Joe Valle majored in Economics during his undergraduate experience at the University of Virginia, where he graduated in 2020. One of his last classes in college focused on coding with the programming language R, which spurred his interest in data science. With the COVID-19 pandemic making the job market grim, Joe pivoted toward pursuing his master’s degree in Data Science at George Washington University. There, he enrolled in Simson Garfinkel’s Ethics for Data Science class — where he was assigned to improve a Wikipedia article.
“Considering the nature of my other graduate classes, I was a bit surprised to learn about the Wikipedia assignment upon starting my Ethics for Data Science class,” he says. “Coupled with my earlier notions on Wikipedia, I didn’t really know whether I should feel excited or not about this task, but I wanted to keep an open mind as to how it would go.”
This open mind led Joe to explore Wikipedia’s coverage of economics, where the article on the 1994 bond market crisis caught his attention. At the time, the article was only three sentences, a true “stub” article on Wikipedia. Joe set out to change that.
“Considering the level of press that many financial crises have received, especially in the stock market, I was quite surprised that the crash’s article was a stub,” he says. “This was so despite the fact that bond investors in 1994 and since have referred to it as the Great Bond Massacre, underlining just how bad it was.”
Joe learned a lot about the crash while researching it. He particularly found it intriguing to read about the crash’s causes. Along the way, he added all the information he found to Wikipedia, dramatically improving the article. Today, the 23-paragraph article cites 21 sources, thanks to Joe’s work.
And Joe put his data science experience to work as well. He says his favorite part of the assignment was the opportunity to add images he’d created to the article.
“Taking a page from my data visualization class over last spring, I decided to download some data covering the yields of US Treasury bonds over several maturities. I cleaned up the raw sets with Python and exported them to Excel. From there, I created a couple of charts on Tableau to visualize the data,” Joe says “I included two in my article to offer readers a visual perspective on the crash’s effect on bonds.”
Joe says he liked the flexibility he had in structuring the article, as well as gaining a better understanding of how Wikipedia works. He says he might edit more, but he hopes other editors add more information to the article he improved. It’s a topic he cared about — which he says is the most important thing for any writing project.
“I think the most critical element of the writing process, within and outside Wikipedia, is passion,” he says. “Without it, a writer will be left unmotivated on how he or she can expand the discussion on the topic at stake.”