Wikipedia: Bring on the amateurs. | Brussels Blog

Wikipedia: Bring on the amateurs.

posted by on 1st Oct 2013
1st,Oct

As you may see from other postings, I don’t defer to views that are based simply on credentials.

I watch and hear government officials, academics and scientists with a skeptical ear and eye. I think they duck or manipulate important questions because of unsound motives like political expediency and commercial advantage. These are usually people packed with credentials.

Wikipedia came to me as an antidote to this – open to everybody that had something sensible to add – not just the copper bottomed experts with commercial interests or reputations to protect. The knowledgeable interested amateurs, who care and have a thirst for knowledge could participate without reputations or commercial interests to advance.

OK, that was spoiled as Wikipedia became successful and a mention was worth something so various interests piled in with spin. I think this is why Wikipedia began to rely heavily on peer review. Perhaps peer review helped to combat biased entries and bogus claims but the comment by a moderator “I can see only one reason for citing a non-peer reviewed article: ego-spam.” (see below) shows to me this has gone too far.

Wikipedia should read its own criticisms of peer review where it quotes Drummond Rennie of the Journal of the American Medical Association

There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.


And read their entry on conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom is the body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. Such ideas or explanations, though widely held, are unexamined. Unqualified societal discourse preserves the status quo.

I believe that Wikipedia could address important areas of knowledge ducked or appropriated by those with credentials. The top of my list would be [[the carbon footprint of everyday activity]] with sub-topics such as the [[carbon footprint of beef]] or the [[carbon footprint of air travel]]. With friends and a grant from UnLtd, I tried to do this with the Green Ration Book but Wikipedia is the obvious place for this to happen with a world-wide audience and world-wide helpers.

Sadly I think that academics and government organisations won’t address these issues in any helpful and straightforward manner. Bring on the amateurs.

Postscript:

Here are three of my encounters with Wikipedia…

talk:carbon footprint

I am Geoff Beacon.

My entry on the embodied carbon of beef was removed by a moderator. OK, It did point to a website I set up with a grant from UnLtd, the millennium charity, which has the relevant references. But the moderation has had the effect of denying readers the chance to know the enormous carbon footprint of beef (and the meat of other ruminants).

As far as I can see there is no [[the carbon footprint of beef]] on Wikipedia or many other everyday products and activities that were found on the website I set up. Wikipedia would be a much better place than my site.
I did offer to pay a student this summer on the carbon footprint of beef or anything else of his choice without mentioning my site. He couldn’t get past the moderator.

Wake up Wikipedia. Your coverage of carbon footprints tells very little about the impact of our everyday lives. You give references to academics that do not disclose their actual figures. Those that do get it wrong (e.g. pig meat and beef do not have the same footprint!)

Talk:BedZED

Embodied Carbon

I am Geoff Beacon.

My entry on the embodied carbon in BedZED has been removed by a moderator. OK, It did point to a website I set up with a grant from UnLtd, the millennium charity, which has the relevant references. But the moderation has had the effect of denying readers the chance to know the enormity of the problem of embodied energy in buildings like BedZED – the Beddington Zero Energy Project.

Again I ask the question Is Wikipedia too credentialist?

Talk:Minimum wage

The Kim Swales argument

I am Geoff Beacon and I have just come across an archive discussion in Talk:Minimum wage/Archive 04.

I think the moderator gave Peter Lawrence an unnecessarily hard time: “I can see only one reason for citing a non-peer reviewed article: ego-spam.” The “non-peer reviewed article” was a report that was commissioned by the European Commission.

I was aware that Wikipedia had become more prone to credentialism but this case highlights a problem – it is difficult for a non-academic with a bright idea like Peter Lawrence to get anything published – let alone with peer review. They must reference academic work to make perferctly sensible and obvious ideas credible to policy makers.

But the idea he references is so ******* obvious that it shouldn’t need any reference – subsidise labour at the bottom end of the labour market (That is where unemployment hits!) and the poor find jobs and get paid more. Obvious to taxi drivers and that “man on the clapham omnibus”. I should know I have been asking them since the late sixties. I wasn’t until sometime in the eighties, when I met Kim Swales, that I found an academic economist that got the point.

