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May 17, 2013

Crowdsourcing doesn’t inoculate against corruption
Posted by Patrick at 05:00 PM * 130 comments

I really don’t want to get back into the business of being a big critic of Wikipedia, a site I use every day. But if, like me, you use it and care about it, you really should read the article Andrew Leonard has on Salon today: ““Revenge, Ego, and the Corruption of Wikipedia.”

As Andrew asks: if this has been going on, with (up until today) no consequences to its perpetrator, what else don’t we know about?

Comments on Crowdsourcing doesn't inoculate against corruption:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 05:16 PM:

I really wish this was news.

#2 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 05:21 PM:

To clarify -- I really wish that this sort of behaviour was surprising... this particular instance is news.

#3 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 05:37 PM:

I'm glad there aren't so many people with a deep resentment of the moment-generating function of the Gamma distribution, or the geographical distribution of wild bananas (two recent things I've looked up there).

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 05:57 PM:

Someone who I consider one of the most tech-savvy of my friends once reacted to a skeptical comment about Wikipedia with absolute incredulity that I would consider it a less-than-trustworthy source. I hope he sees this article.

#5 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 06:04 PM:

Man, that's a depressing article.

I used to edit WP until about 8 years ago. Besides having other things to do, the main factor in my leaving was that I realized I couldn't deal with people like that, not even for five minutes; argumentative frustrating people were fine, but once in a while there'd be someone who gave off a toxic vibe of disingenuous venom from a mile away and it would just creep me out too much. One editor in particular kept threatening to have me banned for conflict of interest because I had done some neutral factual+style editing on an article about person X, whom I was acquainted with— a fact I had mentioned up front— even though, as I soon found out from the embarrassed X, the other editor was a member of X's family who just enjoyed picking fights on WP and would consistently lie about their identity. What can you do? I couldn't prove it, nor was I interested in becoming even more of a personal hate-obsession of someone who clearly spent hours a day doing this kind of thing.

The other unpleasant thing the article reminds me of is New York Press, which ran Young's hatchet-job piece about the Sewanee Writer's Conference. I haven't read it for many years, but man, that paper sure was gross; they really seemed to relish printing stuff that no other editor would've touched with a ten-foot pole because it was so clearly just someone venting personal shit.

#6 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 06:18 PM:

I am still fairly active there, though I don't do as much content work as I used to. Most of what I have done there has gone unmolested, but there are areas which are pretty much hopeless. You should be aware, for instance, that there is a pretty strong right-libertarian editing group, which means that any article on Austrian economics (or its major detractors, such as Krugman) or political figures (the Koch brothers: the fact that their Bircher father is at the root of their political upbringing has been successfully squelched) is biased in their favor. There's a lot of fringe medical/historical crap running around; we try to get rid of it but there's not enough police and too many criminals. Another issue that is heating up now is that people are using the project, especially Commons, as a place to keep their explicit pictures.

The biggest problem right now is self-promotion, of which this guys is just the tip of the iceberg. A few years back they put in a system by which brand-new editors can't just write their own article; it has to go through a review process. That process is dying under the weight of people writing promotional articles. And we now have found that there are lots of employees keeping their company's article clean, which incredibly is being permitted. So there's a guy from BP suggesting spin on BP's article, and there's a Canadian government agency whose article was written entirely by its employees, and so on.

#7 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 06:28 PM:

@6 C. Wingate

there's a Canadian government agency whose article was written entirely by its employees

May I ask which agency? I understand if you don't want to say.

#8 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 06:58 PM:

Which goes to why I keep saying "Wikipedia is not a source," and refusing to link to it, quote from it, or, indeed, even look at it.

#9 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:00 PM:

But if, like me, you use it and care about it, you really should read the article Andrew Leonard has on Salon today

I read the linked article, but nothing in it seemed particularly new to me. Sometimes, people with axes to grind and/or conflicts of interest edit pages in a biased way. This is eventually found and fixed.

At any given time, you may be inhabiting the interval between "sometimes" and "eventually", so if something is really important, confirm it with other sources and/or look through the talk and/or history pages to see if it is consistent across versions, controversial, or the subject of edit wars. That has always struck me as pretty basic critical thinking/reading (although I suppose if you don't notice the existence of the history feature, it's useful to have that brought to your attention).

Traditionally published material seems to me about equally prone to biases, which may not be corrected at all within the same institution (someone else will publish another book/magazine/whatever with the contrary viewpoint, usually, except in regimes with actual censorship).

I would say I don't consider Wikipedia as infallible as Holy Scripture, except that I personally don't consider Holy Scripture infallible either -- not that I intend this as an attack on people who do, but if you are one of those people, please consider that Wikipedia is made by fallible human beings.

#10 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:15 PM:

Today's featured article

Today we have shaming of prats. Yesterday,
we had unclear sources, and tomorrow morning
we may have original research. But today,
Today we have shaming of prats. The Flame Robin
is a small passerine bird native to Australia,
and today we have shaming of prats

This is the anonymous editor. And this
is the revenge edit, whose use you will see
when you are snubbed by an author. And this is the appeals process.
Which in your case you have not got. Final Fantasy XI
is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game,
which in my case I do not get.

This is the revision process, which maintains the history of each page.
And please do not let me
catch any user editing his own page. It is perfectly easy
if you sign in as a different user. A Journey is a 2010 memoir by Tony Blair
discussing his tenure as leader of the British Labour Party. You wouldn't catch
him editing his own pages.

And this you can see is the talk page. The purpose of this
is to clear the air, as you see. We can argue
rapidly backwards and forwards: we say this
raises the standards. When the Oriflamme was
displayed on the battlefield it indicated that no quarter was to be given.
They called this raising the standard.

They call it raising the standard: it is perfectly easy
if you sign in as a different user: like the revenge edit,
and the anonymous editor, and the appeals process
(which in our case we have not got), and the massive online role-playing games,
and the Oriflamme displayed on the battlefield,
for today we have shaming of prats.

#11 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:27 PM:

I used to edit heavily in controversial articles. Islam, Islamic history, South Asian and Middle Eastern history, Bollywood, Hawaiian history, etc. I dealt with so many nationalists and religious nuts that I was constantly angry -- so I quit. I've gone back, but only to a few obscure articles that do not attract much attention. Though even there ...

No article dealing with any controversial matter can be trusted, because people with an axe to grind have the motivation to overwhelm any even-handed edits.

They can be vicious and rude, engage in offline stalking, and threaten violence. Frex, I was assured that if I ever showed my face in Bombay, the Shev Sena would beat me up.

#12 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:30 PM:

re 7: It's the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (discussion here).

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:31 PM:

Thomas @10, oh, very nice! I especially like the bit about raising the standards.

(Anyone who doesn’t know what’s going on in ct 10, go read this.)

#14 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:38 PM:

And for your added enjoyment: list of hoaxes on Wikipedia

#15 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:39 PM:

Jim Macdonald: Which goes to why I keep saying "Wikipedia is not a source," and refusing to link to it, quote from it, or, indeed, even look at it.

I find it useful for the footnotes--I use those to start looking for info. Do I think they're accurate footnotes? Not until I give them a look. Do I trust the conclusions they draw from those footnotes? Not usually: you do not want to know my opinion on those articles where I have some knowledge of the subject.

(I do admit to curiosity as to whether or not my edit to the article on the Jabberwock lasted, but I haven't bothered to check. They were citing other appearances and had missed out on it being in an eternal war with the Batwing Hamburger Snatcher in Odd Bodkins, so I provided the original publication dates and the ISBM number of the collection.)

#16 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:42 PM:

I find Wikipedia useful as an aide memoire -- it can frequently remind me of details I've forgotten on a particular subject. Whether those details were true in the first place is an entirely different issue.

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:48 PM:

Thomas at #10: Brill.

Chris at #9: "At any given time, you may be inhabiting the interval between 'sometimes' and 'eventually', so if something is really important, confirm it with other sources and/or look through the talk and/or history pages to see if it is consistent across versions, controversial, or the subject of edit wars. That has always struck me as pretty basic critical thinking/reading (although I suppose if you don't notice the existence of the history feature, it's useful to have that brought to your attention).

Yes, this is the usual defense of the Wikipedia process, and it's not without merit. As I said, I use Wikipedia every day, and I know how to parse it.

However, as a defense of a process that leads to the kind of damage to real people that we're talking about, this is passive-aggressive bullshit. "That has always struck me as pretty basic critical thinking/reading (although I suppose if you don't notice the existence of the history feature, it's useful to have that brought to your attention)." "I suppose if you're a total ignoramus as opposed to Highly Enlightened Me, it would be handy to learn this." Well, aren't you special.

The fact that "traditionally published material" has problems as well is no excuse for the kind of things Andrew Leonard's piece documents. As a defense of Wikipedia, it resembles nothing so much as Soviet officials responding to criticism of the Gulag by pointing out that America has had Jim Crow and segregation and civil rights problems.

#18 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:49 PM:

One of Wikipedia's problems is that, while their editing pool is large, it's small by comparison to the number of articles.

Thus, provided the article you're editing is not one on a popular topic, you can edit largely unopposed in many cases. Thus, the advantages of crowdsourcing are neutralized; there may be only one person working on an article, and it reflects their biases.

