You’ll never find this at Wikipedia

February 9, 2007

Choosing a horse – Citizendium Pilot:

Choosing a horse means making a large commitment, larger than is involved in obtaining any other common domestic animal. Horses are long lived, “high-maintenance” creatures that are almost always much easier to buy than to sell. Any new horse owner is best off tackling the task of finding that first horse with the help of real professionals, including the teachers and trainers that know her riding skills and personality. But, like with every other important decision, the final choice is up to the individual making it. Armed with knowledge, the novice horse-buyer is in a better position to navigate the process of finding, buying, and settling in the right horse. This article reviews some of the basic advice that has been published by equestrians on those topics.

The above is the introduction of an article that you will never see on Wikipedia, highlighting one of the prime differences between Larry Sanger’s Citizendium and its predecessor; the former relies on the oft-debated concept of “notability”, whereas the former simply relies on verifiability. Essentially, the site will accept any information, provided its possible to prove it.

Unfortunately, there’s a bug there — the link at the bottom of the page claims that “this article uses content that originally appeared at Wikipedia”, but links to the nonexistent Wikipedia article on “Choosing a horse” rather than the actual source. I’d comment on this at the open bug ticket, but another bug at the tracker prevents me from actually registering as a user. Damnit.

On the other hand, Citizendium’s difference in policy leads to some interesting articles like the one above. Check this out (bearing in mind that it’s a work in progress):

Personally, I still prefer Wikipedia’s own content, if only in terms of style. As much as I like the idea of verifiability, it’s very bad form to use the second person singular in an encyclopedic article (“you”), the articles rarely cite their sources appropriately (even in the case of Approved articles: Biology refers to 17 sources of information, Metabolism doesn’t cite one), and little effort is put towards copyediting. Take the following, from the article on Metabolism:

ATP:the energy currency of cells

There is one particular energetically favourable reaction that is repeatedly used to drive “uphill” reactions in metabolism:

Adenosine triphosphate + water Adenosine diphosphate + phosphate ion + hydrogen ion

This reaction, the hydrolysis of ATP into ADP and a phosphate ion and hydrogen ion, occurs again and again in metabolic pathways. ATP is sometimes called “the energy currency” (money) of cells because it is so often used to “finance” uphill reactions. To restore ATP, energy must be added to the products of the breakdown of ATP shown on the right side of the equation above. That’s done by coupling the uphill synthesis of ATP to additional energy-releasing reactions. ATP synthesis is one of the major tasks faced by cells, and is so ubiquitous that organisms can be classified according to how they derive energy for ATP synthesis. …

That’s a pretty impressively bad paragraph for an Approved article; isn’t there supposed to be a degree of quality control in the process? Let’s go through three of the problems in the above example:

  1. The section title lacks a space between the colon and the next work. It’s a tiny, but jarring mistake that should have been extremely easy to fix.
  2. The article talks to the reader as if they were an idiot and a university student, simultaneously. Including hell-technical details on a reaction assumes a certain level of knowledge on the part of the audience, yet the article then assumes that they don’t know the meaning of the word “currency”. That’s an impressive feat of inconsistency.
  3. Count the number of times the acronym “ATP” is used in just the example given: six, including twice in the same sentence. Synonyms are there for a reason, but simply weren’t used when crafting this paragraph.

Really, the quality of Citizendium articles still leaves a lot to be desired; if anything, they could all do with a nice, consistent style guide that reduces bizarre errors like the above.

On the plus side, I can finally choose my horse.

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2 Responses to “You’ll never find this at Wikipedia”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The page “Choosing a horse” on Wikipedia now redirects to the “Horse” article; that’s probably as close as we can get.

  2. Nancy Sculerati Says:

    I wrote most of that article and I have to agree that the “you” second person form is not ideal, it might get changed. You see, I (and some collaborators) have been doing a series:Choosing a cat, Choosing a dog. This article was the latest addition. I, at least, like the idea of Citizendium as being not just an web mock-up of something like Brittanica, but including “How to” articles, (Think Encyclopedia of Home Repairs), and whole series of topics that are linked so that a person can really explore.

    For example, we have been writing Cats, Dogs, (have not got to horses yet), Cat Breeds, Dog Breeds and others, that are aimed at somebody who likes animals. The articles Horse colors, Cat Colors and Dog Colors (last planned- not written) go over the genes involved in all those cool coats.

    Who know if it will happen, but I think having articles like these that are written by pet owners, animal breeders, veterinarians, kennel club judges, Olympic Equestrian Competitors etc to to the nth power, would be great.

    The Choosing a cat and Choosing a dog article have external links not only to lots of good info- but to rescue operations around the world so that it’s possible to actually “visit” an animal shelter.

    Anyway- best wishes, Nancy

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