Wikipedia:WikiProject Countering systemic bias

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    the wikipedia project suffers systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors' demographic groups, manifesting in imbalanced coverage of some subjects, thereby leaving less represented demographic groups without adequate coverage. see an explanation of systemic bias on wikipedia for how this may affect articles and content. this project aims to eliminate the cultural perspective gaps made by the systemic bias, consciously focusing upon subjects and points of view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole. a list of articles needing attention is in the csb open tasks list.

    generally, this project concentrates upon remedying omissions (entire topics, or particular sub-topics in extant articles) rather than on either (1) protesting against inappropriate inclusions, or (2) trying to remedy issues of how material is presented. thus, the first question is "what haven't we covered yet?", rather than "how should we change the existing coverage?" the 22 october 2013 essay by tom simonite in mit's technology review titled "the decline of wikipedia"[1] discussed the effect of systemic bias and policy creep on recent downward trends in the number of editors available to support wikipedia's range and coverage of topics.

    see § further reading for studies, statistics, and more information that demonstrate contributor or subject imbalances.

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WikiProject Countering systemic bias
ShortcutWP:CSB
CategoryWikiProject Countering systemic bias
Userbox{{User CSB}}

The Wikipedia project suffers systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors' demographic groups, manifesting in imbalanced coverage of some subjects, thereby leaving less represented demographic groups without adequate coverage. See an explanation of systemic bias on Wikipedia for how this may affect articles and content. This project aims to eliminate the cultural perspective gaps made by the systemic bias, consciously focusing upon subjects and points of view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole. A list of articles needing attention is in the CSB Open Tasks list.

Generally, this project concentrates upon remedying omissions (entire topics, or particular sub-topics in extant articles) rather than on either (1) protesting against inappropriate inclusions, or (2) trying to remedy issues of how material is presented. Thus, the first question is "What haven't we covered yet?", rather than "how should we change the existing coverage?" The 22 October 2013 essay by Tom Simonite in MIT's Technology Review titled "The Decline of Wikipedia"[1] discussed the effect of systemic bias and policy creep on recent downward trends in the number of editors available to support Wikipedia's range and coverage of topics.

See § Further reading for studies, statistics, and more information that demonstrate contributor or subject imbalances.

Systemic bias in coverage and selection of articles

Wikipedia has been accused of systemic bias in the selection of articles which it maintains in its various language editions. Such alleged bias in the selection of articles leads, without necessarily any conscious intention, to the propagation of various prejudices. Although many articles in newspapers have concentrated on minor factual errors in Wikipedia articles, there are also concerns about large-scale, presumably unintentional effects from the increasing influence and use of Wikipedia as a research tool at all levels. In an article in the Times Higher Education magazine (London) philosopher Martin Cohen frames Wikipedia of having "become a monopoly" with "all the prejudices and ignorance of its creators", which he describes as a "youthful cab-driver's" perspective.[2] Cohen's argument, however, finds a grave conclusion in these circumstances: "To control the reference sources that people use is to control the way people comprehend the world. Wikipedia may have a benign, even trivial face, but underneath may lie a more sinister and subtle threat to freedom of thought."[2] That freedom is undermined by what he sees as what matters on Wikipedia, "not your sources but the 'support of the community'."[2]

Critics also point to the tendency to cover topics in a detail disproportionate to their importance. For example, Stephen Colbert once mockingly praised Wikipedia for having a "longer entry on 'lightsabers' than it does on the 'printing press'".[3] In an interview with The Guardian, Dale Hoiberg, the editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica, noted:

People write on things they're interested in, and so many subjects don't get covered; and news events get covered in great detail. In the past, the entry on Hurricane Frances was more than five times the length of that on Chinese art, and the entry on Coronation Street was twice as long as the article on Tony Blair.[4]

This critical approach has been satirised "Wikigroaning", a term coined by Jon Hendren[5] of the website Something Awful.[6] He suggests a game where two articles (preferably with similar names) are compared: one about an acknowledged serious or classical subject and the other about a topic popular or current.[clarification needed][7] Defenders of a broad inclusion criteria have held that the encyclopedia's coverage of pop culture does not impose space constraints on the coverage of more serious subjects (see "Wiki is not paper"). As Ivor Tossell noted:

That Wikipedia is chock full of useless arcana (and did you know, by the way, that the article on "Debate" is shorter than the piece that weighs the relative merits of the 1978 and 2003 versions of Battlestar Galactica?) isn't a knock against it: Since it can grow infinitely, the silly articles aren't depriving the serious ones of space.[8]

Selection based on notability of article topics

Wikipedia's notability guidelines, and the application thereof, are the subject of much criticism.[9] Nicholson Baker considers the notability standards arbitrary and essentially unsolvable:[10]

There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.

