New Book Identifies Most Controversial Wikipedia Topics

Enid Burns for – Your Universe Online

Warning, this article may be heavily edited. The preview of a new book reveals the top ten topics that spark “edit wars” on Wikipedia.

“The most controversial topics on Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographic analysis,” written by Taha Yasseri, Anselm Spoerri, Mark Graham and Janos Kertesz; posted a draft chapter of a book that is to be published next year by Scarecrow Press.

The forthcoming book was written by a team of researchers from Oxford University, Gizmodo reported.

BBC reported that three other institutions were involved in the research and writing of the book. The book looks into the most controversial topics that spur “edit wars” in ten different language versions of Wikipedia. In each language the authors visualize and analyze the similarities and differences that each language produces for hot-button topics.

The book preview teases with the top ten topics in English, German, French, Spanish, Persian, Czech, Hungarian, Arabic, Romanian and Hebrew. The top ten topics for spawning “edit wars” on Wikipedia for the English language are:

1. George W. Bush

2. Anarchism

3. Muhammad

4. LWWEe

5. Global warming

6. Circumcision

7. United States

8. Jesus

9. Race and intelligence

10. Christianity

Topics that remain heated across multiple language versions of Wikipedia include Muhammad, Jesus, September 11 and 9/11 conspiracy theories, Islam, and other forms of religion.

Wikipedia is a citizen record of iconic and notable events, people, figures and topics. Each record on Wikipedia is contributed on a voluntary basis, and is subject to editing by other contributors. Wikipedia estimates that it has 770,000 contributors working on over 22 million articles in 285 languages, according to MIT Technology Review.

The ability to contribute, then edit, raises some controversy and calls into question the integrity of Wikipedia as a source for research.

“So it’s not surprising that disputes arise over the wording of these articles. Indeed, the controversy can sometimes reach war-like proportions with one editor changing the wording and another immediately changing it back again,” said the Technology Review article.

The book poses an interesting look into the Wikipedia workings set against a cultural backdrop.

“The result is a fascinating insight into the way conflicts emerge in different languages and how they are resolved. Yasseri and co also reveal the controversies that are common across language groups and how they vary around the world,” the Technology Review article said.

The book will delve deeper into the editing patterns in each of the Wikipedia language versions, and how they vary.

“Further research is planned to log how controversial topics change over time,” BBC News reported.

“These guys begin by defining what they mean by a controversy. In Wikipedia, the editorial history of every article is easily accessible but the number of changes is by no means a measure of controversy; it may simply indicate a rapidly changing topic,” the Technology Review article said.

“Pages that get updated a lot might just be about a rapidly changing field or topic, they said. By contrast, a topic page in which words and phrases are constantly removed and reinstated gave an insight into the depth of feeling it evoked among contributors,” The BBC News article said.

The public who contribute to and regularly refer to Wikipedia will likely find the academic look the book gives to Wikipedia interesting. The challenge will be that the book will remain in control of the authors, and won’t be subject to editing by the public.

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