The exciting news that there’s going to be a peer-reviewed reconstructionist magazine got me thinking about Wikipedia for Pagans again.
“Air n-Aithesc: Our Message is a peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.
The magazine’s main aim is to offer as many resources as possible, from research articles to in depth explorations of how personal experiences fit in with the sources, book reviews, and much more.”
This is going to support a meaningful Pagan presence on Wikipedia more than anything else, hands down. Why? Because peer-reviewed sources. They are the highest echelon of wonderful in the Wikipedia worldview. To a Wikipedian, truth is not as important as verifiability.
“Even if you’re sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it.”
For an academic, this should not be so hard to grasp: what’s the quality of your source? Let’s consider a self-serving example, a mythical article on Wikipedia and Paganism. As with any article on the site, having sources = better likelihood that the edit (or even the entire page) will stick around. Those sources could include this very blog post, an article on CNN iReport, one from the New York Times, and something you found in a pile of dusty research journals at the local university library. So how verifiable are they?
- My blog post: not very, because what I write goes live without any other eyes looking at it. If I cited sources of my own, you can check them out, but blog posts should be taken as opinion and nothing more.
- The iReport article isn’t much better; per the site itself: “The stories here are not edited fact-checked or screened before they post. CNN’s producers will check out some of the most compelling, important and urgent iReports and, once they’re cleared for CNN, make them a part of CNN’s news coverage.” It’s that fact-checking and editing that makes a source verifiable; someone took a look to make sure it wasn’t all made up.
- The New York Times has editors. So do weekly papers, but the Gray Lady has a robust staff that is trained to make sure nothing is printed without being checked. Misteaks happen, but not so often.
- That research journal is pure, peer-reviewed gold. Some smart researcher wrote up his or her findings, and then a bunch of researchers in the same field picked it apart for accuracy and methodology. It’s about as good a source as an encyclopedia could get.
And that’s why I am excited that there is to be a peer-reviewed journal focusing on a Pagan religion, because the scholarship it produces will be tailor-made for using in Wikipedia articles on Paganism. So much of what we do and experience has not had serious scholarship applied, so it can be challenging to establish notability for the movers in this community, much less the concepts.
Better sources is part of the solution. More Pagans editing Wikipedia, Pagans who understand the Byzantine structure of the site and its rules, will help more. There’s actually a page to organize the work already, but it’s dangerously inactive. That, however, is another bite at the apple.