Wikipedia is an online publication which uses non-expert volunteers in weighing the edits of a various views including the minority view. As a result, Wikipedia invokes a policy known as “undue weight” which is nothing more than using a popular idea that has been used a lot in evolutionary circles in order to make claims of truth. Scholarly consensus is also being used to pass those judgments on Wikipedia.
However, students and others alike have to scrutinize just how accurate Scholarly consensus is, for example and I’m going to use this example which does necessarily pertain to any scientific discoveries but you can rest assured that this stuff can also happen in science journals as well.
In 1886, the National Labor Union passes a resolution calling for an eight-hour work day. Illinois became one of the first to enact the eight-hour law, but businesses refused to comply to the new law. Organized Labor unions continues its quest and declares its goal of having eight hours constitute a legal day of work, beginning May 1, 1886.
Mayor Harrison who is the mayor of Chicago at that time, approves an eight-hour work day for city employees with no pay cuts. Then 100,000 American workers decide to go on strike on May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour workday. The strike day eventually ends peacefully in Chicago. On May 3, 1886, the conflict escalated when law enforcement began attacking demonstrators with clubs.
Louis Lingg and William Seliger manufactured an estimate of 30 to 50 bombs. They later take the bombs to Nepf’s Hall….At 7:30 PM, a rally to protest the violent attack on demonstrators at McCormicks and support the eight-hour day begins at Haymarket in Chicago. Both August Spies and Albert Parsons arrive within 15 minutes of each other. The speech lasts for about an hour, and then leaves for Zepf’s Hall. Samuel Fielden begins speaking about 10 PM when 20 minutes later, law enforcement demand that the Haymarket rally promptly end. As Fielden steps down from the speaker’s wagon, a bomb is thrown into the ranks of the police, fatally injuring several. Officer Degan is the first to die.
Timothy Messer-Kruse is an expert on the Haymarket riot and the trial of 1886 that followed the tragic event. The bomb thrown that night at the anarchist rally in Chicago sparked fear in the nation. Wikipedia’s entry is very detailed, catching they eye of Kruse.
Here is what he says about what happened next…
“A couple of years ago, on a slow day at the office, I decided to experiment with editing one particularly misleading assertion chiseled into the Wikipedia article. The description of the trial stated, “The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing. … “
“Coincidentally, that is the claim that initially hooked me on the topic. In 2001 I was teaching a labor-history course, and our textbook contained nearly the same wording that appeared on Wikipedia. One of my students raised her hand: “If the trial went on for six weeks and no evidence was presented, what did they talk about all those days?” I’ve been working to answer her question ever since.”
“In what was one of the first uses of forensic chemistry in an American courtroom, the city’s foremost chemists showed that the metallurgical profile of a bomb found in one of the anarchists’ homes was unlike any commercial metal but was similar in composition to a piece of shrapnel cut from the body of a slain police officer. So overwhelming was the evidence against one of the defendants …”
So in order to correct this error mentioned in Wikipedia, this expert did what he should have done which was...” I removed the line about there being “no evidence” and provided a full explanation in Wikipedia’s behind-the-scenes editing log. Within minutes my changes were reversed.”
What was the problem? According to the non-experts in Wikipedia, Kruse didn’t prove there was a Scholarly consensus that would warrant a change in the wording even though he quoted documents which included verbatim the testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress! But since scholars have been publishing the same ideas over and over again about the Haymarket case for more than a century, they couldn’t accept Kruse’s correction despite he had great evidence to the contrary!
He then questioned Wikipedia’s policy who then directed him to a talk forum to debate his idea. They also informed him, “Wikipedia requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic informed me, “published books.” So in other words the secondary source outweighs the primary source (the trial itself) in Wikipedia.
“Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources.”
Poor Timothy Messer-Kruse, he tried one more time after his book was published but got scolded again for not having a Scholarly consensus! So be careful of what Wikipedia says about events and know what its policy is which overrides what really happened or how it defines a group or idea. Timothy Messer-Kruse writes about it here and the Altantic here.