this yesterday. Someone had created a short article about me and one of the wily editors who for some reason has a running feud with me (and others I believe – she is alleged to be a disgruntled former MI5 agent) got it deleted within 5 minutes. The first I knew of it was when a US publisher (not mine BTW) emailed me remarking on this extraordinary behaviour and suggesting that this kind of thing merited a journalistic investigation.
I complained to the administrator who deleted it – since this was blatantly against the agreed policy on deletions. He seems to be some kind of “student politician” so after refusing for a while he quickly restored the article, immediately listed it for deletion, contacted all the people who had voted for a previous article about me to be deleted and – hey presto – got it deleted in 1h15m (for those who don’t know, the policy on Wikipedia is to allow deletion debates to run for at least 5 days so that you get a cross-section of opinion and to allow time for an article to be improved). FWIW the article was this editor’s first attempt and he or she did not understand how to do references or “notability” but these would have been easy to fix give a little time. For good measure this malicious administrator has placed a permanent lock so that no ordinary user can ever create an article about me without permission from another admin.
One of the amusing “catch 22s” in the situation is that an otherwise fair-minded editor has suggested that no article can be created unless it is better than the original article that was deleted – but since no editor who is not an admin can access that article this effectively debars anyone from achieving this. (If anyone does want to write an article they may have to prototype it in their user space first).
This kind of behaviour shows Wikipedia in a poor light and I suspect it may be more widespread than this apparently isolated incident - although you have to look hard because the kind of people who do this can cover their tracks. Perhaps there should be a journalistic investigation if it does prove to be more widespread.
Meanwhile I’m in Harvard working with Bob May on our revised paper – and with Martin Nowak. Hilarious!