Dear Jimmy Wales,
we write this open letter because we are worried. The German Wikipedia is in grave danger. It is in grave danger to fail completely, because it has been hijacked by a number of purely ideologically motivated people who want to advance not information or knowledge, but their particular version of information and knowledge. Because of that, the German Wikipedia drifts ever closer to becoming the platform for ideological content, a platform of misinformation, rather than useful and correct information. We write this open letter in the capacity that one of us is a scientist, who does assessments of scientific rigour on a daily basis, while the other is a journalist who has become the target of scorn and hatred on Wikipedia in an obvious attempt to destroy his public reputation.
We observed Wikipedia for a number of months now. The analysis that prompted us to write this open letter is based on a substantial number of observations, enough to provide you with a thorough understanding of what is going wrong at Wikipedia Germany, enough to back our conclusions. If need be, we will provide you with the full amount of evidence that backs our conclusions and that could hardly be included in this open letter, because of the letter getting a book as a result of doing so.
What is going wrong with Wikipedia Germany can be discussed with reference to four interlocking and self-enforcing processes that result in some kind of a feedback loop. The inevitable outcome of this feedback loop is a sharp decline in quality and a reduction of Wikipedia Germany to a cultist movement made up by a homogeneous group of ideological people that utterly defy the spirit of Wikipedia, the spirit captured in your famous idea to provide a source of information that draws on the widely spread knowledge of many people. Wikipedia in German is getting ever more distant to that particular spirit.
The four interlocking and self-enforcing processes that promote Wikipedia Germany’s demise, are the following:
- The lack of a coherent set of criteria as to how to find evidence and how to write an article;
- The resulting selectivity of many if not most articles found in Wikipedia Germany;
- The ideological hijacking that is eased by the aforementioned processes;
- The negative incentive to if not deterrence of capable people who want to contribute to Wikipedia, but decline doing so, because of Wikipedia’s ideological infestation, furthermore, a waste of manpower unheard of in other regional sections of Wikipedia;
Lack of a coherent set of criteria
The endeavour to write an encyclopaedia is – in the first place – a task that requires a careful technique for selecting correct, reliable and representative information. In other words, it requires people that are able and, more important still, willing to select information that gives a correct account for a particular field. In order to find correct, reliable and representative information, you need at least some insight in a field when you are working alone on an article. When numerous people work on an article you need a common set of criteria, different authors feel complied to comply to, a set of criteria that allows for intersubjective testing if the gathered material is indeed the best available material and that allows to reach a common agreement with respect to what information has to be included in the article and what information can be left out. At the moment, nothing of that kind can be found at Wikipedia in Germany and selectivity is what results.
As a result, you will find legions of articles on Wikipedia’s German version that do not meet the most rudimentary standards of reliability, fairness and decorum. They consist of scattered information, sourced in a process only the author can make sense of. They provide in many cases nothing but a caricature of reality that, at best, makes knowledgeable people laugh and, in the worst case, makes them angry and makes less knowledgeable people easy prey for ideologist. What is bad for the reputation of Wikipedia when it comes to articles that cover scientific content especially in the humanities, content like education, gets even worse when reputation of people cited in the respective article is at stake or, worse still, when people are the very topic covered in a particular article. Then, Wikipedia becomes the breeding ground of unfair treatment, bordering on hatred and it becomes the playground for ideological warriors.
Because of the lack of criteria, it is all to easy for ideologists to include what they see information that suits their agenda and suppress information that would put a particular topic in an utterly different light. So, by selectively choosing and actively suppressing information, these ideologists make Wikipedia Germany the platform for their political agitation. To do so, they form some kind of a secret society within Wikipedia exploiting the anonymity by assigning not only fancy nicknames (like “black feathers”) to themselves, but hiding behind several nicks at the same time, all designed to put forward their interest and back their own claims.
And they use Wikipedia to treat their enemies with scorn, unfairness and a kind of hatred which is hard to describe to non-German people, however, so we refer to numerous occasions that see people labelled “homophobic” in articles published on Wikipedia Germany, that see people’s work dubbed as “crap”, their dignity diminished by claiming they would sell their grandmother if it were to bring them benefits and so on. Regularly it is not what the people covered did in their lifetime, the work, they are renowned for, that makes the content of a Wikipedia article but their political stance and the assessment of the respective stance that features prominently in the respective articles. In other words, many Wikipedia articles are very good at making ad hominem judgements, but rather poor in providing information.
