Sunday, January 01, 2006

tell me another one!

this is in (rather slow) response to something i read about wikipedia and the integrity of the information it presents.

this is a topic of discussion that seems to come up every few months, and when even he was pro wiki, I thought ok, if so many people are so hotly in its favour, let me check again – maybe it has improved. (yes I know, it surprises me too how foolishly optimistic I can be!)

call me cynical, but i don’t think there is such a thing as a neutral source of information in mainstream media. a system like wikipedia that is declared neutral, but without a powerful enough verification system to keep up with the data being entered is bound to be dangerous - take the seigenthaler incident for simple example. (sorry, you'll have to look it up yourself. i refuse to link to that site.)

i dislike wiki. other than when im pulsing, i do not open their links or use wikipedia as a source of information on subjects that involve any possibility of opinion or perspective bias. when it comes to something like semiconductors or circuitry, no doubt wikipedia is competent. beyond that, no thanks. this judgement was based on the sort of stuff that was up for technocracy, feminism and other subjects that i initially explored for on wikipedia.

now i was giving wiki a genuine second chance, see, so i typed a search for something id never looked up before: “woman”.


* 1 Etymology
* 2 Biology and sex
* 3 Legal rights of women historically
o 3.1 Biblical law
* 4 Culture and gender roles
* 5 Terms
o 5.1 Slang
o 5.2 Vulgar terms
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 External links

i beg your pardon? vulgar terms….?! since when did that become the trademark of a good encyclopaedia article on anything? “ho, bitch, cunt” … nice, wholesome education for our fifth graders, no doubt. (“where did you pick up that filthy abusive language?” “why, I read it on wiki ma”)

was this just someone’s idea of presenting “full” information or was it simply yet another instance of women bashing? I searched for “man”. the headings –


* 1 Etymology
* 2 Age
* 3 Biology and sex
* 4 Gender roles
* 5 Further reading
* 6 See also

integrity of information, my foot! like hell ill use that sexist encyclopaedia for anything.


why did i not merely change the article? because it wouldn't address the problem. editing the article changes nothing. what are the politics behind authorising such an article?

i had written to the wikipedia information team about this article. this is what they had to say.

"Thank you for your mail.

In producing an encylcopaedia, we have a duty to write our articles from a frank and unbiased perspective. This means that our articles may contain material that some readers consider objectionable or offensive.

While obviously inappropriate content (such as inappropriate links to 'shock' websites) is usually removed immediately, except from an article directly concerning the content (such as the article about pornography), our policy is that articles may include potentially objectionable text, images, or links, provided they do not violate any of our existing policies, nor the law of the
state of Florida in the United States, where the servers are hosted.

We are up-front about this, and it is clearly stated in our general and content disclaimers (see and that Wikipeda is not censored for the protection of minors.

It is unfortunate that Wikipeda contains content that some readers find offensive. However, we are (ambitiously) trying to document all human knowledge, and that means there will always be some material included that individuals may object to."

mighty interesting isn't it. wikipedia cannot now claim mere oversight. the article has the board's approval and backing.

so to sum it up:

1. it's a "frank and unbiased perspective" to teach people to associate "whore"," bitch" and "cunt" synonymously with the word "woman".

2. "our articles may contain material that some readers consider objectionable or offensive"... who cares if the "some readers" are merely those aforesaid "bitches" / "cunts"?

3. "While obviously inappropriate content (such as inappropriate links to 'shock' websites) is usually removed immediately". true. swear words sexualising women are a-ok. so is the picture of a nude woman striking a pose, which was painted on a space craft. that's all in good taste and very appropriate.

"except from an article directly concerning the content (such as the article about pornography)". i dont have the stomach to see if they've linked to a porn site for this.

4. "we are (ambitiously) trying to document all human knowledge, and that means there will always be some material included that individuals may object to." true. i should shut up because this is for the Glory of Knowledge.

we live in interesting times.

technocracy and the media
technocracy and the media - II



Blogger the Monk said...

vulgar terms?well, i dunno what to it wrong that I think it's funny?

11:43 pm  
Blogger Anurag said...

That's really derogatory! Why would anyone put that in a purported encyclopaedia?

2:30 am  
Blogger Tambourine Girl said...

Hmm...had no idea! Havent been in and around Wikipedia either.