I served on Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee for three years. The fact is, the more obsessive someone is, the more persistent, the greater the odds that they can wear down their opposition by sheer persistence.

People received credible death threats for their Wikipedia work. And not just on what one might think are controversial subjects.

On the other hand, the more one works on Wikipedia, the more one realizes that conventional sources are also highly biased, inaccurate, out-of date and fundamentally awful. NO single source is good. Major newspapers publish absolute howlers. So do scientific journals. So do reputable publishers.

Don't trust anything. Use, but don't trust.

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 07:56 PM:

I certainly don't agree with Jim's absolutist position. Having worked in conventional reference-book publishing, the standard by which "Wikipedia is not a source" would eliminate almost all reference books as well. If the only legitimate "sources" are the original copies of primary documents, we might as well give up on the basic idea of disseminating knowledge to more than a tiny elite.

Wikipedia is an excellent source on many, many things. It has some serious internal problems, some of which it's actually working very hard to correct, and some of which it needs to have brought more...forcefully...to its attention. The question isn't "Should Wikipedia exist," because it exists and it's now part of our culture's basic plumbing whether you like it or not. The question is, how widespread is the kind of rot documented by Andrew Leonard, and are Wikipedia's current tools and norms sufficient to identify and treat it? Signs point to Maybe Not.

I really think that Leonard (who I know very slightly from the Well days, and who is a Good Egg) hit the nail on the head in using the word "corruption." The human tendency toward self-dealing is the thing on which so many many-to-many open-this-and-that schemes founder. There are reasons people have so often opted for centralized control, and they aren't all because humans are just chumps looking for Big Daddy.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 08:20 PM:

I think Chris @9 was explaining it, not excusing it.

#21 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 08:42 PM:

Thomas at 10: likelikelike.

#22 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 09:00 PM:

PNH #19: Indeed -- consider that the original meaning of "corruption" was gangrene and rot: opportunistic organisms moving to take advantage of a body they found undefended, usually to the detriment of the "resource".

The thing is, blocking such corruption requires active defense and watchfulness. Wikipedia was a pretty good first try, but the Next Thing in that direction will need to build in governance from day one.

#23 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 09:13 PM:

Ugh! I went to read the linked article, and they'd slapped a big popup ad for a Dan Brown audiobook over the whole page. Not calculated to make me respect your editorial opinions, Salon!

There have been many articles like this over the years pointing out that at any given time, some small fraction of Wikipedia is WRONG (and often maliciously so)! Some of the articles (like this one) have insightful analyses of the weaknesses of Wikipedia. What I haven't seen, though, is any assessment of how the prevalence of these intentional errors is changing over time. And very few of them have concrete suggestions of a better alternative.

One thing I'd love to see is further work on something like the "WikiTrust" system, as described in this academic paper from 2007, and this blog post about it from 2008. Unfortunately, the implementation is no longer on line. It appears to have lots of citations, though I haven't dug through them yet, so maybe there's more progress coming, which might be able to graft a governance layer (or at least a quality-assessment layer) on top of Wikipedia.

#26 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 10:12 PM:

I edited semi-actively for about a year, hoping to move some fringe-science incrementally towards the mainstream consensus.

It's hopeless to tilt against that particular windmill on a page-by-page basis. Wikipedia's process allows a small team of sufficiently dedicated nut-jobs (and I use that term in its full technical meaning) to defend "their pages" against all comers. This is where you see the finest examples of Wikilawyering.

I think the way out of this will use the fact that fringe science rarely links to mainstream science (too much linkage would make the contradictions too obvious), and mainstream science almost never links to fringe stuff (why bother?). In my imagined future we won't browse Wikipedia by following the raw links. We'll employ the assistance of some smart graph analysis riding shotgun. Every so often, it'll say "I wouldn't recommend following that link. Bad neighbourhood, you know,... insufficiently connected to reality."

#27 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2013, 10:18 PM:

And don't get me started on the ludicrous No Original Research policy.
Doing a simple integral is considered "Original Research". [citation available, if you're really interested]

#28 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 12:26 AM:

Jeremy Leader, in #23 you mention some of Luca de Alfaro's work (current WikiTrust site, I think). I've been in touch with Luca and progress on his ideas is happening, although I don't want to derail this thread with a bunch of stuff about that. Check out the Wikimedia research mailing list for more about related tools and findings.

#29 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 12:49 AM:

thomas @10: Lovely. It took me a little while to remember the original poem, but I did without external aid, so thank you for that moment, too.

I find Wikipedia useful for basic historical overview, such as the genealogy of kings or when certain disasters such as the Boston Molasses Disaster were, but I don't pay a whole lot of attention to modern items on there on the theory that most people get worked up over events in their lifetime (barring the types who are still mad at Abraham Lincoln for his suspension of habeus corpus.) I would never use it as a scholarly cite, though; I had proper sources drummed into my head in high school by a very good teacher. (I plan on instructing my children in his term paper methodology on the idea that they will not otherwise get exposed to it.)

#30 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 12:52 AM:

I long ago concluded that pretty much every useful thing or function on 'net or web exists only during a particular segment of the life-arc of its underpinnings. A phenomenon sprouts, it grows, it blooms, it goes to seed, it dies. And we can no more preserve it forever at that bright and useful moment than we can hold the rose in stasis at its perfect unfurling. Cyberspace is always and ever change. Change brings us the rose; change wilts it and brings the worms.

Do not regret the petals scattered on the ground; plant more roses. Always plant more roses.

#31 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 07:25 AM:

Matthew Brown @ 18: On the other hand, the more one works on Wikipedia, the more one realizes that conventional sources are also highly biased, inaccurate, out-of date and fundamentally awful. NO single source is good. Major newspapers publish absolute howlers. So do scientific journals. So do reputable publishers.

Years ago, I was casually studying a dead writing system, and I tried to clean up the related Wikipedia pages. This was a fascinating experience. The core page was superficially accurate, thanks to a prolific editor who tried to keep the crud out. (One minor related page was defended by an incoherent, obsessed crank, and nobody in their right mind wanted anything to do with that page. Picture an angry dog gnawing on a bone and snarling at anyone who gets near.)

But the central page contained a great number of minor, superficially plausible errors. I eventually wound up using inter-library loan to run down copies of—just for example—a PhD thesis written in Swiss German. (Who writes in Swiss German?) With these, I was able to slowly chip away at the errors in the main article.

As I dug through the edit history, I discovered a bizarre process by which Wikipedia transformed incoherent drivel into plausible-looking "facts":

1. Editor A would add a paragraph of badly punctuated drivel.
2. Editor B would fix the spelling, punctuation and grammar, because some people are compulsive proofreaders and just want to be helpful.
3. Editor C would mark several outrageous claims as "[citation needed]".
4. Editor D would get frustrated and delete the outrageous claims.

And voilà, now you have correctly-spelled, grammatical drivel containing no obviously implausible claims. All the markers of incompetence had been gradually dissolved by the editing process, leaving only material that sets off no alarm bells whatsoever.

But this wasn't the big surprise. The big surprise was that despite all these errors, the Wikipedia article was still better than anything I could buy in the local bookstore, and that establishing the truth was an incredibly difficult process.

It turns out that, in many cases, the most reliable source is the academic record. But more often than not, the academic record boils down to two influential professors, each of whom thinks the other is an incompetent fool.

Such is the reality of knowledge. Frankly, I find it a little disconcerting.

#32 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 10:52 AM:

Thomas @10: I am impressed.

I've found Wikipedia useful for checking sequences of dates in the Peninsular War, or the list of ships present at Trafalgar, and for including such things as lists of English country houses by county (so I can steal ones in likely locations to rename and describe), and questions of whether a ship of a certain name or a title of a certain name ever existed, or was in existence at a particular historical moment, since I want to use ones that didn't exist, by preference, unless I'm deliberately making a historical reference. None of these are especially controversial subjects, and the footnotes have sometimes led me to Really Cool Stuff.

There are many subjects on which I wouldn't trust it in the least. But it's really, really handy for my purposes, and I'd miss it if it went away.

#33 ::: Rikibeth has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 10:53 AM:

I can offer the gnomes pasta salad to sustain them in their efforts against the spambots.

#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 11:26 AM:

thomas #10: You win today's internet.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 11:35 AM:

My own experience editing Wikipedia years back was not as horrible as some, but still pretty weird. I started a number of articles on the Caribbean and edited some articles on political philosophy.

My moment of utter disgust came when a white supremacist tried to sneak in a completely spurious (as in the source did not exist) source as the basis for a claim that Marcus Garvey was a child molester. I had to spend time refuting this and demonstrating that the alleged source was non-existent. There was a time in my life when I enjoyed jousting with white supremacist pieces of shit. That was not one (nor is this).

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister has been held by the Gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 11:37 AM:

I have, I suspect, uttered a Word of Power. Their Lownesses are welcome to taste of my herbal tisane.

#37 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 11:51 AM:

A follow-up, with a discussion in the comments about the difficulty of getting accuracy across the wikipedias in various languages.

Link found here, which includes the observation that pages about individuals are particularly likely to be inaccurate.

#38 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 11:54 AM:

Yeah, well. As far as lists of ships, earlier at ML I talked about the deficiencies of Wikipedia in that very regard, specifically the US ships sunk/damaged at Pearl Harbor.