These are regular ways to treat people in German Wikipedia articles and, although we know that this kind of misconduct is hard to comprehend by non-German people, it describes adequately what is happening on a regular basis and it describes what in some cases already crossed the line that separates delinquent from non-delinquent behaviour, i.e., it is to be considered libel and slander, and it is only a matter of time, that Wikipedia will be sued for it.
Deterrence of capable people and Editing Wars
The particular “mentoring” system, the way Wikipedia works, was once suited, when Wikipedia was a start-up. Today, Wikipedia is a player in the information market. Especially in countries in which rules of fairness are unknown or ignored, rules that bind, e.g., British people arguing with each other to a certain line of behaviour the very system that helped Wikipedia grow will be responsible for its failure. Lack of criteria, resulting selectivity and ideological takeover of many “editorial boards” deters motivated, capable and well-meaning individuals from contributing to Wikipedia. We know of scientists well-known to an international audience, renowned in their field and named in the Marquis Who is Who in the World that, after being invited to do so, started to work for Wikipedia Germany, but soon ceased to do so because their work had been rejected due to a lack of ideological fit, i.e., because it consisted of fact rather than fiction.
Ideological warfare is so common that it is possible, if one would chose to do so, to quantify waste of human resources in hundreds of manhours. To get an impression of what is going on at Wikipedia’s German branch, just look at the “talk” or the “View history” index card of any article covering a disputed topic and you will find ongoing and fierce battles between two entrenched ideological camps, with one camp undoing the changes made by the other camp and the other camp doing likewise.
Would anyone seriously expect that processes like those described will not harm quality and reputation of Wikipedia? Would anyone seriously expect that, given the trench warfare we see today, it will take longer than a few days to scare away even the most willing and most able contributor to Wikipedia Germany? Would anyone seriously think that the processes described here will not bring Wikipedia to an untimely death, at least in Germany.
And this is why we decided to write this open letter to you. Wikipedia in Germany is in great danger to become the third column of whatever ideology. It is time to do something against it and it is time to act now. And we think, abolishing the possibility to write in anonymity would be one place to start, because people eager to scathe others from their secure venturing point of anonymity usually cease to do so, when they are out in the open where they can be held responsible for what they say and do. If Wikipedia authors were to be known by name, it is our understanding, that not only would unfair treatment and ideological warfare be reduced, but quality of Wikipedia articles would improve as well, because you have to research well for something published under your real name.
We hope, you take this open letter as it is meant, as an urgent call for action by two really worried people who sympathize with the spirit of Wikipedia.
People who want to support this open letter may write a short email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will update the list of supporters at regular intervals.
List of Supporters
- Dr. phil. habil. Heike Diefenbach
- Mike Buchanan, CEO Campaign for Merit in Business
- Dipl. Phys. Maximilian Esser
- Uwe Baasch
- Stefan Linke
- Marc Keller
- Dr. Andreas Kraußer
- Urs Brechbühl, papanews.ch
- N. Norbert Ulrich
- Manfred Worm Schäfer
- Ralf Steinfeldt
- Stefan Schmitz
- Max Matthias Schubert
- Michael Hendricks
- Dipl.-Psych. Christoph Droß
- Wolfgang A. Gogolin
- Matthias Buser
- Benjamin Rossmann
- Eike Scholz
- Prof. em. Dr. Günter Buchholz
- Benjamin Krohn
- Dr. Johannes C. Kerner
- Michael Brunsch
- Manfred Riebe, majorie-wiki.de
- Kevin Fuchs
- Dr. Michael Kühntopf, jewiki.net
- Hans-Dieter Felix Henninger
- Christine Kratky
- Michael Laudahn
- Prof. Dr. med. et phil. Wolfgang Grundl
- Jürgen Hahn, PhD
- Egbert Eissing
- Mathias Oppermann
- Rainer Ebeling, Radio 6150
- Sebastian Hertel
- Simon Lange, Piratenpartei Deutschland
- Paul-Gerhard Sahling
- Alexander Majer-Wendelstein
- Tim Beil
- Dipl.-Ing. Elmar Oberdörffer
- Thomas Lehmann
- Andrey Behrens
- Tony Stott, Healin-Men.net
- Dipl. Ing. Elmar Oberdörffer
- Dr. Walter Kalina
- Tom Todd, VafK Hannover
- Dipl. Phys. Marco Vogt
- Gabi Auth
- Ludger Pütz, Kolumbien
- Dr. rer. nat. habil. Dr. phil. habil. Volkmar Weiss
- Wolfgang Scheid-Franke
- Klaus Stamm
People able to read German will find an interesting account of negative developments within the German Wikipedia and especially treatment of critical authors on the pages of Wikis in Franken