What I didn’t find on Wikipedia today.

by Harry on February 25, 2008

I didn’t find entries on Sir Alec Clegg (a brief mention here), the late Gordon Hainsworth, Sir Peter Newsam, or my dad. (Clegg was only one of the heroes of my childhood home — I am glad to see that the other has a nice long entry). There is, indeed, an entry on Otto Clarke but his entry is far, far, shorter and less informative than the entry on his considerably less accomplished son. (My dad’s non-entry is infinitely shorter than the one for his considerably less accomplished son, which JQ nicely salvaged from my daughter’s attempted sabotage).

I’m not really criticising the wikipedians, but the lacunae do show up a problem, which is that there will be a tendency for people whose accomplishments, however considerable, precede wikipedia’s birth to be much less well documented than those whose accomplishments, however minor, postdate its birth. Any more names of the missing?



tom s. 02.25.08 at 7:37 pm

Harry Pilling’s entry is very short. But perhaps that’s appropriate despite his achievements. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Pilling)


lindsey 02.25.08 at 7:58 pm

he is well known for alway wearing a jacket and having a toothbrush hanging out of his pocket.

That made my day.


Tom Parmenter 02.25.08 at 8:04 pm

Well, write the articles!

Next problem?


Dan Simon 02.25.08 at 8:26 pm

Any more names of the missing?

Mine. And my dad’s. Heck, my whole family’s entryless. What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know the Internet is for egosurfing?


John Emerson 02.25.08 at 8:34 pm

I was looking for Wikis for Adam Kotsko and John Holbo, but no such luck. I was talked out of writing the entries myself by someone with privacy and accuracy concerns. Adam and John might consider arranging for preemptive Wikis for themselves. I’ve been warded off, but who knows how many other biographeering wackos there are out here? It’s a jungle, man.


harry b 02.25.08 at 8:36 pm

Dan — yes, that was sort of the point (about my entry, not my dad’s, who unlike me and, I presume, you has actually done things that are worth noting).


bob 02.25.08 at 8:53 pm

didn’t know that about charles clarke


Dan Simon 02.25.08 at 9:06 pm

Harry–I guess those last two words sum it all up. On Wikipedia, as in many other places, “worth noting” is synonymous with, “successful at acquiring a fan base”. By that definition, then, your accomplishments here on this blog far outweigh your dad’s, just as those of a third-rate ballplayer with a brief stint in the major leagues, or an obscure actor who accidentally landed a bit part in a cult film, or the perpetrator of a tabloid-worthily lurid crime, far outweigh those of even the most high-achieving scientists and engineers in unglamorous/non-technogeeky fields, not to mention highly successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs, locally important politicians, and of course high-ranking civil servants.

Perhaps if your dad had gotten involved in a scandal or something…


harry b 02.25.08 at 9:20 pm

Point taken Dan. BUT!, as I’m sure someone will point out, he was (well, sort of), but it predated wikipedia!


harry b 02.25.08 at 9:26 pm

Tom — yes, I’ve thought of that and at some point I’ll write the one on Clegg (if no-one else does) and perhaps beef up the Otto Clarke entry. But I can’t rebalance the whole bloody thing — I guess I’m asking other people to consider the balance (and, I guess, to internalise the criticism implicit in Dan Simon’s comments).


victor falk 02.25.08 at 9:35 pm


jacob 02.25.08 at 10:34 pm

I’m struck by the lack of an article on Joe Rauh, an important Cold War liberal Democrat.


Matthew Kuzma 02.25.08 at 11:54 pm

You do realize that, rather than writing about the lack of an entry on your father, you could make an entry about your father, right?


Righteous Bubba 02.25.08 at 11:58 pm

Skeletor: more important than all y’all.


harry b 02.26.08 at 12:08 am

matthew — too weird, no?


John Emerson 02.26.08 at 2:56 am

Are Kotsko and Holbo immediate, recent, or eventual? They themselves are the very persons best equipped to answer these questions!


Justin 02.26.08 at 2:59 am

I blame old people for not contributing. Us younguns can’t make sure that wikipedia deals with ancient history.

@john emerson: if you’re not an established wikipedian, the best option is to irresponsibly start an entry, privacy and accuracy concerns be damned (most articles start out stupid). It might be deleted, but if not, you get two glorious options: 1)continuing hilarious (or possibly slanderous) inaccuracy, or 2)someone actually cleans it up.


vivian 02.26.08 at 3:16 am

Or you could get your dad to join a blog. Maybe he could give occasional video comments if he won’t type? Or maybe he could find someone to transcribe remarks. If all the (nonrelated) people who know about his work are teachers, well, they’ll never have time to deal with wikipedia. He needs some slacker-fans like you have :)


John Quiggin 02.26.08 at 3:59 am

The problem is more with the Internets in general than with Wikipedia. Alec Clegg isn’t in the top 100 hits on a Google search for “Clegg”, and “Alec Clegg” has only about 1000 hits in total, out of 3 million for Clegg.