Every Navy ship can be designated in three ways: by name (e.g. USS Arizona), by hull number (e.g. BB-39), and by class (e.g. Pennsylvania-class battleship). The Wikipedia article on Pearl Harbor conflated these, counting each ship up to three times. I actually understand the naming conventions in the US Navy and had the primary documents open in front of me. I made the necessary changes/corrections -- only to have them reverted later that same day.

The claimed strengths of Wikipedia are actually its weaknesses. The anyone-can-edit combined with anonymity means you don't know, on a day to day (or even hour-to-hour) basis, or on a page-to-page basis, whether you're looking at the Encyclopedia Britannica or Gale Research. You don't know if any, some, or all of a given article was written by Jimmy Carter, Rush Limbaugh, or Lyndon LaRouche. You don't know if you're listening to Fox News or NPR.

Real sources, you can identify the speaker and try to know their level of expertise and their slant. Not at Wikipedia. Real sources, what you read this morning will be what you read yesterday. Not at Wikipedia.

So, no, thank you. Wikipedia is not a source. And I will not link to it, quote it, or, indeed, look at it. Bad intel is worse than no intel, and Wikipedia is the definition of bad intel.

#39 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 12:55 PM:

"Wikipedia was a pretty good first try, but the Next Thing in that direction will need to build in governance from day one."

Well, lots of people have tried to build the Next Thing like it, with various kinds of built-in governance, and failed. (Knol, Citizendium, and Scholarpedia are some of the better-known examples that have either eventually been taken down, or have faded into obscurity.)

There are lots of problems with Wikipedia, but in many ways it's amazing that something that big and with that wide a range works as well as it does. (Some more specialized wikis have succeeded as well, like Wookiepedia, TVtropes, and Muppet Wiki, but their tighter focus and more specialized interest seems to make them easier to manage. I think Wikipedia's management can be improved, but lots of ideas people have had to better design something that big haven't worked out in practice.)

Personally I find Wikipedia more useful as a catalog than as an encyclopedia. (Though this may reflect my library background.) That is, although I might not be able to rely on the assertions of a random article as much as I would the assertions of a well-edited reference work, on a good article I can often find links to a variety of online sources with more information about the topic of the article. And *those* are often more useful and verifiably trustworthy than the Wikipedia article itself. And the Wikipedia articles often give a more useful and better-organized set of links than I'd get by just going through a list of search engine hits.

Lately I've been trying to extend that functionality by adding the ability to link from Wikipedia articles to resources in a reader's local library on the same topics. (Abi linked to this article in a recent Parhelia, for which I'm grateful.) There's been some controversy over the templates that's disrupted their use recently, but they seem to have survived the first set of challenges, and I'm in the process of moving the service to Wikimedia infrastructure, and creating guides on how to best use the linking templates, so that the Wikipedia community can build on the service and extend its reach.

#40 ::: Gnomes have CfD'd John Mark Ockerbloom's comment ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 12:58 PM:

I'm hoping that its status will be resolved to Keep soon.

#41 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 01:19 PM:

The sum of human knowledge is "prone to biases," from the bare metal of neurophysiology through the operating system of epistemology to the various storage media, retrieval subsystems, and user interfaces. To leave that metaphor behind (before it overreaches and self-falsifies), any organized activity that depends on an insufficiently explicit and enforced set of protocols is going to be vulnerable to hijacking by the most persistent actors--and even well-developed and -governed groups can be taken over by those who bother to show up, count the house, and manipulate the rules. The quasi-anarchic approach of Wikipedia is charmingly idealistic, but anybody who has dealt with town government (or perhaps a homeowners' society) *and* taught a freshman research course will recognize WP's various pathologies. But they're the pathologies of any tribe--How do you deal with rumor? With lies? With bullies? With crazies? With stupid? With pissing in the well? With aluminum-siding salesmen and door-to-door evangelists?

Oops--I stumbled back into metaphor there. I see the mechanisms that drive WP's pathologies in other internet spaces--the blogosphere, of course, can be seen as an even more lawless and crazy-friendly environment. Or look at the comment threads of any news- or issues-related site. The internet has given everybody a bullhorn.

(Why do I keep falling into metaphor?)

#42 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 01:37 PM:

Russell Letson #40: any organized activity that depends on an insufficiently explicit and enforced set of protocols is going to be vulnerable to hijacking by the most persistent actors

I beg to differ, at least partways. Depending on "explicit protocols" just tilts the field toward the rules-lawyers. I'd say the crux is that no matter how crowd-sourced and democratic the bulk of an enterprise may be, there has to be someone -- a core group, or even an individual, who's in charge, and can apply fiat judgement to mechanistic or insane assaults on the project. Those folks in charge have to be among the most persistent actors, plus have leadership ability. The leaders can change over time, but picking the wrong leaders can mean the whole project fails.

#43 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 02:19 PM:

#19 Patrick
#26 John

I regard Wikipedia as a resource, not a source--to me, it's at best tertiary research:
o primary research is the first hand data collection and analysis, such as doing surveying and writing reports, doing experiments and writing them up, etc.
o secondary research includes e.g. literature searches and citing primary reference material, and analysis based on such things

Wikipedia disallows primary research and disallows citation of primary references which are online. Its mutatable demand for printed references, does have not vetting of references involved... I have not gone looking, but someone could cite certain astonishing fabrications masquerading as authoritative factual nonfiction books, about topics such as Arthur, (King or Dux Bellorum or whatever or whoever might have actually existed as one or more people whom hundreds of years of myth and legend and poets and trouveres and storytellers and politicians and people looking for role models and ideals and unifying themes converted into an enormous unwieldy completely unstructured mass of fiction with perhaps a few wan shadows of fact in the mass), as being credible authoritative sources. (I can't remember the name of the author or or the the book which I want to reference, which is the ditziest supposedly nonfiction volume of Arthurian total claptrap I've ever come across.

One big issue with not only Wikiseedyuh, but contemporary alleged information flow, is selective filtering and isolation and positive feedback (in the engineering sense, of causing runaway/cascading nonlinear "saturation" behavior) to where the system in that condition, is off in its own self-reinforcing, isolated, pathological world.

Fux News is an example, the climate change deniers are another example, religiosity where Credo denies the scientific method and denies/rejects any data contrary to the Faith on purely dogmatic grounds yet another.

Or, to try to use my very rusty group theory math combined with current catchy terminology, there are all those reality distortion fields. The term field sort of applies--the "rules" organic to the individual fields, include mathematical self-contradictions, dealt with by the anti-scientific dogmatics by using definitions which legislate the inconsistencies out of existence--by denial, or by outright rejection of any concepts which fail to comply with the rules.

Some of the more extreme cases are e.g. people who believe the moon landings never happened, that it was all a giant government hoax, and nothing anyone can give as evidence otherwise, will they accept.

The reality distortion fields' rules and conditions reinforce the stricture and beliefs and filtering of input data. I've heard Fux followers say that only Fux and its ilk are trustworthy, that no other information sources claiming to be news actually report True Information. If a source contradicts what they hear on Fux from the Fux presenters they trust, they reject that source as a channel for credible input, and arrange their lives to filter it out as completely as possible/block it.

The result, is their innformation input channels are Fux and channels reinforcing Fux. It's the same sort of thing as old-fashioned claustrophobic at best to any Outsiders community values and behavior--there are the community standards and requirements and anyone questioning them, gets shunned/silenced, excommunicated, exiled or worse.

Communications lines become tenuous, and the same words, don't convey the same meaning/concepts where communications links might still exist.

Wikipedia links are the first things which come up in Google searches, and trying to find content which is not Wikipedia or screed/sock puppet/ideologue/pop culture crap (if looking or information about varieties of apple trees, typing "apple" gets all sorts of crap relating to iPads, iPhones, etc. Possibly typing malus might get information about fruit and fruit trees) is frustrating.

#44 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 02:28 PM:

Pick your authority,
Pull into your shell.
Tell your detractors
They're all bound for hell.

Google for data
Is trust what you find?
Here's Wikipedia
At the head of all lines.

Who wrote the write-ups
And what are their takes,
How can you tell,
Facts from the fake?

What are the biases
What are the lies,
Who's got the power
Disinformation flies.

#45 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 02:36 PM:

The Gnomes the fair
The Gnomes the lovable
The Gnomes the Arbiters of Making Light
Deep in the bowels of the Internet
Guarding the sacred shield from spammer blight.

#46 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 03:24 PM:

Dave Harmon @42: Can't really disagree--I long ago noticed that there are no absolute systemic safeguards, and that it takes both robust and sane protocols *and* robust and sane persons for an organization to persist and remain healthy. I suppose I am biased in favor of the "protocol" side of things because I have seen enterprises operated by decent people fall apart or mutate in unpleasant ways precisely because they didn't bother to get organized in the appropriate manner. My personal experiences (participatory or observational) are all on a pretty small scale--English departments, user groups, bands, community-action committees, even writers' groups. But I suspect that the principles scale up fairly well.

When the activity in question is the longitudinal tradition of scholarship/research/analysis, my training (or whatever you want to call staying in grad school for a decade) leads me to favor knowing-the-protocols over crowdsourcing, which sometimes amounts to the activities of multiple autodidacts or hobbyists or (worst of all) emotion-driven enthusiasts. Just about all of the mid-level problems (along with various extramural feuds) are on display on the Talk page of the WP Jack Vance entry, on which I worked pretty steadily for several years.

