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How Neutral Can Kazakh-Language Wikipedians Be?

from the telling-it-as-it-is dept

Although there has been some sniping about the quality of Wikipedia's entries from time to time, we generally take it for granted that when key articles are missing they will get written, and that if they are unbalanced, they will gradually get better -- all thanks to the open, collaborative editing process that sorts out such problems. But an interesting post on registan.net notes that these dynamics may not apply to some versions of Wikipedia -- for example, the one written in the Kazakh language:

I also find the idea that thousands of diligent volunteer Kazakh Wikipedians are hard at work writing up an unbiased encyclopedia of the world and of their country [hard to believe]. The incentives for it are all wrong. The rewards for glowing diatribes on [Kazakhstan's President] Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan are clear, but the risks involved in challenging that narrative are equally so.
It's an important point. Wikipedia may request a "neutral point of view" from all its contributors, but when the consequences of telling the unvarnished truth are rather less pleasant than embellishing the facts a little, we can hardly blame people in countries like Kazakhstan for straying from the Wikipedian ideal.

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  1.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 1:20am

    That's a fairly obvious point really. Wikipedia's model depends both on numbers and freedom of speech. There needs to be a large number of people looking at the articles to spot errors, as well as a large number of those willing or able to edit them. Where the numbers are much smaller and the ability/willingness to correct falsehoods compromised, it will retain a higher level of bias.

    It's still probably less biased and more useful than any state sponsored encyclopaedia would be (especially in printed form), but it's a problem.

     

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  2.  
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    Loki, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 2:13am

    A certain bias is not the least bit unexpected, given several factors:

    1) A large percentage of people ever travel far from the region of birth (generally state/province level much less nation of origin) for an prolonged period of time so rarely have much first hand experience in how good or bad things are by comparison (and understanding something conceptually is vastly different from understanding them experientially).

    2)Few people ever really take the time to observe the seamier underbellies of the region the inhabit, much less regions outside their own, unless/until that underbelly somehow affects them directly.

    3)Those most familiar with the darker parts of their region/culture are often they least able to inform others about the dangers.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 3:00am

    Why would anyone want "unvarnished truth" when the "varnished" one is so much shinier?

     

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  4.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 3:17am

    It's an issue that must affect other localized Wikipedia parts. I'm pretty much with PaulT here, it relies on numbers and freedom of speech so probably Kazakh-language can't be neutral.

     

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  5.  
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    ioconnor, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 4:10am

    Obviously the president of said country needs to employee a staff of writers to give his side of the story. Some few of that staff can then become censors (editors) and block the opposing (popular) views and establish at a grass roots level what is popular. When they become adept at this process then they will become truly democratic and we can then watch the head of that said dept report their miraculous progress on C-Span.

     

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  6.  
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    Dionaea (profile), Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 4:36am

    Re:

    You can add to those and the points in the article a language barrier to getting edits done by foreigners. This isn't a big problem in languages which are common, like English, French, German, Chinese, Spanish etc. I've edited some stuff in the English and Dutch wikis, and would probably manage doing French and German if I ever came across blatant errors. But I for one have no idea what language is spoken in Kazakhstan and I most certainly don't speak it. This means that even if foreigners out of reach of penalties do know what's going on, they still won't know the article is wrong or be able to correct it. You can't edit articles you can't read.

     

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  7.  
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    Michael, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 5:00am

    This isn't all that new

    I also find the idea that thousands of diligent employees at the Kazakh National Encyclopedia are hard at work writing up an unbiased encyclopedia of the world and of their country [hard to believe]. The incentives for it are all wrong. The rewards for glowing diatribes on [Kazakhstan's President] Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan are clear, but the risks involved in challenging that narrative are equally so

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 5:26am

    And people say oral tradition is out of fashion :)

     

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    Gregory Kohs (profile), Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 9:16am

    It's not just not neutral, it's being helped along by Jimmy Wales

    Readers who care even two whits about what is happening in Kazakhstan might be interested to learn about all of the back-deals that are going on to whitewash the actual history of how the Kazakh government regime has taken over the Kazakh-language Wikipedia. And all with the moral and financial support of Jimmy Wales and his Wikimedia Foundation: http://wikipediocracy.com/wiki/index.php?title=Timeline_of_Kazakhstan_Wikipedia_events

     

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  10.  
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    Peter Cohen, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 9:20am

    Re:

    The Kazakh-language Wikipedia is almost exactly as biased as the state-sponsored one as the state has generously donated the content of the Kazakh National Encyclopedia to Wikipedia and this constitutes the vast majority of the Kazakh-language Wikipedia.

     

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    PRMan, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 9:56am

    Re:

    Wikipedia doesn't show neutrality at all. It shows what the majority of self-selected experts on a topic believe to be true, while typically removing minority theories on given topics that would further discussion and learning, even if those minority theories later turn out to be true.

    As long as you use Wikipedia with the understanding that it is a popularity contest of current knowledge, you'll be fine.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 5th, 2013 @ 4:25pm

    What?!

    No Borat references????

     

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  13.  
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    Jack A (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Re:

    Wikipedia values accuracy but requires verifiability. If there is a lack of reliable source on an issue, then that issue will not be included.

    The truthfulness of a Wikipedia article will converge to the truth only to the extent that the editors' societies allow the truth to be accurately reported.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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