Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Notability guidelines on Wikipedia get "notability"

Recently, the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia has apparently tightened enforcement of some of its guidelines, apparently because of media pressure and reports that schools and professional media organizations don’t respect the information in it as fact-checked or reliable. (I had addressed his perception on this blog on Jan. 23, here. ). Also, the online encyclopedia has removed material that its editors and community believe to have been placed for self-promotional purposes and material that it believes should not be placed in a reference encyclopedia.

This refers to a concept that Wikipedia calls “notability” or “worthy of notice.” The link is here. Essentially, the concept means that an entity has been covered in the media by parties other than the entity itself (if the entity is a person, and that would include the entity’s family), its employees, or other stakeholders with a permanent connection to the entity if it is a business or organization, or creator or author if the entity is content. Sometimes the concept means that it is far preferable that the entity have been written about by the established “press” or “professional” journalists. It is also preferable that there be an expectation that the entity remain of permanent interest to the public. Guidelines for Wikipedia in some other countries (such as Germany) are reported to be stricter than in the English version. It's also "notable" that some groups consider blogging intrinsically to be valid journalism. See the Electronic Frontier Foundation's link for bloggers, here.

It is important to remember that an encyclopedia entry should be factual and point to fact-checked references. It is all right to describe political theories of others, as noted in history. It is not the appropriate forum to develop one’s own new theories in an encyclopedia article. Other kinds of sites would be appropriate, and I’ve tried to propose ways to do that on this blog. It is even reasonable to develop database-driven schemes to link other kinds of sites to encyclopedias like Wikipedia.

Recently the Wikipedia entry for psychotherapist Paul Rosenfels has been cited for possible lack of notability. The current reference is here. I just checked it again while writing this entry, and the visitor will note the notability concern on the page. The Wikipedia notation says "The best way to address this concern is to reference published, third-party sources about the subject."

First, a bit of background:

Dr. Rosenfels helped found the Ninth Street Center in the East Village in New York City in 1972. He passed away in 1985. The Center has its own impressive site (just noted) and much of the material is stored on The English Server at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The reference is this. The visitor should explore the site to understand its philosophy and point of view. It speaks well for itself.

I was active with the Center shortly after moving into the New York area, from 1973-1975. I withdrew from it because of personal issues, and then moved out of the area, to Dallas, in 1979. The Center still runs chats and other forums, and I have attended some of the scheduled chats.

So, now, to establish notability, what about third party bibliographic references to the subject? The Center was sometimes mentioned in New York City newspapers. I do recall a column “Hot nights at the Ninth Street Center” some time in 1974 (after I had moved to the City), probably in the Village Voice. (See updated listed below at the end of this posting; It seems to have been in Gay Mag.) I believe that the article discussed the talk groups and Saturday night potlucks. There may have been other mainstream or "outside gay press" articles. (Maybe The New York Native covered it. I do remember that Robert Blair of Evangelicals Concerned mentioned Paul and the Center on a trip to an EC meeting in Texas in the 1980s; blogger note here.) All of this could help, in the long run, support the concept of “notability” (it might take some good old-fashioned pre-Internet microfilm research – the kind I had to do in college for term papers -- in New York City).

It does seem that Wikipedia's main concern will be whether available sources (especially links) came from within the Center or people too closely connected to the Center, instead of "neutral" outside press or academic sources. A quick search does show mostly references from people associated with the Center, which would be expected for almost any smaller organization or group. A number of people became disengaged from the Center for one reason or another over numerous years. They could now be perceived as an external source of credible information to support the idea of notability. I think that this is so even if none or few of these individuals are part of the formal press. Furthermore, there is another group in Brooklyn that follows on the work of the Center called the Cortelyou Center. All of this can support notability.

Wikipedia's "notability" guidelines exclude using "self-published" sources (as do other groups, such as Author's Guild, which usually only admits to membership those able to get advance royalties from third parties). Some newspapers don't review "self-published books." However, cooperative publishing (with both companies and various academic groups) is becoming a more common practice, and is often mentioned at writers' conferences. After all, a dissertation is, in a sense, cooperatively published. It would seem that some cooperatively published sources (like English Server) support the spirit and intent of the concept of notability, at least.

The Center has a DVD of some of the talk groups that has never been commercially released (as with Netflix or documentary film festivals), but I suppose that it could be, with appropriate legal releases; and it has published a number of books, most of them by Paul Rosenfels, on a particular view of psychology. I can remember other groups in the 1970s in the LGBT community, such as Identity House, that add to the history of the time. Now there is an LGBT center in Chelsea in New York City, and it is pointed to by one of the subway stops. It may be that some of this could help add to notability.