#47 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 04:33 PM:

Russell Letson #46: Yeah -- to put it another way, protocols are passive defense, and against an active attack (even a lone nutcase counts as an active attack), you need active defenses -- which means people fighting against it.

#48 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 04:35 PM:

Rules lawyers yes, yes, so much yes. In the recent kurfluffle over systematically deleting women from "American Writers", from looking at the Talk page apparently a number of people were sufficiently strongly moved by the events to create a wikipedia account and vote on it. The response of established editors was not to say "Wow, this blew up in our faces, maybe we should reconsider" but to say "New, single purpose accounts, their votes do not matter." Bleah.

#49 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2013, 04:36 PM:

I always thought Wikipedia sounded like the bastard love child of and enless committee meeting and the worst possible writers' workshop. I'm not so glad to have my opinion validated again.

All I can say is: Do not meddle in the affairs of nut jobs for they are obsessive about details and fueled by inexhaustable self-righteousness.

#50 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 12:07 AM:

The quasi-anarchic approach of Wikipedia is charmingly idealistic, but anybody who has dealt with town government (or perhaps a homeowners' society) *and* taught a freshman research course will recognize WP's various pathologies.

The idea that a central authority will resolve all these pathologies is charmingly idealistic too, but isn't it assuming a philosopher-editor?

A central authority will indeed have the ability to resolve controversies, but it won't necessarily resolve them in a direction you like. What if your central authority is a creationist, or a global warming denier, or a 9/11 truther?

The goal of WP (AIUI) was to allow collective judgment to replace individual judgment in the hope that it might be less flawed. I don't think anyone expected it to be flawless.

It's possible that, to paraphrase a well-known saying, the only thing necessary for kookiness to triumph is for reasonable people to do nothing. But I'm in no position to try to make that some kind of guilt trip, since while I occasionally use WP myself, I don't edit it.

#51 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 01:31 AM:

The abstract idea of allowing "collective judgment to replace individual judgment" is a starting point. But the next thing to notice is that "collective judgment" is a notion that needs some more analysis. Ultimately you've got individual people's opinions and actions, and if you want those opinions and actions to add up to some kind of collective judgment then you need some kind of system for aggregating them.

So the collective judgment has three components: the individuals whose judgments form the base, the protocol for aggregating them into a collective judgment, and the context in which this is all happening.

There are known contexts and aggregation protocols where a group can be smarter than its members. There are also known contexts and aggregation protocols where the reverse is true. Which did Wikipedia choose?

#52 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 03:37 AM:

Sumana Harihareswara @28: Thanks for the updated link! Unfortunately, Wikipedia claims that "As of 2012, WikiTrust appears be an inactive project" (as meta as it may be to cite that here!), and WikiTrust's GitHub repository seems to confirm that. I hope someone picks it up and builds on it; if I had more free time (that I didn't use up reading Making Light!), I'd be tempted to do so (I've wanted to learn OCaml for a long time).

#53 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 04:03 AM:

lorax @48: In the recent kurfluffle over systematically deleting women from "American Writers", from looking at the Talk page apparently a number of people were sufficiently strongly moved by the events to create a wikipedia account and vote on it. The response of established editors was not to say "Wow, this blew up in our faces, maybe we should reconsider" but to say "New, single purpose accounts, their votes do not matter." Bleah.

And, in another instance (say, a page which is full of anti-vax drivel is being lobbied for deletion), where a flurry of new, single-purpose accounts showed up to vote against, likely driven by one or a small number of people, the editors might be totally right to discount those votes. Sock-puppetry and Internet poll ballot-stuffing are both well-established phenomena.

(Which leaves aside the question of what the living, breathing people so moved should have done to retain the women authors on the "List of American Authors" page, to which I don't have a good or easy answer.)

Similarly, much as the effect of hyperobsessive editors here is deleterious, elsewhere it is the only thing preventing a controversial article from being totally rewritten by a crackpot's point of view. (And I know I've multiple times been pleased by the hyperobsessive level of detail on a Wikipedia page courtesy of likely a single otaku with a deep and abiding love for their topic.) I don't know how we redesign the process to require less commitment without also making it easier for bad edits to stand unchallenged.

Much like in an election, just because we disagree with the outcome doesn't mean the process is necessarily flawed.

Much like democracy, I believe in the end product of Wikipedia as much as I believe in the process -- which is enough to use it daily, and not enough to take its word uncritically.

#54 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 07:01 AM:

chris #50: What if your central authority is a creationist, or a global warming denier, or a 9/11 truther?

Then your site will be a crank site, an invaluable resource on why God built pyramids and buried fossils, how Obama disguised his minions as Saudis and ordered the FAA to leave those planes alone, and where the Grand Cabal of Scientists have stashed their seecrit weather machines.

There is no protocol that will convince a crank of their fallacy. There are protocols that will let sane people lock out cranks... it's just that those violate the American myth that everyone's opinion is worth exactly as much as anyone else's, and never mind education, expertise, or evidence.


#55 ::: Dave Harmon has been gnomed. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 07:03 AM:

Possibly for intellectual temper, more likely for kookish keywords.

#56 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 08:00 AM:

#49 Victoria

All I can say is: Do not meddle in the affairs of nut jobs for they are obsessive about details and fueled by inexhaustable self-righteousness.

The problem with that, involves when the "nut jobs" get appointed or get elected to head the Mine Safety Agency, the EPA, national health agencies and major health agency positions, to be in Congress (consider the new Representative just elected from one of the Carolinas) etc. Note that there have been no reports in quite a number of months of lethl cave-in mining disasters in the USA or mining disasters isolating miners for days. Removal of the 2001-2008 corporate appartchik and reinstating safety regulation and enforcement of safety regulations, DO make critical positive differences.

My point--the consequences of yielding to the nut jobs, be they in government

(collapse of pollinating insect populations due to early 2000s approval of Bayer and Monsanto's neonicotinoid pesticides resulting prior to any studies being done, and what studies the government accepted as within purview were a) scientifically invalid due to predetermined conclusion of acceptance driving the content to support the conclusion, and b) buried as regards any "adverse information" contained in the studies. Studies by Harvard and another university pointing directly at the neonicotinoid pesticides as the direct cause of pollinating insects population collapses, the US Department of Agriculture (still apparently controlled by the 2001-2008 functionaries and Monsanto and Bayer cronies) has not accepted as worthy of acknowledgment and responding to by any interesting in banning the lethal substances.)

or religion or business or editing Wikipedia, literally can result in not only "bad data," mis/disinformation, bigotry and bias and suppression of equal opportunity, but outright tragedy (along with the mining disasters, consider the debacle of the Iraqi Adventure, the predetermined look-for-any-usable-excuse invasion of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands dead from not only violence but civil infrasture disintegration of clean water and power distribution and medicines availability--and for that matter, consider the results of medical quacks/religious bigots heading up health agencies. How many people got infected and died in South Africa because its government religiously regarded HIV as not transmissible heterosexually?!

#53 Kevin

Some communities pick their own Authorities/Arbiters/Leaders to follow. Back before 500 channels Balkanization and conversion of "news" information distribution from network public reporting responsibility into profit center infotainment with PrettyYoungThingRonaldReaganHiredActingTalent as delivers of "news" rather than having actual analytical reporting ability/interest/experience, the likes of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite held authoritative places in US society as trusted information purveyors, based on the willingness of the general population to listen to them and consider them credible information sources.

These days "news" is whatever advertisers tell the media distribution outlets to broadcast/cablecast/webcast to get the viewer/listener demographics desired by the advertisers--primarily the psychologically adolescent narcissistic male demographic. TV shows which have large followings which are not that demographic, get dumped...

#57 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:34 AM:

For cheap thrills there's Conservapedia where the featured article of the day is "Evolutionist Martin Bormann "

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:12 AM:

Kevin, #53: Given that the stated purpose for exiling the female authors was that the page had gotten too long and unwieldy, I for one would have been happy with a main page that simply linked to two sub-pages, one of male authors and one of female ones. This would also have left open the option, if people wanted to do it, of creating further sub-pages for authors of color, gay authors, authors with disabilities, etc. -- whatever categories someone thought might be interesting or useful.

The problem was (and remains) that male authors are being left as the DEFAULT on the main page while women were being exiled elsewhere.

#59 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:30 AM:

Lee @58: Don't get me wrong, I'm totally agreed that exiling women from the default authors list is wrong! My point is about the systemic issue.

#60 ::: chaosprime ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 12:17 PM:

The belief I've formed about working on the Big Questions at Wikipedia is that getting satisfactory resolutions requires 1) a philosopher-editor working in the blood and guts of the crowdsourced consensus process on the particular issue for a really long time so as to eventually figure out what should happen (since if said philosopher-editor just does what seems right immediately, it will be horrifically wrong), 2) our hero leveraging a deep and nuanced understanding of the community and how it works to reformulate the question in a way that will manipulate the community into reaching the right answer, 3) our hero shepherding that reformulation through a nigh-endless storm of well-intentioned incomprehension, fathomless idiocy, and bad-faith contention to gather some level of support for the right answer, 4) finding, by pure chance, an administrator willing to claim to recognize consensus in that support and implement the right answer.

