Wikipedia and Dark Side Editing

Cynical tactics encouraged by Wikipedia’s abdication of thought known as ‘No Original Research’ and ‘Reliable Sources’
Wikipedia, anime, NGE
2009-05-242013-02-16 finished certainty: highly likely importance: 4


One of the most dis­taste­ful aspects of Wikipedia edit­ing these days (>2009) is that the guide­li­nes, as prac­ticed, encour­age edit­ing in bad faith.

Counterexamples

Con­sider the case of fran­chise. Gainax was founded by a group of to cre­ate anime for of other otaku. Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion (Eva for short) is in that same vein. It was cre­ated by otaku, for otaku, and fun­da­men­tally is about otaku1. Eva is replete with allu­sions2, bor­row­ings, and par­o­dies of pre­vi­ous Gainax works3, , and SF in gen­er­al. The ancil­lary mate­r­ial of the fran­chise explains much about Eva. But the over­whelm­ing major­ity of Eva mate­ri­al—in­ter­views, arti­cles, and books, to say noth­ing of the usual mer­chan­dis­e—will never appear in Eng­lish.

Do you see the prob­lem here, fans? The poten­tial for con­flict with WP:RS & WP:V? Are you aware that as pop cul­ture, Eva-re­lated arti­cles are born with death-marks?

But, you say, as an artis­tic land­mark, as a crit­i­cally praised series that earned bil­lion­s—then surely the mass media has cov­ered it ade­quate­ly? If it is such a densely lay­ered work of art, then surely it is cat­nip to acad­e­mia? One smugly con­cludes that if Eva arti­cles labor under death-war­rants, then fans have only them­selves to blame; if they were less lazy and would put in some elbow-grease, they’d have all the sources they could need for a good solid Ency­clo­pe­dic arti­cle!

The sources

Alas edi­tors, this is a fond dream. The main­stream media treat­ment has been shal­low, sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic, and slightly mock­ing (and is surely no use­ful source). The schol­arly treat­ment in the Anglo­phone world has been scanty, and the most promi­nent exam­ples—there is no other way to say this—in­com­pe­tent. And this is when they are even will­ing to pub­lish any­thing at all, some­thing which is ever more doubt­ful as pub­lish­ers aban­don entire areas (like anime and manga non­fic­tion4) to aca­d­e­mic pub­lish­ers (who them­selves will pub­lish lit­tle and have idio­syn­cratic stan­dards of val­ue).

Coping

What is a hap­less fel­low to do? There is tremen­dous knowl­edge in the fan com­mu­ni­ty: dozens of trans­la­tions of cru­cial state­ments and doc­u­ments. Salted away in places like the Eva ML are fas­ci­nat­ing insights like how the char­ac­ter of was orig­i­nally a cat5 Do we qui­etly use them as ref­er­ences? Then we will ever trem­ble that a less fair-minded or prag­matic edi­tor will come along and remove them in one fell swoop.

Secession

Or one could opt out of Wikipedia. This is a painful option; the nuclear option. It involves many costs, and will often not work. Some Eva fans have cho­sen this path, and have started an Evan­ge­lion wiki. They may suc­ceed; they may not. (I wish them well, but Wikipedia is the poorer for it.)

Corruption

The final option is the eas­i­est, most effec­tive, and the most cor­ro­sive of one’s (edit­ing) soul. One falls to the .

The dark side of edit­ing is to cease to edit in good faith. It is to regard edit­ing Wikipedia as a game of , the guide­lines as texts to be cyn­i­cally adhered to and worked around, their spirit utterly dis­re­gard­ed. It is to see ‘reli­able sources’ as palimpsests to be selec­tively quoted and inter­preted as nec­es­sary to ‘cite’ some­thing one knows to be true.

Examples

This may sound too abstract. Isn’t all research selec­tive? Isn’t all quot­ing par­tial and mis­lead­ing? So I shall give 2 exam­ples.

A man of no account by the name of F—- pub­lished a book on Eva. His analy­ses & inter­pre­ta­tions are mis­er­able; his spec­u­la­tion improb­a­ble & unsup­port­ed, and his fac­tual accounts lim­it­ed. Were I edit­ing in good faith, I would make use of some of his dates or fig­ures or chronolo­gies—and aught else. (And I would seek inde­pen­dent sources for even those.)