But there is another conceptual disagreement, here, about the importance of formal “professionalism,” at least in journalism. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen just authored (and Doubleday published) a short but blistering book “The Cult of the Amateur,” (review here: in which he criticizes the (apparent) self-indulgence and lack of credibility of most of today’s user-generated content on the web, and considers it a threat to security and to legitimate media business. I think a lot of what he says sounds like old-fashioned turf protection (the Vatican, after all, is the prime example of that). There seems to be an issue with some people that they would like to force everyone to “compete” in the open market according to their rules (“like men” – we all remember the days of rites of passage). Somehow, succeeding in “competition,” as well as taking on family responsibility, establishes the right of someone to be heard from. At least, that is the mindset. And it could get dangerous. Translated to “notability” it would mean that something should only reach the public when it gets there by (bureaucratically) established rules of competition. There is no question that the “rules” (often enforced by unions) help keep people who “get there” remain wealthy and privileged. It’s always like that. Intellectual property law recognizes a concept called “right of publicity” (or “right to publicity”) which has always been morally controversial because it seems to reward limelight and fame for its own sake. Now, this very comment is an “opinion” that would not be appropriate in an encyclopedia article on intellectual property legal concepts and torts.

In the 1970s, many of the visitors and participants in the Center lived in the nearby Easy Village neighborhood (I “commuted” from New Jersey until I moved into the City in September 1974). Given the post-Watergate, post-Stonewll political climate of the times (which was steadily improving), Paul Rosenfels tended (in the 1970s) to encourage gay men to focus on others in their own, somewhat sheltered community, and to keep a lower profile with respect to the outside world. Of course, this notion was already contradicted by the publication of various books. Eventually, important ideas find there way into the outside world and have an impact on it. It may take a lot of time for people to see the impact, but the Internet has certainly provided a major opportunity for previously relatively obscure and “private” people to become relatively well known. Not everyone likes this, but it is reality. Original content from a new group or source can gradually obtain public importance, but Wikipedia now seems to want to see a spontaneous reporting source from outside the source to confirm this. Again, this seems to have happened, in large part, in response to media and academic criticism of the "open source" encyclopedia concept.

Paul Rosenfels certainly was a significant figure in East Village neighborhood and New York City history in general. His legacy lives today and probably contributed to the founding of the LGBT Center. It should eventually become possible to establish his notability.

I have not yet created a Wikipedia account myself or contributed any articles or modifications. Remember, Wikipedia contributions are anonymous (a criticism, that does not apply to other proposed encyclopedias like Compendium). I may decide to set up an account and address this entry or several others that I am aware of. But encyclopedia writing must be very structured, objective, stick to facts and refrain from speculations, which belong elsewhere.

The visitor could look at the Wikipedia entry for "same sex marriage", go down to "Controversy" and see that, while there is a lot of good and reasonably temperate discussion of the various arguments, the editors flagged the section as needing references or sources for the opinions stated. In an encyclopedia, a particular interpretation of a particular author is a speculation, but the fact that the particular author expressed that particular opinion is a fact. Again, in an encyclopedia there need to be multiple "mainstream" sources from generally accepted media or publishing entities.

My view of this example is that, in an ideal "open source" educational system, the myriad of "opinions" should be organized on a separate table or database object and appropriately cross-referenced to each other (and to opinions about coordinated issues like eldercare or adoption / foster care or "family values"), and then separately to "sources" as Wikipedia views sources. There could also exist a facility for the user to purchase copyrighted original sources through a central Amazon-like system, so that one has a database that is something like an amalgamation of Amazon and the Associated Press!

Update: June 29, 2007

The Ninth Street Center website has a number of external references. The Center has reproduced these references in its own template. For Wikipedia, one would want to give links to the original sources online if possible; if in hardcopy microfilm only (as at a public library) one would give a conventional bibliographic citation and note physically where the material exists, if it can be found.

Here is the basic reference

A few examples:

Seymour Shubin, SK&F Psychiatric Reporter, 1968
Herb Spiers, Body Politic, 1972
John Paul Hudson, "Hot Nights at the Ninth Street Center", and "Building a New Gay Scoiety", Gay Magazine, 1974
D. F. Lawden, Psychoenergtics, 1981
Judy Chicurel, East Village EYE, 1983
Graham Jackson, Studies in Jungian Analysis, 1991
Review of Paul Rosenfel's "Psychology of the Creative Process," Torso, 1992.
Jay Bolick, The New York Native, 1987
Bob Ledwidge and Jane Wallace, Independent Review, 1998
Walter Godsoe, review of book "We Knew Paul", 2000
Kim Marie Pozar Gaye, review of Rosenfels book "Love and Power", 2000
Meenakshi Gautam, "Going the Wilde Way" 2000

I have two citations on this list myself, but they might be seen by some (because of ("pseudo nepotism") as less notable since I was associated with the Center and because, in the view of some in the spin of the media world today, I am still an "amateur." Still a troubling concept!

Again, the notion that "professionals" get to determine the credibility of a social movement or theory is disturbing. But remember the bruhaha -- on both sides -- back in 1973 (when I was "coming out" for the second time) when the American Psychiatric Association stated that homosexuality should not be considered an "illness." That credibility is still important in discrediting coercive campaigns to get people into "reparative therapy" by some groups today. Reference here.

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