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Speaking of wikipedia edit wars
james_nicoll
A vigilant wikipedia editor protects the Saberhagen entry from any mention of Saberhagen's death.

The SWFA website: a valid source of information or Satan's Left Bollock?

God, what a jackass. I was tempted to log in and point out just what a jackass he was being, but the page was locked for database updating and I just didn't care enough to wait around.

But man, what a jackass.

Honestly, as I read that, I'm sympathetic to the Wikipedia people. If you're going to manage a huge project like Wikipedia, you need some rules and policies. If the policies and rules don't make sense (as they increasingly seem not to), then have the appropriate discussion and change them. But in the meantime, don't just say "I don't like the process, so let's ignore it right now this one time."

Scalzi comes off like the guy (let's call him "Damon Knight") who comes crashing onto Usenet and refuses to follow Usenet quoting conventions because they're clearly and obviously stupid and isn't interested in hearing anyone explain how these rules make any sense, and then storms off in a huff, complaining about all those officious pricks.

No, the Wikipedia guy was being a jackass even by our standards (we do have some), if that "it's noted on SFWA"/"It's not on the front page" exchange was anything to go by.

I agree. Scalzi got agressive right from the start, and the admin guy was quite restrained in the face of it.
And to be honest, it's not as though the article (or any article) can't wait a day or two to be updated. It's meant to be an encyclopedia, not a news source.

how long till wikipedia collapses under the weight of it's own byzantine rules?

I believe it has already happened.

I see their need for rules in some ways -- I think they felt badly burned by the guy pretending to credentials he didn't have that worked with them for a long time. However, *now* they've created a situation where everything is settled by extended rules-lawyering, so people interested in doing work are departing in droves.

Essentially every useful article I find there (when researching something) is tagged as "badly sourced".

Nah, the rules-lawyering dated back long before our friend Ryan. Basically, everything used to run on tacit common-sense understandings of what we were here for and what we were doing. It was great. The problem with tacit common-sense understandings, of course, is the people who just don't get them; so to deal with them you need to write it down as guidelines. But the crazies ignore guidelines, so they became rules.

(Which the morons still ignore, but at least it's harder for them to whine their way back in when they get told to get out.)

Short of a substantially more common-sense community, there isn't many other ways it could have gone, and the community dropped the ball on enculturation of newcomers around late 2005. Still, the ship's not sunk yet, and we can always go back a few years and fork.

Okay, I've been feeling pretty peeved with Wikipedia for the last 6 months or so, and probably overstated my position a bit. I've been contributing, relatively sporadically, since 2003.

What annoys me is that it's precisely the articles I find most useful when I'm researching things that these new rules (and new attitudes) are causing to go away. Wikipedia has become much less useful to me over the last y months.

I've fantasized about forks. I'm certainly not in a financial or time position to start one myself, though.

Wikipedia seems to be becoming the anti-Britannica -- making sure that articles are *not* written by experts (or that it doesn't matter, since the expert can't use their expertise), and being devoted slavishly to determining content by rules.

It's common in scholarly books to find some items footnoted as "personal converstion, July 1976" and such. The Wikipedia standards are excluding sources routinely used in the scholarly world.

The interaction with Sf fandom is particularly bad; often the idiot rules-lawyer is trying to tell a person who witness something first-hand that he doesn't in fact know that thing. This comes off as childish, at best. The SF community is a small, tightly-knit community. And our standards are completly different, and have worked pretty decently for 70 years or so.

The thing with "personal correspondence" in a scholarly work is that... well, it's reputable. You take it on faith that the author is being honest about this, and not just making it up to cover "I heard this from a guy in the pub but it sounds sensible", because the author has reputation. And you base that faith on the identity of the author of the book - you might not trust "personal correspondence" cited by David Irving, say, in the same way as you would by a less notorious counterpart.

Wikipedia isn't bylined. It doesn't require identities from its authors. It's impractically difficult, in most cases, to trace any specific claim-and-cite to the original author, and if you do that author may have vanished or may turn out to be bloviating. Put together, this means that you effectively have no "author" backing up the correspondence, no easy confidence in its authenticity. Couple that with a strong influx of - well, crazies - and it doesn't seem unreasonable to say "published or nothing". Simply put, the extra precision in the edge cases isn't worth the hassle of fighting off the morons and cheats the other 98% of the time.