Selective citing

In acad­e­mia, there is a Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish, Mrs. N—–, who has writ­ten about Eva. Inter­est­ing­ly, another Wikipedia edi­tor objected to my use of her paper. The col­lo­quy explains why she is such a poor source, and gives mul­ti­ple exam­ples of what I mean by dark side edit­ing.

“I have read the full arti­cle in . And I can say with con­vic­tion that it is utter rub­bish. Not to say sim­ply that I dis­agree with the points she makes (which I do) but it’s really just a thin once-over of the series that actu­ally pro­vides none of the in-depth psy­cho­log­i­cal analy­sis you were look­ing for; it’s really a descrip­tion of the series which frankly the cur­rent wik­i-ar­ti­cle for Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion out­per­forms. It’s sim­ply a basic descrip­tion of the series. It’s a very weak arti­cle…in the sense that it has noth­ing to do with the short story”When the Machine Stops" but she tries to shoe­horn it in with that. The first 5 pages are just…fluff. Com­pli­cated fluff. But don’t take my word for it.
Um…in terms of “use­ful quotes”…not much. She does a basic job of not­ing the and the cult.
but much is just basic descrip­tion:

“Con­struct­ing a mythic uni­verse that is almost both in its com­plex mythic vision and in its dizzy­ing array of Chris­t­ian and Judaic reli­gious sym­bols, the series ques­tions the con­struc­tion of human iden­ti­ty, not only in rela­tion to the tech­nol­ogy that the series’ plot and imagery insis­tently priv­i­lege, but also in rela­tion to the nature of real­ity itself. Pro­vid­ing more rid­dles than solu­tions, the series takes the viewer on a jour­ney into both inner and outer real­ity before ulti­mately leav­ing both its char­ac­ters and its audi­ence float­ing in a sea of exis­ten­tial uncer­tainty” (page 424)

“the other strand of the nar­ra­tive is far more com­plex and provoca­tive, as it becomes increas­ingly con­cerned with the prob­lem­atic men­tal and emo­tional states of the main char­ac­ters, all of whom carry deep psy­chic wounds and whose psy­chic tur­moil is rep­re­sented against an increas­ingly fren­zied apoc­a­lyp­tic back­ground in which it becomes clear that the threat from the Angels is matched by the machi­na­tions of var­i­ous humans con­nected with Nerv” (page 435)

