It's like the Comintern Central Committee! Only crazier and nerdier!

>> Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Here's an amusing article about a recent fracas at Wikipedia: it seems that those kooky wikipedians have some kind of Central Committee that maintains a (formerly) secret mailing list of troublesome people who should be summarily executed banned for lack of ideological purity lack of ideological purity. (Wait--why did I strike through that?)

Wikipedia is extraordinarily useful, actually: before Wikipedia, anytime you were sitting in a coffee shop arguing over something silly like what year the original version of Dungeons And Dragons was released, such arguments had a danger of boiling over into everybody forgetting about it when someone went to get a refill on his espresso. But now, thanks to Wikipedia, you can just go online and look it up and settle an argument just like that.

More seriously, Wikipedia is great for flash research--you're writing a blog, say, and you want to know what year the first version of Dungeons And Dragons was released, you hop over to Wikipedia, and there it is. It's accurate enough for sloppy work, it's not like you're writing a legal brief for the SCOTUS or something. Right? So there you go. Or, if you're trying to remind yourself of something you forgot from college (damn booze, ruining my $20,000 investment!), or need to get a quick foundation for something.

But Wikipedia is also useless. A joke. A travesty. If you are really, really bored and want to entertain yourself at the expense of some really obviously crazy people, pick a Wikipedia article--preferably one on something controversial, like evolution or the second Death Star and click on the little tab that says "discussion." There, you will find that the monkeys have escaped the zoo and taken over a bake sale at the nuthouse. People will not only debate over the stupidest things, but they smear these conversations in a thick, glossy glaze of the pseudo-scholastic nonsense that has (at some point over the past few years) devolved into a nearly impenetrable jargon of abbreviations that would make L. Ron Hubbard proud, if he were alive (in terms comprehensible to your mundane, blocked, repressive human consciousness, I mean, as opposed to advanced to an OT level that completely transcends the MST matrix).

Why, what do we have here? Why, it's an example from the Wikipedia discussion on their article about Mr. Hubbard (names redacted, tho' you can read the original for yourself on the linked page)!

It seems to be a systematic POV-based deletion of reliably published critical sources (books, newspaper articles etc). Clearly not on. -- ****** 08:13, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

That is not what I saw here. *****' mischaracterization is not, hopefully, on a par with his other work here. NO-ONE IS DELETING RELIABLE SOURCES! '*** has it right - links are being deleted. Links to a POV, non-RS site laden with WP:COPY violation. Yes, I know that maybe one of those books is OK to be on the site but certainly not all that material that is linked like the LA Times. I repeat. The reliable sources are NOT being deleted. --*********** 13:50, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

Your WP:RS argument bears consideration, but WP:POV and WP:COPY apply to Wikipedia articles, not to their sources. ****** 14:03, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

Actually, I direct your attention to WP:COPY

Linking to a page that illegally distributes someone else's work sheds a bad light on Wikipedia and its editors.

Now we can weasel around with "well, do we really know that copyrights are being violated?" but I think a bit of common sense is in order and there is no lack of that here. Then I direct your attention to WP:CITE
What these fine folks appear to be arguing about, if I understand it correctly, is that somebody keeps changing the Hubbard article to delete references that he or she claims is unreliable and biased. And there's an argument over whether there's a conflict between Wikipedia's policy regarding citation--Wikipedia flaunts the fact that it's a secondary or even tertiary source, and is actively hostile to first-hand observation or conclusion ("original research," they calls it, and they hates it; if you want to enrage a wikipedian, accuse him of personally knowing what he's writing about)--and Wikipedia's policy regarding the use of copyrighted materials.

Now, notice what this discussion isn't: it's not a discussion of citation methodology, or Fair Use doctrine, or anything else that actually involves real scholarly standards or copyright law. No, this is an argument about policies. One imagines that group meetings during the Great Leap Forward had much the same tenor--everyone discussing what Mao wrote in the Little Red Book without much regard for whether it actually meant anything, and if you do the best job reciting the policy then nobody will shoot you (today). Except that the wikipedians aren't even important enough to have a Political Officer who can get execution warrants--the best they can do is have some secret mailing list to discuss banning somebody who will most likely just turn around and start posting from a different user name or from behind a different IP address. Don't get me wrong, I'd (mostly) rather people got banned from an internet site rather than shot; but the self-important haughtiness of it all is a bit pathetic--at least those Chinese college students at their meetings had lives at stake, so it was, you know, kind of important in the great scheme of things. The wikipedians are waging lifelike-or-deathlike struggles over matters that could be erased by a really massive power outage.

If it seems like I'm a hypocrite to write a longish blog entry about trivia, let me only say that it was enormously fun to make fun of these people. Anything more is in your own head, dear reader, and I probably won't think of the matter again after dinner.

Oh, and: 1974.


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