Wikipedia:WikiProject Countering systemic bias

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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.

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 essay in The New Yorker on Wikipedia itself, entitled Know it All on July 24, 2006. Her entry was made the very same day.

Selection based on gender bias[edit]

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[edit]

Selection bias[edit]

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 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[edit]

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 their 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.

Task forces[edit]

Some task forces that focus on particular aspects of systemic bias are linked below:


There are many things you may do, listed roughly from least to most intensive:

  • Sign up as a participant and mention any interests you may have related to "Countering systemic bias" (CSB).
  • Add the Open Tasks box ({{WikiProjectCSBTasks}}) to your User or User talk page to let other people know about the issue.
  • Read news articles in as many languages as you know, from as many news sources as you can find, from as many political view points as you can find (especially those that you would normally not read) when examining a topical or recent event or editing an existing article related to a particular subject.
  • Don't overlook the official news outlets of a country. Certainly they will be more one sided than Wikipedians may like, but they may provide a different way of thinking about an article. They may also be useful as a primary source of information about why the government of that particular country has its opinion on a subject and why it acts the way it does. The readers of Wikipedia could benefit from this, regardless of whether they agree with that view or not (if they don't, they may use it to find errors in its logic or thinking). For example, official news outlets may be useful indicators of how Mainland China thinks about Tibet or Taiwan. Secondly, they may provide relevant non-controversial information about the country or its leaders which could help in improving the article on that topic, for instance, date and place of birth, occupation of leaders, cultural heritage of, links to and other tidbits which may not be available elsewhere.
  • See if there are web pages on a particular subject which were written by people from other countries or cultures. It may provide you other places to look or other points of view to consider.
  • Be more conscious of your own biases in the course of normal editing. Look at the articles you work on usually and think about whether they are written from an international perspective. If not, you might be able to learn a lot about a subject you thought you knew by adding content with a different perspective.
  • Occasionally edit a subject that is systemically biased against the pages of your natural interests. The net effect of consciously changing one out of every twenty of your edits to something outside your "comfort zone" would be substantial.
  • Create or edit one of the articles listed on the CSB template.
  • If you don't particularly like any of the subjects on the template, our open tasks list has a wide array of articles in need of attention.
  • Add to the open tasks list. No one person can fix a system-wide problem, so be sure to tell people when you find needy articles.
  • Rotate articles from the open tasks list to the template, and other helpful tidying tasks.
  • Check articles to see if they still need work, and if they've been improved move them to the right section or leave a note.
  • Give feedback on this WikiProject on the talk page.
  • If you're multilingual, add information from Wikipedia articles in other languages to their English Wikipedia counterparts.
  • Contribute to articles on under-represented topics that you are familiar with.
  • Be careful not to worsen the bias with your deletion nominations. If you are not familiar with a subject area, or it has meaning outside your experience base, discuss your concerns on the talk page or another appropriate forum before making an AfD nomination.
  • Change the demographic of Wikipedia. Encourage friends and acquaintances that you know have interests that are not well-represented on Wikipedia to edit. If you are at high school or university, contact a professor in minority, women's, or critical studies, explain the problem, and ask if they would be willing to encourage students to write for Wikipedia. Contact minority or immigrant organizations in your area to see if they would be interested in encouraging their members to contribute. The worst they could say is, "No". But keep in mind that immigrant organizations may well have a different point of view than the majority of people in the countries they emigrated from (their members may, for example, be members of a minority themselves or may have emigrated because of a disagreement with the government not shared by the majority of the population), which introduces its own systemic bias.

Related WikiProjects and regional noticeboards[edit]

There are several WikiProjects and regional notice boards that have potential to help out in our efforts. We may also eventually want to create new WikiProjects as part of this effort.

See also:


Latin America or the Caribbean[edit]




Other projects[edit]

Related cleanup templates[edit]

The template {{globalize}} may be placed to produce

The template {{overcoverage}} may be placed to produce

The template {{toofewopinions}} may be placed to produce

The template {{religion primary}} may be placed to produce

The template {{recentism}} may be placed to produce

When these templates are used they should be accompanied by a brief note on the talk page to outline what exactly you feel needs to be addressed.


Please add your name to the members page.

We of course encourage all members of WikiProject Countering systemic bias, to also promote their membership to other Wikipedians, by adding the Userbox template to their personal user page. This is fast and easy to do. You only need to add this line at your user page: {{User WikiProject Countering systemic bias}}, and then you will find this wonderful blue userbox displayed:

If you have specific interests relating to countering systemic bias, feel free to briefly describe them there or on this Wikiproject's talk page so we can get a sense of the strengths of the project.


  1. ^ Simonite, Tom. "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Cohen, Martin. "Encyclopaedia Idiotica". Times Higher Education (28 August 2008): 26.
  3. ^ Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, episode 3109, August 21, 2007.
  4. ^ Simon Waldman (October 26, 2004). "Who Knows?". Technology. The Guardian. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  5. ^ Brophy-Warren, Jamin. "Oh, that John Locke". The Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2007): P3.
  6. ^ Hendren, Johnny "DocEvil" (2007-06-05). "The Art of Wikigroaning". Something Awful. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  7. ^ Brown, Andrew (2007-06-14). "No amount of collaboration will make the sun orbit the Earth". The Guardian. London (June 14, 2007). Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  8. ^ Ivor Tossell (2007-06-15). "Duality of Wikipedia". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2007-06-20.
  9. ^ a b J.P. Kirby (October 20, 2007). The Problem with Wikipedia. J.P.'s Random Ramblings.
  10. ^ Volume 55, Nicholson Baker (March 20, 2008) The Charms of Wikipedia – The New York Review of Books Vol. 55, Number 4.
  11. ^ Bobbie Johnson, Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
  12. ^ Noah, Timothy (2007-02-24). "Evicted from Wikipedia". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  13. ^ a b Cassell, Justine (February 4, 2011). "Editing Wars Behind the Scenes". New York Times.
  14. ^ a b Noam Cohen, "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List," The New York Times. Found at The New York Times, January 31, 2011.
  15. ^ "Wikipedia's Women Problem". 2013-04-29. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  16. ^ Wikipedia's Sexism Toward Women Novelists
  17. ^ Dunn, Gaby (2013-05-01). "Does Sexism Lurk?". Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  18. ^ Zandt, Deanna. "Yes, Wikipedia is Sexist". Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  19. ^ Spector, P.E., & Fox, S. (2005). The Stressor-Emotion Model of Counterproductive Work Behavior Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets (pp. 151-174). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; US.
  20. ^ Tepper, B.J. (2000). "Consequences of abusive supervision". Academy of Management Journal, 43(2), 178-190. doi:
  21. ^ Rayner, C., & Keashly, L. (2005). Bullying at Work: A Perspective From Britain and North America. In S. Fox & P.E. Spector (Eds.), Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets. (pp. 271-296). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
  22. ^ Andersson, L.M., & Pearson, C.M. (1999). "Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace". Academy of Management Review, 74, 452-471.
  23. ^ Rospenda, K.M., & Richman, J.A. (2005). Harassment and discrimination. In J. Barling, E.K. Kelloway & M.R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 149-188). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
  24. ^ Demerouti, E., Bakker, A.B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W.B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 499-512. doi:
  25. ^ Schermerhorn. Organizational Behavior. Tenth edition. Chapter eight.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]