Monday, June 05, 2006
Policies from Hell III: WP:AGF
- Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth making the entry on "Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth" more objective
- Tilman Hausherr improving the objectivity of the entry on "Tilman Hausherr"
You get the picture. It's, of course, not only such blatantly obvious partisans, who edit articles, be sure that the enemies of these persons are not sleeping, either: And thanks to the widespread anonymity of Wikipedia editors, this might not even apparent. Or that fascist will edit the article on fascism and Sugababes fans the "Sugababes". Remember, when was the last time you thought: "Let's build an encyclopedia, that'll be fun"? And then think, when was the last time, you thought, I really like the idea of [put here something you are passionate about], let's write something to make it happen.
Thus the proper Wikipedia policy would be "Assume Some Faith". Which faith you make ask? Well that would be much easier to detect, if the edits could not be made be anonymous users, whose agendas are hidden.
But, dear Wikipedia freak, you will object: "As we allow anyone to edit [Wikipedia], it follows that we assume that most people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it. If this weren't true, a project like Wikipedia would be doomed from the beginning." Well, I'm afraid, that's exactly what Wikipedia is: Doomed from the beginning, at least when it comes to its self-declared goal: The creation of an encyclopedia. The idea that contrary too all life experiences Wikipedia would be edited by well-meaning geniuses only makes doomsday all the more ugly: Those with the most resources available at their disposal (and the most zealous crusaders) are and will determine its contents, as long as wolves are guided by rules designed for friendly lemurs.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Policies from Hell II – WP:POINT
First of all, it seems a bit rich of a site that has disrupted the Internet like no other single site before it, to demand to be left alone. This is a site that, thanks to the slavish work of gazillions of He-Men and Ashley_Simpson_467246s, clutters with its myriad of clones the search engines of the world, so you get Wikigibberish as the first result in your web search on anything from "Stalinism" to "Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy," from "Mussolini" to "Scientology versus the Internet." It's also the site where countless rumors are spread, few of which get as easily exposed as the case of Norway's prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose defamation through Wikipedia was initially replicated by some Norwegian newspapers. (I will expose a few rumors in future posts).
Well, you might think, that such chutzpah should rule, and "we fuck you, but don't fuck us" is a reasonable approach to maintain your street, err, web credibility. Yet, even if you play Jimbo's advocate, WP:POINT is utterly useless.
For most neat fluffy rules of Wikipedia can only be proven useless, when you put them into practice, or, rather you try to put them into practice. Let me give you an example: Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, a lower Wikicourt for disputes between "editors": If you read its rules, you might think that you have a neat institution to resolve conflicts. Unless you try to put it into practice, thereby violating WP:POINT. Let me give you two examples I ran across (I apologize, these examples are from the German Wikipedia, but the workings don't differ dramatically from its English twin, only it's not yet as sophiscated with respect to rule fiddling, so it's a bit more blunt).
Exhibit A: This is a dispute I was involved in myself. It concerned an "edit war" about the "Scientology" article. Myself and an anti-cult activist were bickering about a State Supreme Court judgment on the surveillance of Scientology by the Verfassungsschutz, a peculiar melange of the CIA and the FBI for Germany and its constituent states. The Court had ruled that the long-term concealed surveillance of Scientology in the Saarland, a German State (Land), was unconstitutional. The ruling itself was uncontested, but we were warring about the reasons for this ruling. I'm not sure, how many people partake in the German Wikipedia, but my roll call number is 50,217 and I registered some time in 2004, well before Wikipedia was a staple name in Germany. So, you'd think that there would be quite a few lawyers, solicitors, or at least some students in some legal subjects, who could quickly figure out, who was right (I was, of course ;-)) and who was wrong. But, no, absolutely no-one was interested in our dispute and, after nothing had happened for a couple of weeks the dispute was non-chalantly filed under "solved disputes."
