The Ugly Side Of Wikipedia’s Gigantic Re-Creational Publishing Scheme

Wikipedia has lost thousands of editors due to a culture of deletionism, anti-expertism, bloated bureaucracy, horrible abuses of power, and its slightly condescending founder (They all work for free because “it’s awesome!”). Or maybe all those unpaid imps realized that it is just a gigantic re-creational publishing sham and snowball scheme. Better to publish your own stuff, and in the real world. The Future of Wikipedia could be: paid services, openness, and accountability- the precise opposite of what it first intended. 

BEIJING – When an editor named 'Moonriddengirl' came across the ‘East-West Dichotomy’ as a work and article, she engaged, like so many stressed editors in those days, in defaming Your author (then a grad student at Peking University and Tokyo University), prompting a deletion, a block, and, when Your author protested, a ban. Verdict: Non-notable. He took the beating, and moved on.

But wait what happened then:

After the pesky author was out of the way, the editor made it her personal mission to “re-create” The East-West Dichotomy herself, explaining away her plagiarism with simply ‘painting’ over it: “If a canvas is painted over and somebody puts a new picture there, it isn't a copy of the original even if the subject is the same.”

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A gigantic re-creational publishing house, relocating attributions

It’s not like the East-West Dichotomy could not be clearly identified as Your author’s work (8 of 10 top research results link to the original East-West Dichotomy). The copyright was always his, and is now with China’s Foreign Language Press. It’s about how nasty a Wikipedia editor can become in abusing her admin powers, snatching ideas from others, blocking their accounts, removing their traces, posing as new expert, and guarding her spoils like a ballyragging harpy. I never look at Wikipedia articles the same way again.

For years I thought nothing of it; after all, as the original what should I care what Wikipedia says? But then, after a deal with Google, Wikipedia is now visited by millions of people each day (it shows up in almost all research results at the near top). Every day I am painfully reminded how they snatched the East-West Dichotomy. Thus, I thought I should bring this striking case to attention to serve as a reminder to other people out there to protect better the fruits of their own work and research. [There are some good websites like Wikipediocracy, that offer information].

In his naivety about Wikipedia, Your author tried to locate Ms Maggie Dennis, Moonriddengirl's real name, at her university department. It turns out that she has no such credentials outside of Wikipedia. I then tried to find similar accounts of plagiarism and found shocking tales about Wikipedia’s general hatred for elites, its anti-expertism, editor revenge, and rampant cronyism (yes, they gang up on you).

Once anonymity is gone, they are accountable

You may know this longer than I do; there was this 2007 case of Ryan Jordan, alias Essjay, then a 24-years old college drop-out, who posed as an expert on religion and made 20,000 Wikipedia edits. He pales against Moonriddengirl who joined that same year and has since then altered, according to this source, over 100,000 entries, which clearly makes her a recognizable public figure. The question remains: How can people have so much ‘expertise’?

Well, the answer is they don’t, they copy ideas; in the case of Essjay, from sources such as ‘Catholicism for Dummies’. Within the Wikipedia community, however, the amount of articles created and re-created, and the number of edits, is an artificial currency; it’s a bit like pseudo-academia: publish or perish.

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Wikipedia is a publishing snowball scheme

One would be correct, I believe, to think of Wikipedia as partly a gigantic publishing snowball scheme that re-creates knowledge found in other people’s works (incl. textbooks, news and media) –namely by inviting an army of anonymous (often semi-educated) volunteers to “re-create” what they just read elsewhere in their own words, and transfer it into Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia.

Intellectually, copying the work of others by simply rephrasing content is very demeaning work, so, naturally, some editors want to break free and express their own ideas, views, and idiosyncrasies. That’s when they mistake themselves as writers or experts while in reality, giving Wikipedia's own principles, they are cheap, faceless, exploitable, and expandable minions.

Hence the hatred for the true creator of things, the writers and experts (in the real world) who -famous or not- have something that most Wikipedia editors wouldn't be allowed to take credit for even if they had written and signed it: substance. They are condemned to attribute their (anonymous) writing to somebody else's work; the only freedom for them lies in choosing to whom: "To whom shall I attribute?" -this is power! And like all power, it is addictive.

The fabricants of content

Moonriddengirl has spent seven years as unpaid ‘fabricant of content’ and has been promoted, it seems, to an admin. Maybe she is now close enough to power to change things. She arguably knows a lot about the nature of Wikipedia as summarized in her views about its copyright law: “it is legal to read an encyclopedia article or other work, reformulate the concepts in your own words, and submit it to Wikipedia, so long as you do not follow the source too closely.” This explains many editors' quantitative outputs and why they can turn expert over night, say, on the East-West Dichotomy, or any topic they type into Google. What about moral standards? Well, Ms Dennis continues: “However, it would still be unethical (but not illegal) to do so without citing the original as a reference.”

Wikipedia has a cure for plagiarism

It seems like a perfect cure for plagiarism: rewrite an article over and over again, better: re-create it, and we shall witness how the theft gradually disappears: “There is no plagiarism in this article now, (…) I rewrote it from scratch,” the editor admits to her bold revisionism. She, indeed, did a great job in rewriting the entire thing; the original is archived here. Referring to her new rip-off she goes on: “This is not your work nor based on your work in any way, and these are not your ideas.” Oh now she sounds like a real jerk.

Thorsten Pattberg is the Author of the East-West Dichotomy.

Image credit: Arjoe/

You can follow me on Twitter, my Website, or my other Blog.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.