Yang-Mills and Wikipedia

I was recently looking up references about the history of Yang-Mills theory in order to write about it here, and one thing I ran into was the Wikipedia entry for Yang-Mills theory. It has three sections, the first two of which are standard material, but I was surprised to notice that the last section is completely unconventional, promoting the ideas of Marco Frasca and referencing two of his papers. It was written by an anonymous “Pra1998″, who I’m guessing is Frasca himself.

I’ve never tried to edit Wikipedia entries before, but I thought it would be a good idea to remove this material, which is not the sort of thing that belongs there. My edit was immediately reversed. I tried again, justifying this in the discussion section, but the material is still there. At this point, I give up, lacking time to deal with this and any understanding of what mechanisms are available in Wikipedia to deal with such a situation.

Over the last few years I’ve been finding myself consulting Wikipedia entries more and more, especially ones on mathematics. The quality of the mathematics entries is often shockingly high. In the past if one ran into mention of some mathematical concept one didn’t know about, tracking down a readable account of it was often insanely difficult. Now, one can often just look it up in Wikipedia and find a well-written, concise explanation of just the sort needed. It’s a wonderful and incredibly valuable resource, and I’m mystified about how such a high quality is achieved and maintained. I hope the same mechanism, whatever it is, can work for the Yang-Mills entry.

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32 Responses to Yang-Mills and Wikipedia

  1. Marco Frasca says:

    Dear Peter,

    I have not appreciated your behavior. What is present in that section is a classical solution of Yang-Mills equations that is also present in the Smilga’s book

    http://www.amazon.com/Lectures-Quantum-Chromodynamics-V-Smilga/dp/9810243316/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235660829&sr=8-1

    These are solutions with all equal components. Also the title of the section gives immediately hints of the content. You can remove, as I have already said, all the references about my work and the section still gives useful information that you arbitrarily removed without any clear judgement.

    This is unacceptable and relies on your authority. No good for someone criticizing this kind of behaviors.

    Marco

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Marco,

    I see you don’t deny being the author of this material. I’ve no interest in wasting time arguing with you about your ideas, here or anywhere else. I’ll just point out that it’s incredibly inappropriate for you to try and insert them into a Wikipedia entry in this way. Please do not do this.

  3. Marco Frasca says:

    Dear Peter,

    My regret now is for Wikipedia. Vandals intervention is just begun.

    Marco

  4. Turing E. says:

    Peter,

    First off, you are an expert in the field. As such, that in itself gives you some weight when it comes to editing articles in the field. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:EXPERT for more information. Be sure to put your credentials on your user page and you can even link to the Wikipedia article about you!

  5. Oakland Peters says:

    Peter,

    You are absolutely correct about the quality of the mathematics articles on wikipedia. Their quality has increased steadily over the last five years or so. At this point, it would not be a stretch to say that wikipedia is the most readable guide to mathematics on the web — at least up to the level of graduate level applied mathematics (past that point the articles tend to resume the standard level of mathematical incomprehensibility).

    However, the physics articles of wikipedia have not shown the same level of growth. This sort of disagreement has been frequent, and reoccurring.

    Why is this? Does the physics community lack general agreement on what should and should not be considered established knowledge?

  6. none says:

    In my experience, it is hopeless to try to argue with people like Frasca who don’t speak English but who think they do. They just get more and more angry and incoherent.

    Wikipedia is very much overrated for just the reason you found: there is a tremendous amount of partisan wrong information on it that knowledgeable people are too busy to correct.

  7. Torus says:

    Somebody also vandalized The Dispersive Wiki page for Yang-Mills with this nonsense.

  8. Marco Frasca says:

    Just a question. Why do you consider an authority a person with just 15 publications in 26 years?

    http://www-spires.fnal.gov/spires/find/hep/www?rawcmd=find+a+woit%2C+p&FORMAT=WWW&SEQUENCE=

    Marco

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Marco,

    The problem is that your idea of vandalism and other people’s is very different. Most people consider what you are doing to these online encyclopedia entries, trying to stuff them with your ideas and references to your papers, to be vandalism.

    Oakland,

    Actually I’ve found even the most advanced mathematical material to be often quite good. Some of this is very specialized and inherently requires a lot of background to appreciate, but the authors do a very good job with it.