It's kind of a high bar.

#61 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 01:01 PM:

Russell Letson @ 41 - The abyss of metaphor ever lies beneath the tightrope of actual example.

Matt Austern @ 51 - citation needed. (Which is to say, what are those "known contexts and aggregation protocols"?)

#62 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 02:35 PM:

Kevin @53:

I do understand the reason for the rule, and in most cases it's probably even a good one - it's the blind application of the rule in all cases, so that there's no way that people who aren't already established Wikipedia editors can comment on issues that concern them and nothing external to Wikipedia that would make said editors reconsider. It shares many failings with zero-tolerance policies in that regard, that with no wiggle room the rules are enforced simply because they are the rules, even in cases where the result of applying them becomes absurd.

#63 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 03:53 PM:

Synchronicity. I too have used Wikipedia recently to look up the distribution of wild bananas and the ships at Trafalgar.

Wikipedia isn't a suitable source for formal academic reference, but neither is any paper encyclopedia, or the Economist, or New Scientist, or the BBC, or any newspaper. And perhaps - just perhaps - Wikipedia is teaching people to be intelligently skeptical of all sources.

And if you ever read their pages on the history of games related to cricket, just bear in mind that some of it was written by me, and I know almost nothing about cricket.

#64 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 04:16 PM:

Do you know, I might have read that page on games related to cricket! A digression when I was looking up the evolution of lawn tennis from court tennis.

I didn't need an accurate-to-the-last-detail list of the ships at Trafalgar, either. A reasonable outline was good enough for my purposes, and I decided to put my fictional ship in the area of the Achille when the officers were pressed to tell stories over dinner. Which was all I needed - I wasn't writing a battle scene. If I'm allowed an Author's Notes page, I'm going to apologize to HM Schooner Pickle for stealing her thunder about the dispatches. I needed my ship home as soon as possible, and I needed my character to earn a promotion for it...

For general outlines of uncontroversial subjects, it's awfully convenient.

#65 ::: Doug Hudson ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 04:51 PM:

I think Borges predicted Wikipedia, both in general, and specifically in the "Library of Babel" and "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius".

#66 ::: Stephanie Hughes ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 04:58 PM:

This same thing could have just as easily happened in a very one-sided non-fiction publication. People tend to neglect the facts to send a certain message, and for those who only research a single source and know no better, it may as well be truth.

I don't think Wikipedia is a terrible source, as long as you do not research subjects of controversy or articles that contain a lot of rumours and speculation. For example, an article on different kinds of apples most likely won't contain a hidden agenda of lies.

That said, this site isn't without its major issues.

#67 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 06:00 PM:

Stephanie, because of its inaccuracies and flaws, it's not a citable source. It can be a useful tool for finding sources that are citable, but relying on Wikipedia alone isn't credible.

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 06:07 PM:

67
I suspect most of us go there to find general information and better sources - it's good for starting a search.

#69 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 07:23 PM:

I think Heather Rose Jones' comment at #30 is a really nice insight. We're in a time when all kinds of new things are being tried for the first time on the internet. Most of those new things will eventually fail or change radically, as most new ideas do.

The problem is, we adapt to our environment by reusing things that worked for us in the past. Wikipedia as a new idea, before it had become a target for PR people to shape public discourse on some subject, before it had had time to attract permanent obsessive crazies on some issues, etc., may just have been a very different sort of thing than Wikipedia now. And Wikipedia in another ten years may be something else, again. Maybe better, maybe worse.

And the fundamental problem here is just very hard. You don't know much about X, and want to learn something, often so you can make some decisions or just understand it better. In this situation, there is no source of information that is generically good. Textbooks, respectable news media, government publications, classes taught at respectable schools, what your priest tells you, Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica, academic journals, famous journals like Nature and Science--all of them can screw you over in this situation.

Sometimes, they're just wrong because knowledge is hard to get. Even experts in a field often are quite ignorant of related fields, and often even of some aspects of their own field. Academic subjects have fashions and rival schools with bitter feuds. Newspapers have biases and are sometimes successfully spun by PR people or activists. Government publications can be influenced by what elected or appointed officials or bureaucrats want said and unsaid.

Worse, any widely-used information source becomes a target, and the more widely-used, the bigger a target it is. Politicians and big companies have whole staffs full of experts at spinning media coverage, because media coverage determines what many people think truth is. That alone would guarantee that as people started interrupting political arguments with "let's look that up on Wikipedia," there would be more and more attempts to make sure the stuff on Wikipedia helped your side of the argument.

I wonder if Wikipedia will be much used in ten years--I can imagine it being as important as it is now, or having vanished, or being even more important. And I can imagine it as a mainly positive or negative force in the world.

#70 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 07:38 PM:

Re: everyone having a megaphone

In a world where everyone can publish, neither good nor bad ideas can be silenced. My intuition is that this is broadly good, since I don't see any reason to believe that the owners or managers of the megaphones are in general smarter or more moral than everyone else.

However, I have long suspected that there's a bad side to this. In a world where there's basically one consensual picture of reality (the three networks plus the big city newspapers plus a couple influential news magazines), the official picture of the world is often wrong, and sometimes is a blatant lie. But it's at least minimally coherent and consistent with reality in most places.

In a world where you lose that, where the respectable pictures of reality are so fragmented, my guess is that it's possible to have a much better picture of reality than before, or a much worse one.

The smart, informed, educated people will, in general, end up with a pretty clear picture of reality--better than before, because if they want more detail than the Washington Post wanted to give them, they could look up the original scientific paper online, get the raw polling numbers, read the unedited interview transcript, etc. If the US media are black-holing some story, they'll be able to find it elsewhere.

The dumber, less-informed, less-educated people will, in general, end up with a worse picture of reality. Less background knowledge means you have a harder time catching BS, and it's easy to get into an echo chamber where you never even realize that there are contrary facts and arguments to your position.

At least at present, this seems like a very broad trend with the internet. It makes information available to people who never had access to it before, and in that sense it's a great equalizer. But it also amplifies the differences in aptitude and interest and background that exists already, and I can easily imagine it increasing the differences between the best and least informed people, or the best-informed people and the average.

#71 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 08:01 PM:

It seems that much of this nasty's bile has been addressed to attendees of the Sewanee Writers Conference. I have a poet friend who is a regular attendee and she says she'd heard rumors about this guy but didn't know his name.

Wikipedia tries very hard to stop this kind of thing. Unfortunately, its open source nature, which is critical to its success, mitigates against successful prevention.

Another example of the robbers always being one step ahead of the cops. (Of course, that is not always bad.)

#72 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:22 PM:

albatross #69: I wonder if Wikipedia will be much used in ten years--I can imagine it being as important as it is now, or having vanished, or being even more important. And I can imagine it as a mainly positive or negative force in the world.

I'd say that whether Wikipedia is still popular and useful in ten years will depend on whether they can change to respond to this problem. Essentially, they need a better intellectual immune system. If they can't figure out how to do it, or if they're collectively unwilling to implement what they figured out... well then, someone else will, and that someone else will eventually get WP's niche in the infosphere. Yes, WP has an enormous first-mover advantage, and that's let it outlast the first few upstart competitors, but it doesn't make WP invulnerable -- and unless it's dealt with, this "corruption problem" is only going to get worse over time.

#73 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:47 PM:

One citation for my claim that in certain contexts a group can be smarter than the people who make it up is Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. You should not accept it uncritically, and you should not accept the claim that a crowd is always wise. It provides examples of cases in which a group comes to a better conclusion than any individual in it would have, and doesn't discuss cases where the contrary is true.

The interesting question is: how can you characterize the cases where this is true? What is it about the group composition, the task the group is trying to do, and the aggregation mechanism, that makes group decision-making work well in the cases where it works well? There are some preliminary answers to that question in Surowiecki's book. Some of the answers seem to be group diversity, and independence of opinions.

#74 ::: Steve C was gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:48 PM:

Albatross : I wonder if Wikipedia will be much used in ten years--I can imagine it being as important as it is now, or having vanished, or being even more important.

Isn't that pretty much how it goes with knowledge in general? I think the idea of some repository of knowledge being unchanging or pure (outside of pure science) has been proven to be non-existent. Our compendium of "what we know" is defined as much by what we discard as what we discover.

Take for example cultural judgement of Shakespeare as a writer. That's nothing besides the collective opinion of readers and scholars. And I've heard that changes on occasion.

To be sure, Shakespeare's texts are there, as they've always been (and even those were malleable in his time), but the statement "Shakespeare is the greatest English writer" is not, and never can be, a fact. It's a judgement.

#75 ::: Steve C was gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:48 PM:

Damnit, I was not gnomed...Sorry!

#76 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 10:48 PM:

I give up.

#77 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:01 PM:

I've done a lot of editing on Wikipedia, and I've given some major articles their basic shape. My version of a lot of articles is the current one, and most articles I've created continue to read essentially the way I wrote them. That said, the disfunction is inarguable. Part of the reason I continue is that I am not powerless to resist the badness, and I feel that since the stuff is going to edited, and since people are going to read it, it is better that it be edited by someone like me.

