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• CommentRowNumber1.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012

the link to the picture in the entry Charles Wells is broken. Does anyone know how to fix it or have an alternative picture?

• CommentRowNumber2.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012

There is a picture here . I presume it is of him from other content on that page. I have only ever met him once, long ago.

• CommentRowNumber3.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012
• (edited Feb 15th 2012)

Thanks, I have used that link in the entry now.

• CommentRowNumber4.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 15th 2012
• (edited Feb 15th 2012)

By the way, for some reason I decided to create a Wikipedia entry on Charles Wells.

Immediately afterwards some user flagged it for “speedy deletion” on the basis that it is not “notable” enough. Discussion of whether or not this is true – on the basis of which some super user will then eventually delete the entry or not – is here.

If anyone feels like adding a bit of information there, it would be appreciated. Not that I spent a whole day on this entry, but it would be a shame if my effort of collecting some information would be wasted by some random guy who just feels like doing so.

• CommentRowNumber5.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012

I never trust Wikipedia on ’notable’ or not. It is largely a subjective question. It reminds me of the story (which I believe is true) bout the mathematician who was asked how you define good mathematics. The reply of course was it is the mathematics done by good mathematicians! A few days pater the same person was asked by the same questioner for a definition of a ’good mathematician’, I am not giving prizes for guessing the answer that was given. :-)

Unfortunately, the person of whom this was told, was and still is, in a position of some influence in his country’s mathematical establishment. (I again will not give prizes for which country this happened in, although some will think it could happen in many.)

• CommentRowNumber6.
• CommentAuthorjim_stasheff
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
Or as Socrates is reported to have said: Good is what the good man does. Implicit is that (almost) evryone recognizes a good person, whether liking them or not.
• CommentRowNumber7.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
• (edited Feb 16th 2012)

I would agree with Socrates, but do think that the person of whom I wrote might tend to think that he was the judge of what good mathematics was, and yet did not have any criteria on which to justify his view. (I once discussed this with Jean Dieudonné with respect to the Bourbaki seminars, and his reply was much deeper. He talked about a set of criteria that included interaction with other parts of mathematics for instance. He was also prepared to admit that the selection for subjects was not infallible and that several strong areas of maths had been underrepresented… however I am straying ’hors sujet’)

• CommentRowNumber8.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
• (edited Feb 16th 2012)

Just for the record, let me close the story of this little adventure:

After we invoked Google Scholar, lots of people chimed in and supported the existence of the entry. The person who voted for deletion was whacked with a trout “for wasting our time” (see the state of the discussion here ), then claimed that all along he “found it hard to believe that [Wells] wasn’t notable” and withdrew his request for deletion.

Phew. In that time I can write half a dozen substantial $n$Lab entries ;-)

• CommentRowNumber9.
• CommentAuthorTodd_Trimble
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012

found it hard to believe that [Wells] wasn’t notable

I saw that too, and found it very strange.

• CommentRowNumber10.
• CommentAuthorEric
• CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012

Urs, I’m guessing you’ve done so already, but whatever work you put into Wikipedia, just past into the nLab. You can even paste “as is” and I or another lab elf can clean it up for you.

Then… forget Wikipedia forever.

• CommentRowNumber11.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
• (edited Feb 17th 2012)

very strange.

Yeah. “Strange” is a mild word for this kind of behaviour. Beware of people who don’t have the stature to admit that they were wrong.

Then… forget Wikipedia forever.

Done. ;-)

• CommentRowNumber12.
• CommentAuthorRodMcGuire
• CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
• (edited Feb 17th 2012)

Immediately afterwards some user flagged it for “speedy deletion” on the basis that it is not “notable” enough.

In a slight defense of this action, Wikipedia has a big problem with people creating “vanity pages”. Whoever flagged it is probably fighting this problem but did lousy research. And so you had to go through some justification phase.

Years back Wikipedia was more relaxed - several people I know of very minor achievement wrote their own pages about themselves which come off as a glowing endorsement AND the best of their CV, and the pages still exist today.

Eventually something like Wikipedia should cover every mathematician and every paper they wrote, including the paper I wrote in high school that got published in some college math journal. That paper should be recorded, regardless of its quality or that it first gave an example that later became important in cellular automata.

But until Wikipedia or something similar has a good way of recording information but also grading it as say really important, derivative, reinventing-the-wheel, plagiarism, or crack-pottery, such sites need active users to drive out the bad or just minor.

Unfortunately Wikipedia (and I presume similar sites) attracts some editors who have nothing better to do than to enforce their idea of intellectual/political correctness on what they think they control.

I’ve edited or created some things on Wikipedia (because Google takes me to something wrong, incomplete, or really badly written) but I’ve learned to steer away from areas where some editor appears to have too much of their ego involved. Yes I might be right about an edit but I do not have the time to fight it out with someone who has nothing else to do.

Yet still I think it is worthwhile to contribute to Wikipedia though I don’t have the stamina to follow through a fight like Urs did.

• CommentRowNumber13.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
• (edited Feb 17th 2012)

I certainly see what you mean. But some comments:

Years back Wikipedia was more relaxed - several people I know of very minor achievement wrote their own pages about themselves which come off as a glowing endorsement AND the best of their CV, and the pages still exist today.

In these cases the problem is not that the content of the entries is not notable enough, but that it is not accurate / objective enough, right? It would be no problem if these pages existed, as long as they din’t give a misleading impression.

Yet still I think it is worthwhile to contribute to Wikipedia

I noticed that more and more $n$Lab content is being absorbed by or linked to by Wikipedia. I think for me, personally, that’ll be the best way of indirectly contributing: I generate content on the $n$Lab and let those who know what WIkipedia wants decide what of it to make use of there.