    One reason for the difference may be that high-level mathematics tends to repel non-experts, whereas certain areas of high-level fundamental physics attract a large number of people who want to flood any high-quality information source with their own ideas. It’s not going to be very rewarding to put work into this kind of expository writing if it’s going to be vandalized by people trying to promote themselves.

  10. anon. says:

    I don’t see why he would feel the need to spam Wikipedia with his ideas. His papers get plenty of citations from some guy who is also named (and this is a crazy coincidence!) Marco Frasca.

  11. A.J. says:

    Marco,

    Please don’t try to change the subject to Peter’s credentials. That’s a loser’s tactic.

    You need to make the case that the material you inserted belongs in the main article on Yang-Mills theory. I don’t think this is possible. The main Yang-Mills article is supposed to be a broad overview of the most important parts of the subject. It’s not an appropriate place for this sort of specialized material.

  12. D R Lunsford says:

    You might as well forget it with physics – there are too many people – students I suspect – with agendas. I tried with the Dirac equation and while at first the presentation was said to be clear, I found that it was almost immediately vandalized – someone who knew neither German nor Grassmann kept changing “Lineale Ausdehnungslehre” (correct) to “Lineare..” (incorrect) – it became comical to see how quickly the change back to the correct form would be reversed – so I just gave up. I suspect there are far fewer people in math who are willing to blunder ahead with no understanding. WP tends to be very good also with history and popular culture. Forget physics for the most part.

    -drl

  13. Maybe you can’t correct the Wikipedia article, but this post is a fine substitute. Anyone who delves even slightly deeper than the Wikipedia article will come across it and realize the Wikipedia article is not the end of the story.

  14. Joe S says:

    Ah, a chance to be moderately on topic!

    I suspect this kind of controversy is why my daughter’s first year university professor warned his students not to cite authoritatively anything in wikipedia in their research.

  15. db says:

    I’m not qualified to argue the merits of the particular work, but wikipedia does have a no original research policy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original_research

    My reading of it is that you don’t get to post your own work, and you shouldn’t get around the restraint by citing your own work.

    A bit of a shame, as I have a wonderful theory about….

  16. Coin says:

    Dunno if this helps, but in the past when I have run into a situation where someone is deadset on keeping something incorrect in a wikipedia article, I have found that the quickest and most effective thing to do (since edit reversal wars are simply unwinnable) is visit #wikipedia on irc.freenode.net and ask for help. Wikipedia does have a layer of editors and people who understand how to navigate wikipedia’s arcane conflict resolution mechanisms who seem to be legitimately interested in keeping the site clean, the problem is getting their attention…

    Of course if you have a highly trafficked science blog, that probably is a good way of calling attention to problems too…

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  18. Chris W. says:

    Well, at least the disputed section (“Integrable solutions of classical Yang-Mills equations and QFT”) has been helpfully annotated. :)

    Marco: Out of simple courtesy it seems to me that you should back off on this and present this material on your blog. Using a Wikipedia article on a major topic to present a non-standard or relatively esoteric sub-topic strikes me as a disservice to the readers of Wikipedia, and a fairly obvious attempt to freeload off of whatever claim to authority and reliability Wikipedia has managed to earn. (Of course, some may be confusing notoriety with authority and reliability.)

  19. Yatima says:

    Gentlemen,

    Is there really a point in getting into debates about the contents of “Wikipedia” also known as “Jimbo Wales’ Big Bag of Trivia Online?”. I’m sure there are better venues for research or publication (maybe scholarpedia?). I do not deny that there are interesting nuggets to be found in there, however, for an (I’m afraid) realistic take on Wikipedia by “yoof” culture one need just google “wikipedia + scribblings on a truck stop bathroom wall” (readers who can’t stand ‘shock jock’ talk should beware of clicking on the first link which is displayed).

  20. Headbomb, says:

    Hello, after you pointed out the problems at Yang-Mills theory, I reviewed the contributions of Pra1998, and there is another one that contains publications from Frasca (Perturbation theory, found here
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perturbation_theory). If you people could comment on these additions, it would be much appreciated:

    On the Perturbation theory article

    here

    and

    here.

    Thanks to all who helped pointing out the problems in the Yang-Mills theory article. I also would like to invite you all to join the Physics WikiProject:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Physics

  21. ll says:

    that’s why math is my favourite subject in high school: it’s fair, u can’t cheat easily in front of truth and greatest mind of human beings.

  22. ML says:

    It is surprising for me as a young mathematician the love for Wikipedia by grown ones.