He agreed to follow up the idea an we got funding from the European Commission to work on the report referenced by Peter Lawrence. Kim and Darren Holden did an excellent job of improving previous work that actually was peer reviewed. (Beacon, G. and Monk, P., “Employment Creation with Very Large Scale Labour Subsidies”, Northern Economic Review, No. 15, Summer, 1987.)

I started with this proposal in 1969 and have had decades of brush-offs but with few sensible suggestions from academics. The standard response was “X has done work on that” but they never had. Even Nicholas Kaldor seemed to forget he had made a similar proposal in the 1930s and replied with a reference to his book “An expenditure tax”.

I suppose the moderator was a academic economist.

Want to argue whether utility is denumerable or non-denumerable?

Could [[Is Wikipedia too credentialist]] be a new topic?

comment

There is another entry I made in WIkipedia that I can no longer find. It concerned Gads Hill Place, the home of Charles Dickens. Wikipedia indicates that it was near here that the robbery scene from Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I.

This may not be correct, I was told at school that Dickens lived near Gads Hill Gillingham when he was a boy and named his home in remembrance of his childhood.

This may or not be correct but Gads Hill is still in Gillingham and there seems to be no Gads Hill near Gads Hill Place.

Was the robbery scene in Gillingham? Does anyone know?

P.S. I believe my great great grandfather rented the marquee used for the auction at the Gads Hill House clearance after Dickens’ death.

P.P.S. I may increase my monthly payments to the wonderful Wikipedia.

Geoff Beacon (@GeoffBeacon) ( October 6, 2013 at 9:51 am )

I have had some discussion on a WIkimedia mailing list:

My original note…

An authoritative and easy to used resource giving of the effect or our everyday activities is essential if voters are to know enough to influence politics.

I cant find any entries on Wikipedia to match this. To some extent I blame Wikipedia’s over emphasis on peer review and official sources. The [Carbon footprint] entry is probably counter-productive as it implies that the quoted sources are more reliable than they are. I fear some of these sources are incorrect, hide their proprietary information or are influenced by politics (i.e. government departments).

What I would like to see are lots of entries on Wikipedia like:

[the carbon footprint of beef]
[the carbon footprint of air travel]
[the carbon footprint of a new house]

& etc.

Wikipedia is the right place for such information to be presented.

See more of my criticism here: http://www.brusselsblog.co.uk/is-wikipedia-too-credentialist/

Geoff Beacon

A reply said:

I don’t really understand where you are coming from with this. Your
own website cites plenty of official, reliable sources which you could presumably cite when you write about these topics. On your blog, you complain about Wikipedians getting annoyed when you cite yourself as a secondary source, which seems fair enough — why not just cite the primary
sources directly?

My reply…

My main points is that the increasing dependance of Wikipedia on peer review puts the power over knowledge in the hands of people, academics and governments, that have motives related to their careers and may include commercial and political interests. Take [the carbon footprint of beef] as an example.

Beef has a very large carbon footprint between 14 and 37 times it’s own weight of carbon dioxide equivalent. (hunt through my as well as for details).

But one of the best sources (not the only one) was the Work of Adrian Williams from Cranfield University. I ran his model for getting the carbon footprint of beef using a Global Warming Potential (GWP) for methane using a 20 year rather than a 100 year timescale. Some scientists are now pointing out that the 100 year timescale is now unrealistic but it is the “conventional wisdom”. The effect of choosing 20 years rather than 100 years is to increase the carbon footprint of beef. Additionally work by Shindell et. al. suggests methane’s effect should by uprated for other reasons.

The work of Adrian Mitchell that I used was in a report to the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs. I find it now hard to find. I think that is because it is politically inconvenient. The point about this work, as far as this discussion is concerned, is that it was not peer reviewed but a report to a government department. In my view it is clearly an important piece of work but I fear it would be rejected because it was not peer reviewed. See the moderator’s comment mentioned in my BrusselsBlog piece “I can see only one reason for citing a non-peer reviewed article: ego-spam.” (That wasn’t actually directed at me.)

I have just noticed that almost a year ago a prospective entry was put in the talk section of Wilipedia’s [beef] article. It suggests a new section [Environmental impacts of beef] and has important information in it. This has not made its way into the main article. It should have despite any reservations. To only include absolutely polished information just gives and advantage to those with the resources to polish and possibly dubious motives.

