Sunday, January 08, 2006

Does Wikipedia change the rules of language evolution?

I happened upon this example today:

It is argued that the term "Williams evolution" was coined either on wikipedia or in newsgroups. I find the wikipedia hypothesis quite plausible.

Picture this:
  1. Some editor of, say, writes something like, "George C. Williams' book led to a small revolution [...]"
  2. Over time, this becomes "George C. Williams' revolution", then "Williams' revolution"; someone thinks the apostrophe superfluous and the next person feels there should be something written about this "Williams revolution", so puts the infamous [[]] around it.
  3. Finally, someone budges and writes a stub about it.
  4. Meanwhile, the term "Williams revolution" has started being used in other articles because it's a more handy moniker than "advent of the gene-centric view of evolution". By now, putting it in [[]] is completely uncontroversial, because an article has already been written about it. So it appears on every imaginable page, ranging from "Scientific skepticism" over "Evolutionary theory and the political left" through to "The Vicar of Bray" (I am NOT kidding you!)
  5. Eventually, someone feels that Williams may be being given undue credit and does some research. All Google hits point to wikipedia, including those from Web of Science doesn't return a single hit. One contributor claims having heard the term on a newsgroup, but this is hardly evidence of common usage. Various people including myself check their textbooks and the books of Dawkins who are now suddenly being credited with having invented the term. Nothing. Nada. Puzzlingly, the German wikipedia mentions the term in spite of not having an entry about it.
  6. Due to lack of opposition, it is decided that it is not Wikipedia's business to have the power to coin useful phrases crediting someone who should not solely be credited.
  7. Someone works their arse off for an afternoon to eliminate all trace of the Williams revolution.
If you know of similar events, please let me know - this topic has only just begun to get interesting!

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