Wikipedia:WikiProject Countering systemic bias

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WikiProject Countering systemic bias
CategoryWikiProject Countering systemic bias
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The Wikipedia project contains several types of WP:NPOV violations that arise from systemic bias in the demographics of the editor community.[1] Encyclopedic coverage is imbalanced and often omits points of view from under-represented demographic groups. Systemic bias on Wikpedia may take the form of gender, geographical, racial, ideological and other forms of bias.

See § Further reading for studies, statistics, and more information that demonstrate contributor or subject imbalances.


  1. Eliminate the gaps caused by the systemic bias in editors' cultural perspective, consciously focusing upon subjects and points of view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole.
  2. Improve the editing community's understanding of the systemic bias in Wikipedia by reviewing existing scholarship and ensuring that recent studies about Wikipedia's systemic bias are included as sources in various articles about Wikipedia itself. Ensure that sections about systemic bias in these articles are clear, complete, and concise.


The first goal is extremely broad, as under-represented POVs may affect almost any article. It may be effective to prioritise WP:Featured articles, WP:Good articles, and WP:Vital articles. The second goal is limited to articles about Wikipedia itself.

Systemic bias in coverage and selection of articles[edit]

Research consistently finds systemic bias in Wikipedia's selection of articles in its various language editions.[2][1] This bias leads, without necessarily any conscious intention, to the propagation of various prejudices and omission of important information. Although many newspaper articles have concentrated on minor factual errors in Wikipedia articles, there are also concerns about large-scale, presumably unintentional effects from the increasing influence and use of Wikipedia as a research tool at all levels. In an article in the Times Higher Education magazine (London) philosopher Martin Cohen frames Wikipedia of having "become a monopoly" with "all the prejudices and ignorance of its creators", which he describes as a "youthful cab-driver's" perspective.[3] Cohen's argument, however, finds a grave conclusion in these circumstances: "To control the reference sources that people use is to control the way people comprehend the world. Wikipedia may have a benign, even trivial face, but underneath may lie a more sinister and subtle threat to freedom of thought."[3] That freedom is undermined by what he sees as what matters on Wikipedia, "not your sources but the 'support of the community'."[3]

Critics also point to the tendency to cover topics in a detail disproportionate to their importance. For example, Stephen Colbert once mockingly praised Wikipedia for having a "longer entry on 'lightsabers' than it does on the 'printing press'".[4] In an interview with The Guardian, Dale Hoiberg, the editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica, noted:

People write on things they're interested in, and so many subjects don't get covered; and news events get covered in great detail. In the past, the entry on Hurricane Frances was more than five times the length of that on Chinese art, and the entry on Coronation Street was twice as long as the article on Tony Blair.[5]

This critical approach has been satirised "Wikigroaning", a term coined by Jon Hendren[6] of the website Something Awful.[7] He suggests a game where two articles (preferably with similar names) are compared: one about an acknowledged serious or classical subject and the other about a topic popular or current.[clarification needed][8] Defenders of a broad inclusion criteria have held that the encyclopedia's coverage of pop culture does not impose space constraints on the coverage of more serious subjects (see "Wiki is not paper"). As Ivor Tossell noted:

That Wikipedia is chock full of useless arcana (and did you know, by the way, that the article on "Debate" is shorter than the piece that weighs the relative merits of the 1978 and 2003 versions of Battlestar Galactica?) isn't a knock against it: Since it can grow infinitely, the silly articles aren't depriving the serious ones of space.[9]

The 22 October 2013 essay by Tom Simonite in MIT's Technology Review titled "The Decline of Wikipedia"[10] discussed the effect of systemic bias and policy creep on recent downward trends in the number of editors available to support Wikipedia's range and coverage of topics.

Selection based on notability of article topics[edit]

Wikipedia's notability guidelines, and the application thereof, are the subject of much criticism.[11] Nicholson Baker considers the notability standards arbitrary and essentially unsolvable:[12]

There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.

Criticizing the "deletionists", Nicholson Baker then writes:[11]

Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come. [...] It's harder to improve something that's already written, or to write something altogether new, especially now that so many of the World Book–sanctioned encyclopedic fruits are long plucked. There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples' work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard "Engrish." They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.

