Editorial: Tilting at Wikimills

I’ve been engaging in something that may be an exercise in futility, working to improve (read: keep from being deleted) an article on Paganistan on Wikipedia. The article has been tagged for deletion for not being note worthy enough.  Not enough sources they consider ‘reliable’ have written about Paganistan, which is short hand for saying the mainstream press hasn’t written much about us and the other sources listed aren’t reliable for one reason or another.   From the discussion on the Article For Deletion page, it’s looking like this article, as the one on Sacred Paths Center which was already deleted, is on the fast track to non-existence.

So why have I been tilting at this particular windmill?  Because too many articles on Paganism are being deleted on Wikipedia.  Because this action on Wikipedia highlights the difficulties Pagans face gaining acceptance and inclusion in mainstream society and how the rules are discriminatory in practice, if not in intention.  Because Wikipedia matters and is used as an initial stop for information gathering for the Average Joe and for media, like it or not.  Most of all, because Pagans and Paganism are noteworthy.

One of the reasons Pagan articles get put onto the fast track to deletion is that they lack sources Wikipedia considers reliable, which then makes the entire topic ‘not worthy of note.’  After all, if it was worth noting, people would write about it, right?

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this policy as it helps ensure that the articles and sources are solid.  When this policy is put into practice with under-reported minority groups such as modern Pagans, that’s where the unintentional discrimination happens.  Mainstream media simply doesn’t cover our news.  When they do it is usually for a Halloween story or a hit-piece like what was on the National Post.   So finding mainstream news articles about the important people, events, and places within Paganism is difficult.  We were able to find several mainstream articles that reference Paganistan, but these were deemed not significant enough.  The goal line moves again.  This difficulty and lack of primary reporting of Pagan news is what lead to the creation of the Pagan Newswire Collective and the Minnesota bureau.

…without original reporting coming from the local level we become overly dependent on a news industry that increasingly doesn’t have the time or inclination to cover what we feel is important. Without our own journalism we miss newsworthy events that aren’t covered by traditional media, and become over-reliant on editorial, rumor, and rants. We need to build a new Pagan journalism from the grass-roots up, and PNC-Minnesota is a first step down that road.  – The Wild Hunt, Building a pagan Ecosphere and Why That’s important

PNC has staff with formal journalism degrees, experience working as a reporters, producers, and editors in mainstream media, and PNC-Minnesota follows an editorial process similar to most any other newsroom in the country.   Yet PNC-Minnesota is dismissed as  “a self-published group blog which isn’t going to meet guidelines for reliable sources.”

Discounting sources is a common theme in the Paganistan deletion discussion.  A paper by Dr. Murphy Pizza, an anthropologist who spent five years studying the Paganistan community, is also considered not a reliable source because she is a Pagan.  I’m assuming this same standard would then apply to The Pomegranate:  The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Chas Clifton’s book “Her Hidden Children:  The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America,” and is probably the reason Ronald Hutton will not publicly say he is a Pagan.   So are experts involved in the environmental movement not reliable sources for information about environmental issues?  Are experts who write about Christianity who also happen to be Christians not cited as sources on Wikipedia?  Experts are usually associated in some way to the topic they research and write about, it’s what drives them to devote so much of their life to a particular topic.  Are first hand accounts of the community in question using the term allowed?  No, they are also not reliable enough for Wikipedia.

I don’ t believe Wikipedia is engaging in some secret mission to wipe out all references to Paganism.  There are many articles on various Pagan topics on Wikipedia and many of them are poorly written and need a helping hand.  But there is a shift in editing philosophy that is hitting newer Pagan articles harder than mainstream religious articles.  The editors and administrators seem to be moving away from allowing articles plenty of time to be expanded, sourced, and improved (inclusionism) and are now deleting articles much more quickly(deletionism), mainly for not being notable.  This speed to deletion along with lack of mainstream media coverage of all things Pagan and disallowing sources such as books, experts, and news media if they happen to also be Pagans themselves puts us at an extreme disadvantage in following Wikipedia’s content and article guidelines.

I think there are individual editors who look for content on Wikipedia they don’t like and specifically target that content for removal.  Anyone can nominate an article for deletion so this makes it easier for Wiki bullies and deletionists to ply their trade.  Once a nomination for deletion is made, a deletion discussion page is created and editors (anyone with a Wikipedia account) can vote to ‘delete’ or ‘keep’ the article and comment on why the article should be kept or deleted.  An administrator than counts to votes and checks for group consensus.   For Paganistan, as it has for many articles on Pagans and Paganism, the consensus is leaning towards delete.  New people are allowed to vote, but their votes seem to carry less weight than people who have been there longer.  Also, asking people to join a deletion discussion is no-no.  The Paganistan article is being worked on, new sources are being added.  It has also been tagged for ‘rescue.’

This editorial isn’t just about one article on Wikipedia, or even about Wikipedia, it’s about pushing back at the idea that what happens in our communities isn’t noteworthy. Making sure that good, solid information about Paganism can be found in the places that people go to look for it, like Wikipedia.  This is especially needed whenever there is another article reprinted in a newspaper that uses a tragedy as an excuse to warn readers of the “the risks involved in neo-pagan worship and certain New Age practices.

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16 thoughts on “Editorial: Tilting at Wikimills

  1. Anthony Arndt says:

    Hey Cara, Thanks for the heads up. I’ve thrown in my vote. I was really only ever tangentially involved in the non-Asatru, non-Recon end of things in “Paganistan” but even most Heathens had heard the term (not that all of them took it and more seriously than Midwestgard).

