July 28, 2009

The Internet’s Free Encyclopedia Hates Me.

The first thing I noticed about my Wikipedia page, when someone directed my attention to it, was that they got my name wrong, there in the very first line!

Not the spelling”€”they at least managed to get that right”€”but the pronunciation. Their rendering in the International Phonetic Alphabet is / ˈdɑrbɨʃər /  That includes two fricative-lingual r sounds.

In fact there are no r sounds at all in the pronunciation of my name, fricative-lingual or otherwise. It is pronounced with pure vowels: / ˈdɑːbɪʃə / (DAH-bi-shuh). I refer interested readers to §774 of Daniel Jones’ classic Outline of English Phonetics, the section headed “Words for practising the omission of r.”

Trust me on this. It’s my name. I’ve been pronouncing it since the Truman administration.

The second thing I noticed was that my Wikipedia page was written by an AAM”€”that is, an Angry Asian Male. This needs a bit of explanation.

Among East Asian males, there is a large subgroup who are flipped into a mode of blind fury by the thought of Asian women consorting with non-Asian males. In the young-adult cohort of mainland-Chinese males, I would estimate the subgroup as about one in three. These are the AAMs. One recent target of their rage has been Chinese movie star Zhang Ziyi, whose affair with Israeli venture capitalist Vivi Nevo has stirred quite horrifying levels of vituperation against Ms. Zhang on Chinese-language blogs.

After hanging out among Chinese people for forty years on three continents, and having been married to a lady of Chinese ancestry for twenty-three of those years, I am exquisitely well-sensitized to the AAM mentality. I can, as it were, spot an AAM at five hundred yards. That the author of my Wikipedia page is an AAM shone out loud and clear.

In fact, you really don’t need to have my level of sensitization. Just look at that first subheading: “Conflicts of peoples.” Pure Chinglish“€”no native English-speaker would write that.

Having grasped that my Wikipedia page was an AAM production, I was not much surprised by its contents. For example: “During a debate with [white nationalist] Jared Taylor at the Robert A. Taft club in August 2006 Derbyshire joked that the only reason he was not an open white nationalist was because ‘it would get me in trouble at home’.” Did I?

Here is a precise transcription of the relevant part of the debate. You can listen to it yourself. It’s at 9m 22s into the “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. (The link on my Wikipedia page does not work directly”€”rather a lot of Wikipedia links don’t work”€”but if you scroll down on the error page you can find the audio file. Or you can just go here) I am talking about Steve Sailer’s “citizenism” concept, which I agree with:

Our government, our authorities, ought to regard us all equally, and they ought to prefer our interests to the interests of the other six billion people in the world, which currently they don’t. I’m on board with that. I’m kind of on Steve’s side on that. I’m not a white nationalist. I’d be in trouble at home if I was. [Laughter.] But I agree with Steve: citizenism.

That’s what I actually said. Is it what Wikipedia says I said? Judge for yourself.

The following sentence on my Wikipedia page is”€”how shall I put it?”€”a bare-faced lie. To uncover the lie, you unfortunately need to listen to all 69 minutes of that “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. I guess my AAM-biographer calculated that very few people would be bothered to do this. I guess he is right.

My Wikipedia page is pretty much downhill from there.

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Now, I am not much bothered by this kind of thing. I have a congenitally thick skin”€”a terrific asset in the opinionating business. I did recently start thinking, though, that with a book coming out in the fall, I might be coming to the attention of a lot of people who know nothing about me. For some of them their first point of reference would be my Wikipedia page. Did I really want these innocents to get the AAM-slanted view of John Derbyshire?

I decided that I didn’t, and so set about editing my Wikipedia page.

This was not easy. For editing purposes, Wikipedia has a mark-up language all its own, of which ordinary HTML (in which I am fluent”€”in which, in fact, I am writing this column) is merely a subset. There is also a mass of protocols concerning style, copyright permissions, and so on. I spent a couple of days reading through all this, then set to work on my page.

It proved impossible to patch the thing up. It was too disorganized and unbalanced. I therefore rewrote it from scratch, striving to present a fair picture. (For example, I included more of the petty controversies I’ve been involved in, actually giving Derb-haters more material to feast on.) My finished product was, as best I could judge, well-organized, balanced, literate, and Wikipedia-compliant.

The rewritten page lasted just one day. Then the old AAM-angled page came back, and I got a message from the Wikipedia people saying that my rewrite was unacceptable because of “multiple style issues.” What were those style issues? They didn’t tell me, and there was no way to reply to the Wiki message. Perhaps the Wikipedia editors objected to my painstaking avoidance of crass solecisms like “Conflicts of peoples.” Or perhaps they were annoyed by the fact that all my links, unlike theirs, actually worked.

The only part of my rewrite that Wikipedia accepted was the photograph. So I can console myself with the reflection that readers of my Wikipedia page have at least an up-to-date portrait to go with Wikipedia’s gibberish “biography” of me.

That’s Wikipedia for you. They can say what they like about you, employing any level of sub-literacy for the purpose, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it. I had heard this, but just hadn’t believed they are really so brazen.

I had heard it from, amongst others, Irish journalist Kevin Myers, who, at the slightest prompting, will give you a passionate forty-five minute harangue on the evils of Wikipedia. There’s a Myers column on the topic here, from which:

So who are the people who founded and run Wikipedia? I don’t know, and nor have I any foolproof way of finding out, because the only way of doing so is by consulting Wikipedia itself: a hole-in-bucket solution to a hole-in-my-bucket problem … And so”€”do these wretched Wikipedia people ever lie awake worrying at the damage that the evil or the impressionable might inflict upon those who have been maligned in their uncontrolled and filthy internet gossip-shop, whose very power derives from the complete fiction that it is an “encyclopedia”?

I doubt it extremely: for of all the lies of our time, Wikipedia is surely the greatest.

I’m still not very worked up about this”€”nothing like as worked up as Kevin, for sure. Ninety percent of what you read about people in the public prints and forums is malicious lies. Any adult who does not know that should stop reading and take up fishing. Any public person who is bothered by it should retire into private life.

I am also deeply obliged to several readers who went in and removed offensive parts of my Wikipedia page. I hope the Wiki editors are more tolerant of these readers’ changes than they were of mine. The downside of these kindnesses is, that readers coming late to my column will be looking at a different Derb Wikipage from the one I’m commenting on. However, I took the precaution of preserving an image of the original page here so readers will know what I am talking about.

Anyway, I’ll go on using Wikipedia for quick links to merely factual issues, assuming that my readers know there’s a level of unreliability even there. (Last year I looked up the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Agincourt. It was long, detailed, and informative, except that it had the English side led by Henry IV, who had been dead for two years when Agincourt was fought. I see they have since corrected this particular blooper, but no doubt there are a hundred thousand just as egregious lurking on the Wikipedia pages. If, as I have heard, high school and college students rely on Wikipedia for factual information, our academic culture is in serious trouble.)

I do think it’s probably a mistake, though, for Wikipedia to include living persons among its entries. The opportunites for Wikipedia’s anonymous, unaccountable editors to work off grudges, conduct vendettas, and vent the milder, AAM-grade varieties of psychopathology are just too tempting.

There is, unless I am out of date, a rule that postage stamps may not depict anyone currently alive. I recommend the postage-stamp principle to the managers of Wikipedia. But then, what do I know? According to Wikipedia, I can’t even pronounce my own name correctly.


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