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How to Write an Author Bio: A Tutorial for Wikipedians & Others

Has Wikipedia Declared the Death of Print?

So, the story continues. . . .   After the initial shock of encountering what goes by the name of editing at Wikipedia, and formulating my plan to reinstate the SF author bios on ISFDB because the Wikipedia editors actively discourage those with expertise from contributing, I had some further discussions with this particular batch of Wikipedians concerning the nature of evidence acceptable as citation for Wikipedia.

I have a strong vested interest in there being a collecting of good sf writer bios out there, especially for obscure but talented writers. Professionally, I use such resources extensively, and in our recent round of  author bio writing for our two year's best volumes, David Hartwell and I found very little useful material in the Wikipedia bios because for the most part it was material we already had and didn't cover the people we really needed more info on. The only cases in which Wikipedia bios proved use useful were in cases like Gardner Dozois, whom we know very well but who declines to have a web page of his own. (Wikipedia's policies claim that they are not there to provide people with space for their personal web pages, but that was precisely where it was most useful.)

Wikipedia's algorithmic ideas of how to figure out if someone is notable enough for inclusions are also a significant impairment to its value as a biographic source. It is precisely bios of increasingly important but little known figures that are of the most value. We don't really need to read Wikipedia's bio of Stephen King when there are so many other, better biographical sketches of him out there. Certainly there needs to be gate-keeping involving vanity-published authors and such, and that would require skill and tact. But the Naomi Kritzers and M. Rickerts and Daryl Gregorys of the world are the biographical additions to such a collection that would be of most value. (Gregory is writing some breathtakingly good sf stories and David says has just sold a novel to Del Rey.)

Why this would be the state of affairs there became evident when I was told that if I wanted to write and edit as an "expert," that  Wikipedia was not the place for me.

If you want to edit as an "expert" there are other most suitable wikis such as Citizendium . . .

Examples of things that didn't fly:

  • Photographic evidence in support of a cited news article:

    Deciding that a persona is an alias for a person is original research. Yes, it may look like the same guy, it may sound like the same guy, but we can't rely on our own judgment to decide that it is the same guy.

    In the photos in question, insignias or logos of the organizations mentioned in the articles were clearly visible in the photos.

  • Criminal case citations, because they are not on the web from an official source.

  • Items on the web, but requiring registration.

  • My own claim as to my own paternity. (Web citation required, apparently. Does some reliable source out there publish birth certificates on the web???)

  • But most interestingly, published print sources not on the web were not acceptable according to my officious informants. Citations of myself and Patrick Nielsen Hayden as members of The Little Magazine editorial board were deemed to require citation. When we founded the The New York Review of Science Fiction in 1998, we sold The Little Magazine to SUNY Albany. There are a few mentions of the Little Magazine under 20+ year David Hartwell's ownership, but because of when we sold it, most of the references are to the SUNY Albany incarnation. I did find an online auction catalog listing me as one of The Little Magazine's editors, but that was pure luck.

So have the Wikipedian's declared the death of print? Or at least that print doesn't matter unless it's on the web? Disallowing print sources seems to me clear evidence that some kind of collective insanity has gripped the Wikipedian Hive Mind. What could it possibly be thinking?

UPDATE: Here's a new item. I was told that it was inappropriate to correct bibliographic errors replicted from ISFDB, since "verifiability", not "truth" was the point. I have pointed out the the title pages of actual books trump an ISFDB listing, something I'm sure ISFDB would agree with.