It sucks, but it's the only practical way to go about it which doesn't fundamentally change the structure of how the project operates. Suggestions on how to fix it, as always, appreciated. There is still common sense at work, deep in there.

(And it strikes me as entirely unsurprising that sf fandom has a different culture and different standards to Some Random Online Project. I am fully cognisant that Wikipedia is shitty in dealing with other groups in a competent manner, but I'm not sure "adopt the cultural norms of every group you interact with" is practical - fundamentally, the groups have different aims, different ways of getting there, and different populations doing it. I think we have to expect some divergence of standards and an unwillingness for either group to accept the encroachment of the other's on "their" work)

I certainly did not mean to suggest that Wikipedia should adopt the cultural norms of every group it interacts with -- I agree it's absurd. I was more noodling about on why SF fandom tends to blow up with Wikipedia than trying to make constructive suggestions for fixing it (though understanding the scenario is a useful starting point, I do think).

Especially for things that aren't in the big mainstream or formally studied much, your elimination of the personal connection cuts you off from a significant part of the relevant information. I think it's a symptom that Wikipedia's basic structure of citation is wrong.

I see this change in focus to be the fundamental change in structure of how the project operates. At first, it was "if you know something that we don't, improve the article". That's gone by the board; now it's "if you can cite something to a source acceptable to us, by vague standards, then make the change you want". The new approach favors people passionate about their particular obsessions -- meaning largely kooks. And you seem to have attracted a special set of kooks whose big obsession is making everybody toe the line and follow the rules, and I tell you, they're unpleasant assholes; and they drive away sensible people really quickly.

How come my photograph of Robert Heinlein is acceptable but my statement that I heard him say something is not? This is really not clear to me. You're trusting me on the provenance of that photo. Shouldn't the rules really be changed to only allow photos that have been published in reputable sources, whatever those are?

Is there a list of reputable or dis-reputable online sources that's been agreed to? Or paper sources? *Can* there be, even? Are there procedures to deal with citations to sites that change or shut down? I just don't think the new scheme is viable, or at all fully thought through. At least, if it is, it's not visible in the references posted about it.

Building a trust-in-people structure is actually *easier*; this current trust-in-rules structure looks objective, but it's way easier to game. You can't write rules that actually describe "reliable sources" objectively.

'BLP policy requires deletion any unsourced and contentious material: "Unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material — whether negative, positive, or just highly questionable — about living persons should be removed immediately and without discussion from Wikipedia articles."'

I guess it was contentious in that there was an edit war about it, but that is pretty circular.

Contentious basically translates to "we think someone is likely to contest this, or someone has actually contested this". So an edit war, where both parties aren't cranks*, probably classes as contentiousness.

* ie, not "The sky is blue[citation needed]", as the classic example has it...

The edit war was about whether or not deletion was required or not, hence the circularity.

Quatloo omitted the "contentious" part when he quoted policy. I've called him on it. He was claiming that it was simply required that such content be deleted, and that's clearly contrary to the policy he quoted (selectively) in support of it.

Can anything be done about Quatloo? Is there a procedure to request people's credentials be revoked or something? He's damaging, and energetic; a bad combination. Kooks nearly always have more energy than sensible people, because they have such tight focus on their obsession.

So the requirement for "contentiousness" means nothing? Because Quatloo *made* it contentious by deleting it. And claims he deleted it because policy required it.

I like John a lot, but he's basically saying "I'm important, and my friends are important, and we say this is true, so you have to believe us." He didn't give links anyone could follow, and got hostile immediately. As far as I see it, he's standing on personal authority, and the Wikipedia editor is asking for proper procedure to be followed.

Since I usually believe in laws over men, I have to go with the Wiki-heads this time. You don't make a major change just because someone who says he's important tells you to. And there's no reason Wikipedia has to incorporate events that are still happening.

