“O, these deliberate fools! When they do choose,
They have their wisdom by their wit to lose.”
[Portia: The Merchant of Venice]
So when you see misdeeds on Wikipedia pages dealing with issues important to you, and you want to take your complaint higher, what do you think will happen to you?
Is there a well-organised system, familiar with the standard categories of issues, and ready with good responses for each, that any sensible person would be happy with? Ha!…
Into The Forest
(If you’ve come from the previous page in this sequence you’ll recall how the central issue was the Velociraptor page, its appalling mess, and the perverse efforts of those who wanted to preserve the errors. Merely by way of contrast, I’d compared that page with other pages, on bird breathing, where I’d inserted original material that no-one complained about.)
I dug around and my first contact was a Wikipedia emailing list apparently used by those who devise strategies for its software development, or at least talk about doing so.
Nought Out Of Ten For Comprehension
The first response to my initial email was from someone giving the impression of being far too busy being efficient (if only!) and saying they couldn’t read it: “too long”. Immediately, someone else, with a non-English name, very conveniently jumped in and wrote a precis which at first sight seemed of a pretty reasonable standard; unfortunately though, it claimed I was defending original work, which I wasn’t.
Wrongly thinking they could save time by relying on the precis, but misunderstanding it, they let a simple issue totally confuse them and wasted much more time than it would have taken to read my original complaint. But gradually and by degree, it got worse and worse…
“Authorities” for years, but they have no procedure for everyday occurrences
The next thing to become apparent was the clear message that list members were undecided as to whether that was an apt place for discussion of the issue (whose genuine nature must surely be typical of many complaints), or, if there was a better place, where it might be. This, despite their confident assignment of the issue to the category (albeit to the wrong category) of ‘someone wanted to add new research and when told he couldn’t, wanted to remove other stuff he’d added’.
In addition to the paradox of considering it a very common type of complaint but not knowing where it should be taken, which pointed unmistakably to incompetence, another sort of incompetence had already been demonstrated by miscategorising it. And a third was their inability to read properly what was put before them, or even to take the case seriously enough to give it the care it deserved.
Then there is an even bigger problem: even when I’d told them of their mistake, they still kept getting it wrong. I’m not sure why, but I had actually anticipated beforehand that this would happen, which is why I did what I could to stress that the Velociraptor issues didn’t involve novel art.
What Are They Like?!
Well, in some ways these Wikians initially seemed much better than I’d been used to in palaeontology: many adopted a much kindlier and more co-operative attitude, and also seemed to be a bit brighter, at least at first. I was interested to notice a distinction between those with English-sounding names, who seemed to exude a more confident high-ranking aura, and those with non-English-sounding names who seemed to have to adopt a rather more subservient posture – or at least had rather more impatience expressed towards them – but who also seemed to be the only source of comments with any worthwhile, or at least relevant, content.
And relevance is the word. Before moving to more frightening characteristics of the Wikipedia culture, it must be noted that reading through the “Sort It” thread that I started, one is reminded of marking essay papers by students who might already have a degree in another subject, perhaps even a PhD, but who simply haven’t bothered to read the question. While common elsewhere, here it’s universal. Someone (still not yet Nathan Awrich) trying to be very helpful, spent four times as long justifying in intriguing detail the philosophy of not including novelty in Wikipedia (which, despite violating it on the bird breathing pages, I did actually respect) as he would have done in reading properly and understand my original posting. He finished his comment with:
“But to expect that editing article A in the standard form gives you the permission to insert original research in B is to violate transitivity.”
Since the reality was that I was complaining about repeated vandalism of NON-NOVEL basic corrections on one page, whereas my openly novel contributions on another were ignored, my reply is: Thanks friend, but RTFQ.
Oh, No; No Dictators Here. Certainly Not.
He’d opened with another commendable sentiment claiming and justifying resistance to dictators:
“Wikipedia picked non-dictatorship very highly. The structure of wikipedia is meant to reduce the roll of dictators,…”[sic].
By dictators they claim to mean tie-breakers, and it’s said to be delayed as much as possible. Seeing as my attempts to put elementary obvious sense merely alongside blatant nonsense were vetoed at least four times, such an attempt to deny dictatorship is insulting hypocrisy. It also gives the lie to his claim that Wikipedia’s use of democracy offers “balanced and neutral coverage”. It doesn’t of course. It merely offers yet another space for partisan morons to veto through mob rule.
