Larry Moran discovers quicksand from Wikipedia


I tell my students that they are not allowed to cite Wikipedia in their homework. Sure, you can skim through it to get a general idea about a topic, but then you have to delve into the scientific literature to figure out what’s Actually event. There also doesn’t seem to be much validation of what Wikipedia cites. The non-coding DNA article quotes Nessa Carey again! I’ve read his book, and my god, it’s a confusing mess of poorly written pop pseudoscience.

Larry Moran is convinced that Wikipedia is a useful resource and that it could be improved, so he dug into the quagmire and decided to try to edit this article on non-coding DNA. He is a more optimistic person than me. He decided to correct a lot of bad references made by people who don’t have a tenth of his expertise on the subject that he has…and find out how they deal with intruders.

The introduction has been restored to the version that talks about the ENCODE project and references Nessa Carey’s book. I tried to move this paragraph to the section on the ENCODE project and removed the reference to Carey’s book on the grounds that it is not scientifically accurate [see Nessa Carey doesn’t understand junk DNA]. Wikipedia police have restored the original version three times without explaining why they think we should mention ENCODE results in the introduction to an article on non-coding DNA and without explaining why Nessa Carey’s book should be referenced.

The only people I see citing ENCODE these days are creationists, so I’m not impressed that Wikipedia doesn’t like people who can put the study into context. It seems to be official policy that no experts are allowed to edit bad wikipedia articles – they have a point of view, which is very bad.

Here is an editor, Ramos1990, who explains the rules to him.

There is no way to verify who you are on wikipedia. A lot of people claim to be famous people here, so that’s not a valid point or one that carries weight on wikipedia. And just pretending that is no reason for anyone to believe what you say either. On top of that, if you’re really Larry Moran, there are conflict of interest issues where you can’t push your point on an article. Especially since there are other points of view on the matter, for example Carey and Pennisi which you want to get rid of a censor of the article.

Hmmm. Larry wasn’t saying you should believe him because he’s famous; Kim Kardashian is much more famous, but I don’t think she knows much about biochemistry. He says he is a reputable authority on a narrow subject. What wikipedia says is that they won’t do anything to verify a source, and if they did they should reject it because it has a POV. Which means that wiki editors are all basically anonymous and have to pretend they don’t have a point of view even though they obviously do. It’s a weird situation.

Here, for example, is the biography of Ramos1990.

Science (especially chemistry), engineering, mathematics, history of science, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, secularism/religion, atheism and other subjects related. The world has many good things to study.

It is not a catalog of their expertise. It’s a list of “stuff” that interests them. They could be a clumsy dilettante or a brilliant polymath, and there’s no way to tell. But apparently all that matters is that they don’t have a POV and can give the illusion of impartiality, even on topics where expertise is needed to unravel the complexities and make a reasonable assessment. . Wikipedia epistemology is a very strange thing in which the official policy is that you are not allowed to know how someone knows what they claim to know.

This comment on Larry’s site is worth noting:

The “corrections” on Wikipedia and the statement by the head of the NIHGR are certainly depressing. Both reflect the consensus among genomics and molecular biologists. This in turn is based on their very limited understanding of molecular evolution. On the other side, there is the almost unanimous consensus among molecular evolutionists that there is a lot of junk DNA out there. This is based on their actual understanding of junk file insertion and deletion processes. Unfortunately, there are many more genomics and molecular biologists, so the vote is still strongly against junk DNA. Wikipedia has the strength and limitation of being a mainstream consensus view, and we can see that in a case like this, it serves to reinforce an erroneous mainstream consensus. Maybe one day soon there will be a page on the “junk DNA controversy” where the pro-junk side can edit the description of what we say. When the 2012 ENCODE disaster happened, I gloomily predicted that it would take 10 years for the field to get back to where it was. Those 10 years are almost over and things still look bad. More recently, I started telling people that it will take more than 20 years. In fact, 30 might be more like it.

Unfortunately, this was said by Joe Felsenstein, a world renowned authority on molecular evolution, so it’s invalid in the eyes of Wikipedia.

I will continue to tell my students that Wikipedia is not trustworthy and they should never cite it.


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