Wikipedia and the Pagan Academics

Last weekend Cara Schulz wrote a piece on the trouble some Pagan writers were having with Wikipedia.

It started when people noticed some Pagan-related entries, such as “Paganistan” being flagged for deletion. Much editorial chat ensued.

Brendan Cathbad Myers, author of The Other Side of Virtue and other books, saw his entry flagged as insufficiently notable.

It looks as though some on Wikipedia are trying to introduce more rigor to the entries, although I would hate to see Pagan-related entries suffer because of that.

Academics, meanwhile, have tended to shun Wikipedia. Many advise their students never to cite it as a source because of its alleged unreliability.

So it caught my attention when I read that some psychologists have decided to embrace it.

Anthony G. Greenwald, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington who was watching the editing demonstration, said he has asked seven students in his “Implicit and Unconscious Cognition” course to work on Wikipedia articles as part of the coursework. “This is repair work,” he said. “There is so much in Wikipedia that is inadequate.” Or plain inaccurate, said Alan G. Kraut, the association’s executive director.

But getting academics to fix it is a tall order,[Harvard psychology professor Mahzarin R.] Banaji admitted. “I know my colleagues won’t really want to write Wikipedia articles. It just won’t be seen as important, because it isn’t going on their CV,” she said.

So the solution is to have graduate students write or revise the Wikipedia entries.

Well, that approach might work for Pagan studies grad students too. I think it is time to propose such a move.

7 thoughts on “Wikipedia and the Pagan Academics

  1. Don

    Take a look at what Wikipedia thinks of their own quality:

    …Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information…

    …Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.

    …all information read here is without any implied warranty of fitness for any purpose or use whatsoever. Even articles that have been vetted by informal peer review or featured article processes may later have been edited inappropriately, just before you view them.

    None of the contributors, sponsors, administrators, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia in any way whatsoever can be responsible for the appearance of any inaccurate or libelous information or for your use of the information contained in or linked from these web pages.

    …Wikipedia is a work in progress, and many articles contain errors, bias, [or] duplication…The great majority of articles are written primarily or solely by individuals who are not subject matter experts, and may lack academic or professional credentials in the area.



  2. Tania

    I would have to add that Pagan authors should take a more scholarly approach to their writing. So many books written by “popular” Pagan authors have no true founding on scholarly research. Many are just piggy-backed on what they have read in other scantily-researched materials. Some that I’ve read in particular at times contradict what’s been noted in anthropological materials I’ve studied, with no citations to “back up” their claims.

    I’ve often said that I’d love it if Paganism could be included in formal courses of study in universities. The closest Harvard came to it was including a course on Witchcraft in their Folklore department. Where it SHOULD be offered, in my opinion, is in the Divinity School.

    Before Paganism can be taken seriously in halls of academia, those who choose to write about it need to have less concern on their potential sales figures and more on the actual material they are propagating. Once there is a substantial amount of scholarly material written on modern Paganism, perhaps then the religion itself will be taken more seriously as well.

    (I would also like to reference a course I took with Dr. Christopher Queen from Harvard’s Divinity School where he made a rather offensive comment about all new-age-type religions and how they are all just a community of pot-smokers… Perhaps if we could hold our own in professional journals, discussions, debates, etc. comments like this out of the mouths of other scholars would be less common and less tolerated.)

  3. Pitch313

    What I like most about Wikipedia is the access to some information about a topic. So I prefer that entries for topics take an inclusive rather than exclusive outlook. Better to see that “Paganistan” is a canting term for a place than that Wikipedia is too good for such cant.

    General orientation, then academic delving.

    But I suppose that Wikipediasts (what’s the word for folks who do Wikipedia entries, anyway?) are kinda professionalizing the project and the process.

  4. Tania above raises and interesting and difficult side point: I am working on a title intended for a popular rather than academic audience. The first complaint I officially received about the manuscript to date?

    It’s too academic.

    A frustrating no-win, especially as the topic (divorce) is a slippery one to grasp on the best of days.

    As to the Wikipedia issues, as I understand it, the regular editors of Wikipedia amount to Liliputian Cybermen – there are “completists” and “deletionists” and of course, they WILL delete you.

    I do think that someone needs to look closely at any editor with a “deletionist” bias – I understand that’s actually frowned upon in Wikipedia tangles. (I’d call them circles, but…)

  5. Tania writes, “Once there is a substantial amount of scholarly material written on modern Paganism, perhaps then the religion itself will be taken more seriously as well.”

    Actually, there is a “substantial amount.” Look up such authors as Michael York, Sarah Pike, Douglas Ezzy, Helen Berger, Graham Harvey, Wendy Griffin … I could go on. And then look in their bibliographies.

  6. Diana Rajchel–I ran into that “too academic” criticism from Llewellyn back years ago. Perhaps the cure is to sprinkle your work with “Legend has it …” and “It has been said that …” and “Some people believe that …”

    Only don’t ask me to read it if you do.

  7. I do write for Llewellyn, but that’s not where I’m aiming this particular book – they wouldn’t want it, and I wouldn’t give it to them.
    Also, while I don’t believe in hell per se, I don’t want to find myself locked overnight in the Gap or something as some twisted karmic result of compromising on this one.

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