Cool blog!


6:38 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

I think this (not exactly this, but such a thing) is inevitable in a place where anyone can edit any entry. I use Wikipedia regularly, but never for anything more serious than finding out the synopsis of a book, which would be just as subjective if I simply did a Google search.

I believe that if one can try and ignore the fact that it's supposed to be an encyclopedia, one does fine. Offended by something? Edit it. That's what I do.

But the fact that the editors let such things pass is pitiful.

8:51 am  
Blogger m. said...

@the monk: it isnt even remotely funny. uncalled for viciousness and absolutely unprofessional conduct, not to mention deplorable ethics. i wish one of those board members was standing before me so i could sock him.

@anurag: thanks. im writing this after wiki's reply, and am trying very hard to stay cool. it's great to hear a male voice speak up too. support much appreciated.

@tambourine girl: welcome. you come in heated times! :) thank btw!

@aditya: ah. but that assumes that these people are merely well intentioned but careless. its more filthy than that. as you can now see. their politics are so - ah - enlightening , dont you think?

9:10 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

Now they're contradicting themselves! How can they possibly call it an 'unbiased' article? And even if they do want to 'document all human knowledge', according to their own policies, the words belong in an article on swearwords, and not an article on women.

I still think that any article on Wikipedia represents the views of the person writing it, but they should be upfront about this, and not be hypocritical and accuse you of being offended. They're only being complicit here.

It is enlightening.

I took a look at the article itself, and I have a couple more observations. One: It is not 'encyclopedic', in the original meaning of the word, i.e., comprehensive. And two: What does a detail of 'The Birth of Venus' have to do in the Legals Rights section? Perhaps the writer confused it with something Biblical, which further implies the subjectivity.

9:32 am  
Blogger Aishwarya said...


Okay, it's hard to explain my reaction to this, but..

1.I HATE that a lot of people associate 'vulgar terms' with women. They do. It's sickening.

2. The whole point of wikipedia, and the reason it's ...exciting, is that moderation is at a minimum. While they edit, say, links to porn sites, I think they want to keep people's opinions relatively unedited. While that leads to a lot of sexist, racist edits, I support their decision to let it be there.


3. Theye're not unbiased. There's no way they can be, and it's insanely stupid to say they are. Are they vouching for the purely unbiased detachment of EVERY person who has ever edited an entry? I thought the whole point of wikipedia was not that it would be unbiased, but that the various (biased) opinions would balance each other out.

11:05 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

Some questions:

1. Do we have the breakup of the people "contributing"[=>"policing"] to wikipedia, spec. in terms of sexes? Assuming that the major chunk of contributors are men, wont it be of consequence to assume that articles involving opinions might assume the similar tone? This is where the community part comes in imho.

2. Why would you or anyone take wikipedia to be the ultimate source of information for possibly biased sources of information? I dont think the problem that you cite is inherent in the wikipedia but in the topics itself. So i use it only for 'neutral' information and also consuming information by omitting any tones associated with it. Why would anyone want it to use for opinionated information is beyond my comprehension...

3. Wikipedia basic premise is of community contribution as well as policing. It works on the premise of balances and checks. Our reluctance to correct any mistakes we are aware of consequently would cause the system to break-up.

But im really saddened by the response of the founders to not to accept the inherent flaws in the system because of the fact that people are involved in it!

2:23 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

In defense of the wikepedia entry on women,
a. it was stated upfront that the terms were considered to be sexually objectifying the women.
b. i didnt see any side or view take in the entry
c. slang terms for men were also given in the same place.

on the other hand, i find that the wiki entry of 'men' very dangerously perched to be on the sexist list trying to attribute characterestics to the male sex.[upfront though it was quoted that it was a stereotyped entry and was blacklisted too]

the detail of birth of venus is imho a misplaced image at the wrong place considering that number of images available in that page.[compare that with the entry regarding men].

my take is that it was more out of stupidity than out of malice.

