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darkmatter Journal versus Wikipedia: race and the hierarchy of knowledge

by Editors
5 Jun 2009 • Comments (6) • Print
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Our recent publication of the The Wire Files special issue was followed up by the addition of a couple of references to Wikipedia’s The Wire page (specifically to Sections: 5.1 Critical Responses and 9. External Links). However, these references were removed by a Wikipedia editor, because darkmatter was not considered to be a “reliable source”.

The incident highlights something of the hierarchies of online knowledge. It reveals how a project as apparently democratic as Wikipedia may nevertheless reproduce dominant structures of knowledge and power. Our experience leads us to reflect on darkmatter’s outside status to mainstream scholarly and media institutions, and reminds us why we founded darkmatter in the first place: critiques of race remain either marginalized or invisible on the net, both inside and outside of academia.[1]

The references we added to Wikipedia’s page for The Wire were accepted after an extended discussion with the Wikipedia editor (reproduced below). To view a snapshot of the edit history of The Wire Wikipedia page, click on the image.[2]


Read the discussion between the darkmatter and Wikipedia editor:[3]

Hello, I noticed you removed a recent edit, which included links to the darkmatter Journal on the grounds it is not a reliable source. Is this in relation to the term ‘academic’ being used? The journal has an ISSN and is edited by senior academics in universities in the UK, and articles referenced have undergone an academic review process. However, if the issue is to do with the Journal’s credentials in terms of appearing in academic citation indexes, then the term ‘academic’ could be removed, and the rest of the edit retained in the critical responses and external links section, as these list general sources. Thanks, Nomadic11 [darkmatter Editor] (talk) 15:03, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Well if you read wp:reliable sources and present objective evidence to prove that it is indeed a reliable source, I will be glad to revert my edits. One way you may do this is by paying particular attention to the scholarship section:

The scholarly acceptance of a source can be verified by confirming that the source has entered mainstream academic discourse, for example by checking the number of scholarly citations it has received in citation indexes. A corollary is that journals not included in such indexes should be used with caution.

Hope this helps. — [Wikipedia Editor] (talk) 15:21, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I do now understand the criteria of a reliable source with reference to an academic source. I’m now querying that the darkmatter journal can be included merely as a general source, equivalent to other sources being referenced to in the critical responses and external sources. These other sources linked to, are considered legitimate and aren’t academic sources. Therefore, if the edit was rewritten as “An online collection of articles on the racial politics of The Wire has been published by darkmatter Journal”. Basically, any reference to the term/word ‘academic’ is removed. Thanks, –[darkmatter Editor] (talk) 15:49, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Again, if you can prove that is a wp:reliable source, I will revert my edits. Saying “general source” or “equivalent” doesn’t say much. The other sources used in the article obviously meet criteria for a reliable source. –[Wikipedia Editor] (talk) 16:05, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Well, as I indicated, the journal is edited by established academics in senior posts in UK universities. They are them selves published in scholarly journals and regularly peer review for other academic journals. For your information, not all academic online journals appear in citation indexes, as this depends on impact factors. darkmatter has published many articles written by established academics concerning the politics of race. The contents of the The Wire special issue has undergone a review process. And many of the contributors are academics themselves. However, the reference to darkmatter now to be written as “An online collection of articles on the racial politics of The Wire has been published by darkmatter Journal” is not attempting to claim or indicate academic authority; it is merely indicating a collection of recently published articles. In this case now, it’s not clear why darkmatter journal is not considered as reliable as other sources cited in on the wire page. For example, examining the external links, some of these are online magazines or blogs. How is darkmatter any less reliable than these sources? And to reiterate, there is no claim being made to academic authority in the proposed new edit. Therefore a similar criteria of reliability can now be applied to darkmatter in comparison to these other sources. thanks, –[darkmatter Editor] 16:36, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

As for the external links, yes some of them are blogs, but they contain interviews. See #3 of WP:ELYES. That said, given your explanation of Darkmatter and a quick look at the content, I would have no problem with it being included as an external link. I would suggest giving a more informative (but brief) explanation of the journal and what Wire content it contains than you did the first time around. Note that I’m only one user, and as with any wikipedia article (especially since this article obtained wp:feature article status), there may be other editors who have their own opinion about the link.
However, as far as using Darkmatter as a reference, I’m not convinced it meets any criteria for a wp:reliable source, so do not agree with using in the body of the article as a reference. Thank you
–[Wikipedia Editor] (talk) 17:00, 3 June 2009 (UTC)

Regarding darkmatter not meeting the reliability criteria as a reference in the critical responses section, it is disappointing to find you still don’t consider it as acceptable. It appears you are judging the journal on the basis of:

The scholarly acceptance of a source can be verified by confirming that the source has entered mainstream academic discourse, for example by checking the number of scholarly citations it has received in citation indexes. A corollary is that journals not included in such indexes should be used with caution.

