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Resistance is futile. You will be misinformed

My friend chalain once noted an interesting characteristic about me.  "The good news is that Pi can be taught," he says.  "The bad news is that Pi has to be taught."  So it is with editing Wikipedia.

Now I admit there is no shortage of warnings about the quality of the wikipedia experience.  I've read no small number of blogs, forum posts, and articles which all more or less indicate that it is pointless for regular humans to try to edit or correct articles on the site.

But of course I ignored all of those warnings.  Surely it can't be that bad, and all of the self-appointed Keepers of the Knowledge are reasonable people who are just being unfairly maligned.  So when, in my random web meanderings, I happened to encounter a factual inaccuracy in one of the articles, I waded in and tried my hand.

The article in question was Interstate 90 in Washington.  The article isn't that important to me, but it's as good as any to see what the WP experience is like.  The article contains the following line:

Sixty miles east of Bellevue I-90 traverses the Cascade Mountain Snoqualmie Pass, elevation 3,022 feet, the lowest east-west highway crossing in Washington state.

For those who don't know, Washington is divided by an imposing mountain range, which runs the length of the state north to south.  There are a limited number of ways to get across from east to west.  The four most significant (the only four which are open all winter) are Stevens Pass (US Hwy 2), Snoqualmie Pass (Interstate 90), White Pass (US Hwy 12), and the Columbia River Gorge (State Route 14 on the Washington side and Interstate 84 on the Oregon side of the river).

Now, the factual inaccuracy is that SR14, which runs through a gorge is indeed lower than I-90, which goes over a pass.  The second half of the quote above is incorrect, so I went in to remove it. 

In a sane world, that would be that.  The error is corrected, and Wikipedia becomes a little bit more accurate.  In this world, some self-appointed Wikipedia gatekeeper reverts the edit, restoring the inaccuracy.  Not deterred, I re-apply the edit, and, trying to be a good community member, put a note on the talk page in my classic diplomatic style.  No, not good enough.  The same gatekeeper reverts the change again.  This time there is an understandable explanation.  "It is refering to Interstate Highways in Washington, not state routes or US Routes," goes the change explanation.  Okay.  It's kinda poorly-worded here, but I guess that makes sense as a general policy on these sort of things.

But something still isn't right.  Why even mention that I-90 is the lowest interstate crossing in Washington?  It's the only interstate crossing in Washington.  Seeking to clear up this confusion, I dive a third time into the WP editor, and change the word 'lowest' to 'only'.  That should make our vigilante editor happy, right? 

Well, yes.  Except that now, a different gatekeeper has reverted the change, removing the word 'only'.  What was the reason given?  "no, this refers to any east-west".  Okay, so which way is it?  Does the "lowest" designation count all highways or not? Methinks these two guys should compare notes.

Meanwhile, Pi can be taught.  I'll just place wikipedia into the "Read-only" pile and get my info from the local library.


See, if you were a good Wikipudlian, you'd have waded further into the talk page and spent three hours of discussion trying to bring all three of you into consensus.

The problem with Wikipedia editing is the same problem that politics (and particularly petty politics) tends to have in general: the people with the most "authority" are the people willing to spend the time developing that authority instead of doing something useful with their time.
It's frustrating when some jackass says, "Well, I don't know anything about the subject, but..."

Fine. So let those of us who do write the article, and stick to checking our methodology.

I've had to make at least one correction (even if it's only spelling) on every Wiki page I've ever hit. I see vandalism daily. But the obsessives aren't dealing with that. They're too busy telling us why something with a million interested readers isn't "notable."
By the way, if anybody else wants to try where I failed, there is another factual error in the same line on that page.

The top of Snoqualmie Pass is at milepost 53, which is 42 miles east of Bellevue - not 60.
Milepost 60 or 60 miles?

Bellevue is about MP 11. The top of the pass is at MP 52.5. The claim that the pass is "Sixty miles east of Bellevue" is therefore off by nearly 20 mi.
I have accepted your challenge and submitted revisions. Let's see what happens.

October 2008

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