It was however sensible to question the insistence on consensus, and another poster did. You just can’t have it in palaeontology since it’s all about competing theories, some of which have the upper hand for a while until others later ascend with new evidence, or even without it:
“I don’t propose to ban consensus, only to allow users to have many consensus.”
That’s a good idea because insisting on simple consensus will actually result in unjustified vetoing in any living discipline. Waiting until everyone in the field has agreed, which is what consensus is, and which is seldom achieved, implies the current theoretical situation will never be represented. But consensus is a byword used by those who know little about knowledge development or presentation but nonetheless want to throw their weight around. And of course many people who insist on consensus can’t even spell it.
The truth about green ink
Genuine researchers see green differently.
While explaining why novelty wasn’t allowed in Wikipedia, someone said to me:
“the crank problem is real, and vast. As a working academic scientist, you would have a green ink file *this* big. It’s worse at Wikipedia.”
(Worse at Wikipedia! Too right. On just the Velociraptor page, I identified half a dozen places that qualified the page as green ink. How many such pages throughout Wikipedia? Though it does contain valid stuff of course, that doesn’t stop Wikipedia containing, or even being, the biggest pile of green ink in the known universe. This is because not even the higher wiki-rankers are good knowledge engineers, so even if the five Wiki principles would allow it, good practice is prevented by hopeless interpretation of the principles, and messes will linger for years.)
But there is a most interesting point here. When I read that quote above, I accepted his invitation to identify who might comprise the green-inkers in my three areas of palaeontology, and then in other areas I know.
What actually sprang to mind was the existence of two groups: A very large relatively inexpert mass united in their common beliefs, many of which are wrong (in bird breathing, people who think the neopulmo is tidal; in palaeo, people who think no chimp or gorilla fossils exist, Archaeopteryx and Microraptor couldn’t fly well, and that the last two didn’t descend in that order etc. etc.). Then there’s a second, disparate group of individuals differing from each other and each specialising in some area which they understand better than others in either group, though they may err in other areas. However, it is only from this second, disparate group, that significant advances will arise since all those in the other, united, group have going for them is that they all make the same mistakes. They include few thinkers who’ve had much practice in genuine theorisation, and were anyway no nearer the truth than anyone else in the first place.
In fact, most of us who become researchers will have noticed from the time they were eight or nine that most people are wrong about almost everything. The problem people aren’t those who believe in fairies, but those who think they’re evolutionists but actually turn out to be Lamarkians. Or in later years those who hate Lamarkianism so irrationally that they try to repress work on the methylation inheritance method.
True researchers know that the true enemies are xenophobia – hatred of the unfamiliar, and therefore of the new and improved – and prejudice. They also know that, on the contrary, it’s interesting new ideas that are most valuable, and that they always sound odd at first. So researchers don’t see green ink everywhere because if they did that’s all they’d see, and if they had to dump one group, it would be the large non-creative group that would be least missed. Same with psychologists, who realise all normal people have different ways of interpreting and coping even with shared realities: all the brain needs to do is notice any patterns of abstraction enabling behaviour that helps survival. Same with teachers, who see their students’ concepts as a developing process, at no time qualifying them as lunatics, yet never achieving perfection, i.e. truth.
Few indeed are those who stick around in my subjects but clearly have nothing to offer. But there are far too many infesting and damaging science and other endeavours by contributing nothing but pointing and jeering “Green Ink”.
At last: the horror that is Nathan Awrich
And now we reach what I sincerely hope is the true dregs of Wikipedia management, and is certainly the scum of the “Sort it” thread.
About the time I first stated my occupation as Knowledge Engineer in my passport (because of my postgrad qualification in it the year before) someone called Nathan Arwich was starting his first day at school.
Eventually, without ever gaining any noticeable expertise in skilful knowledge handling (or, I’d guess, a passport), he found a cosy place for himself in the Wikipedia hierarchy, where he furthers his ends by use of what he’s inspired me to call “management-sounding activity”.
Eventually, he responds to my complaint. Remember, this is Wikipedia dealing with a complaint, not just meaningless nattering on the internet:
“Obviously Mr. Jackson is extremely intelligent and very familiar with his subject matter,”
…but see how he immediately tries to use the fact that I “seem” highly competent, against me:
“…it ignores the very good reasons why any discussion of Mr. Jackson’s specific circumstances should remain on-wiki.”