In relation to the critical responses section, all the existing references cited are from mainstream (predictable) media outlets, and the majority lack any academically informed analysis of the politics of race in The Wire. darkmatter Journal is the first to do so, and as indicated previously, it clearly has legitimate academic credentials. Many of the the authors contributing to the special issue operate in universities. For example, two of the authors are publishing an academic edited book on The Wire. If you were to inquire amongst the academic community what online academic source they would turn to if they wanted a critically informed account of the racial politics of The Wire, they would now cite darkmatter. While the journal currently does not appear in established citation indexes, this does not exclude it from academic legitimacy or relevancy.

The economy of academic citation and impact factors is a contested, politicized terrain within academia itself. Moreover, the work on race remains a relatively marginalized field of study within academia. There are few academic race/ethnicity journals with credible citation and impact factors relative to other mainstream social sciences journals. Moreover, many well cited journal’s are closed/subscriber only journals (against the principal of open access).

The criteria of reliability you are claiming does not consider the politics of citation, and nor considers the context of how some fields of study – such as race – remain marginalized. Nor does it say journals not significantly cited should be simply excluded – it’s a judgment call.

There’s a huge irony operating here too. Amongst the academic community, wikipedia is not considered to be a reliable source because it does not undergo an academic review process. Yet, journal’s such as darkmatter are keen to establish open access to knowledge and examine the grounds on which knowledge is legitimised. By not including darkmatter as a legitimate reference in this instance reinforces a hierarchy of knowledge. And wasn’t wikipedia developed as an alternative to such hierarchies?

Readers and students coming across The Wire wikipedia article, and not finding a substantial reference to a race analysis cited in the critical responses section undermines the quality of the current entry for The Wire. While a narrow interpretation of academic reliability can be readily applied, what also needs to be considered is the politics of knowledge, and how some knowledge remains marginalized, within academia and online. Regards, –[darkmatter Editor] (talk) 10:20, 4 June 2009 (UTC)

[...] Ok, I’ll accept it as a reliable source. I would caution you to be careful in your edits of the article. Your contributions should appear to be improving the article-not promoting a journal. Thank You. –[Wikipedia Editor] (talk) 11:27, 4 June 2009 (UTC)


1. See our original News post What’s darkmatter about? [↑]

2. Gyorgy and Nomadic11 are the names of the darkmatter Editors. You can view the current Wikipedia page history of The Wire here. Wikipedia enables any registered user to edit public pages appearing on the site, and these edits are archived. [↑]

3. This discussion is archived on the Wikipedia editor’s talk page. [↑]


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6 Responses »

  1. Fascinating.  Thanks for sharing that skirmish with us.  You argue our case well, and I’m impressed that Wiki is flexible enough to back down.  But as you say, darkmatter is attempting to upset the existing hierarchies of knowledge.  I’m not certain that Wiki is, though - if it is, its fetishisation of ‘reliability of sources’ is overblown.  The irony for us, though, is that you seem to be forced onto the same terrain: “we are reliable, because lots of us work in universities”. 

    I am currently helping to assemble a web-site on my political alma mater, Big Flame, and what I like best about this is re-reading materials we produced back in the day (when you dm boffins were mere yout).  The writers were, mainly, people who had deliberately rejected universities and their narrow conceptions of what constituted knowledge, and its purposes.  Wiki would certainly reject this web-site as a ‘reliable source’, yet the intellectual quality seems to me higher than most of what appears in ‘reliable’ academic journals.  Have a glance at this and see if you see what I mean.  Thus I think we should urge Wiki to judge intellectual quality not so much on its source, but its content.  And then we argue over what constitutes quality.

  2. “a project as apparently democratic as Wikipedia may nevertheless reproduce dominant structures of knowledge and power.”

    Absolutely it does.  But this is perhaps inevitable. The insistence on “reliable sources,” usually defined in very traditional ways, is the bulwark of the encyclopedia’s claim to “verifiability.” In this sense (and with its other mantra, “no original research”), there’s no doubt that Wikipedia is in itself very conservative.

  3. Yep.  Though my brother has written four books on Hollywood history and compiled a list of 29,000 database entries of addresses related to Hollywood history, the goofs at Wikipedia – in a very pushy and high handed manner – deleted the addition of our site to the page on Hollywood because…we did it ourselves.  Back and forth about our qualifications and the reference nature of the material to no avail.  Wikipedia is a great resource.  I don’t know why they’re so pushy in these instances.  Defeats the purpose. 

  4. I’m not sure if I am reading too much into this article, but it seems like the editor you were talking to on the talk page is being framed as more authoritative than yourself. By adding the original citations, you are also a Wikipedia editor. I’m glad you got things sorted out, but there is no reason to assume that the other person in this discussion was in any way representing some official position.

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