N—— barely under­stands the series and while she does seem to have watched the whole thing, she’s try­ing to shoe­horn it into her own paper on exis­ten­tial­ism. My point being, she focuses on all of the Chris­t­ian and Gnos­tic sym­bol­ism, which Anno and other Gainax peo­ple have openly stated was just fluff they put in to look cool and not actu­ally rel­e­vant to the plot. She point-blank says “they never reveal what the Angels are” (we here know the ulti­mately said they’re from Adam as humans are from Lilith, etc.)
She did­n’t under­stand that Rei is Lilith’s soul, so she mis­in­ter­prets Rei’s inter­view in episodes 25 and 26 as being on a lit­eral lev­el.
She seems to think episodes 25 and 26 were seri­ously meant t be the ACTUAL finale, when they were not (though her analy­sis of them isn’t really affected by this).
Most of the time she’s just stat­ing the obvi­ous and things we knew already.
Worst of all….mid-para­graph she jumps from the Alter­nate Real­ity to the end. That is, she goes right from “he’s in this high school sex com­edy happy ver­sion of his nor­mally dis­turb­ing real­ity” to “I am me, I want to live in this world!”….ig­nor­ing that Shinji rejected the Alter­nate Real­ity even within episodes 25 and 26 itself. He goes through sev­eral men­tal shifts between the AR sequence and the final scene: she’s just con­flat­ing all of this togeth­er.
She men­tions in lit­er­ally one sen­tence, in order to instantly dis­re­gard it as “just Anno’s revenge on the fans who did­n’t like the TV end­ing and more of a par­ody of what they were expect­ing; using over the top vio­lence” etc. She utterly dis­re­garded End of Eva; we now know that End of Eva was more or less the orig­i­nally intended end­ing (cell ani­ma­tion and scripts obvi­ously in exis­tence long before, Evan­ge­lion Pro­pos­al’s end­ing while differ­ent from EoE is more like it than the TV end­ing, etc.)6
In short, she sim­ply proved my long held the­o­ry: The Evan­ge­lion TV end­ing was high­-grade pornog­ra­phy for phi­los­o­phy majors, who then took it and cham­pi­oned it as the “real end­ing” and dis­missed End of Eva as trash. In real­i­ty, Evan­ge­lion is a psy­chodrama (she does admit that it has very well devel­oped psy­cho­analy­sis) and End of Evan­ge­lion faith­fully deliv­ers the full mes­sage….the TV end­ing is basi­cally “we don’t have enough money to make the movie….let’s take the Third Impact scenes and show them out of con­text as TV episodes
She does­n’t seem to grasp that “the world of Edenic bliss” offered by Instru­men­tal­ity is explic­itly pre­sented as a BAD thing; there’s no pain but also no joy, and ulti­mately Shinji chooses to live in a world of flawed human beings because of their inher­ent “real­ness”, which is supe­rior to any fan­ta­sy-world he can come up with, no mat­ter how nice.
I think these are the words of a woman so shocked by the vio­lence in End of Eva that she wrote it off instantly as “a par­ody” (LITERALLY one sen­tence) and utterly dis­re­garded it. (for that mat­ter, her works cited says she was using ADV’s “Per­fect” col­lec­tion DVDs and thus she never saw the Direc­tor’s Cut episodes.
13 years on, peo­ple have to let go of the “the TV end­ing is the only end­ing! And End of Eva was an insult! “ ide­ol­o­gy, and embrace that End of Eva was indeed the orig­i­nally intend­ed, “real end­ing”, and the TV end­ing is an ‘’essen­tial sup­ple­ment’’ to End of Eva, essen­tially an extended ver­sion of the Third Impact scenes.
She focuses so much on “wow, there’s a mil­lion pos­si­ble real­i­ties to choose from!”….ig­nor­ing the series’ ulti­mate mes­sage that basi­cally yeah, Shinji can choose a mil­lion differ­ent audio tracks to play on his player and then crawl inside that world, just as otaku crawl into ani­me. But it’s all fake; there are mil­lions of fan­tasy worlds, yes…but only one real world.
In con­clu­sion, N—–’s arti­cle says noth­ing par­tic­u­larly new or orig­i­nal about the series or in-depth. She ignores End of Eva, lit­er­ally men­tion­ing it in once sen­tence, in order to dis­re­gard it. Now, even if you are an ardent sup­porter of the TV end­ing and hate the movie end­ing…..she does­n’t even grasp the TV end­ing that well. She ran­domly skips from the “Alter­nate Real­ity” scene to Shinji say­ing “I deserve to be here!” etc., mix­ing up events even from within the final episodes them­selves. That said, she misses the entire point of Evan­ge­lion (which was made more clear in End of Eva) : yes, there are a mil­lion pos­si­ble fan­ta­sy-world real­i­ties, but they’re not “real” at all; they’re just fan­ta­sy. What made the “Real World” have value was its real-ness. Just as Neo in pre­ferred the harsh real­ity of the Real World (and Cypher could­n’t han­dle it), Shinji real­izes that the flawed real world is more valu­able than any fan­tasy world, sim­ply because of its “real­ness”. (This would seem to be a rejec­tion of exis­ten­tial­ism, actu­al­ly). That’s why he rejects Instru­men­tal­ity at the end. The Point is that I doubt that any of the N—– arti­cle is usable as a source for any­thing Vi Veri Veniver­sum Vivus Vici (talk) 07:33, 2009-01-22 (UTC)

