Category bias in Wikipedia

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

Is Wikipedia objective?

I recall taking a class on journalism and we argued about whether or not true objectivity could ever exist. Some people pointed out that it was possible to write an article that consisted only of factual statements, and therefore such an article proved that objectivity was possible.

There were several counter-arguments: what about the factual statements that were not included? You could factually say “The nation of x invaded the nation of y and slaughtered 10,000 innocents.” That makes the nation of x sound pretty bad. It might also be factually true that the nation of y had invaded the nation of x the previous month, but if you leave that out, is your article still objective? It only consists of factual statements, but those factual statements paint a misleading portrait.

I recall the professor of that class insisted that most of the bias he saw in newspapers happened at the level of deciding what subjects to cover. During his career he had seen the following scenario: a newspaper might run an objective article about corruption in Egypt, and an objective article about the brutality of the Iranian government, but then the paper would perhaps never run an article that objectively covered the treatment of some people under Israeli rule. Each article was objective, but the overall coverage was biased.

And so too, with Wikipeida. 85% of the editors are male. Does that have an impact one what decisions get made? This opening is interesting:

“LATE last month Amanda Filipacchi, an American writer, discovered that the editors of Wikipedia, a crowdsourced online encyclopaedia, were re-categorising female American authors from “American Novelists” to to “American Women Novelists”. No corresponding “American Men Novelists” subject area existed at that time. ”

Even if each article tries to acheive Neutral Point Of View, there can still be bias merely in the way things get categorized.