By Nate Anderson | Published: November 06, 2006 – 03:55PM CT
NPA theory suggests that human personality is a combination of three traits: narcissism, perfectionism, and aggression. Each one of these traits is coded for by specific genes, and the process of personality formation therefore follows the long-established rules of genetics. It’s a theory developed by Benis but not given much credence by the scientific community at large. Even Benis, when contacted by Ars Technica, acknowledges that his idea is not “conventional wisdom.” Still, it’s one that he believes in and wants to disseminate.
Back in May, Benis says that he was approached by a Wikipedia user who had seen Benis’ website and asked him to do an entry on NPA theory. Benis tells Ars that he agreed to do so and that he and his associates “tried our best to produce the finest possible article.” This article was posted to Wikipedia, where it remained undisturbed for many months.
In late October, though, a user brought attention to the fact that the article had been written and edited almost exclusively by user “ABenis,” and questions were raised about whether this was appropriate. Wikipedia has strict rules against vanity articles, and it didn’t help that an article was created about Benis himself that some argued was his own work. Benis says that a Wikipedia editor actually authored the entry, but acknowledges that it “took the appearance of a vanity entry.” After a lengthy discussion, both articles were eventually deleted—but on the grounds that they were not “notable” enough to merit inclusion in Wikipedia.
The entire affair seems hardly worthy of mention, except that it provides an illustration of how quickly stories like this one can be sensationalized. One of the bloggers who first described the incident eventually admitted that the writeup was “sensationalist”, and he awarded user ABenis a purple barnstar “for blogging carelessly.”
But the case also raises a pair of interesting questions. The first concerns the Wikipedian concept of “notability.” The proposed guidelines for academic notability no doubt keep thousands of academics from beginning brief vanity articles on themselves or writing up descriptions of their own pet projects, but Wikipedia is already stuffed with trivial topics—in fact, that’s part of its charm. Where else can you learn about the 1980 computer game The Prisoner, read up on sixteen-year old Indy rapper Grand, or find hundreds of words of plot summary for Robin Hood: Men in Tights?
The other question is whether interested parties ought to be contributing material to the site. On the one hand, people like Benis are in the best position to know about their own line of work. On the other, obvious conflicts of interest arise, and users would be rightfully skeptical of the information’s accuracy. But where does the line get drawn? People already contribute information to Wikipedia for topics they care about. Knowing when they are too involved in an industry/field of study/fan club to be objective can be almost impossible work.
Wikipedia in the news
Wikipedia continues to make headlines, but most of those seem to concern the site’s accuracy, massive size, or safety from viruses. That’s right—the BBC is reporting that the German Wikipedia was vandalized to include a link to a virus, though such events are simply inevitable outcomes of the Encyclopedia’s decision to let all users post material. Showing that the moderating system does a good job of catching this type of thing, Wikipedia users quickly removed the offending link.
Wikipedia continues to grow, but that growth may be slowing. In October, Wikipedia added 49,220 articles to its database, the fewest of any month in the last year. For the project as a whole (including other languages), last month was the lowest one since April.
The site has become a staple resource for students, often to the chagrin of teachers, but a (totally unscientific) look at three sample articles shows that Wikipedia can hold up quite well to scrutiny. The Chronicle of Higher Education asked three college professors to critique articles chosen from their fields of study.
The article on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World earned a B-, with Dr. Peter Firchow noting that “it’s clearly lacking an editorial hand to smooth out the inconsistencies.” “African-American Civil-Rights Movement” was given a C by Dr. Doug McAdam, who notes that he “would not direct a student to this site,” but does say that “it isn’t bad in a lowest-common-denominator encyclopedia sense.” Finally, “Flow Cytometry” was examined by Dr. J. Paul Robinson, who gave the article an A. Robinson appreciated the main entry, but noted that the subsections were less accurate. “I went in and actually made some corrections to these,” he said, telling himself, “I can’t leave these and let the record stand like this.”