#78 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:03 PM:

Oh, and a "tie two threads together" point: according to this Wikipediocracy thread, there's a group that seems to be claiming to sell access to Wikipedia adminstrators-- but it appears to be a scam.

#79 ::: C. Wingate got gegnomed ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:05 PM:

probably for punctuation and a misspelling.

#80 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2013, 11:14 PM:

I've edited a few things on Wikipedia, most of them from looking at the copies of the books/ephemera I was describing. I don't usually go back and check that my edits have stood, but when I've had occasion to, they often have.

#81 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 02:28 AM:

In Wikipedia's defense, a big chunk of the problem with Wikipedia isn't really Wikipedia's fault. It's Google and Microsoft's fault (and previously, Yahoo's fault as well).

Roughly speaking, search companies classify search queries into three broad categories. "Navigational" queries -- people typing in terms like "facebook" or "gmail" so they can go to Facebook or GMail by clicking on the top result. (An insanely high number of people navigate the web this way.) Then there are "informational" queries, the kind of questions that Wikipedia strives to answer. And finally, "transactional" queries -- people looking to research or directly buy a product.

Simple navigational queries are a free routing service, but unfortunately from the search engine's perspective, useless for ads. For informational queries, you can... kind of sort of sell ads, but they're not very effective. Transactional queries are where all the money in search is.

The problem with informational queries is they have this nasty combination of being complicated to answer well and not very profitable. So search engines have an incentive to cut corners. Rather than spend lots of money tuning search algorithms to highlight specialized sites with deep, relevant subject knowledge, it's easier and safer to just throw the user at Wikipedia. After all, most users like Wikipedia a lot -- it's a brand they trust! (Thanks to search engines.)

It's this massive unwarranted search rank that in turn creates the massive pressure to hack and subvert Wikipedia. If you have Strong Opinions on something, it's cheaper and easier to worm your way into a Wikipedia page than it is to create your own site and try to hit the #1 slot on your own. It seems odd to say it, but demoting Wikipedia in search would probably be really healthy for Wikipedia in the long term.

#82 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 12:47 PM:

B. Durbin @29: (I plan on instructing my children in his term paper methodology on the idea that they will not otherwise get exposed to it.)

Why not post a draft here? ::bats eyes engagingly:: Just, you know, to practice...? <*sparkle*>

#83 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 02:58 PM:

thomas @ #10, that is magnificent. And at #3, I'm grateful for the same reasons, except for the crystal structure of kyanite or solubility properties of [insert metal salt here].

#84 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 03:00 PM:

Matt Austern @51: There are known contexts and aggregation protocols where a group can be smarter than its members.

Google search phrase, please?

(Russell Letson's @41 reference to a "homeowners' society" strikes rather close to home these days.)

#85 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 03:36 PM:

Jacqui: "wisdom crowds"

A classic case.

#86 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 03:41 PM:

Matt Austern @73: a key result here is something called the Condorcet jury theorem, which basically says that if you've got a group of peopl each of whom has got a better than 50 percent chance of getting the answer right AND their answers are all independent of one another, they're even more likely to get things right on a majority vote (provided they don't confer). Also, if they've each got less than a fifty percent chance of getting things right, the opposite applies (if its a binary question.)

Mind you, entirely independent sources are a bit like perfectly spherical cows, so it's a less useful result than you might hope.

There's a book by Philip Pettit and Christian List called 'Group Agency: The Possibility, Status and Design of Corporate Agents which has a bunch of chapters which run through some related results (for example, what happens when everyone tries to second-guess the majority view.)

#87 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 03:45 PM:

Pleasingly, the Wikipedia page on the Condorcet Jury Theorem is quite good (at least for now).

#88 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 05:16 PM:

My job is writing a large electronic encyclopaedia on wild animal health and management, and (re-)emerging infectious diseases. Everything in it is referenced, and when possible back to the original source. We use alphanumeric coding to make it easy to spot at a glance the type of reference (J = refereed journal, P = conference proceedings, V = personal communication, B = published book etc.). We get completed sections reviewed by subject experts. We still put on disclaimers that people have to use their professional judgement when using the information.

And repeatedly we get people asking why it takes so long for us to do what we do and why we couldn't just get a bunch of students to do it faster/cheaper, or crowd-source it or...

#89 ::: "Orange Mike" Lowrey ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 07:00 PM:

Dave Harmon writes:
"I'd say that whether Wikipedia is still popular and useful in ten years will depend on whether they can change to respond to this problem. Essentially, they need a better intellectual immune system. If they can't figure out how to do it, or if they're collectively unwilling to implement what they figured out... well then, someone else will, and that someone else will eventually get WP's niche in the infosphere. Yes, WP has an enormous first-mover advantage, and that's let it outlast the first few upstart competitors, but it doesn't make WP invulnerable -- and unless it's dealt with, this "corruption problem" is only going to get worse over time.

The problem is that people like that have to be paid. Wikipedia runs because gnomes and wonks like me and others who have posted here, volunteer to do so. In return: I've had an angry punker bash me in a punkzine called HATERSMAG, then drop off a bundle at my place of employ; I've gotten repeated letters from a federal prisoner, dropping heavy-handed hints about his friends on the outside; equally heavy hints from the pseudo-reformers at Wikipediocracy about the dossier they supposedly have compiled on my evil behavior "on- and off-Wikipedia"); attacks on Stormfront, FreeRepublic, etc.; and I've gotten repeated threats of lawsuits, some from actual attorneys who JUST LIKE TO CYBERSHOUT LIKE THIS! (And the occasional silly tabloid newspaper headline and surly website using my handle but not [usually] my real name.)

Nobody pays me for this; but the idea of Wikipedia keeps me going. And I love you guys all anyway.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 07:48 PM:

Jacque:

Markets are one example. They aren't smarter than humans, or even smart in any real sense, but they can incorporate knowledge no one person has to solve a problem of coordinating peoples' actions.

#91 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2013, 09:29 PM:

I would argue that Wikipedia today, for all its flaws, is an example of a system whereby a large group of people is smarter than any one individual. The question is whether that system is sustainable, or more importantly, whether it can be modified to stay sustainable.

#92 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 05:22 AM:

albatross #90, Jacque.

A nice description of what markets can do that individuals can't is in Cosma Shalizi's In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You.

It won 2nd prize for 2012 science blogging at 3Quarks Daily. I'm in roughly the same field as Cosma, so I can testify that he knows what he's talking about. And he's not a generic free-market enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination.

#93 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 06:22 AM:

"Orange Mike" Lowrey #89:
The problem is that people like that have to be paid.
Wikipedia runs because gnomes and wonks like me and others who have posted here, volunteer to do so.

Do you not see the contradiction there? And just who are "people like that"? WP does pay a few people, including IIRC at least one semi-regular poster here. But "paid or unpaid" does not bear closely on the corruption problem, especially as paid employees can also have agendas beyond their paycheck.

#94 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 06:49 AM:

thomas #92: Digressing from the main thread, but about the stuff of that article: It seems to me that in a slightly softer SF setting than they're discussing, most of those issues could be handled by introducing a "computational god" -- a planner/arbiter that can do wholesale non-deterministic computation. Naturally, such a thing does not apply to real-world planning.

#95 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 08:54 AM:

thomas @92: It seems to me that Shalizi spends a long time proving that planning can't solve the problem of coming close to an optimal plan for production and distribution of goods; but leftists are actually trying to solve a simple problem: doing a much better job of it than capitalism does.

He says: "The computational complexity formula I quoted above already allows for only needing to come close to the optimum. Worse, the complexity depends only very slowly, logarithmically, on the approximation to the optimum, so accepting a bit more slop buys us only a very slight savings in computation time. ... This route is blocked."

And: "If it's any consolation, allowing non-convexity messes up the markets-are-always-optimal theorems of neo-classical/bourgeois economics, too. ... Markets with non-convex production are apt to see things like monopolies, or at least monopolistic competition, path dependence, and, actual profits and power. ... Somehow, I do not think that this will be much consolation."

As the last-quoted passage makes clear, Shalizi believes that markets can't solve the optimization problem either, even in theory. But he doesn't develop this. "I do not think that this will be much consolation" is a neat piece of rhetoric, implying that the failings of capitalism are an argument against planning.

Certainly Shalizi's concentration on planning-as-optimization is relevant in its original context of the Crooked Timber Red Plenty discussion; but in the context of trying to figure out what do about the mess we're in, it's misleading. I imagine that more people than thomas have read it as "A nice description of what markets can do that individuals can't"

Ah well. Certainly I agree with Shalizi here: "These are all going to be complex problems, full of messy compromises."

#96 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 08:56 AM:

trying to solve a simpler problem -- it's simple only in comparison to the impossible optimization problem!

#97 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 10:56 AM:

Jeremy Leader @52, thanks for the heads-up. It could be that the project is rather on hiatus right now; I know that the authors are interested in working on it again, and would welcome additional hands. Incidentally you might be interested in the Math extension to MediaWiki that helps wiki pages display math-related stuff -- it uses OCaml -- and in the latest Wikimedia Foundation engineering report just to see what sorts of things are going on.

#98 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 01:07 PM:

#58 Lee

They could have segmented the authors by date, by political affiliation, by region of birth, by topical matter, by sexual proclivities, by theme.... what do they do about transgendered authors? But no, it was by putrescent asshole Patriarchal eliminate the women....


