Ars Technica (my favorite tech website) published an editorial a little while ago that really struck a chord with me. To wit: Wikipedia’s science articles are utterly unreadable to the general, average user. Which means that Wikipedia’s science articles are failing in their mission.
I mean, look at this:
I don’t understand what the hell that is. And this is the introductory section of the article, which, according to Editing Wikipedia: A guide to improving content on the online encyclopedia from the Wikimedia Foundation, is supposed to provide “an easy-to-understand overview.” That’s gibberish to me.
That same guide also says that you should “use plain language” when editing a Wikipedia article. And nothing about that is plain. Plain language is a subject that any specialist has to deal with. Hell, I would know, I’m a lawyer. My profession just loves to sound esoteric and specialized, sprinkling in lots of “heretofore’s” and “party of the first part’s.”
The point is that an encyclopedia is generally thought of as providing plain-english, high-level knowledge of a topic. If your articles become so inscrutable that it is clearly written only for experts, then it is not serving its function. And I know that one of Wikipedia’s five pillars is that it has aspects of “specialized encyclopedias,” which focus on a particular topic, time frame, etc., but that still shouldn’t mean I have to actually have a master’s degree in physics to understand the introductory section of a science article.
Speaking as a non-scientist, get your act together, Wikipedia editors.