Since Wikipedians typically use Google as a primary research tool, people who died before the rise of the Web, but too recently to appear in public domain texts, tend to be under-represented.


John Quiggin 02.26.08 at 4:28 am

I’ve undermined your post by creating a stub entry for your dad. There’s a nice piece about him in the Guardian, which others could use to expand the article. I’ve linked it.


Melissa 02.26.08 at 5:13 am

A useful post. I followed the links for Gregg and came to Bretton Hall, whose grounds I know well.

For twenty years, I have been visiting Wakefield and the Sculpture Park is always part of our activities (often on Boxing Day). It is wonderful to get a feel of individual scuptors and schools, and invention from seeing so much in one place. I think it helped developed my eye (if that doesn’t sound pretentious).

If you are near Leeds, arrange for 3 hours out to visit Bretton Hall. It offers stimulation and serenity. Let’s hope Wakefield council can maintain the high standard.


Praisegod Barebones 02.26.08 at 8:59 am

I’m part of Tim Brighouse’s fanbase.

In case Dan Simon hasn’t got round to using the Google, and since Harry’s being a bit coy, the ‘scandal’ was that when he was Chief Education Officer for the British County of Oxfordshire, he sued the then Education secretary John Patten for saying of him in a speech to the Conservative party conference that education in Britain would always have problems ‘as long as we have nutters like Tim Brighouse hanging around and frightening the kids'(or words to that effect. But I’m fairly sure that the use of the word ‘nutter’ turned out to be legally significant). He won.

This will now no doubt derail the thread into a discussion of the American First Amendment vs British libel laws. Which is probably why Harry was being coy, on reflection. I on the other hand am teaching a course on ‘On Liberty’ this afternoon, and will find it useful preparation.


Praisegod Barebones 02.26.08 at 12:00 pm

Getting to Bretton Hall by public transport can be a bit of a challenge, if I recall.

(Not from where I am now – though that would indeed be tough – but also from many parts of Leeds)


Martin Wisse 02.26.08 at 12:24 pm

I’m a Wikipedian myself, but it always annoys the fuck out of me when somebody finds a real problem with it and is than answered in the vein of #3 and #13. Especially when, as is the case here, the problem is far bigger than any single contributor can fix.

That said, the problem Harry signals is not unique to Wikipedia, but is a general internet problem. I’ve myself noticed it when looking for book reviews; reviews of books published before the mid-nineties are much rarer, especially when these are not books that have stayed in print.

With Wikipedia, the tendency is often to look for verification and noticability soley online, which again handicaps those people whose achievements happened before hand and are not so wellknown as to have a following online.


mijnheer 02.26.08 at 7:25 pm

I’m in a similar position. I’m in Wikipedia despite having only very minor academic accomplishments, while my father, who was a fairly influential academic and led a remarkable life, is omitted.


John 02.26.08 at 8:33 pm

One thing I’ve noticed is that the wikipedia articles on the 2004 presidential election, for instance, are astonishingly detailed, giving every detail you could possibly want.

The articles on the 1984 election don’t even give you more than the most basic summary of the primary campaign, basically stuff I knew already.


John Quiggin 02.26.08 at 9:49 pm

Martin is right about the “just write it” response, but it’s fair to remind everyone that this is a work in progress. For a topic like elections, it makes sense to start with the recent past and work backwards.

For biography, it would be great if we could get some of the standard reference works (many of which were publicly funded) into the public domain. Their value would be greatly enhanced if the content was in Wikipedia, with the associated cross-referencing and so on.


Tom Parmenter 02.27.08 at 4:33 pm

Look, just write it. Signed, response #3.

You alone can’t solve the problems with Wikipedia any more than you alone can solve the problems of, say, American sugar policy. However, when I saw that Wikipedia had no article on Shifty Henry (name-checked in Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock”), I solved the problem of no Shifty Henry entry.

On the other hand, after 6000 or so contributions, many of them now labelled unsubstantiated, or eviscerated and deracinated by subsequent contributors, etc., my Wikipedia problem is that I just don’t have the stomach for it any more, much more fun in pioneer times, etc. . . .


Tom Parmenter 02.27.08 at 4:36 pm

Somehow I linked to the CT article, and not to the Shifty Henry entry in Wikipedia:



Dhez 02.29.08 at 12:09 pm

The problem is, if a wikipedian decides he hasn’t read it or heard it on TV then they’ll automatically delete, who wants to bet that when you do create articles on all those individuals some ignorant wikipedian will call for a snap deletion based on non-notable because they couldn’t find anything on one google search (because that is the type of brilliant, indepth research conducted by a lot of wikipedians who go around deleting articles).

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