#69 albatross
I've known people who found errors in the scientific literature which had been there for decades. Some things get published and go unchallenged, or rather nobody goes through the calculations to try to duplicate/check them, for years.

Meanwhile, the malevolent self-serving Republicraps are spreading more of their damned Big Lies and FUD--the Cincinnatti IRS office apparently had a 350:1 ratio of tax exemption requests to workers in the office, and an inundunations of government-haters or rather groups using terms characteristic of government-haters and disseminaators of tax scam information, trying for tax exemptions: Someone remarked somewhere, something about looking carefully at a Cheech and Chong request for "medical marijuana" as an analogy. The number of groups characterized by "liberal" affiliation terms, seeking tax exemptions was a lot lower--and according to the New York Times and Boston Glove articles within the past few days, at least two dozen liberal organization got the same slow-roll and hairy eyeball treatment as the anti-government types. The Cincy office according to the articles is NOT staffed with tax law minutiae lawyers, but harried, overworked low level people.... the same e.g. Oklahoma etc. members of Congress foisting the misanthropic vicious sequester on the USA and slow-rolling any disaster relief for New Yorks and New Jersey in the wake of the big hurriciane, and especially to eliminate FEMA funding generally EXCEPT for harm to their districts, were also I think cutting the IRS budget...

(I completely and utterly despie Inhofe, completely and utterly, and have for years.)

The other fictionalized fake scandal, is no less hypocritical and despicable. The IRS head when the slow-rolling tax exemption reviews were occurring, was a holdover from 2001-2008! The "acting head" was an acting head because pondscum like Inhofe deliberate go far far far out of their way to block appointments not only at every opporturnity to be obstructionist, but inventing new obstruction methods to add the their existing methods. And Republicrap judges have thrown out apppointments made when Congress was out of session--something which did NOT happen in 2001-2008. My opinion these days of the Republican Party and Republican is that they are four orders of magnitude more offensive and damaging than dead rotting infested with communicable plagues spread by fleas and lice and lousy with such vermin, skunks...

#70 albatross
Fux viewers shut off everything except Fux. I ran into an asshole claimed to be retired military in Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago who sounded like a Fux remote parrot.... And his attitude towards all other forums than Fux and dittohead-type radio was that they are pathological malevolent liars.

#91 Jeremy

Conventional economic theory does not take Belief/Values systems and Magickal/Religious thinking into consider. Standard economic theory says such things as "If you can't afford beef, you will substitute some other meat." That ignores, "I HATE!! lamb!" or "Pork violates my religious rules" or "I'm allergic to chicken."

People contribute to Wikipedia perhaps for any of a number of different reasons:
1) Advocacy, of wanting their views to get disseminated.
2) A love of accuracy, wanting information to be as correct, accurate, and complete as possible.
3) Anger at some imbalance and wanting that imbalance corrected.
4) Fanaticism/anger, going far beyond 1) to want to censor out any version but what they see as Appropriate for others to have access to

#99 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2013, 03:51 PM:

This Twitter exchange is relevant and hilarious.

#100 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 10:01 AM:

Paula:

Yeah, I think the most common way previous papers' results are confirmed are when other researchers want to extend them--they then spend a lot of time trying to get the original claimed result to work, and often enough, they can't get them to work and eventually they find a different way to do what they need to do.

Economics certainly does assume people have preferences, and no economist on Earth would be surprised that different goods aren't perfect substitutes for one another. There are many ways economic models miss important parts of reality, but I don't think that's one of them.

#101 ::: James Chadwack ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 06:18 PM:

No duh!!!! People use Wikipedia to attack and cyberbully other business people and competitors of whom they are jealous all the time, making up any kind of stories they want about people not selling books they sold, and not having college degrees they earned, and telling any sorts of whoppers without consequences. Remember Bauer vs Glatzer? and Absolute Write, and Miss Snark Hint Hint?????
Wikipedia has immunity. Any ugly, stupid, wacko, fit-for-the-insane-asylum, skank blogger can post anything she wants about anybody and nothing will happen to them because of the Communications Decency Act. So stop complaining that they are telling lies on Wikipedia. You did it to others, and now it is your turn to be on the receiving end.

#102 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 06:32 PM:

You did it to others, and now it is your turn to be on the receiving end.

Excuse me? Who's the 'you' here?

If you mean what it sounds like you're saying, I think you probably won't be here long.

#103 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 06:32 PM:

Oh damn. I'm out of popcorn.

#104 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 06:36 PM:

Barbara Bauer was a scam literary agent, right? You're complaining that people here told the truth about her, right James?

#105 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 07:44 PM:

Aw, James was just a drive-by internet fucktard. How disappointing.

#106 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 08:06 PM:

I have to admit I have no idea what Miss Snark (who gave writers advice on submitting work to agents) has to do with this. Did she quote Yog's Law or something?

#107 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 08:12 PM:

IIRC, Miss Snark also publicized the Twenty Worst Agents list.

#108 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 08:49 PM:

Apparently Quorty also engaged in a purge campaign against Pagan topics and people.

What a piece of shit that guy is. He's been banned, but what does that mean when he has hundreds of sockpuppets?

#109 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 10:10 PM:

"James Chadwack" (#101) is posting from 173.220.125.58

Let me see if I can illuminate some things:

First, Bauer vs Glatzer was a frivolous lawsuit that Barbara "Twenty Worst" Bauer launched half-a-dozen years ago against a whole laundry-list of people purely for the purpose of harassment. It was dismissed by the court before coming to trial. One of the entities she named was Wikipedia (the Wikimedia Foundation), which promptly shot her down on grounds that they are protected by the CDA (which her lawyer should have told her before she started).

Here's where Miss Snark fits into all this: Barbara Bauer, it's your red letter day!

Here's the Absolute Write link.

Here's something relevant from Jim C. Hines: An Apology to The Write Agenda.

"So stop complaining that they are telling lies on Wikipedia. You did it to others, and now it is your turn to be on the receiving end," just means that "James" has the same reading comprehension difficulties that she's always had. None of us here have been "on the receiving end" (unless "James" has a confession to make).

Hey, "James," if you happen to see Barbara any time soon, why not tell her that real agents make their money from commissions on books they've sold to real presses (no, PublishAmerica does not count) rather than fees they collect from their clients?

Absolutely no one is jealous of you. Hint hint.

#110 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 12:35 AM:

Am I the only one who thinks there's at least one sentence in Chadwacko's comment that has too many vowels in it? I believe he called Miss Teresa names, and I was quite startled to find that my house is devoid of gages...on the other hand, the place is a mess, so perhaps I've just misplaced them.

#111 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 12:44 AM:

#110 Xopher

I believe he called Miss Teresa names....

That wasn't how I read it. I thought "James" was describing Barbara Bauer.

But then, when "James" flies into spittle-flecked rages she isn't the world's most careful writer. It's impossible to tell exactly who she intended to insult.

#112 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 01:00 AM:

Let's see. "Any [list of nasties] blogger can post anything she wants about anybody and nothing will happen to them because of the Communications Decency Act." So that's about a female blogger. Is BB a blogger?

This is addressed to Making Light: "So stop complaining that they are telling lies on Wikipedia. You did it to others, and now it is your turn to be on the receiving end."

Now, this was Patrick's post, but do we really expect BB to notice that, even in her "James Chadwack" sock puppet?

And the post is attacking Wikipedia and this blog; it's implausible that those insults would be directed at BB, accurate though they might be.

#113 ::: Xopher Halftongue is begnomed again ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 01:02 AM:

Words of Power, I suspect.

#114 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 01:08 AM:

Ah, 173.220.125.58 is in Matawan. I get it now. Never mind.

#115 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 05:18 AM:

Matawan? Care to expand, for those of us playing at home?

#116 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 08:00 AM:

Jacque: Read the article by Jim C. Hines that was linked to in #109. All will become clear.

#117 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 08:14 AM:

Matawan NJ is the Barbara Bauer Literary Agency's address.

#118 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 10:19 AM:

Today's list of jobs included taking reference shots of the knitting finished last night. My fingers kept insisting on "sock puppets" instead of "sock photos".

#119 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 02:28 PM:

Heather Rose Jones's words in #30 struck me hard:

I long ago concluded that pretty much every useful thing or function on 'net or web exists only during a particular segment of the life-arc of its underpinnings. A phenomenon sprouts, it grows, it blooms, it goes to seed, it dies. And we can no more preserve it forever at that bright and useful moment than we can hold the rose in stasis at its perfect unfurling. Cyberspace is always and ever change. Change brings us the rose; change wilts it and brings the worms.
I've been brooding over what to say about this for a week. The pangs of nostalgia for my previous Edens are sharp. BITNET. SF-LOVERS. Sci.space. Rec.arts.sf.fandom. I miss the days of their glory. I know Patrick and Teresa were refugees from the vanished GEnie; they settled into rasff for a while, helping to make it wonderful, but eventually moved on to the Blogosphere.

I've been blogging since 2004 on Livejournal but there are signs of decline there. Many are probably finding their own Edens on Facebook, but I never took up the habit, which seems a less attractive proposition than it used to.