There is important information that should be on Wikipedia that is missing. I’m pleased to say that my shortened section on the Beddington Zero Energy Development [BedZED] hasn’t yet been removed. It says “Embodied Carbon: Large. 67.5 tonnes CO2e for a 100 square metre flat.” (OK. Perhaps I should have dug out the non-peer reviewed reference that gives this figure which was done by one of the project sponsors.)

If it stays perhaps I will add a section to [Beef], following the note in the talk section. “The carbon footprint of beef: Very large. Between 12 and 35kg of CO2e are produced for every 1 kg of beef consumed”

What do you think?

Geoff Beacon

P.S. But articles [The carbon footprint of …] would be wonderful.

P.S.S. I’m a bit disappointed by use of the term “Wikipedians”. Does that exclude me?

admin ( October 9, 2013 at 10:55 am )

What do you mean by “Wikipedia moderator”? AFAIK there is no such beast. There are Wikipedia administrators, but they have no more say in Wikipedia article content than any other Wikipedian (like you) do.

Martijn Hoekstra ( October 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm )

Read the following if you wish

….. but I’m adding some of of the discussion I had on the Wikimedia list here so that I know where to find it in future. I have used initials rather than names so as not to be too intrusive.

I appreciate the comments that others have made but it leaves me will a hill that is too high to climb at present.

Geoff Beacon
——————————–
——————————–
From the Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 19
——————————–
——————————–

TS says:

I don’t really understand where you are coming from with this. Your
own website cites
plenty of official, reliable sources which you could presumably cite
when you write about these topics. On your blog, you complain about
Wikipedians getting annoyed when you cite yourself as a secondary
source, which seems fair enough — why not just cite the primary
sources directly?

My main points is that the increasing dependance of Wikipedia on peer review puts the power over knowledge in the hands of people, academics and governments, that have motives related to their careers and may include commercial and political interests. Take [the carbon footprint of beef] as an example.

Beef has a very large carbon footprint between 14 and 37 times it’s own weight of carbon dioxide equivalent. (hunt through GreenRationBook.org.uk for details).

But one of the best sources (not the only one) was the Work of Adrian Williams from Cranfield University. I ran his model for getting the carbon footprint of beef using a Global Warming Potential (GWP) for methane using a 20 year rather than a 100 year timescale. Some scientists are now pointing out that the 100 year timescale is now unrealistic but it is the “conventional wisdom”. The effect of choosing 20 years rather than 100 years is to increase the carbon footprint of beef. Additionally work by Shindell et. al. suggests methane’s effect should by uprated for other reasons.

The work of Adrian Mitchell that I used was in a report to the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs. I find it now hard to find. I think that is because it is politically inconvenient. The point about this work, as far as this discussion is concerned, is that it was not peer reviewed but a report to a government department. In my view it is clearly an important piece of work but I fear it would be rejected because it was not peer reviewed. See the moderator’s comment mentioned in my BrusselsBlog piece “I can see only one reason for citing a non-peer reviewed article: ego-spam.” (That wasn’t actually directed at me.)

I have just noticed that almost a year ago a prospective entry was put in the talk section of Wilipedia’s [beef] article. It suggests a new section [Environmental impacts of beef] and has important information in it. This has not made its way into the main article. It should have despite any reservations. To only include absolutely polished information just gives and advantage to those with the resources to polish and possibly dubious motives.

There is important information that should be on Wikipedia that is missing. I’m pleased to say that my shortened section on the Beddington Zero Energy Development [BedZED] hasn’t yet been removed. It says “Embodied Carbon: Large. 67.5 tonnes CO2e for a 100 square metre flat.” (OK. Perhaps I should have dug out the non-peer reviewed reference that gives this figure which was done by one of the project sponsors.)

If it stays perhaps I will add a section to [Beef], following the note in the talk section. “The carbon footprint of beef: Very large. Between 12 and 35kg of CO2e are produced for every 1 kg of beef consumed”

What do you think?

Geoff Beacon

P.S. But articles [The carbon footprint of …] would be wonderful.

P.S.S. I’m a bit disappointed by use of the term “Wikipedians”. Does that exclude me?

——————————-
——————————-
From Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 21
——————————-
——————————-

JS,

Thanks for your elucidation of primary and secondary sources but I am uneasy about your scoring system. e.g. the New Scientist is good because it “has a reputation for fact checking”.

