Sunday, March 25, 2007

Today's paradigm of quality on Wikipedia

Today's punching bag article is "List of ministers of the environment". This is potentially interesting information, perhaps, but it is presented in such a mindwrenchingly bad way that it should probably just be deleted.

The main problem is the use of multiple unaligned tables. Each country's listings are in independent tables, which means the columns do not line up from section to section. This largely defeats the purpose of having columns.

In addition, significant amounts of information are being conveyed using shaded pastel colors. (This is actually how this article came to my attention: it abuses the {{yes2}} and {{no2}} templates to get the coloring. Formerly it used the {{but-yes}} and {{but-no}} templates, but that was recently changed when those templates were deleted.) This is unfriendly to color-blind readers; the red and green colors used for those boxes are visually indistinguishable to someone with protanopy.

There is an argument that concluding that some of these people qualify as "ministers of the environment" constitutes original research. At the very least, the sources that support identifying any particular position as a "minister of the environment" need to be more clearly associated with the individual claims.

Ideally, all of the information on this list would be moved into relevant articles as metadata and the list generated automatically from the metadata. This is a persistent problem with Wikipedia lists.


  1. It's easy to fix the specific instance, but it's harder (and more satisfying, and useful) to fix the generic problem. I think that's what Kelly is working towards here.

    Plus, with Wikipedia being so huge, fixing a specific case is not necessarily all that satisfying when one believes that the problems are not unique ones.

  2. The unaligned tables is more of a cosmetic flaw than one of content or structure; is there any way in Wiki or HTML markup to get the columns to line up in multiple tables like that without forcing hardcoded pixel sizes for everything (something I strongly oppose)? This could be more of a coding problem, that the MediaWiki developers could work on, than a problem with this particular article. If some wiki-code syntax can be developed to make columns match through multiple tables, it might be useful for a nubmer of articles.