Proposed reforms of Wikipedia rules
"I don't make the rules." Famous restaurant scene in "Five Easy Pieces"
There is no question that Wikipedia is in serious trouble. There is now a big debate going on over the reliability of Wikipedia as a reference. For example, the history department at Middlebury College has decided to prohibit students from citing Wikipedia as an authoritative reference -- see this and this. There is also a big debate going on over legal citation of Wikipedia by court opinions and other court documents -- see this, this, and this.
Many people falsely believe that Wikipedia's reliability problems are solely the result of its open editing policy which allows editing by unknowledgeable and biased people. Wikipedia also has a severe problem of censorship by favored editors who have hijacked Wikipedia for their own partisan purposes. The censorship of the attempt to add "Of Pandas and People" -- the book that Judge Jones ruled could not even be mentioned in public school science classes -- to Wikipedia's list of banned books is an excellent example of this censorship problem. Of course, sometimes censorship of attempted Wikipedia additions is appropriate, as in cases involving invasions of privacy, threats, defamation, violations of copyrights, violations of confidentiality, etc.. Censorship on Wikipedia is a particularly serious problem because Wikipedia is a single source whereas blogs are multiple sources so that what is censored on one blog could appear on another -- there are of course other online encyclopedias besides Wikipedia, but Wikipedia is by far the biggest and most consulted.
Wikipedia is supposed to be a very democratic website that is open to editing by all, but it is obvious that some Wikipedia editors are more equal than others -- they have the power to tyrannize Wikipedia by locking up Wikipedia articles to prevent any editing, censor edits that they don't like and insist on keeping edits that they do like, and temporarily or permanently block the IP addresses of rank-and-file editors (I have commented extensively on the evils -- and frequent ineffectiveness -- of IP address blocking). I don't even know what to call these people -- administrators, chief editors, monitors, arbiters, or whatever (the latest term is "constables"). I have no idea how they were chosen for their positions. A recent Christian Science Monitor article reported the following scandal:
Just this month a dark cloud fell over Wikipedia's credibility after it was revealed that a trusted contributor who claimed to be a tenured professor of religion was actually a 24-year-old college dropout. He was also one of the appointed "arbiters" who settled disputes between contributors.
Wikipedia has three content policies: NPOV (neutral point of view), Verifiability, and No original research. Wikipedia says, "Because the policies are complementary, they should not be interpreted in isolation from one another, and editors should try to familiarize themselves with all three." The problem is that the Wikipedia administrators have been overemphasizing the "Verifiability" and "No original research" policies at the expense of the NPOV policy, sometimes to the point of absurdity.
Here are my proposed additions and changes to the Wikipedia rules:
(1) Where possible, disputes should be resolved by adding the disputed item along with a note that the item is disputed and external links to websites where the dispute is discussed or debated. This new rule would have the following advantages: (a) the note that the item is disputed would show that the item is not endorsed by Wikipedia; and (b) the external links would eliminate any need to clutter up Wikipedia with long discussions and debates over disputed items (for this reason, the disputed item on Wikipedia should be as brief as possible). Also, the existence of discussions and/or debates on external websites would be evidence that there is a serious dispute over the item. That's the "NPOV" way of doing it. IMO the "Verifiability" and "No original research" requirements should be waived for Wikipedia items satisfying this new rule, because there would be no suggestion that these items are endorsed by Wikipedia. This new rule would -- or should -- help prevent the "edit wars" that frequently go on at Wikipedia. Wouldn't it be wonderful if what can easily be done on the Internet -- adding notes that something is disputed along with instant links to discussions or debates about the dispute -- could be done with all printed matter? Welcome to the 21st century!
(2) A requirement that rule #1 above be followed whenever there is a significant dispute over an item that a Wikipedia administrator (or "arbiter," "monitor," or whatever) insists on keeping.
(3) The "reliable published source" requirement should be scrapped. There is often no agreement as to what is such a source. Also, it would be difficult to find a "reliable published source" that verifies something that is obvious or self-evident, e.g., the sun rises in the east, bears shit in the woods, and "Of Pandas and People" is a banned book. Also, in many areas, finding a "reliable published source" is nearly impossible -- for example, the book "Monkey Girl," which is about the Kitzmiller v. Dover intelligent design case, is supposed to be neutral but is in fact heavily biased in favor of Darwinism.
Trying to deal with the obstinate Wikipedia staff is reminiscent of the iconic restaurant scene in the movie "Five Easy Pieces" where Bobby (Jack Nicholson) is trying to get a side-order of toast with his omelet but the waitress tells him that it is against the rules:
Waitress: I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast. I'll give you a English muffin or a coffee roll.
Bobby: What do you mean "you don't make side orders of toast"? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Bobby: You've got bread. And a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don't make the rules.
Bobby: OK, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two, chicken sal san. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.