This is a good analy­sis Veni. Way back when, I was only using her arti­cle for refs, but this sounds about right.
But I think you’re miss­ing the point. Ref­er­ence-nazism is ulti­mately a very cyn­i­cal, insult­ing, rules-lawyer­ing point of view. You and I know EoE is not revenge on fans, we know the RCB and Secret Files con­tra­dict many pop­u­lar views, etc. etc. But a ref­er­ence-nazi cares only if the let­ter of the law is fol­lowed; they could­n’t care less about whether some­thing is true or com­mon knowl­edge or any­thing—just whether it has a ref meet­ing RS.
The proper response to such mind­less skep­ti­cism is an equally cyn­i­cal employ­ment of ref­er­ences as need­ed. If I were writ­ing an essay on Eva, I cer­tainly would­n’t use N—— because her level of under­stand­ing is far below even the aver­age poster on eva-mon­keys, say. But if I were writ­ing a WP arti­cle, I cer­tainly would. A pub­lished aca­d­e­mic work, prob­a­bly repub­lished in one of her books… it meets the let­ter (but not the spir­it).
N—— does some basic sum­ma­ry? Very good, then she pro­vides a non-episode ref for some in-u­ni­verse (oh noes!) plot sum­ma­ry.
She dis­misses EoE as a par­o­dy? Very good, then we can intro­duce that as a crit­i­cism of EoE with­out fear of that snide {{who}} tem­plate.
She dis­cusses imag­i­nary worlds? Very good, then we can now add the most basic inter­pre­ta­tion of those episodes with­out being tagged for OR.
She cov­ers Judeochris­t­ian imagery in too much detail, track­ing down allu­sions? Very good, then now we can cite her when she’s right and qui­etly ignore her when she’s wrong.
She speaks in vague review gen­er­al­i­ties about how Eva “takes the viewer on a jour­ney into both inner and outer real­ity before ulti­mately leav­ing both its char­ac­ters and its audi­ence float­ing in a sea of exis­ten­tial uncer­tainty”? Very good, we can quote her on this and per­haps read­ers will take away some under­stand­ing of the mind­fuck-qual­i­ties of Eva.
So you see, V, N—— is just fine for us. From a cer­tain point of view. Gwern (con­tribs) 20:05 2009-01-23 (GMT)

So in short what you’re say­ing is, unfil­tered, that N—— wrote a really bad arti­cle about Evan­ge­lion that obvi­ously does not grasp the series at all and makes sev­eral major errors, but nonethe­less that she at least touches upon sev­eral top­ics means we can quote seg­ments of her writ­ing out of con­text in order to make improve­ments to var­i­ous arti­cles, thus beat­ing the “ref­er­ence-nazis” at their own game?…­Cool. But really I don’t think any of it is incor­po­rat­able, beyond say, that quote I pro­vide above where she’s giv­ing the most basic descrip­tions, like “it’s almost Blakean” etc. Yes, that’s a great idea: chop it up for out of con­text quotes to sup­port stuff while not acknowl­edg­ing that she barely even touched on the series (se­ri­ous­ly, Eva has noth­ing to do with the “When the Machines Stop” short story she cites at the begin­ning, and she spent the whole thing try­ing to fit a round peg into a square hole. Yeah use the quotes if you want, though I really can’t think of any way to sal­vage infor­ma­tion from it. Thank you. Fur­ther­more (this is not directed at you but my gen­eral feel­ings) : THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW ALWAYS SUPERSEDES THE LETTER OF THE LAW –Vi Veri Veniver­sum Vivus Vici (talk) 23:11, 2009-01-26 (UTC)

Yes, that’s basi­cally what I’m say­ing. I agree it’s a bad idea, and min­ing it for quotes is about all that can be done with it. I hope I demon­strated just based on your par­tic­u­lar points that the quotes would do yeo­man’s ser­vice in mul­ti­ple arti­cles.
And I do wish the old spirit of Wikipedia was still around. There was no need for this cyn­i­cal approach back in late ’03 when I first started edit­ing anony­mous­ly. –Gw­ern (con­tribs) 02:11 2009-01-27 (GMT)"

Forbidding useful sources

From Wikipedia talk:­Cen­tral­ized discussion/Television episodes#Is there any actual con­sen­sus for this guide­line at all?:

Big­nole, fan­sites can absolutely be reli­able sources. To take a favorite sub­ject of mine: the Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion arti­cles. This anime fran­chise has made lit­er­ally bil­lions of dol­lars, has dozens of media prop­er­ties (a TV series, ~6 fea­ture length movies, a manga series that has been run­ning for more than a decade, etc. etc.), influ­enced every mecha anime (and not a few non-mecha), made Gainax the major stu­dio it is and so on; all of this has lead to quite a few aca­d­e­mic men­tions of it.