(And I say this as someone who wrote an obit for Saberhagen last night -- I poked around until I saw that both Walter Jon Williams and Melinda Snodgrass had mentioned his death, since I already knew that both of them knew Saberhagen. But you can't expect J. Random Wikipedia Editor to have that level of knowledge about every single entry that might possibly be changed.)

The real conflict here is that SF people keep saying to Wikipedians "We know this stuff; you can trust us to be right," and Wikipedians keep saying, "Thanks, but we don't trust any group of people to be always right." And then they each keep repeating that, over and over, getting louder as they go.

However, what I think is very wrong is Wikipedia does "trust" their own admins, most of whom use pseudonyms, over people willing to write under their own names.

I posted Fred's death before John did, because information about it appeared in what I view to be a trusted source.

I've started a discussion over in Wikipedia about trusted sources.

That's not entirely true. You've got some wikitwits who trust themselves to be always right.

"I like John a lot, but he's basically saying 'I'm important, and my friends are important, and we say this is true, so you have to believe us.'"

Nonsense. In posting the information, I did not suggest *I* was a reliable source; rather I suggested that SFWA was, and then later Harlan Ellison and Patricia Rogers were, because Rogers was charged by the Saberhagen family family to spread the news and Ellison in himself in this context was a reliable source of information. I didn't suggest either Rogers or Ellison were my friends, nor that their credibility sprung from such; I did suggest their credibility sprung from the fact that they were in a position to know the facts surrounding the event of Saberhagen's death. It was about factual and verifiable information, not appeals to personal significance, except to the limited extent that the individuals involved are in a position to know facts relevant to the event.

I became hostile immediately because, in my opinion, it was immediately apparent Quatloo was an officious little prick, and this is how I deal with that species of twit. My opinion of Quatloo's status was to my mind further confirmed once Locus picked up the exact information I posted and Quatloo suddenly went, well, now it's okay. As others have noted, the original sourcing should have been perfectly sufficient, but the fact Quatloo squatted over the article and refused to let others post factual information was, well, instructive, in the sense of verifying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Oh, I'm not denying Wikipedia is full of self-righteous cretins; that's what Wikipedia is for (it keeps them busy, so they spend less time on the rest of the Internet). But claiming someone is dead is the kind of extraordinary change that I can certainly see requiring extrordinary proof.

Locus is a reportage site; they report news. Wikipedia isn't; they pick up news once it's dead and turned into history (at least that's the theory).

Actually giving links would probably have helped (though it's hard to tell, with Wikipedians).

But I also wouldn't want to try to parse all of the subjects on which Harlan Ellison is to be believed explicitly, without question, and the ones on which one might want to check secondary sources...

Yeah, I had more sympathy for John's side of the argument before he tried to claim Harlan Ellison as an authority. If Ellison told me the sun was going to rise in the east tomorrow, I'd demand a second opinion from at least two astronomers.

In all seriousness, based on his past record, I really wouldn't put it past Ellison to perpetrate a hoax about the death of some famous writer or fan just for yucks and/or revenge.

-- Ross Smith

While there are some points on which I would not trust Harlan Ellison, I've never known him to hoax such the death or illness of a writer. The initial public note of Fred's death was from a friend of Fred's posting it in a message board at Harlan's site. This message was later copied to sff.discuss.obituaries. The family friend made a point of thanking Harlan for his help. Because he has done many nice things for many writers.

Yes, the initial report was from someone who really is a friend of the family, but...how would Wikipedia know that? I could say that I'm a close personal friend of some public figure, and that that figure recently died, but I hope people wouldn't just take my word for it.

Again, what we have here is the question of appropriate authority, and how a random Wikipedian can know which individuals (out of all of the people in the world who might edit a Wikipedia entry, or might be cited as an authority) are to be trusted on which subjects.

Again, you're relying on personal knowledge of what Harlan would or would not do; can we really assume every Wikipedia editor will have that knowledge about every topic? (Or that they should just trust any person who tells them that they know the truth on this particular subject?)

To be more specific -- if Harlan had announced that Charles Platt was dead, would we believe it without confirmation? And can we tell Wikipedia about all of the cases like that, so every Wikipedian can correctly parse every appropriate and inappropriate edit immediately?