2:40 am  
Blogger Jake said...

wikipedia - a community edited source of information. its upto anyone to contribute, comment and edit. what you read on wikipedia about a certain topic, reflects just what the popele that get to wikipedia to contribute think. a sort of zetgiest. someone puts something up and it goes through various iterations or being edited. do you have specialists on a topic contributing ? are people who have years of research and data contributing ? perhaps, perhaps not. attacking the sexist nature of the information contained in wiki is like attacking a tool. the information in there is but a worked upon slad bowl of information of a whole mass of people - a zietgiest, as i said before.
and one is always free to edit or notify the maintainers about content that appears sexist or biased.
considering wikipedia is a community contributed and edited source, looking it up for information on topics such as electronics or science is not a good idea. one looks at proper textbooks or papers for that.
wikipedia is a tool, a good one, a successful experiment - a body of information that is free of the control of any select set of people and doesnt claim to be anything else, and we should take it as nothing else.

what could help improve things, inmho, is for example you have a physics wiki, then only physicists contribute and edit. keep it free for any physicist able to prove that they are specilaists to be able to mess with whats in there. how are you going to filter out specialists from the rest of the people ? i dont know.

4:11 am  
Blogger Supremus said...

This is nothing new for Wiki - @ the expense of being unbiased (as they claim), they often end up putting up objectionable content. I think, its our duty to correct such articles - after all, wasn't it written by someone of us itself.

I suggest you change the article yourself - in the spirit of unbiased information, you have as much right as anyone else in editing an entry and making it look right.

This is what I did too when someone put up misinformation about Gandhi - you can read it here:



7:40 am  
Blogger Sancho Panza said...

Much of what I think about it has been talked about in the comments above.
I'd like to suggest (am sorry if it seems unreasonable to u, or u dont have the time for it) that u could try doing something about it. Wikipedia does give users the option of debating on the content (
, and vote for changes/deletions, etc. U are a feminist, and maybe u could take this up and get other like minded ppl around the world to work on it. I do find that entry wierd, but if the millions of women around the world dont mind it, then i guess u r alone, and wiki is right. Else, u could (and should) change it. The wikipedia needs the users (incl you) to validate the articles.

8:51 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

@kopos: I never said it was done out of malice. I said it was subjective - the contributor felt it was relevant in some way, when it obviously wasn't. It isn't misplaced, as you say, because if you edit a Wiki, you'll see that it is made up of sections.

My real complaint is that Wikipedia calls itself unbiased, when it obviously isn't (in fact, before the update, I didn't really have a complaint at all). And I didn't see any Slang Terms section in the 'man' page.

9:03 am  
Blogger Senthil said...

I don't intend to sound overly philosophical here, but looking for an unbiased source of information is about as futile as chasing a unicorn. How can anything compiled by people be completely unbiased? And if it is, who is the judge of what is unbiased and what is not? I must admit that as usual, I have never pondered this question, but now I am, and I cannot come up with any answers. Any ideas?

1:45 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

but looking for an unbiased source of information is about as futile as chasing a unicorn

a good point. and i agree. what imho that our baseblah ;) was taken aback by was the sexist nature of the information contained in a tool -the wiki. but she ended up attacking the tool instead of the people who put it there. and sources of information, be it the wiki, a research paper, whatever, as long as its compiled by someone, absolute objectiveness is out of the question. unless he were merely stating facts, like measuring something ans saying this here be 20 cms long. but then this information is also biased with respect the measurement system he is using ;)

8:31 pm  
Blogger Woodworm said...

Ok..Up in arms!!! Among other things, any reply that I should give should answer a lot of people who have commented above me too. For example, did you know Wikipedia never calls itself "unbiased"??? Precisely because nobody can control where an article will be positioned at one particular point in time.

But, it provides an impetus for people to balance other people's views so that ultimately at some point in time, articles will become more balanced.

okie, you are a feminist. You were on a open source encyclopedia, which anybody could edit. You saw something which you did not like. You had strong reasons for it. But what did you do? You chose not to do anything there. I wouldnt assume that you had all the time in the world to spark a debate there, but by choosing your blog to vent your *ire* at something that is still reversible, I dont think you are doing feminism any service.

I am not accusing you of indulging in it, but with Wikipedia, you have plenty of opportunities to raise feminism out of rabble-rousing. But yes, only if you really care that much.

Anyway, interesting thoughts. I do agree that there are plenty of problems with Wikipedia.. and I have to complete what I wanted to say. Hope to put up a post soon

10:37 pm  
Blogger Woodworm said...

