Archive for category Wikipedia

Who edits Wikipedia and why? (video)

Via the BBC’s Focus magazine, a video interview with myself and two Wikipedia colleagues. This was filmed at the Watershed on the day of Jimmy Wales’ visit to Bristol for the free encyclopedia’s tenth birthday.

My answers on the spot didn’t capture the true reasons why I contribute. A main factor is that people regard what they find in Wikipedia as fact, so I’m horrified that so much of it is incomplete or misleading. I’ve also come round to the view that this is a project that is genuinely changing the world for the better.

The Jimmy Wales interview filmed on the same day is a truly excellent overview of current issues facing Wikipedia: Read the rest of this entry »


How to write a Psychology article for Wikipedia

I’ve put together an essay on How to write a psychology article which builds on my past experience getting an article to the front page.

The essay is aimed at other editors. It’s “behind the scenes”, not part of the encyclopedia itself. So it can be more informal – dare I say humourous? – than the articles themselves. My hope is that it will act as a guideline for other editors and may encourage people who are just starting to contribute, or just thinking of contributing, to the psychology articles.

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Reflections on writing about Confirmation bias

A year ago, the Wikipedia article on Confirmation bias was in a poor state. Whoever had written it was well-intentioned but they’d been working from a small number of sources and perhaps hadn’t seen the big picture. I started a substantial rewrite. The community gave me a lot of help to make the text accessible, and a couple of weeks ago it reached the highest quality standard on Wikipedia: Featured Article. (“Confirmation bias” as it was on 10th August 2009 vs “Confirmation bias” now).

This week I learned it has been chosen as “Today’s Featured Article” for tomorrow (Friday 23rd July). A one-paragraph summary will appear on the front page, where it can be seen by around four million users. Around sixty thousand will click through to the article itself. It will also be seen through the dozen or so sites that mirror Wikipedia. With this new prominence, it is more likely the article will be translated into other languages (extracts have already been translated into Spanish and Catalan). The are also other delivery platforms: I’m already planning a spoken version of the article, but won’t have time to do it before tomorrow. Being naturally the first Google hit for “confirmation bias”, the article has a high prominence (getting nearly a thousand hits per day) and it is regularly recommended and discussed on blogs, online communities such as Reddit.

So, it’s fascinating to watch the ripple effect of this article to which I’ve contributed. Confirmation bias is something you’d definitely hear about if you do certain courses within a psychology degree, but it’s not exactly the sort of topic that you would expect to see stories about in the newspaper or the evening news. Hence it’s significant that perhaps millions of people will hear about it through this article.  To be honest, this provokes mixed feelings. Read the rest of this entry »


Drive: Why Money Doesn’t Motivate

Dan Pink’s talk (previously featured) and some wonderful, witty animation combine to make a short film about the psychology of motivation. This illustrates why the economic concept of incentive is problematic: it’s just not the case that more monetary incentive means that work will be done more enthusiastically. Pink comments on the success of projects such as Wikipedia which are dependent on free labour.

The above is an extract from a forty-minute talk that you can see in full without the illustration.



Slide show on cognitive biases: a health warning

This morning I have mixed feelings from seeing something I’ve worked on being heavily praised, but for the wrong reasons.

Erik Fernandez, a blogger, has created a slide show about cognitive biases. I haven’t examined it carefully, but it seems like all the text is taken, or at least lightly adapted, from two Wikipedia articles; Cognitive bias and List of cognitive biases. I know this because I recognise my own text in the slide show. Under the terms of the Creative Commons licence, Eric is entitled to copy this material and make derivative works, but not to pass it off as his own work.

These articles are a long way off finished, and in their partial state they can be actively misleading.  As one of the authors, this is partially my fault. It’s better than nothing, but they’re not ready for wide publicity.

That’s why I’m concerned that over the last couple of days, the slide show is getting a huge amount of attention by being featured on the high-traffic blogs BoingBoing and LifeHacker. These blog posts treat the slide show as an original work and make no mention (because Fernandez doesn’t) of where the text comes from. Read the rest of this entry »

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A massive intellectual wiki-boner

This is a navel-gazing post about an exercise in vanity searching, mainly set down as a note to myself. There: you were warned.

I did some testing using the Wikipedia stats tool to investigate how many people read my contributions.

I assume that people rarely read entire WP articles, but usually skim them. So I can’t include every article I’ve contributed. I’ve looked up daily hits for articles I’ve created: Read the rest of this entry »

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Attribute substitution- a quick guide

Noticing that there wasn’t an article about this concept on Wikipedia, I’ve written the following and donated it to start off an article. The GNU Free Documentation license applies. (Updated 2 June. 20 hours after its creation, the article is the number four hit for its title on Google UK!)

Attribute Substitution is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic attribute. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system. This explains why biases are unconscious and persist even when the subject is made aware of them. It also explains why human judgments often fail to show regression toward the mean. Hence, when someone answers a difficult question, they may be answering a related but different question, without realising that a substitution has taken place. Read the rest of this entry »