Well, he hasn't done that yet... ;->

Multiple people reported Fred's death to Wikipedia using legit Wikipedia accounts with unique IP addresses. Still, they didn't accept it until Locus published it (using the same sources the rest of us probably did). I've been writing a little for Wikipedia for years, it's not like I was person X who'd never even posted to Wikipedia before.

And if they'd insisted on a newspaper reference, Fred's death didn't hit a newspaper until today.


That's why people who are ill informed about a given subject should not try to edit it, but defer to those who do have clue.

If a Wikipedian does not know who Ellison is, he or she has no business editing Fred Saberhagen's entry.

Yabbut...there are people vandalizing entries every minute of every day, and most of those people also claim to know better than the editors. How do we define how to differentiate, from first principles, who is trustworthy and who isn't?

(What you said is also awfully close to "let the people who care the most get what they want," and that has led to awfully bad results in cases of politics and Sc**nt*l*gy.)

Remember, a general solution has to work for dead SF writers, George W. Bush, every current war, and reality TV shows...

Yabbut...there are people vandalizing entries every minute of every day, and most of those people also claim to know better than the editors. How do we define how to differentiate, from first principles, who is trustworthy and who isn't?


Surely, we can trust people where death announcements are concerned?

Well, no, death announcements in particular have been falsified many times on Wikipedia, particularly back when people edited things anonymously.

My argument with Wikipedia is I've had an account there for a while, have made a few updates here and there and have a record of accuracy. So why should my edits be deleted as quickly as someone without any track record? I'm willing to stand by what I edit on Wikipedia. Why didn't Qualtoo bother to check my contributions record before deciding my update had no attibution? Ultimately, that's what I'm most annoyed about.

I've never edited Wikipedia myself, but I use it extensively, and y'know, as someone simplistic and using repeatedly in the bibliography of my scientific work the words "private communications from xxxx" I would, in the described situation, just add to the news of FS death "according to John Scalzi information" or "Harlan Ellison information". And then the reader can, by him/herself:
a) decide to trust this personages, as someone who could and should know
b) decide to distrust, as "I don't know who they are, so."
Why the wikiadmins suggest, that it is such a bad idea?

Ewa Pawelec, Poland

Possibly an attribution problem? I can see the argument that when you see the phrase "private communication with Mr. Smith" in a paper by Dr. Jones, you at least know that Dr. Jones is a real person. However, with Wikipedia being anonymously edited if you see the phrase "personal communication with Mr. Smith" you have no idea who they were supposedly communicating with -- you only have one end of the conversation, instead of two.

So the problem isn't that the reader needs to decide if Mr Smith is a reliable source. They need to decide if an anonymous contributor is a reliable source when they claim a conversation with Mr. Smith, and there's no way of verifying the conversation. At least in a paper the author is staking their own reputation on being an honest and accurate reporter…

Wwwwwaitamoment, someone interested in Fred Saberhagen doesn't know and _cannot check_ who Harlan Ellison or John Scalzi are? Especially when the contribution was _signed_ by John Scalzi? When he/she could simply contact them, if driven so much to checking?

Ewa Pawelec, baffled

I was thinking more of the problem of knowing who provided the information supposedly provided by Ellison or Scalzi. Wikipedia, AFAIK, doesn't check the identities of contributors, so a reader would have no way of knowing, short of tracking these chaps down, whether they had indeed said what the contributor said they said.

It all comes down to identities, and anonymous or pseudonymous identities have no reputation, no legal comeback for knowingly bad information, and given Wikipedia's attractiveness to trolls and pranksters (not to mention vandals) I can understand the policy.

(Of course, I also find most web sites insufficient reference either, as they could have been created by anyone. Lots of unverified data, that's the internet. I've seen citation links on Wikipedia that I'd consider no more reliable than an anonymous Usenet posting.)

Each Wikipedia article has a history attached, which does show who wrote what, so...

Does it insist on names now? It didn't when I edited an article last fall.

And does it verify identities, or can you create a fictitious identity and use it to edit articles?

The SWFA website: a valid source of information or Satan's Left Bollock?
Embrace the power of And


The most recent issue of xkcd, every geek-boy's favorite webcomic, is about Wikipedia.