And these “reli­able sources” you vaunt so high­ly, that you con­sider the be-all and end-all of edit­ing—they are crap. They are pedi­greed, peer-re­viewed, pub­lished, “reli­able” & “ver­i­fi­able” crap. They are fac­tu­ally inac­cu­rate, navel-gaz­ing; they are igno­rant of even the most basic sec­ondary lit­er­a­ture and Eva para­pher­na­lia, much less the later ancil­lary mate­ri­al—and that’s when they are not qui­etly crib­bing bizarre and fan­ci­ful inter­pre­ta­tions from equally clue­less sources like the Amer­i­can DVD com­men­taries. The most igno­rant poster at a fan­site like Eva­mon­key.­com knows more about what Eva actu­ally means, about what Anno (the direc­tor) has actu­ally said and writ­ten about, about its devel­op­ment and role in anime his­to­ry, than any reli­able source I have yet found.7

Want some Anno inter­views trans­lated into Eng­lish? I’m afraid you’ll have to quote a fanzine like , which got the arti­cle from, yes, a fan. Want a solid trans­la­tion of the Red Cross Book? Sup­plied by an pseu­do­ny­mous fan on a fan­site. Inter­ested in the early con­cep­tions of the plot and char­ac­ters? Dit­to. Did you find some use­ful sources and infor­ma­tion in the back of the Eng­lish manga edi­tions? Oh, too bad—that author, he’s that ever so despised word, a fan, an ama­teur. To write good arti­cles on Eva prac­ti­cally demands that one ignore the strict let­ter of the guide­lines and poli­cies which are oh so per­fect.

You and your ilk fetishize nota­bil­i­ty, you fetishize printed sources. You raise up a god of process and bow down to it, burn­ing use­ful good stuff as a holo­caust with pleas­ing smell to it. You dare talk about qual­i­ty? You guys don’t have the slight­est clue what qual­ity is. All you can per­ceive are the trap­pings that some­times go with it. –Gw­ern (con­tribs) 04:16 2007-12-21 (GMT)

Clarification

I feel I should empha­size that dark side edit­ing is not the same thing as just bad edit­ing, or trolling, or van­dal­iz­ing. The arti­cles are bet­ter off for hav­ing impor­tant infor­ma­tion in them at all, even if the ref­er­ence is shod­dy. There is a ref­er­ence for them—no one is mak­ing them up. It isn’t the same as if we took this poem by and actu­ally edited his arti­cle to say he’s only 40 and was born in what­ever year; as obvi­ously the arti­cle would be worse off for it8.

It’s pos­si­ble that using bad ref­er­ences could inspire other peo­ple to use them, and thereby make the arti­cle worse, but this isn’t much of a con­cern: it’s very rare for edi­tors to track down ref­er­ences and reuse them fur­ther—it’s rare enough for them to just check exist­ing ref­er­ences. (The edit­ing cul­ture is trust­ing that way.) And besides, while I no longer edit as much as I used to, I still review my watch­list and can catch the odd edit by that unusual class of edi­tor which is dili­gent enough to be mis­led by dark edits but not knowl­edge­able enough to know the true facts.

It’s more that we know bet­ter, but we act dumb to cope with an even dumber cul­ture & set of guide­lines. It is the pre­tense that wea­ries.

The cost

As in Star Wars, the dark side always offers power quick and easy. The cost is one’s self­-re­spect. I sigh every time I make a dark side edit, I wish I could just edit the way we used to. But I see no way to write good Eva arti­cles, which are in accord with guide­li­nes, and to do so in good faith. The Wikipedia cul­ture has shifted and forced this trilemma on us. And how I hate it!