    I’ve thrown in my two bits. Google is pretty damn worthless for researching local news sources but the MN BBB is online so I could at least fill in some citations.

  2. JRob Zetelumen says:

    Anthropologists have largely dismissed the concern about “going native”. It has been largely rejected in scholarly circles. However, Wikipedia editors apparently haven’t gotten this memo and are holding on to an out dated idea.

    Wikipedia says it wants “No original Research”, and therefore rejects doctoral dissertations as references because they are original research. However, any good journalism contains original research. So their standards give less weight to a scholarly reviewed work for which someone was granted a doctorate, then they do to a work that some editor okayed and everyone collected a pay check.

    Wikipedia is a place where we can find everything we could want to know about the character of Lisa Turtle on Saved By the Bell, but we are greatly restricted on articles about contemporary Paganism.

    Most of the editors voting for deletion know little or nothing about contemporary Paganism. In the deletion discussion for the Sacred Paths Center, one of the deletionists (who is now voting to delete the Paganistan article) referred to us as “neo-paganists”. I wonder how the neo-christianists would like such a reference.

    Another deletionist referred to Murphy Pizza (neglecting the title of Dr.) as the person who created the term Paganistan, raising doubt that the person even read the article in question.

    I now understand why people mock Wikipedia. This experience has verified all the complaints so frequently made by their detractors.

  3. Nightcloud says:

    Wikipedia has delusions if they think they are seen as a valid professional resource. They are not. As a current university student I can tell you that siting anything from Wikipedia as other than a public lay resource is not accepted.

    The only way they can achieve the status they think they have is if every article is reviewed by people who are experts on the subject, not general editors.

    As the above poster said, Wikipedia is an okay place to go to find out about actors, TV shows etc, but for actual information it is worthless.

  4. Rev Liz Hamilton says:

    Hi all,

    I’m new to the Paganistan area, and so far I love it here — everything but the metric tons of snow, that is — but those are gone for several more months, I’m relatively sure!

    In my high school years and years in college since then, none of my teachers or professors allowed anything from Wikipedia as a valid citation source for papers, and for a very good reason — any nit-wit with a keyboard, internet, and Wiki account can go in and edit whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of expertise or lack thereof.

    I think it’s time to kick the bucket on Wikipedia…. it is a hideous beast which has reared its ugly head in imitation of REAL encyclopedias for far too long and refuses to roll over and crumble like it should.

    Instead of relying on the unreliable source Wikipedia has been since its inception and will be forevermore, we could start our OWN “wiki” — wikipagan, or something like that — with something like WikiSpaces. I’m not sure on the security of said site’s features and such, like disabling Average Joe from signing up and editing every page at his leisure… but it’s GOT to be better than what we’ve currently got, which is a bunch of people trying to wipe us from the face of wikipedia.

    • caraschulz says:

      Question to think about: If we start our own Wikipedia (and there are many Pagan Wikis out there) do you think the average person will know to go there to find out information about Paganism?

      I do understand what you are saying and it’s a very tempting sentiment. Most people, when going to Wikipedia, are not going there to write a paper for school. They hear something or read something and want a bit more information on it. So they read an entry on Wikipedia and then, perhaps, they click the links that are sourced at the bottom.

      Making our own Wiki, which Pagans have been doing for quite some time, is giving into the ‘separate, but equal’ – we aren’t allowed to drink from their fountain or go to their school, so we make our own and tell ourselves that it’s just as good.

  5. Sarah says:

    For those who want to help improve Wikipedia’s paganism content, there’s a wikiproject already set up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WPN

    I’m one of the main people who used to maintain the wikiproject, back when I had more time to invest in Wikipedia. I’m thrilled to see that several of you have already joined. Please feel free to update the information on the main project page to reflect these new concerns and priorities.

    • caraschulz says:

      I’ve been looking through the list of articles that need some help and I’ll start working on them as I can. Thank you for doing this!

  6. Mark Digatono says:

    Part of me wants to be insulted by this, part of me thinks it is of little relevance. By that I mean Wikipedia is the last Scholarly source I would quote. It is an initial stop over to get more information, accurate information, by using the external links it provides. Having them delete an article about the SPC is troubling in that it is what seems an editorial policy that discriminates arbitrarily. I agree something should be done, but I am not the one to do it. I will leave it to more credentialed people that can make the change.

  7. JRob says:

    Mark, you are much more of an expert then the people seeking to delete the article. If the Paganistan article survives, it’s safe to say that the Sacred Paths Center article will be resubmitted, with better references.

  8. David wainwright says:

    I stopped being an editor on Wikipedia because of their inconsistant standards about notability. It’s not as simple as ‘deletionism’ vs. ‘inclusionism’. It’s that different topics have wildly different standards of notability. I’ve seen Wikipedia articles about marginally known people with no references included that don’t get deleted, yet articles like Paganistan are nominated for deletion. From what I’ve saw in my time editing at Wikipedia, new articles about any religious or philosophical topic are very likely to be deleted.

  9. The Blog of Baphomet says:

    Interesting to see this article. Some years ago there was an entry about me in wikipedia (which I didn’t create) which was then deleted. I looked briefly at the discussion as to why and it did seem to be to do with whether I was an author that sold sufficient books to qualify as worthy of a mention. So it’s interesting to see how the wiki ‘standards’ are applied more generally. David’s comment above is frankly disturbing.

    Julian Vayne

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