Yet another criticism[13] about the deletionists is this: "The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth – all are hallmarks of the deletionists approach."

Selection based on gender bias[edit]

Wikipedia has a longstanding controversy concerning gender bias and sexism.[14][15][16][17][18][19] Wikipedia has been criticized[14] by some journalists and academics for lacking not only female contributors but also extensive and in-depth encyclopedic attention to many topics regarding gender. An article in The New York Times cites a Wikimedia Foundation study which found that fewer than 13% of contributors to Wikipedia were women. Sue Gardner, then the executive director of the foundation, said increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be". Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd", and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists".[15]

Selection based on racial bias[edit]

A challenge for editors trying to add Black history articles to Wikipedia is the requirement that potential article topics, such as historical individuals or events, meet Wikipedia's "notability" criteria.[20] Sara Boboltz of HuffPost wrote that the Wikipedia notability criteria "is a troubling problem for those fighting for more content about women and minorities", because "there's simply less [published] documentation on many accomplished women and minorities throughout history – they were often ignored, after all, or forced to make their contributions as someone else's assistant."[20]

Maher stated that one issue is that "content on Wikipedia has to be backed up by secondary sources, sources that she says throughout history have contained a bias toward white men;" "people of color have not been represented in mainstream knowledge creation or inclusion in that knowledge," as "encyclopedias of old were mostly written by European men."[21]

Although these assume bias, but the presence of white nationalists and other far-right extremists on Wikipedia is an ongoing problem that is unlikely to go away in the near future given the rightward political shift in countries where the majority of the site’s users live."[22] The SPLC cited the article Race and intelligence as an example of the alt-right influence on Wikipedia, stating that at that time the article presented a "false balance" between fringe racialist views and the "mainstream perspective in psychology."[22]

Task forces[edit]

Some task forces that focus on particular aspects of systemic bias are linked below:


There are many things you may do, listed roughly from least to most intensive:

  • Sign up as a participant and mention any interests you may have related to "Countering systemic bias" (CSB).
  • Add the Open Tasks box ({{WikiProjectCSBTasks}}) to your User or User talk page to let other people know about the issue.
  • Read news articles in as many languages as you know, from as many news sources as you can find, from as many political view points as you can find (especially those that you would normally not read) when examining a topical or recent event or editing an existing article related to a particular subject.
  • Don't overlook the official news outlets of a country. Certainly they will be more one sided than Wikipedians may like, but they may provide a different way of thinking about an article. They may also be useful as a primary source of information about why the government of that particular country has its opinion on a subject and why it acts the way it does. The readers of Wikipedia could benefit from this, regardless of whether they agree with that view or not (if they don't, they may use it to find errors in its logic or thinking). For example, official news outlets may be useful indicators of how Mainland China thinks about Tibet or Taiwan. Secondly, they may provide relevant non-controversial information about the country or its leaders which could help in improving the article on that topic, for instance, date and place of birth, occupation of leaders, cultural heritage of, links to and other tidbits which may not be available elsewhere.
  • See if there are web pages on a particular subject which were written by people from other countries or cultures. It may provide you other places to look or other points of view to consider.
  • Be more conscious of your own biases in the course of normal editing. Look at the articles you work on usually and think about whether they are written from an international perspective. If not, you might be able to learn a lot about a subject you thought you knew by adding content with a different perspective.
  • Occasionally edit a subject that is systemically biased against the pages of your natural interests. The net effect of consciously changing one out of every twenty of your edits to something outside your "comfort zone" would be substantial.
  • Create or edit one of the articles listed on the CSB template.
  • If you don't particularly like any of the subjects on the template, our open tasks list has a wide array of articles in need of attention.
  • Add to the open tasks list. No one person can fix a system-wide problem, so be sure to tell people when you find needy articles.
  • Rotate articles from the open tasks list to the template, and other helpful tidying tasks.
  • Check articles to see if they still need work, and if they've been improved move them to the right section or leave a note.
  • Give feedback on this WikiProject on the talk page.
  • If you're multilingual, add information from Wikipedia articles in other languages to their English Wikipedia counterparts.
  • Contribute to articles on under-represented topics that you are familiar with.
  • Be careful not to worsen the bias with your deletion nominations. If you are not familiar with a subject area, or it has meaning outside your experience base, discuss your concerns on the talk page or another appropriate forum before making an AfD nomination.
  • Change the demographic of Wikipedia. Encourage friends and acquaintances that you know have interests that are not well-represented on Wikipedia to edit. If you are at high school or university, contact a professor in minority, women's, or critical studies, explain the problem, and ask if they would be willing to encourage students to write for Wikipedia. Contact minority or immigrant organizations in your area to see if they would be interested in encouraging their members to contribute. The worst they could say is, "No". But keep in mind that immigrant organizations may well have a different point of view than the majority of people in the countries they emigrated from (their members may, for example, be members of a minority themselves or may have emigrated because of a disagreement with the government not shared by the majority of the population), which introduces its own systemic bias.

