Archive for wikipedia

Happy Birthday Wikipedia!

Posted in Biographical, History with tags on January 15, 2021 by telescoper

Not a lot of people – well, probably quite a lot of people actually – know that it was twenty years ago today, on January 15th 2001, that Wikipedia first went online. I know this is true as I read it on Wikipedia:

Wikipedia was launched on January 15, 2001, by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Sanger coined its name as a portmanteau of “wiki” and “encyclopedia”.

I don’t remember the launch of Wikipedia itself but I do recall when students started using Wikipedia links in project reports and the like. Unfortunately at the beginning many of the articles on scientific topics were very poor – often laughably so – and I discouraged students from using them. Now, twenty years and the efforts of many volunteer editors later, they are generally very good. I now encourage students to use Wikipedia as a resource, but I still discourage them from including references to it in formal reports. The best way to use it is to get an overview but then dig down into the references which most articles lists.

I find Wikipedia an excellent resource for things outside science of course, especially music, and link to articles there very often from this blog.

Somewhere along the line somebody even set up a Wikipedia page about me. It began as “just a stub” but has been updated from time to time. I don’t know who set it up or who has updated it, but it’s now a bit out of date. It still says that I work part-time between Cardiff and Maynooth, for example. No doubt someone will fix this at some point.

I’ve edited a few articles there myself, actually, mostly on cosmology but also on Jazz. Some of my blog posts are linked from there too but it would seem inappropriate for me to edit my own Wikipedia page.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Wikipedia then please consider making a donation.

Update: it seems that the elves have been at work already and my Wikipedia page has been partially updated. It still says I live in Cardiff, however…

Truth, Lies and Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 19, 2010 by telescoper

I think it’s time to post a brief update on the story of Mark Brake, a Professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD from Cardiff University when applying for a grant in 2006. After this came to light through a story in the Western Mail, it was covered in the Times Higher, and I also blogged about it here.

There’s relatively little I can say about what’s been going more recently on in connection with this story, for reasons of confidentiality. However, one thing I am allowed say in public that Professor Mark Brake is no longer a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, a status he acquired in 2008.  I’m not allowed to discuss the events leading up to, or the reasons behind, his decision to resign from the IOP, but he did so in January 2010.

That little bit of news hardly merits an entire blog post, but what’s interesting is the subsequent behaviour of the wikipedia editors. Mark Brake’s wikipedia page currently states:

He was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 2008[1] and is presently Director of the Science Communication Research Unit at Glamorgan.

As soon as Brake creased to be a FInstP, the IOP Director of Membership and Business, John Brindley, edited the page to make it clear that he no longer held the Fellowship. Bizarrely, however, a wikipedia editor overruled the change and the text reverted to the above form. The editor says that this “leaves open the possibility that this may no longer be the case”.

Well, it may leave open that possibility but the implication of the above form is definitely that Brake remains a Fellow. As John Brindley himself wrote on the corresponding wikipedia discussion page

there is a well established and understood convention that memebrships of professional institutions is considered as continuous from the date of election unless or untl a date of resignation or removal is given.

However, the editor has refused to budge on the grounds that

Other than your comments here, which unfortunately can’t be considered to be a reliable source according to wikipedia rules, I can find nothing to indicate that he has, in fact, resigned.

Short of putting an announcement on their webpages that Brake has resigned his Fellowship – something that is contrary to their usual practice – there doesn’t seem to be anything the IOP can do to convince wikipedia to amend this page so it says the whole truth, rather than just a partial and potentially misleading version.

And while I’m on the subject of potentially misleading statements, it is perhaps worth going back to the original grant application that started this whole affair off. I showed part of this in a previous post, but here is the whole page showing the false claim of a PhD:

Under Professional Qualifications you will see Brake lists professional connections with the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. This was written in 2006. In fact Brake disappeared from the membership register for the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 and ceased to be a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1994. Hmmm…

You might argue – as the editor seems to be doing in the case of the wikipedia page – that these aren’t factually incorrect in that they give the year of election but say nothing about whether his tenure may or may not have ended.  I think most academics would agree with John Brindley, however, that the convention is to give a date of termination if the qualification no longer applies, otherwise the implication is that the status is unchanged.

Seeing further pieces of misleading information on the grant application doesn’t really surprise me, but I find it strange that somebody seems to want wikipedia’s pages  to misrepresent the truth in a similar fashion.