I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

Name:
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Guest post: "Wikipedia and Ethics in Online Journalism"

This is the first guest post in the approx. 16 month history of "I'm from Missouri," with over 500 articles -- many of them substantial (and some not) -- already posted. It came in an email. I am posting it here with permission:
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Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Wikipedia and Ethics in Online Journalism


Wikipedia is classified as a "tertiary source" for the purposes finding information to support a student's investigative report on a subject. That is, a student cannot cite a Wikipedia article as a source for information in a student paper.

Last week, I learned firsthand why the content of Wikipedia articles are considered unreliable.

Elsewhere, I wrote an essay on my experience trying to correct an erroneous article in Wikipedia. It was a dispiriting nightmare.

The editors on Wikipedia are anonymous and largely untrained in journalism. The concept of ethics in journalism isn't even on their radar screen. One of them told me that truth is not even an objective of Wikipedia. Rather the criterion is whether a piece of (mis)information came from a "reliable source."

And therein lies the problem. The New York Times, for example, runs stories on lots of controversial subjects. The Times will quote the views of partisans, typically providing counterbalancing views to help the reader understand how to assess the claims of competing factions in a controversy.

But it's easy to mistake a report in the Times delineating the claims of a partisan from an affirmation that the claim is valid or factually correct. And mistakes like that evidently abound in Wikipedia, since the main criterion is whether there is a reliable source which published the claim. In other words, if the New York Times reports a quote from Bush, that would justify (in the minds of some Wikipedians) that what Bush is quoted as saying is an independently verified fact.

Wikipedia is a rule-driven system, so participating in Wikipedia is a lot like playing chess. Every move can be challenged if the challenger can cite a rule that the move violates. That makes every participant both a player and a self-appointed referee. As a result, some Wikipedians become very adept at gaming the system. They don't participate with an ethic of crafting accurate articles in a responsible manner, but with the personal goal of winning the match. Of course the outcome of any rule-driven game is arbitrary. It just depends on which player is better at citing the rules. When this practice is combined with the tendency to cherry-pick which reported claims found in the legitimate press to elevate to the unwarranted status of facthood, one finds a miasma of half-truths, misinformation, unwarranted inferences, and political spin-doctoring masquerading as verified fact.

Most of the time, this isn't a big issue. But it matters when false and defamatory material finds its way into the Wikipedia biography of a living person. Wikipedia is supposed to have extra filters in place when inserting content into a biographical article. But my experience reveals that the chess game just turns into a frustrating stalemate, with no reliable method for resolving the case and getting to the ground truth. Wikipedia is not designed to get to the ground truth, especially since there is also a rule forbidding original research. Not surprisingly, there isn't much source material on a lot of living persons. If one's name is mentioned in a New York Times article, and some Wikipedia editor misinterprets the article, there isn't much hope for fixing it. Once a bureaucracy makes a mistake, it generally cannot be fixed. And Wikipedia is a rigidly rule-driven bureaucracy without sufficient responsible supervision to ensure that the chess games produces anything of lasting value to the general public (such as accurate stories that one can rely on).

No wonder teachers don't allow their students to cite Wikipedia as a reliable source.

But Wikipedia does provide an interesting example of a good idea gone awry.

And it provides a good example of how a rule-driven system becomes profoundly dysfunctional.

I emailed back the following response:
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Not only are some of the Wikipedia rules bad (e.g., the general rule against citing blogs), but the Wikipedia administrators grostesquely distort the rules and apply them in a discriminatory manner.

On the Wikipedia biography of Cheri Yecke, the Wickedpedian administrators blocked all rebuttals of criticisms of her.

I suggested a simple way of resolving Wikipedia disputes on controversial items -- just insert a brief statement of the item along with (1) a note that the item is disputed and (2) links to external websites where the item is discussed or debated. This would avoid cluttering up Wikipedia with long discussions or debates of controversial items. This suggestion was ignored.

The Wikipedia administrators -- as well as the administrators of other online encyclopedias -- do not realize that an online encyclopedia does not need to look like a printed encyclopedia. An online encyclopedia can contain a lot more controversial items than a printed encyclopedia because an online encyclopedia can provide instant links to external sites where the controversial items are
discussed or debated.

My blog has dozens of articles about Wikipedia and Internet censorship. These articles may be found under the post labels in the sidebar.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry-

Since you're the subject of an indefinite ban at Wikipedia, where Moulton also has been making some pointless objections, aren't you afraid that Moulton will be seen as acting on your behalf in order to get around your inability to edit Wikipedia?

Thursday, August 30, 2007 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Anonymous drivels,
>>>>>> Since you're the subject of an indefinite ban at Wikipedia, where Moulton also has been making some pointless objections, aren't you afraid that Moulton will be seen as acting on your behalf in order to get around your inability to edit Wikipedia? <<<<<<

The censors don't care about the "pointless" objections -- it's the persuasive objections that they are trying to get rid of. I make persuasive objections -- that's why I am banned indefinitely.

Where is Moulton posting these "pointless" objections?

It is always a problem that people who post persuasive arguments are likely to be mistaken for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I make persuasive objections -- that's why I am banned indefinitely.

Sounds like a 'just-so' story.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous ROFL said...

< It is always a problem that people who post persuasive arguments are likely to be mistaken for me. >

(No comment, even if I can stop laughing long enough.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007 2:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill Carter said...

> I make persuasive objections <

If you have been unable for many months to make a persuasive argument about anything, why are we supposed to believe that you have made "persuasive objections"?

> It is always a problem that people who post persuasive arguments are likely to be mistaken for me. <

Another entry for "Idiot of the Month"? You will win hands down.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 2:06:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

The bottom line is this: If you don't want to give the impression that a comment is persuasive, don't censor it! Who would want to censor a stupid comment and not give people a chance to see how stupid it is? Also, censoring comments destroys your own credibility.

Looks like I get the last laugh, dummies. And as the saying goes, he who laughs last, laughs best.

Also, I still want to know where Moulton is posting objections on Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 2:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like I get the last laugh, dummies. And as the saying goes, he who laughs last, laughs best.

Proving the axiom that empty vessels make most noise.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>> Proving the axiom that empty vessels make most noise. <<<<<<

The saying says "laughs best," not "laughs loudest," dunghill.

Thursday, August 30, 2007 4:15:00 PM  
Blogger Fuckin Broc said...

Larry, people like you make me wish there really was a god just so he would smite you.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007 2:02:00 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

The Process of Enlightenment is neither an agency of smite nor an agency of spite.

Monday, September 17, 2007 9:56:00 AM  

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