Related WikiProjects and regional noticeboards[edit]

There are several WikiProjects and regional notice boards that have potential to help out in our efforts. We may also eventually want to create new WikiProjects as part of this effort.

See also:


Latin America or the Caribbean[edit]




Other projects[edit]

Related cleanup templates[edit]

The template {{globalize}} may be placed to produce

The template {{overcoverage}} may be placed to produce

The template {{toofewopinions}} may be placed to produce

The template {{religion primary}} may be placed to produce

The template {{recentism}} may be placed to produce

When these templates are used they should be accompanied by a brief note on the talk page to outline what exactly you feel needs to be addressed.


Please add your name to the members page.

We of course encourage all members of WikiProject Countering systemic bias, to also promote their membership to other Wikipedians, by adding the Userbox template to their personal user page. This is fast and easy to do. You only need to add this line at your user page: {{User WikiProject Countering systemic bias}}, and then you will find this wonderful blue userbox displayed:

If you have specific interests relating to countering systemic bias, feel free to briefly describe them there or on this Wikiproject's talk page so we can get a sense of the strengths of the project.


  1. ^ a b Hube, Christoph (2017-04-03). "Bias in Wikipedia". Proceedings of the 26th International Conference on World Wide Web Companion. WWW '17 Companion. Republic and Canton of Geneva, CHE: International World Wide Web Conferences Steering Committee: 717–721. doi:10.1145/3041021.3053375. ISBN 978-1-4503-4914-7.
  2. ^ Livingstone, Randall M. (2010-11-23). "Let's Leave the Bias to the Mainstream Media: A Wikipedia Community Fighting for Information Neutrality". M/C Journal. 13 (6). doi:10.5204/mcj.315. ISSN 1441-2616.
  3. ^ a b c Cohen, Martin. "Encyclopaedia Idiotica". Times Higher Education (28 August 2008): 26.
  4. ^ Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, episode 3109, August 21, 2007.
  5. ^ Simon Waldman (October 26, 2004). "Who Knows?". Technology. The Guardian. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  6. ^ Brophy-Warren, Jamin. "Oh, that John Locke". The Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2007): P3.
  7. ^ Hendren, Johnny "DocEvil" (2007-06-05). "The Art of Wikigroaning". Something Awful. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  8. ^ Brown, Andrew (2007-06-14). "No amount of collaboration will make the sun orbit the Earth". The Guardian. London (June 14, 2007). Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  9. ^ Ivor Tossell (2007-06-15). "Duality of Wikipedia". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2007-06-20.
  10. ^ Simonite, Tom. "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  11. ^ a b J.P. Kirby (October 20, 2007). The Problem with Wikipedia. J.P.'s Random Ramblings.
  12. ^ Volume 55, Nicholson Baker (March 20, 2008) The Charms of Wikipedia – The New York Review of Books Vol. 55, Number 4.
  13. ^ Bobbie Johnson, Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
  14. ^ a b Cassell, Justine (February 4, 2011). "Editing Wars Behind the Scenes". New York Times.
  15. ^ a b Noam Cohen, "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List," The New York Times. Found at The New York Times, January 31, 2011.
  16. ^ "Wikipedia's Women Problem". 2013-04-29. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  17. ^ Wikipedia's Sexism Toward Women Novelists
  18. ^ Dunn, Gaby (2013-05-01). "Does Sexism Lurk?". Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  19. ^ Zandt, Deanna. "Yes, Wikipedia is Sexist". Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  20. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference huffpo-15apr2015 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  21. ^ Cite error: The named reference Wired was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  22. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference SPLC was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]