Vaughan Bell, a neuropsychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, UK, has reworked Wikipedia's entry on schizophrenia over the past two years. Around five others regularly contribute to the reworking, most of whom have not revealed whether they have academic backgrounds. Bell says that is not a problem, as disputes are settled through the discussion page linked to the entry, often by citing academic articles. "It's about the quality of what you do, not who you are," he explains.
While admitting it can be difficult settling arguments, Bell says he often learns something by doing so. One user posted a section on schizophrenia and violence that Bell considered little more than a "rant" about the need to lock up people with the illness. "But editing it did stimulate me to look up literature on schizophrenia and violence," he says. "Even people who are a pain in the arse can stimulate new thinking."
Others, particularly those who contribute to politically sensitive entries, have found the editing process more fraught. William Connolley, a climate researcher at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, has fought for two years with climate-change sceptics over the entry on global warming. When Connolley was insulted by one of the sceptics and the editing became a 'revert war' — where editors repeatedly undo each others' changes — the matter was referred to the encyclopaedia's administrators.
Two of Connolley's opponents were banned from editing any climate article for six months, but it was a bumpy process. The Wikipedia editors who oversaw the case took three months to reach a decision. They also punished Connolley for repeatedly changing the sceptics' edits, placing him on a six-month parole during which he is limited to one revert a day. Users who support Connolley have contested the decision.
"It takes a long time to deal with troublemakers," admits Jimmy Wales, the encyclopaedia's co-founder. "Connolley has done such amazing work and has had to deal with a fair amount of nonsense."
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