Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wikipedia: edit wars

I saw the following quote on Marco Frasca's blog:
"Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds" - Albert Einstein
Marco dedicated it to string theorists which is nice but unnecessary because Einstein has done it himself. So I wondered why Marco chose this particular quote. And the comment thread answered the question.

Marco has apparently edited the article about Yang-Mills theory.

He incorporated some links to Smilga's book concerned with the classical solutions - but also his own papers i.e. some work that might potentially be interesting but it is probably not paramount for the subject; at least so far, it is not. Well, that's not what I call a preferred method how to edit Wikipedia. On the other hand, I don't think that all articles should be written by "neutral outsiders": it is very good for a writer to be familiar with a subject, too.

Wikipedia's articles are often very useful, informative, and reliable, but a sufficient number of sufficiently educated and informed yet neutral and co-operating editors usually underlies such a situation.

But Marco was surely not the only one who has done such a thing. However, Peter Woit just edited Wikipedia for the first time in his life. As you can expect with this unfriendly, uncreative, narrow-minded, and permanently negative individual, it wasn't exactly a useful contribution to Wikipedia - like thousands of articles and pictures contributed by your humble correspondent - but rather an edit war. Woit was instantly warned that he would be banned if he continued in the revert war: not bad for his first Wikipedia edit!

Woit's hypocrisy

While promotion of one's own articles is counterproductive, it is not a catastrophe because there is a whole Internet of other users who can fix it. More importantly, Woit's criticism is immensely hypocritical.

If you look at another Wikipedia article about the same topic - an article that should be, in fact, merged with the previous one: I mean gauge theory - you will see that the only "reference" that was inserted on that page promotes Woit's book, despite the book's being off-topic as a book about the history, despite the hundreds of inaccuracies and downright lies in the book, and despite the failure of Woit's book to be published by a university press. There are many books about the history of gauge theory.

Another aspect of Woit's stunning hypocrisy is the way how he evaluates the "consensus" or "authorities". Whenever they are inconvenient for his goals, they become evil players in a gigantic conspiracy. Whenever they agree with Woit's goal, their words become "indisputable". His first anti-Marco edit said that his ideas were not "widely accepted".

Well, this is how totalitarian movements - such as the national socialists and other socialists - always behave. First, they paint themselves as victims, claiming that the small people and minorities have to be given an advantage because they are suppressed by the rest. However, when they get enough power, they screw everyone else.

The only recipe to deal with them is to beat them, beat them, and beat them, and I am very disappointed by Brian Greene who apparently hasn't moved his finger (and certainly not his fist) to stop his dishonest, stuttering, sub-par colleague from doing the nasty things he is doing to other people and science in general.

Attack dogs controlled from the center

But what I find really disgraceful about Woit is the way how he "turns on" the nameless ignorant human waste that gathers on his blog and how he uses this spoiled biological material as a weapon against otherwise decent people. At the same moment, Woit himself pretends that he is innocent and avoids brutal personal attacks because they are done by "someone else". Was Osama bin Laden innocent on September 11th, 2001?

The very goal of Woit's special article about Wikipedia was to use his fanatical, brainwashed followers as weapons of mass destruction against Marco. Poor Marco Frasca had to reintroduce moderation to protect his website and his basic personal dignity against the hordes of very low-quality individuals whose market price is well below the damages that they have done to other people.

Because most members of the TRF community are independent, kind people who would never like to become anonymous, blinded attack dogs, we can't comprehend this dynamics at a visceral level. However, this dynamics is very real. Marco has experienced about 0.1% of Woit's troubling methods that your humble correspondent or string theorists in general have. So it's not surprising that he had some understanding for Einstein's quote.

Thank you, anyway.

Cygnus X: Superstring

Wikipedia: gifts and risks

More generally, I consider the average quality of articles on Wikipedia to be high. In many cases, these articles have become the best and the most comprehensive sources of information about a subject. The internal mechanisms are good enough to be able to transform the voluntary activity of hundreds of thousands of editors into a useful result that would be hardly achieved by one individual author or a small group, even if they had a commercial interest to succeed.

Still, such a system exhibits some imperfections.

For example, if you open the article about global warming and press the "history" button, you will see several edits every day made by William M. Connolley, a blogging official in the British Green Party. Most of them are trying to protect what he calls the "consensus" - i.e. to keep a high degree of contamination of the articles by ideological crap and misinformation. He's doing the same thing to dozens of key articles about the climate. Because Connolley has made it into some kind of a "moderator" of Wikipedia, it shouldn't be hard to expect that the articles about the climate simply can't be objective.

And they are not. Sometimes it is easy to filter the bias out, sometimes it is harder.

But there is also a huge amount of work done by the people - sometimes very modest ones - who often know enough and work or learn intensely enough to refine the articles so that they are a useful resource for millions of readers.


  1. The quality of wikipedia may have been high then when you wrote this article, but they've recently started removing mathematical derivations because no source supports it, and have been explicitly stating that they don't care about people who want mathematical details, but only to the laymen.

    I've also obvserved a lot of crackpot articles recently on wikipedia; and a flood of crackpots too.

    The worst misconceptions are actively promoted, including the one about proper acceleration,/. , as you can see from this edit by "Dr. Greg":

    And wikipedia also insists on also all sorts of nonsense that "string theory is not lorentz - invariant", that "quantum mechanics says that time is discrete", etc. etc.

  2. oh, no, no, no, I did not read the wiki articles so I have no clue if what you say is right but QM does NOT say time is discrete... quite the oposite... it must not be discrete in order to do some calculations, whereas strings are by definition "relativistic" so what do they mean by "lorentz invariant"?

  3. Exactly my point.

    In QM, time is *NOT* discrete, but wikipedia says it is.

    Wikipedia says that string theory is lorentz asymmetric and that it predicts a discrete geometry "because the strings have finite lengths" (however that proceeds logically.).

    By the way, if one uses lcg quantisation, then strings would be lorentz - invariant iff the dimension is the critical dimension and the normal ordering constant is also fixed to the right value. So they probably mean something on the order of that sort of a lorentz - invariance. Except that whatever they say is wronge.

  4. strings must have finite length because they are quantized. Otherwise the tension would bring their size to zero.(that is my handwaving explanation) How would you define worldsheet coordinates if the geometry was "discrete"?

  5. I didn't refute that. I said that string theory does not say that the spacetime is discrete. Wikipedia says that string theory says that spacetime is discrete. Wikipedia is therefore wrong.

    I don't understand what's your point here.

    I am not saying that: string theory predicts discrete discrete spacetime, nor that qm does. Nor am I saying that strings have zero or infinite length. I'm saying that wikipedia says all this, and that wikipedia is wrong, therefore.

  6. I understand! :) I am just trying to explain why while doing something else! I do really agree with you! :)

  7. Just found this post ...

    I hope I understand this right and Marco Frasca has won the edit war.

    Thinking about the Trollking being banned from Wikipedia makes me LOL :-D, he should not only be banned from there but from many other places too, such as from here

    the Columbia University, etc ... !

  8. I am afraid I do not understand why some people are so shocked by the fact that some series expansions diverge or have to be analytically continued? Why, someone told me even path integrals in QM are not well defined... I told him they are not well defined if he did not define them well... :p