Exhibit B: This is a case between a minor, well maybe, mediocre Wikipedia celebrity, her User name is Juliana da Costa José, and some quite, let's say, conservative guys. On the German Wikipedia, a rather half-baked and, I am tempted to say: hence, widespread idea exists that editors should "evaluate" each others work. Picking up on this idea, Ms. Self-Declared Cool has created a sub-user page, where she characterizes, no, really, slants, some Wikipedia characters she ran across. Let's listen to her judgements:
- "User:Merriam-Webster-Freak (Dudenfreund): … probably has neither friends nor a girlfriend, no work, no hobby, not even flowers or pets. Likely not even a toilet at home …"
- "User: Central European (Mitteleuropäer): As above, just with one tenth of his IQ"
- "User: Anorak: Has no idea, if he should be a right-wing jingo, or gay … stay at your PC, so you can't harass people"
- "User:217﹒125﹒121﹒169: … Sexual and social life inexistent …"
Well, you'd think such distasteful crap, err Wikiquette violations, would be met with some lame sanctions. But, no, they are greeted with approval by an admin, who claims to be, and very likely is, a lawyer in life outside Wikipedia. Instead of debating the (in)adequacy of the insults, he immediately jumps to further ad hominem atacks of those figures that had been slanted. What follows is mainly a rather dull chitty-chat among members of da Costa José's fanclub and their long-time detractors, without any recourse to the incident itself, the slanting of characters. Needless to say, that there was no resolution in this case, either. Instead, Ms. da Costa José was even tapped on her back by her fan club for her charitable efforts in online mobbing and some crocodile tears were shed over the fact that a few IPs made some, rather clumsy and distasteful, ad hominem attacks on Ms. da Costa José in the course of the chat. Thus, rather than the "victim", the wrong-doer was gratified by the workings of the arbitration committee.
I have a couple of more examples along these lines, but my heart is weak, and I don't want to get too agitated at the moment.
Policies from Hell I - WP:NLT
The semi-official policies that have evolved over time in Wikipedia through the collective brainstorming of mainly geeks with no particular expertise in decision-making theory, information sciences, or sociology of knowledge show at times of mind-boggling disrespect for life outside Wikipedia.
One of the more egregious policies is WP:NLT, which posits that you are not allowed to make any legal threats on Wikipedia, inter alia, because such threats would be "uncivil". Yap, that's right, Hobbes -- no, not you, Hobbes, although I'm sure you'd agree with the former Hobbes and me -- all that effort you and your successors put into the idea of rule of law, was totally futile: Civility is not the idea that there is a body of somewhat democratically legislated laws should govern conflicts between humans or their sock puppets, but it's the natural state of Wikilove -- a touchy-feely label for what could be conscisely described as Wikicabal -- which should govern the discourse on Wikipedia (and beyond).
Let me get this straight: If user anonymous_dork_127 writes on Wikipedia about you that you forged your University diploma and raped your niece at age thirteen, you should not tell him, that you might sue him for defamation. Or, if White_Pride_666 (a fictional user name, at least so I hope) gives name and address of a prominent civil rights activists mentioning that "that scum would welcome guests with rifles," you should not tell him that you might sue him for harrassement. Instead, you should probably ask them politely to rephrase their statements, so that they adhere to the rhetorics of "neutral point of view."
In fact, I am doing an unfair polemic here: What Wikipedia really advises you to do is not to appeal to a court of law, but bring it "to the attention of an administrator," a Leviathan, err, a person, well, let's more realistically call him an admin sock puppet, whose legal training usually consists of the successful completion of the Wikicabal game.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Unfortunately, it quickly shows that the Nature article itself was not peer-reviewed, but merely an editorial by scientists untrained in the basics of content analysis. Consequently, their analysis contains the following two serious flaws:
- Only natural science entries were tested.
This seems to me the least problematic area of Wikipedia. Paradigmatic sciences, as are the natural sciences, produces "facts"; that is, there rarely is any doubt about the appropriateness of the currently dominant theories. Regardless of ideology and political positions, chances are, that most people agree on the adequacy of Einstein's special theory of relativity and that it is a uniquely defined theory, even if most people may have only a faint idea what this theory is about. Such neat consensus does not exist in the humanities and social sciences, so Wikipedia entries from these domains are often much less reliable.
- The sampling process of the Nature article is so flawed, it renders the test results meaningless.
The article says little about how the entries were chosen by the editorial team of Nature, but what it does say is in my view unacceptable practice:
"All entries were chosen to be approximately the same length in both encyclopedias."
Now, surely, the length of an indicator is one valid goodness criterion. Encyclopedia articles should be concise, but at the same time cover all significant aspects of a phenomenon. By limiting the review to Wikipedia articles that approximate Britannica articles in length, the reviewers very much cherry picked the Wikipedia entries, as we know that Britannica articles are on the average probably quite good.
From my own experience, I found Wikipedia articles in my field of expertise (sociology) usually quite sloppy. Not really bad, but usually worse than a Google search for "$concept site:edu" and often tilted towards one or another political standpoint or one or another sociological theory.
However, there are few purely sociological terms, as sociological questions usually bear on social phenonemena. And as soon as a concept is politically or ethically contested, then the quagmire of Wikicision making produces not only inaccurate and biased, but ouright dangerous articles which support all sorts of hegemonic views. In the upcoming weeks, I will review these decision making processes and their results here.