  1. One of the stan­dard inter­pre­ta­tions, sup­ported by state­ments from the direc­tor Hideaki Anno and oth­ers who worked on Eva, is that Eva diag­noses otaku­dom as patho­log­i­cal, and attempts to cure its char­ac­ters. A full treat­ment of Eva’s mean­ing is beyond a mere foot­note’s scope, but this quote from episode 16 will have to suffice:

    “We can­not weave our lives only out of things we like…”

    ↩︎
  2. See for exam­ple EvaGeek­s’s incom­plete list.↩︎

  3. The pro­tag­o­nist char­ac­ter design is based directly on a pre­vi­ous ; an obser­va­tion amus­ing to those famil­iar with both char­ac­ters.↩︎

  4. Brian Ruh, author of the only good book in Eng­lish on anime auteur , writes in one review about pub­lish­ing trends in anime crit­i­cism:

    "I’m going to be exam­in­ing a non­fic­tion book about Japan­ese ghosts – Patrick Drazen’s A Gath­er­ing of Spir­its: Japan’s Ghost Story Tra­di­tion: From Folk­lore and Kabuki to Anime and Manga, which was recently self­-pub­lished through the ser­vice. This is Drazen’s sec­ond book; the first one, Anime Explo­sion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion, came out in 2002 from Stone Bridge Press and was an intro­duc­tion to many of the gen­res and themes that can be found in ani­me.

    I think the switch from a com­mer­cial press to self­-pub­li­ca­tion may indi­cate the direc­tion Eng­lish-lan­guage anime and manga schol­ar­ship may be head­ing in. A few years ago, when Japan­ese pop­u­lar cul­ture seemed like the Next Big Thing, there were more pub­lish­ers that seemed like they were will­ing to take a chance on books about anime and man­ga.

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as I know first­hand (and as I’ve heard from other authors, con­firm­ing that it’s not just me) these books did­n’t sell nearly as well as any­one was hop­ing, which in turn meant that these pub­lish­ers did­n’t want to take risks with addi­tional books along these lines. After all, all pub­lish­ers need to make money in one way or another to stay afloat. In the last few years, the major­ity of books on anime and manga have been pub­lished by uni­ver­sity press­es, per­haps most notably the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Press.

    …How­ev­er, this puts books like Drazen’s in an odd predica­ment. It’s not really an aca­d­e­mic book, since it lacks the ref­er­ences and the­o­ries some­thing like that would entail, which means it’s not a good can­di­date for a uni­ver­sity press. How­ev­er, since few pop­u­lar presses have seen their books on anime and manga reflect pos­i­tively on their bot­tom lines, there aren’t many other options these days other than self­-pub­lish­ing. Of course, these days pub­lish­ing a book on your own does­n’t have nearly the same con­no­ta­tions it did decades ago, when van­ity presses were the domain of those with more money (and ego) than sense. These days you can self­-pub­lish a qual­ity pro­duct, get it up on Ama­zon for all to see, and (if you’re savvy about these things) per­haps even make a tidy profit."

    ↩︎
  5. Note the prove­nance of this trans­la­tion. This is an archived backup of an email sent to the list, con­tain­ing a for­warded mes­sage from an anony­mous per­son, who trans­lated an obscure Eva book. There may be fur­ther links in the chain. None of these peo­ple are cre­den­tialed in any way. Yet now we know why Kaworu smiles and has eyes like a cat.↩︎

  6. The old idea that End of Evan­ge­lion is a revenge by Anno on ungrate­ful fans was largely inspired by an incom­plete under­stand­ing of the movie. The movie had sev­eral pho­to-mon­tages (not ani­ma­tion) con­sist­ing of let­ters sent to Gainax. Two or three of them are inter­pretable as death threats, but most are pos­i­tive. See the Evageeks trans­la­tion page.↩︎

  7. As of Feb­ru­ary 2013, I should amend this: there are 2 peer-re­viewed works which add gen­uine insight to Evan­ge­lion:

    1. , Heike Hoffer 2012 (mas­ter’s the­sis; my summary/review). Hoffer thor­oughly ana­lyzes Sag­isu’s music com­po­si­tions and insight­fully explains the use of motifs.
    2. “Break­ing Bina­ries: Trans­gress­ing Sex­u­al­i­ties in Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion”, Gibbs 2012 (PhD the­sis; my summary/review). One of the most rea­son­able dis­cus­sions of the var­i­ous char­ac­ters, even if I dis­agree with her Freudian frame­work.
    ↩︎
  8. Though it would be a rather amus­ing point to make about WP:V and WP:RS.↩︎