• CommentRowNumber14.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeFeb 20th 2012

Eventually something like Wikipedia should cover every mathematician and every paper they wrote, including the paper I wrote in high school that got published in some college math journal. That paper should be recorded, regardless of its quality or that it first gave an example that later became important in cellular automata.

Indeed, and people said this of Wikipedia itself in the early days. But influential Wikipedians (up to Jimmy Wales) are now saying that Wikipedia doesn’t really need to grow any more, since it already covers pretty much every appropriate topic. (This is quite wrong, of course, and Jimmy in particular is crazy to say it. I think that he mostly says it as PR to explain why Wikipedia’s growth is slowing. But the slowing came first and for other reasons.) So Wikipedia is unlikely to revisit its notability policies, which mean that your paper will never be ‘notable’ enough for inclusion, unless it’s first covered (not cited but discussed as a thing in itself) in some ‘reliable source’ (and what that means is another can of worms).

• CommentRowNumber15.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeFeb 20th 2012

But the slowing came first and for other reasons.

Which reasons are this?

My impression is that Wikipedia very likely has an entry on “every conceivable topic”, but also very likely that entry is only scratching the surface of its topic. (Here I am of course mostly thinking of scientific entries, not entries about rock band xyz). It would be good to see the entries eventually dig deeper.

• CommentRowNumber16.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeFeb 21st 2012

Which reasons are this?

I don’t exactly know, and probably several. One that I suspect is greater (if only perceived) barriers to entry. But it’s certainly not that Wikipedia is nearly full, because it’s not nearly full. That is (IMHO) Jimmy’s rationalisation.

My impression is that Wikipedia very likely has an entry on “every conceivable topic”

I don’t believe that at all! Wikipedia very likely does have an entry on just about (if not absolutely) every topic that (say) the Encyclopaedia Brittanica has. But it certainly has room for more obscure technical subjects. When it comes to rock band xyz (or better yet Simpsons episode xyz), it’s well understood that there will always be more entries to write. The same goes for science.

It would be good to see the entries eventually dig deeper.

This is also true.

• CommentRowNumber17.
• CommentAuthorRodMcGuire
• CommentTimeFeb 21st 2012
• (edited Feb 21st 2012)

Urs 13

In these cases the problem is not that the content of the entries is not notable enough, but that it is not accurate / objective enough, right? It would be no problem if these pages existed, as long as they din’t give a misleading impression.

Under the current Wikipedia system the fact that a page exists indicates that its topic is important. I can’t see long vanity entries having explicit disclaimers at the top saying “this guy is no where near as important as he would like to believe.”

As an example, see this just published Washington Post puff piece, V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai: Inventor of e-mail honored by Smithsonian. If you check Wikipedia there is a large vanity entry, Shiva Ayyadurai, that is a little more clear about his minor role in email development. Neither source makes clear that he is not a professor at MIT but only a lecturer. A little digging shows he seems to have assigned himself the title “Faculty Lecturer” which isn’t an official designation and Googling for MIT “Faculty Lecturer” mainly turns up hits for Ayyadurai.

For giggles check out the comments on the WaPo article, some of them from the outraged real people who invented email, and some pointing out how the subject is a self-promoting jerk.

EDIT: I just checked the above Wikipedia link and it no-longer links to the named subsection because furious editors for now have changed the section name to “Email Claims”.

I think the best solution to the Ayyadurai problem in the current system would be just to delete his entry - maybe it should exist in a system where anybody can have an entry but that is not the present situation.

The thing about established entries is that they take on an existential inertia where their existence can’t be removed but only modified. Years ago I had a discussion about linguistic systems with George Lakoff shortly after I first met him and at one point I drew a diagram on a whiteboard to illustrate my thinking. He walked up to my diagram and erased it explaining that the first person to draw on a blackboard usually wins. This turned in to a larger discussion about framing and accepting or rejecting frames.

Wikipedia seems to exist in a system where if somebody has successfully written on the blackboard it is important enough that it can never be removed, only modified.

• CommentRowNumber18.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2012

Wikipedia seems to exist in a system where if somebody has successfully written on the blackboard it is important enough that it can never be removed, only modified.

I don’t know why you say this. Lots of entries get removed from Wikipedia. Too many in my opinion. (Even pages that exist for technical purposes get removed, if they’re not widely needed, just to make the place look prettier, which is just downright stupid.)

If somebody creates controversy by claiming a false invention, creating verifiable sources describing this controversy, and the controversy is written up in neutral tones, then this is appropriate for Wikipedia. The current version of the email section doesn’t give a good impression of him, yet it doesn’t condemn him either; it just summarises the competing claims, as an NPOV article should. (I can’t evaluate the last paragraph, since I can’t read the article that it cites; it may still be an exaggerated promotion.) This was done recently; Wikipedia fixes itself best when attention is drawn.

The article may yet be deleted. People are adding tags threatening this but not yet requesting its deletion. I think that it has enough citations to prevent deletion, but I’ve been wrong about that before. I expect that it will be cut down a good deal; even if the article is not removed, much of the text in it will be, even entire sections. It just needs attention.

• CommentRowNumber19.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2012
• (edited Feb 22nd 2012)

yet it doesn’t condemn him either

Actually, it does have ‘falsely claims’ in there, rather than just ‘claims’ and then giving the counterclaims, which would be more proper. In this case, the claim is obviously false, but I didn’t see the word ‘falsely’ at first.