    Of course Wikipedia is a great source when coming to a first approach to something that one does not know or haven heard about (specially for the youngest or for people who are far away from the neuralgic points in math research).
    But nothing more than that!

    The articles there have no referee, and anyone can write them trying to sell his own ideas. This is a global community and for me is ok. Why is it ok for me? Just because it is just a first approach. Then one can go to the arxiv or to mathscinet and look for a nice paper and take the effort to learn. It is a long process but we are being paid for it.

    I just think that Wikipedia is the effort of many trying to help others, or even selling themselves (it does not matter), but just a tool. Like a good or not so good (depending on the people) conversation on maths.

    I just hope that in the future the people will NOT end up citing wikipedia in their papers as a source!

  23. davetweed says:

    ML mentioned “Then one can go to the arxiv or to mathscinet and look for a nice paper and take the effort to learn. It is a long process but we are being paid for it.” I entirely agree that it takes long effort to learn something in detail, but it’s worth remembering that not everyone who uses even relatively abstract mathematics is being paid for it (and even if their employer accepts spending time figuring out what’s already in the literature that’s applicable, we may only be being paid to “learn enough to produce results from it” rather than truly understand it). I think that people tend to forget that wikipedia is an attempt to make a sort-of encyclopedia, and the same conventions ought to apply. Would you cite a printed encyclopedia article? I would only if the material was so well-known that the only reason for including a citation was to keep reviewers happy. Otherwise, there’s going to be more focussed sources that are more suited to the task in hand.

  24. Engineer says:

    Scholarpedia actually promises to address some of the peer-review issues that wikipedia has. Unfortunately it does not have the following or diversity of articles that wikipedia has. I think that if a true scholar is concerned about the bias in the wikipedia articles, than a better way to alleviate their frustration is to volunteer to write and maintain an article on scholarpedia, especially if they have the credentials. There are some additional rules about how one gets elected/selected to be a curator, so I don’t know how hard it would be to actually gain the power to control an article, but if people are interested it might be worth checking out.

    http://www.scholarpedia.org/

  25. Don says:

    Gentleman,
    I can’t understand what is the real point about this post… Is there any mathematical/physical problem with those classical-YM solutions?
    I am sorry, but all this argument here doesn’t seems to be based just on scientific grounds…
    Cheers
    Don,

  26. tomate says:

    Italian wikipedia has the same problems:

    http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teoria_quantistica_di_Yang-Mills

    A personal thought. I think scientific articles in wikipedia are both too technical and not enough. I mean: from a generalistic encyclopedia I would expect the articles to be accessible to laymen, at least in the first few sentences. From a specialistic encyclopedia I would expect rigour and carefulness. It seems to me that there is a sort of clash among opposite forces in Wikipedia that mediates these two positions with the result that articles are neither simple nor correct, and in the interstice anything can insert. Moreover, they almost never are fluent: different sections of an article are decorrelated one from another, there often is not a coherent development.

    (Of course, it’s not an easy task to simplify sentences like

    Yang-Mills theory is a gauge theory of quantum field theory based on the SU(N) group.

    but we have scientists who do a great job popularizing stuff.)

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Don,

    See the discussion about this question in the talk section of the Wikipedia article. Independent of the issue of the merits of the material involved, I don’t think it’s hard to see that it’s a very bad idea to allow people to add sections to Wikipedia entries about the most central concepts in physics promoting their own ideas and referencing their own papers.

  28. Don says:

    Peter, you have a point.
    However, I just want to emphasize mine:
    it seems me that since one can not prove that Dr. Frasca was the person that introduced the “heretical section” in Wikipedia, one should not cruficy a person that, in principle, is “Not even wrong” =)
    Cheers,
    Don.

  29. woit says:

    Someone is submitting anonymous comments here defending Frasca and attacking me, coming from the same IP address as Frasca’s first comment here. They have been deleted.

  30. Peter Woit says:

    I’m shutting off comments on this section, and will delete any comments on this blog re: Frasca, since I don’t want to waste any more of my time dealing with him, and he is flooding this blog with anonymous comments. If you want to debate his Wikipedia entry, do it using Wikipedia’s discussion feature.

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  32. Pingback: A weak, token attempt at a free ride on Peter Woit’s blog coattails, which pertainis to a subject of genuine interest, namely, the quality of Wikipedia’s math entries, something Woit mentions in a not so recent post « rawdc: Society with