A systemic imbalance is an attribute of a corpus, in which extensive coverage of a particular set of issues or topics while other more important topics (from the perspective of the readership, not the authors or editors) are not covered in the depth they deserve or require or are typically granted by other neutral sources. Systemic bias is a related concept, in which the body of authors and editors share systemic bias that keeps their perspective of balanced breadth and depth of coverage from matching that of other neutral sources.
At least one former Britannica chief editor criticizing Wikipedia made note of the fact that Wikipedia lacks any serious attempt to address any editorial imbalance, seems not to think it's a problem, and that the concept of imbalance itself has been confused with bias. These criticisms ought to be attended to, especially as this confusion spreads sometimes to other projects.
The English Wikipedia's project "Countering systemic bias" notes that the imbalances arise as a result of systemic bias, a factor that has been discussed since the project's beginnings. Despite being repeatedly dismissed by people who seem to think NPOV is an end state not a process, these well-founded concerns have recurred often especially in at least one history department's ban on citing Wikipedia as a source.
To be clear about systemic bias vs. systemic imbalance', the former is one but not the only cause of the latter. Systemic bias of current project participants is not the only cause of imbalance - not all imbalances are the result of biases in the population, some result from editorial intervention or failure of same.
Systemic imbalance on WikipediaEdit
The systemic imbalance of Wikipedia includes extensive coverage of music, movies, TV and other mass media products that Wikipedia's mostly-younger authorship is interested in. Since all editors are by definition computer literate as well, there are other imbalances introduced by that fact, which require deliberate editorial action to undo.
Imbalances arise also from factors that have nothing to do with the blinders on the eyes of current participants, including at least:
- the ordinary problems of relying on written sources only, most of which have been well-documented at least since the 1377 Muqadimmah of Ibn Khaldun
- importation of texts from sources now considered imbalanced (and biased) like the 1911 Britannica - it's useful to consider how definitions of balance and bias change over time
- Wikipedia Governance failures, such as the failure to acknowledge such factors as participation inequality, pro-technology biases, + sysop vigilantism
- other process failures such as failure to inform all new participants of their recourses in conflicts
Many people believe that the Wikipedia editorial process is inherently tolerant of 'suppressionism' in which certain views that tend to offend persons of technological prowess or who participate often, tend to be suppressed. claims, among other things, that evolution is systematically favoured over other theories which if true may reasonably be explained as arising from a systemic bias favouring science. This is entirely reasonable in an encyclopedia! But it's a bias regardless. However, editors of Conservapedia have made the same mistake as editors of Wikipedia: assuming that the project participants, not the process itself, is at fault.
As just one example, an open letter to Jimmy Wales written by trolls excluded from the project states quite eloquently how the process contributes to imbalances: the use of terms (like 'troll') that have no objective meaning whatsoever (even according to w:Internet troll which lists a vast number of reasons to 'troll' and a lot of good and bad reasons why people might do things that get them labelled a 'troll') and is usually used to exclude unpopular people or those who believe particularly strongly in their own view. These people might not be great editors but they are often much more effective than others at finding exceptions to the bald statements of 'truth' that are made in articles and unquestioned by those sharing some bias.