I find solace in Heather's conclusion:

Do not regret the petals scattered on the ground; plant more roses. Always plant more roses.
Our host and hostess reinforce Heather in their recent Locus interview, "The Continuation of Fanac by Other Means." Teresa says of Tor.com:
There’s a running conversation in science fiction that’s been going on since the 1930s, and it never ends, it just instantiates in different places. GEnie gave it a really good place to instantiate. People in science fiction go to have conversations wherever the other people are. We’re a gregarious species. So I said look, there’s this mindspace, this conversation, and we can catch it if we make a place for it.
In the end, this cheered me up. I am part of a conversation. It happens here, it happens there. Fandom may not last forever, but it's been around longer than I have, and bids fair to outlive me. Okay, then. Let us talk.

#120 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2013, 05:21 PM:

re 108: It's somewhat more complicated than that. The deletion that kicks off the article was actually started by the fringe theory guys; Qworty piled on to that with a huge rant. Interestingly the Young/Rosenbaum feud was noticed at the time but the admin people refused to do anything about it.

Dealing with this material is very difficult because it's very hard for outsiders to draw a line between faddish claims created ex nihilo and what for lack of a better word I would call "legitimate" neopaganism. For example today you can see on the fringe theory noticeboard a link to something called "solfeggio frequencies". It doesn't take much knowledge about music to know that the claims of rediscovery are bunk and that this is all too likely to have been made up out of whole cloth in 1998 or so. But any search for information about these things is dominated by various new age sites passing this stuff around.

#121 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2013, 07:50 PM:

#82 Jacque: "B. Durbin @29: (I plan on instructing my children in his term paper methodology on the idea that they will not otherwise get exposed to it.)

Why not post a draft here? ::bats eyes engagingly:: Just, you know, to practice...? "

•Definition of terms: primary and secondary sources, theme, supporting paragraphs, etc.
•Introduction of basic concepts as needed in regards to writing, starting with the basic five-paragraph essay and working out in stylistic terms from there
•(from another class by the same teacher): Look it up! The actual definition of the word is important. Start with "red."
•Denotation vs. connotation and why those are important

Then we move on to the primary source paper. Pick your source (mine was 1984.)
•Pulling quotes. We did this on notecards; after I got used to this, I started inputting them directly in the computer with footnotes already properly set up, then cutting/pasting as needed.
•Proper citations!

We didn't do a secondary source paper in that class—it was a frosh/soph class, intended to be a basis for future writing. I am SO glad that I was not forced to take my college's 101 class, which would have driven me flat bonkers. "Learn to construct sentences and paragraphs." WHAT are you doing in college if you have to learn that? (Everyone had to take that class, English AP scores notwithstanding. I ducked it by application of the one tiny loophole that said that members of the Honors Program didn't have to take it—twenty students per year. That was strong incentive to get into Honors...)

#122 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2013, 07:54 PM:

B. Durbin: that's exactly the sort of course schools should let you test out of. Plenty of students don't need it; some do (as Fragano's examples of his students' work shows); and it should be fairly easy for the ones who don't need it to demonstrate their skill level on paper.

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2013, 09:06 PM:

my college's 101 class, which would have driven me flat bonkers. "Learn to construct sentences and paragraphs." WHAT are you doing in college if you have to learn that?

When I first started college, lo these many years ago, it was in the UC system, which called that one 'Subject A'. You could get out of it by having a sufficiently high score on the SAT/Achievement tests. A lot of students had to take it, even back then. And if you didn't, they'd give you an 'opportunity' to hold off on the second quarter of English, because even then, they didn't have enough teachers and space to handle everyone who had just passed 'Subject A' going into the first quarter of English, and all the people who would be moving into the second quarter of English, at the same time. (If they didn't get enough volunteers they started pulling names at random.)

There are people who were seniors in the Cal State system who still had trouble writing in English, and the graduation writing test required writing an essay on a topic that was handed to you as part of the test.

#124 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2013, 12:06 PM:

B. Durbin #121: #82 Jacque: "B. Durbin @29: (I plan on instructing my children in his term paper methodology on the idea that they will not otherwise get exposed to it.)

I managed somehow to miss that nest of comment on earlier reading.

When I was in 8th grade, my English teacher made us write a paper with footnotes and argument and all, so we'd have a head start on the next year, when it was theoretically supposed to be a required thing. Would you believe it, this process was repeated through my entire high school career? Every year, we were the only class doing a paper. Even senior English. At least by the time I got to college, I had paper-writing down cold, but I was not entirely surprised that other people did not.

#125 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2013, 05:17 PM:

A friend linked me to this apposite article by one Mark Bernstein on the topic of Wikipedia's reliability, post-Qworty's banning. One of his suggestions lines up with Evan Goer's @81, although Mr. Bernstein frustratingly just sort of tosses it in at the end of the article without really building an argument for it, and tosses in a political dig which I think is unwarranted.

More urgently, the survival of the Open Web might depend on convincing Google and Bing to consider deweighting wikipedia pages in some circumstances. I’d suggest looking at the edit history; if a page has lots of recent edits, put it in the penalty box and demote its page rank until things calm down. That would limit the incentive for the crazies and the pajamas, and perhaps help cut down the funding I expect they receive from the right-wing noise machine.

The lesson of oligarchy is that vesting all that authority in a small number of people -- even fairly good people -- doesn't create a greatly productive society. Democracy does a better job, but it's greatly dependent on how well-designed its institutions are and how much trust the populace places in them -- a democracy with corrupt institutions is mob rule by another name, and quickly reverts to oligarchy.

Similarly an encyclopedia of authorities has its own problems, not least of which is its expense and its consequent ideological capture by its backers. Wikipedia's own problems are no less a result of the system in which its readers and editors operate, and I think the solutions too will come from understanding and changing those systems.

#126 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2013, 06:03 PM:

Kevin, #125: I don't think that last comment of his is unwarranted at all. Think about the amount of time and money they've spent capturing most of the news media, and how well that tactic has worked for them. Why would they not think it equally useful to spend a relative pittance to capture a primary online information source?

"Capture," in this case, isn't as blatant a move as the media capture has been -- it's exactly the sort of subtle warping of reality that we've been discussing here. Little throwaway Creationist jabs in science articles. Unsourced rumors reported as fact. A word changed here, a sentence there, a paragraph added (or deleted) elsewhere. The online-editor version of astroturf. Enough of it in enough places, and you can make Wikipedia reflect, overall, the reality you've invented for yourself.

#127 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2013, 01:18 AM:

Lee @126: I object to the last comment not because I think the funders of the right-wing noise machine haven't also been funding people to edit Wikipedia to their liking -- I have no evidence either way, but it's certainly something I'd consider if I were in their place. (Though honestly it seems just as likely the world produces enough dissatisfied cranks without their financial support.)

I object because fixing the problem will require people of goodwill from all over the political landscape, and singling that one group out explicitly strikes me as bad (Wikipedian) politics. If this reform is necessary for Wikipedia to continue to function, it should be demonstrably necessary regardless of the political affiliations of the people affected.

#128 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2013, 03:24 AM:

Kevin, #127: Any solution which will genuinely fix the problem will perforce work for cranks of all political stripes, I agree.

The reason I don't find calling out one side unwarranted is that they are the ones with the long and well-documented record of pulling exactly those kind of shenanigans in an organized manner. This is at least partly because those of the authoritarian persuasion tend to cluster on that side of the political balance; left-wingers generally function more on the "herding cats" and "Kickstarter" models, not the "buy or destroy anything that gets in our way" one favored by right-wingers.

It's more or less the same principle as the law against sleeping under bridges applying to rich and poor alike.

#129 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2013, 04:36 PM:

Evan Goer @81: "Roughly speaking, search companies classify search queries into three broad categories."

This makes sense, but... is this search engine strategy, or folklore? When I (ha) google for those terms, I see a lot of second-hand talk on SEO sites. Wikipedia (ha) refers to a study performed in 2000 on Excite!

You go on to say: "So search engines have an incentive to cut corners. Rather than spend lots of money tuning search algorithms to highlight specialized sites with deep, relevant subject knowledge, it's easier and safer to just throw the user at Wikipedia." This is the sort of just-so story that arouses my suspicion. *Does* Google do this? Does it even make sense to talk about their *motivation* for doing this? The whole point of Google in its inception was to rely on popularity of links, rather than trying to hand-tune results for every subject under the sun.

For that matter: how would we know what Google's weight on Wikipedia results are? Maybe they're negative. It's not like we can perform a controlled experiment. (Except to compare Google with Bing with DuckDuckGo, but you're alleging an industry-wide bias.)

(I know Google engineers who might know the answer, but I don't expect they'd tell me.)

I do not intend to attack you in particular, and I realize it's a tangent to the body of the discussion. But I try to apply the "how do you think you know that" rule.

#130 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2013, 11:04 AM:

re 128: Lee, there are clearly loose alliances of conservative (especially right-lib) editors, but for instance there has never been any sign that the protection of the Koch brothers's articles, or the tendency to drop questionable attacks into Paul Krugman's article, arises out of anything but the personal biases of a relatively small group of editors who have the time and the understanding of the system to (for instance) suppress the direct connection between the Koch sons and the Birchers (through their father) or to convert an off-hand remark about Krugman into a dismissal of his relevance.

What I don't see is any evidence that for instance some PAC or the like is paying these people or otherwise assisting them. They seem to be editing according to their own passions.

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