10 of Wikipedia's wackiest arguments

Behind every page there's a battle raging for control


The premise of Wikipedia is laudable. A knowledge depository written and edited by the people, for the people.

The glue that keeps the site together is an evolving set of policies and guidelines, but, these guidelines are open to much interpretation and debate.

Here are 10 of Wikipedia's daftest discussions.

1. What's in a name?

Some of Wikipedia's denizens don't like the way academic researcher and well-known blogger danah boyd (legally) spells her name - without caps.

"Why is it OK for her to impose her nonstandard styling and the costs that come with it on the rest of us?" said R27182818 on the subject's discussion page. The argument continues to this day, and the Wikipedia article on danah boyd is still titled "Danah Boyd".

2. Though shalt not edit thy own biography

Even danah's own intervention couldn't sway the most hardline opposers, because Wikipedia has a rule that discourages living subjects from editing their own entries. Carl Hewitt, an associate professor at MIT was rather notoriously banned in 2007 - according to The Guardian - for editing his own biography and promoting his works.

Wikipedians said his activities were "disruptive". Professor Hewitt countered that his page "significantly misrepresents both me and my work". He was inspired by the incident to write a paper entitled The Corruption of Wikipedia on Google's rival user-edited encyclopaedia, Knol.

3. Goodbye, Larry

While Carl Hewitt got the boot, Jimmy Wales, the guy who founded - sorry, co-founded Wikipedia - got away with editing his own entry with little more than a war of words.

He stood accused of removing references to his former partner Larry Sanger. Amusingly, the whole episode is now detailed on Wales's own Wikipedia page.

Jimmy wales

SELF-EDITING: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales deleted former partner Larry Sanger from his entry. The ensuing edit war spread through Wikipedia like a forest fire

4. RIP Swells

Wikipedians love arguing about whether entries deserve to be on Wikipedia. Why was there an argument about the notability of Steven Wells, journeyman music journalist and famous broadcaster when he passed away last year though? Cultural ignorance we suspect.

In this case, one Wikipedia editor voted to delete the entry, 24 hours after Wells died. The argument that ensued was brief and one-sided, but definitely whacky.

5. Fictionally famous

The question of notability grows feathered wings of insanity when the subject in question is fictional. This was such a contentious issue that the folks editing the actual guideline have had had several meltdowns over wording.

First mooted in 2006, four years later the Notability (Fiction) guideline is stalled at "proposal" stage. Referred to in Wikipedia itself as "the mother of all notability disputes", the archived discussion currently runs for 56 pages - most of them tetchy.

6. Happy Birthday, Jimmy Wales

Another guideline that trips up new Wikipedia editors is that all information should be based on "reliable sources". But what's a reliable source? For example, another edit war involving Jimmy Wales sprang up when the Wikipedia co-founder decided to remove his date of birth - saying it was incorrect.

Plenty of friendly Wikipedians were happy to "correct" the edit he made citing secondary sources, including Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Mr Wales's entry currently says his birthday is 7 August - with a note at the bottom saying that this is wrong... by one day.

7. Chicken Kyiv

One of Wikipedia's Five Pillars is "Wikipedia has a neutral point of view" or NPOV. But is there such a thing?

One chap's reasonable belief is another's fundamentalism. For evidence see slanging matches like the ongoing battle about Ukraine's capital city. The Ukrainian name is "Kyiv", but the article uses the Russian name "Kiev".

Proponents of the latter spelling say that it's more common, while champions of Kyiv say it's a hangover of Soviet rule.

Five pillars

THE RULES: Wikipedia's Five Pillars include "Wikipedia does not have firm rules" and "Wikipedians should act in a respectful and civil manner". Really

8. Hummus

Tasty chickpea dip or battleground for Middle Eastern politicking? On Wikipedia, it's both. Contributors couldn't make up their minds whether the dish was Israeli, Turkish or Lebanese in origin. Last time we looked at the discussion section, another six countries were laying claim to the garlicky entrée.

9. Big G

Religion and politics are perennial flamebait - but few arguments are as silly or circular as one in the discussion section of Wikipedia's Derren Brown entry.

It's not about the beardy mind fiddler - it is, rather, about whether the article should refer to God or god. Big G is, of course, the Christian God, Jehovah. In the context it was used, a TV special where Brown temporarily converted atheists into believers, there was an argument that the illusionist meant a generic god or gods. Small g. The argument raged for a good nine months. Just thinking about it makes our brains go "ouch".

10. Young Earth

Think that's whacky? You should have a gander at the discussion section of The Age of the Earth, where a battle between creationists and rationalists includes argumental gems like: "After reading the first paragraph, I nearly threw up. Since when were Creationist views on the age of the earth un-scientific?".

All in all there's plenty here to prove there are two sides to every internet argument, and both are usually wrong...

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