He’s arguing that I (or you in my position) shouldn’t even have taken my complaint this far…
“In a list such as wikipedia-l or wikien-l etc., his comments are quite unlikely to encounter anyone with expertise in his field. Without such expertise, we might not see past the quite scientific-sounding language he uses…” [my italics]
Presumably to try to disguise the evil crankhood by which I try to bring the world down, eh?
There’s an obvious reason my language “sounds like” that of a scientist, and it’s one he’s unwilling to consider. Presumably my science degrees are ‘quite authentic-looking degree certificates’, and those my students got partly as a result of my teaching (and others, if good enough, as a result of my marking) were pretty impressive-looking fakes too! And those research managers who’ve wanted me in their teams – they too were deceived?!
So even his acknowledgement that I know more than he does, and “sound like” the real deal, can’t save me if we rely on Nathan Arwich’s advice. He continues…
“… the quite scientific-sounding language he uses[,] to discover the fact that his “book” is self-published on Amazon.”
Even in 2012 he’s trying to tar me with the brush of old-style vanity publishing because I’ve taken the modern option! He’d have jibed at managers in the 1980’s for typing their own letters instead of dictating to a secretary. These days it’s almost lazy and reprehensible to endorse the twin evils of the academic publishing and the peer review rackets; I’d suspect anyone who didn‘t self-publish in 2012, of seeking to exploit knee-jerk prejudice. And those TV news-show hosts sneering at Wikipedia: that is EXACTLY the same as sneering at Amazon KDP. If he thinks he has good arguments against self-publishing to Kindle, he should try discussing it with J. Konrath. And if he thinks the peer review system is a good idea, he should try getting a good new scientific insight published – not that he’s up to devising one.
And it’s “book” is it? Actually it’s a 100k-word book in which I prove a theorem in graph theory, crystalise the essence of science, and clarify bird breathing, simply as extras. That’s a BOOK, and it’s of a standard he’ll never approach.
“We might not be aware that he is the host and former host of a multitude of blogs that appear to serve as the only public forum for his theories…”
Er, dealing with palaeontology there’s Sciencepolice2010, which is my current blog, and I’ve written three articles for Nerditorial? (Plus one for the Times Higher Educational Supplement in 2002.) From 1999 I had a website until Geocities folded in 2009. Since when is that kind of coverage worth sneering at?
“…which seemingly have found minimal or no acceptance in academia.”
Huh!! Well, apart from everyone having their own unique* views within “academia”, the views in my book (which Arwich had not been invited to consider), are those already held by others, or recombinations. But even if they weren’t, a huge problem is that palaeontologists don’t seem to be academics since they don’t acknowledge other disciplines.
Knowing nothing of the subject and acknowledging no-one else on the list does either, and that I show every sign of being a sound authority, his amazing deduction is:
I should be treated as some kind of deluded troublemaker.
He tries to suggest that the best place for these discussions is back on the Wiki pages; he started with:
“…discussion of Mr. Jackson’s specific circumstances should remain on-wiki.”
…thereby seeking to confirm the idiocy there.
Let’s fisk the final paragraph of this Wikipedia manager’s lying drivel in full:
“Obviously Mr. Jackson is extremely intelligent and very familiar with his subject matter, and I suspect that the members of this list are ill-equipped to respond to his complaints with the appropriate context and full knowledge of the circumstances…”
(I’ve given them full knowledge of the circumstances.)
“If he were to engage these experts, as has been suggested,”
It’s not clear whether by “experts” he means list members, or the Wikiwankers hanging around the Velociraptor page, though of course neither display anything remotely resembling expertise. And I don’t recall any such suggestion of engagement in the thread.
