An “edit war” has erupted on Alistair Moffat’s Wikipedia page as a result of several users repeatedly attempting to delete content referring to BritainsDNA, Mr Moffat’s genetics company.
Mr Moffat and BritainsDNA came under fire in April after the University Senate found that Mr Moffat was stifling academic debate by accusing two UCL geneticists of libel. The Saint has previously reported on the dispute and Nature mentioned the issue in an editorial on 9 April.
The contentious Wikipedia editing began on 28 April when an anonymous user removed almost the entire BritainsDNA section of Mr Moffat’s page, leaving only a single sentence stating Moffat’s role as chief executive at the company. The section had mentioned the threats made against the UCL scientists and cited the Nature article. As no reason was given for the deletion, however, the section was reinstated.
The content was repeatedly deleted several times by anonymous users and thereafter by a single-purpose user account named Detarec, for a total of seven unexplained edits. Each time, the edits were undone. After undoing the seventh edit, editor Dp76764 noted: “at this point, edit war removal of content is vandalism.” On 30 April Detaerc attempted another deletion, this time commenting: “removed content due to inaccuracies.” The edit was again reverted by Dp76764, who replied: “thanks for comment, but per [the regulations] material stays until consensus is changed.”
At this point another user account named MRobertsQC attempted to delete the section entirely, stating: “Most of this is inaccurate or fictitious. Too much to correct individually. Best to remove entirely.” Wikipedia does not allow the removal of well-referenced content without discussion, so the section was reinstated by user Maproom. MRobertsQC then tried again on 1 May: “‘Britain’s DNA’ section deleted because it is potentially libellous.” The edit was repealed once more by Maproom, who said: “MRobertsQC, you have been encouraged to discuss this on the article’s talk page. Please do so.”
The war then fell silent until 3 May when Detaerc requested that Mr Moffat’s entire page be deleted, saying: “Request for speedy deletion as does not conform with BLP [Biography of Living Persons] criteria. BritainsDNA section is biased as it is the view of a tiny minority who are given disproportionate space. No regard is given for subject’s privacy and does not give NPOV [neutral point of view]”. The request was denied by user StephenBuxton, an administrator, who explained: “CSD [content speedy deletion] declined – deletion of an article on the basis of one section (which is referenced with at least one reliable source) is not the way to go. Suggest improving it or raising it at [the BLP noticeboard].”
At this point StephenBuxton protected the page, preventing non-administrators from editing it for a week while a discussion took place on the BLP noticeboard. During the discussion, users Maproom and Dp76764 defended their decisions to revert the changes. In one comment Maproom stated: “MRobertsQC’s contributions to Wikipedia almost all praise Moffat … None of these editors has explained the reason for their deletions, or indicated what statements in the section they consider libellous.” Detaerc replied: “The section in question represents an [sic] biased view of a small group of people who clearly have a personal vendetta against the subject … It gives disproportionate space to a particular viewpoint.”
The consensus was reached that the section should remain on the page. User Brianann MacAmhlaidh concluded: “Agree with Dp76764 that the section is valid and could use some tweaking … The fact that the university’s academic senate concluded that its own rector (Moffat) was stifling academic debate is worth noting.” The protection was lifted on 10 May and the edit war has not resumed. The BritainsDNA content is still present at the time of writing, though it has not been expanded to include the suggested additions or any further citations.
Speaking to The Saint, Stephen Buxton, the administrator who protected the page, expressed his hope that the article would continue to be edited sensibly. “What should happen now is people carry on editing the article, hopefully mindful of the policies that encourage good editing, a neutral point of view, and should there be disagreements about what should or shouldn’t be in the article, civil discussions.”
He also made clear his role: “I have no strong opinion about what has to be in the article; I had never heard of Alistair Moffat before I went to assess the article for speedy deletion. Any articles that get nominated for deletion are flagged up for administrators to review and act upon. In this instance it was because someone had objected to the tone of a section of the article (BritainsDNA) and wanted the whole article deleted.”