I think most people who look into the topic will agree that, for example, the carbon footprint of beef is between 10 and 40 times its own weight in Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) so how would an entry in Wikipedia that said the following fit:

[The carbon footprint of beef] Provisional answer. Very large. Somewhere between 10 and 40 times its own weight in Carbon Dioxide Equivalent.

At present Wikipedia’s silence does it a disservice giving a false overall impression of the state of knowledge – yes I mean knowledge. You can see my various websites thinks that should be broached even if not completely resolved.

I don’t really have the time to become a serious Wikipedia contributor. I don’t have the time to keep up most of my websites. I would much rather Wikipedia was the source but I have been rather goaded into this response.

“The inherent complexity and controversy of carbon footprints”. What do you mean by that?

The complexity argument is how the government sources get away with ignoring important issues like the missing feedbacks in climate models or the radiative forcing index in air travel – we don’t properly understand them so we will ignore them.

Best wishes

Geoff

—– Original message —–
From: Geoff Beacon
Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Carbon footprints on Wikipedia.
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2013 16:38:30 +0800

GB wrote:

>… http://www.greenrationbook.org.uk/resources/
> cites plenty of official, reliable sources which you could
> presumably cite when you write about these topics. On
> your blog, you complain about Wikipedians getting
> annoyed when you cite yourself as a secondary source,
> which seems fair enough — why not just cite the primary
> sources directly?

There may be some confusion between the meaning of primary and
secondary sources here.

http://www.greenrationbook.org.uk/resources/defra-study/
is a summary of several government document and peer reviewed primary sources.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19526134.500-meat-is-murder-on-the-environment.html
is a secondary source summarizing those primary sources, but it is not
peer reviewed. However, it is considered reliable because it appears
in a publication with editorial oversight of reporting and a
reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2007.00457.x/abstract
is a peer-reviewed primary source which includes an introductory
literature review qualifying as a peer-reviewed secondary source, but
the new findings will not be considered as reliable as the literature
review summary.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_footprint
has some problems; for example the introduction is far too long and
includes a header suggesting the intro has a body section in it.


Geoff Beacon

Message: 3
Date: Wed, 09 Oct 2013 14:50:46 +0100
From: Geoff Beacon

PS said…

Hi Geoff,

You want it, go ahead and do it. That is how it works.

[GB: I thought my piece explained that was not how it worked for me and I won’t be trying to contribute more without further thought.]

Cheers,

PS. What is the point you wish to make by saying you make a monthly
contribution to WMF?

[GB: Just to point out I’m on the same side; I’m not sulking and I recognise the excellent service I get from Wikipedia. But I don’t give very much!]


Geoff Beacon

——————————-
——————————-
Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 22
——————————-
——————————-

Message: 1
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 10:36:33 +1100
From: TS
Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Carbon footprints on Wikipedia.

Please either turn off digests and reply to the individual list mails,
or use the NNTP interface at gmane.org, so that your Subject and
References headers will be correct and threading will work.

On 09/10/13 20:48, Geoff Beacon wrote:
> The work of Adrian Mitchell that I used was in a report to the UK
> Department of Food and Rural Affairs. I find it now hard to find. I
> think that is because it is politically inconvenient. The point
> about this work, as far as this discussion is concerned, is that it
> was not peer reviewed but a report to a government department. In
> my view it is clearly an important piece of work but I fear it
> would be rejected because it was not peer reviewed. See the
> moderator’s comment mentioned in my BrusselsBlog piece “I can see
> only one reason for citing a non-peer reviewed article: ego-spam.”
> (That wasn’t actually directed at me.)

Wikipedia doesn’t have moderators. It does have POV pushers, which are
a different thing. [[WP:V]] recommends, but does not require, peer
review for sources.

> I have just noticed that almost a year ago a prospective entry was
> put in the talk section of Wilipedia’s [beef] article. It suggests
> a new section [Environmental impacts of beef] and has important
> information in it. This has not made its way into the main article.
> It should have despite any reservations. To only include absolutely
> polished information just gives and advantage to those with the
> resources to polish and possibly dubious motives.

It’s definitely a good idea to polish your text, especially if you are
writing about a controversial topic. Note that text doesn’t just “make
its way” from the talk page to the article, an ordinary editor (like
you) has to put it there.

