Friday, January 22, 2010

Updating Wikipedia

I've been resisting tackling the Wikipedia page on Bucky Fuller's Synergetics. Why? Well for one thing because I'm somewhat close to the action and encyclopedias are supposed to be these dispassionate endeavors. Wikipedia calls for impartiality.

On the other hand, no one was stepping up to the plate, giving at least the simple basics. Obviously that page was just going to sit there, going nowhere. Being close to the action means I have some credibility on this subject.

I'd been doing some related writing over on Wikieducator, had some ready material. I do think the new version is a real improvement. I was also sensitive to previous authors and did not remove anything. I fixed some punctuation, added a couple hyphens. As Wiki-buffs know, there's a complete page history, so the details may be audited.

Was I impartial enough? What I avoided was trying to tell much of the subsequent history, after publication. Yes, people discovered (and named) buckminsterfullerene and E.J. Applewhite wrote this great article about it in Chemical Intelligencer. That's for some other entry. Or read The King of Infinite Space, a biography of Donald Coxeter by Siobhan Roberts, which also tells some of this story. Or poke around in my blogs.

What I focused on was the tetrahedral geometry, but then I wanted to be sure readers had the flavor of the writing, and understood its philosophical nature. This wasn't some dry manual for dome engineers. He tackled the big issues, the human condition.

Was I just being a baby in avoiding this work? Given the obscurity of this topic, and the fact few people care about it or even know it exists, you might think it should have been a trivial exercise for me, nothing all that painstaking. On the contrary, this has been some difficult business.