Criticizing the "deletionists", Nicholson Baker then writes:[9]

Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come. [...] It's harder to improve something that's already written, or to write something altogether new, especially now that so many of the World Book–sanctioned encyclopedic fruits are long plucked. There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples' work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard "Engrish." They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.

Yet another criticism[11] about the deletionists is this: "The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth – all are hallmarks of the deletionists approach."

Complaining that his own biography was on the verge of deletion for lack of notability, Timothy Noah argued that:[12]

Wikipedia's notability policy resembles U.S. immigration policy before 9/11: stringent rules, spotty enforcement. To be notable, a Wikipedia topic must be "the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject and of each other." Although I have written or been quoted in such works, I can't say I've ever been the subject of any. And wouldn't you know, some notability cop cruised past my bio and pulled me over. Unless I get notable in a hurry—win the Nobel Peace Prize? Prove I sired Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter?—a "sysop" (volunteer techie) will wipe my Wikipedia page clean. It's straight out of Philip K. Dick.

In the same article, Noah mentions that the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Stacy Schiff was not considered notable enough for a Wikipedia entry before she wrote an extensive New Yorker article on Wikipedia itself.

Selection based on gender bias

Wikipedia has a longstanding controversy concerning gender bias and sexism.[13][14][15][16][17][18] Wikipedia has been criticized[13] by some journalists and academics for lacking not only female contributors but also extensive and in-depth encyclopedic attention to many topics regarding gender. An article in The New York Times cites a Wikimedia Foundation study which found that fewer than 13% of contributors to Wikipedia were women. Sue Gardner, then the executive director of the foundation, said increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be". Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd", and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists".[14]

Distinguishing between selection bias and systemic bias

Selection bias

Selection bias occurs when the general cross-section of Wikipedia articles becomes biased due to the often unintended result of subtle shifts against neutrality in article creation or editing — represented collectively by all editors as these biases accumulate over time. In the WP:Real world the study of systemic bias is part of a field titled organizational behavior within industrial organization economics. It is studied for both non-profit and for-profit institutions. The issue of concern is that patterns of behavior may develop within large institutions, such as Wikipedia, which become institutionally maladapted and harmful to their productivity and viability.

Systemic bias

The eight major categories of study for maladaptive organizational behavior as they apply to maintaining and supporting Wikipedia are:

  • (1) Counterproductive work behavior, or CWB, consisting of behavior by editors that harms or is intended to harm Wikipedia or its editors' constructive contributions – usually identified as "edit warring" or "disruptive editing";[19]
  • (2) Mistreatment of the people who edit and maintain Wikipedia. There are several types of mistreatment that editors endure – along with a large contingent of corrective measures and norms of editing policy available as countermeasures;
  • (3) Abusive supervision; that is, in most organizations, the extent to which a supervisor engages in a pattern of behavior that harms subordinates: In Wikipedia this term would be applied to abusive editors who are entrusted with corrective procedures or referrals to others for correction;[20]
  • (4) Bullying. Although definitions of bullying vary, it involves a repeated pattern of harmful behaviors directed towards individuals, and in Wikipedia this would mean any individual editor;[21]
  • (5) Incivility, or low-intensity discourteous and rude behavior with ambiguous intent to detract from productivity and violate norms for appropriate behavior in the workplace, such as that which may be found while editing contributions;[22]
  • (6) Gender bias, behavior that denigrates or mistreats a worker because of his or her gender, that creates an offensive workplace or that interferes with anybody being able to do the job. The gender gap at Wikipedia is well recognized as an issue deserving of attention, as discussed in the subsection above. Although an effective counter-measure to this gender gap has yet to be fully identified at Wikipedia, several programs have been examined for their potential in moving towards achieving gender equality;[23]
  • (7) Occupational stress, or the imbalance between the demands of a job and the resources that help cope with them. In Wikipedia, this term would cover the editing process, which requires mental and physical effort;[24] and
  • (8) Maladaptive standards and practices, in which the accumulation of piecemeal standards adopted over time begin to show a cumulative negative effect.[25] In Wikipedia these dimensions would include WP:Instruction creep.