> There is important information that should be on Wikipedia that is
> missing. I’m pleased to say that my shortened section on the
> Beddington Zero Energy Development [BedZED] hasn’t yet been
> removed. It says “Embodied Carbon: Large. 67.5 tonnes CO2e for a
> 100 square metre flat.” (OK. Perhaps I should have dug out the
> non-peer reviewed reference that gives this figure which was done
> by one of the project sponsors.)
>
> If it stays perhaps I will add a section to [Beef], following the
> note in the talk section. “The carbon footprint of beef: Very
> large. Between 12 and 35kg of CO2e are produced for every 1 kg of
> beef consumed”
>
> What do you think?

I think “very large” is too vague, it needs to be compared to
something. Also, if you are concerned that 100 year GWP underestimates
the impact of beef production, and want to use the 20 year GWP, then
the obvious solution is to quote both. NPOV policy favours expansion
over replacement.

——————————
——————————

Message: 4
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 17:37:49 +0800
From: JS
Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Carbon footprints on Wikipedia.

> “The inherent complexity and controversy of carbon footprints”.
> What do you mean by that?

Even those who fight for inclusion of the facts about climate change
on Wikipedia aren’t very likely to follow the peer reviewed secondary
literature when it comes to reporting the extent of changes in extreme
weather.

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Extreme_weather&action=history
has some good examples, with more going back years.

There’s really no way to get Wikipedia to correctly reflect
controversial topics unless you are willing to invest the time it
takes to counter conflicted interest editing.

Good luck!

——————————
——————————
Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 23
——————————
——————————

Message: 1
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 11:44:22 +0100
From: Geoff Beacon
To: JS
Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Carbon footprints on Wikipedia.

Thanks JS

… but that isn’t an answer about carbon footprints. Climate change may be controversial. I’m in the thick of that argument but carbon footprints are simpler and fit with other information on Wikipedia. e.g. [Global Warming Potential] and [Carbon Dioxide Equivalent]

[break]

But now I’ve looked at those I’m very confused the “definition” of [Carbon Dioxide Equivalent] does not seem to be influenced by the lifetime of greenhouse gasses as opposed to [Global Warming Potential]. Perhaps I have been using a different concept of CO2e.

I’ve noticed that PAS2050 is referenced in [Carbon footprint]. There are a some serious criticisms that can be made of this. As I remember it

— ignores the radiative forcing index associated with air travel,
— uses the unrealistic conventional wisdom of a 100 year time scale for calculating carbon footprint
— assumes all wood product will be returned to carbon dioxide
— but allows cement to recapture some CO2 within their time-frame.

The consequences are to go easy on beef, air travel, cement, steel and penalise wood products. This would be inline with government political objectives and some commercial interests.

If I were to point these things out somewhere in the [Carbon footprint] piece would my entry be removed? I know of no academic work that has received funding to make these points so there is no peer reviewed literature.

Could I quote PAS2050 as it isn’t peer reviewed?

Best wishes

Geoff

——————————
——————————
Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 24
——————————
——————————

Message: 1
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 14:17:51 +0200
From: MW
Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] Carbon footprints on Wikipedia.

Can this whole discussion please be moved to enwiki or at least the enwiki
list? Working out details of an article is not really the topic of this
list.

——————————
——————————
Wikimedia-l Digest, Vol 115, Issue 25
——————————
——————————

Message: 1
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 2013 14:20:24 +0100
From: Geoff Beacon

Subject: Re: [Wikimedia-l] End of the Carbon Footprint discussion – for me anyway.

MW

I am now going to unsubscribe from this list (for the time-being anyway) so I am not tempted to email to enter into more discussion. It’s just not productive for me or you.

If you think that my criticisms are just about one particular article you have missed my main point, which concerns Wikipedia’s credentialism and over reliance on official sources, academic and governmental, which I have often found to be suspect.

Do look at http://www.brusselsblog.co.uk/is-wikipedia-too-credentialist/ for a fuller explanation.

I will continue to use Wikipedia (like so many other people) and pay my small monthly contribution to Wikimedia.

Goodbye for now.

Best wishes

Geoff

Geoff Beacon ( October 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm )

Please Leave a Reply

TrackBack URL :

pagetop