Well, what did you expect from the Wiki-information-blah-blah board. (frankly I never knew one existed, because I simply dont care and never needed to know). Anything that could have been in less-convoluted legalese?

I am sorry to stretch my point, but should feminist activism ALWAYS be defined by writing letters, petitions, protests etc ... Is it to leep proving a point or because it is so much easier than getting your hands dirtied by staying in a comfort zone of moral high groundedness

11:03 pm  
Blogger Deaths Head Roy said...

Hmm....i love Wikipedia and use it regularly...but i think the basic strenght of this open source encyclopedia is that if you find it offensive, go ahead - edit it...remove the offending terms....its that simple..instead of standing there and raving abt it....

12:41 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

the 'unbiased' as they call was of the perspectives, that belongs to the author of the item.

The slang i said to is present in the 'terms' section in the women wiki entry itself.

3:13 am  
Blogger m. said...

my reply to all of you is here.

5:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tut tut..neck deep in another one eh?? nice! wonder how u keep it up..u shud join politics di..poor wikipedia..they already had a problem last mnth and now ur rallying up another u ask for compensation..remember me:D as far as im concerned i dnt think u need a college degree to know that calling a woman a "cunt" is derogatory..and u dnt need to store it up so that u can remember it for a quiz..but a lot of things have been made fashionable calling each other bitch( or is that metrosexuality?) but u cant fight everything..somewhere something else will pop up..(utopia??yea sure!) but nice thought provoking post:)

9:37 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ j the anon: crumbs, yup, another one it is! (im beginning to think ive a flair for it or something! :s) thanks dude :D

8:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you do realise that there's a difference between being "politically correct" and being "correct".

I think the Wikipedia tries to be correct. Now, it may not manage to, at all times, but it does try.

Just because a page on Vulgar terms offends you, should it be taken off?

Similarly, just because a page on evolution hurts your religious sentiments, should it be taken off?

As for the association between "Woman" and "Vulgar terms" :
1. It might not be pleasing, or ideal, that most of the vulgarities are associated with references to things feminine, but that indeed is the case.
2. If you disagree, you can initiate a discussion instead of bitching about that, and move it off. (I'm told it already has been).

3:15 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ anon: darling, that IS the point - there isn't supposed to be a difference between "correctness" and "political correctness".

as M. would say, ethics should not be subordinate to political expediency.

so Q.E.D.

as for the page itself, you're "told it already has been" moved. the next time you decide to rip at someone, it may be good (*gasp* radical notion!) to actually go look up facts yourself.

3:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wikipedia records the reality, it wouldn't be a proper source of information if it didn't. this is like blaming a dictionary for the existence of offensive's the social setting hat needs to be changed, not the people who are documenting it. pretending vulgar words for demeaning women don't exist isn't going to make them disappear.

3:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wikipedia records the reality, it wouldn't be a proper source of information if it didn't. this is like blaming a dictionary for the existence of offensive's the social setting hat needs to be changed, not the people who are documenting it. pretending vulgar words for demeaning women don't exist isn't going to make them disappear.

3:41 pm  
Blogger Wrong number said...

I always have a fit when someone pops the "unprejudiced viewpoint" argument up!
For god's sake people! Would you be unbiased between the fire-engine and the fire? between the surgeon's scalpel and the cancerous tissue? between the baby in the pram and the speding car hurtling towards it?
I like my prejudices, thank you very much, and I'll stick with them!
In a world of 6 billion people, you will always find a few who will believe something, however irrelevant, inaccurate or disgusting.

4:02 pm  
Blogger Rebecca said...

vulgar terms....?! since when did that become the trademark of a good encyclopaedia article on anything? “ho, bitch, cunt” … nice, wholesome education for our fifth graders, no doubt.

It's not a 'trademark' or custom of an encyclopedic article -- that's the idea. This is a new wave of information: A peoples info-base written and edited by the people. A great majority of people (myself included) think it's pertinent to know the awful words associated with women, rather than to avoid them and make them more alluring.

We have to face the facts: younger and younger kids are discovering things on the internet they normally would have been shielded from. They're going to find these things out eventually no matter how well you protect them from the world, and keeping them from it without explanation of what it is and why you think it's wrong will only make it more mysterious.

Anyhow, point is, wikipedia is 'unbiased' in that it doesn't have weenies censoring real, human information.

6:50 am  

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