“…they might also be prompted to investigate the many cases where Mr. Jackson has cited himself for the insertion of material of dubious scientific merit into Wikipedia articles.” [My italics]
How many words back was it that he acknowledged he has no relevant understanding of the subject’s technicalities, yet he’s now able to judge and declare my ideas as “of dubious scientific merit”?! He’s not even familiar with what I said, so even if he had any understanding it would be a fatuous to pronounce any judgement. And any declaration of his that he is qualified to make such a judgement unequivocally implies charlatanism. Three examples of dishonest bullshit in just this part of the sentence… yet he manages to pack yet more in. Not one person either on the list or on the Velociraptor talk page ever engaged with me on any detail at all; not once has any argument of any kind, certainly not a valid one, been levelled at the substance of any of my Velociraptor edits. Not one of my edits relied on my book, so his claim that I cited myself “for the insertion of material” is further mendacity. They stood on their own without my book, but I cited it because frankly it’s the only book ever to have given a reasonable scientific explanation of dromaeosaur evolution, so there’s no point withholding its existence from visitors to the page. And he wants to accuse me of inserting dubious material into more than one Wikipedia article? Which other ones might he have in mind? He’s seen through my bird breathing stuff has he? He doesn’t even specify, far less attempt, to demonstrate poor quality. He’s almost at the point where he has as many lies as words, but before we go on to the significance of that,…
Non-specifying: the Acid Test of Eye-rollers
We needn’t have gone through all that in detail though, because there’s a handy short-cut, useful for any dealings with Wikipedia and a million other situations besides, for checking the veracity of anyone accusing another of appalling errors: if the errors really were blatant, the accuser wouldn’t be able to resist specifying at least one example, and if it were a clear and simple flaw, describing it wouldn’t take much time either. But what Arwich and Martynuik are doing is, in the absence of good arguments, simply baying over and over that I, a more highly qualified scientist than them, am a crank, in the hope of recruiting others to do the same. Don’t underestimate this strategy: if you have a less than serious interest in science and either have no morals or are willing to sacrifice them for personal interest, several people expressing disapproval together can often be an effective victimisation strategy. Outsiders find themselves irresistibly recruited to the process. It’s so frequently practised that it can be reduced to the simplest of gestures, over the internet or face to face. This is what I call “Eye-rolling”. It’s caused more damage to science than anything else. It not only works against all new theories and their supporters, but seeks for the eye-roller a little personal credit since it will often be assumed that they more than the target have some understanding of the nature of good science, they are interested in encouraging it, and most sinister of all, they are a member of the faction that decides what is and what isn’t to be accepted.
The acid test of fatuous eye-rollers is their failure to name or justify the faults they have invented. The only thing to do with them is to rub their faces into their own mess until they’re sick of the whole business. I’m glad to say I’ve taken considerable time and pleasure in pulling apart the nonsensical ideas of perhaps a dozen notable eye-rollers in my book, but I still just have time to turn my attention to the mess that is Wikipedia.
The Signs of a Psychopath
So we’ve got a highly involved Wikipedia activist, Nathan Awrich, who can’t type a full stop without preceding it by at least two lies, and usually more. Of course, we’ve all encountered liars before, but he spouts them so densely he shows no signs of being held back by any moral force, and he couldn’t have got this slick without extensive practice. Even so, many must have had a go at him in the past for lying about them, but it hasn’t slowed him any. He seems to have fixed things so that his victims have given him his just desserts too rarely to affect his behaviour. And he does show signs of being pretty bright, so he doesn’t compare with, say, David Hone from palaeontology, who might not even realise he’s lying. With Arwich you have to ask yourself “Psychopath? If not, why not?” Whether or not a psychopathy test would identify him or be reliable or even meaningful, the fact is there’s someone participating in Wikpedia management in a psychopathic style.
Awrich seems to work in the issuing department of a pharmaceutical firm. Obviously it’s time to warn anyone who might be involved with him in his company or outside, how freely irresponsible lying seems to come to him, and how inapt that is to anyone in his position.
Here’s MY bottom line
Wikipedia has power, and also offers a use even for those outside of it, but it doesn’t actually have a meaningful “mind”, and it’s a waste of time trying to reason with it. What I’ve shown here started with a leg with a dozen visibly articulated bones whose existence was denied half a dozen times before being accepted, and it ended with someone involved in Wikipedia management using ignorance, prejudice and lies to distort the issue and denigrate a hugely valuable contributor who had merely tried to use Wikipedia as it was intended.
What do we know about Wikipedia anyway?
Wikipedia was founded in about 2001 by someone called James “Jimbo” Wales, said to be some kind of options trader. It’s great that he got out of that racket (if he did), and it’s nice that he seems to be, or at least tries to be, a pleasant manager, by the looks of his internet comments. It seems he hasn’t always been expert at running Wikipedia (see here), but you can’t be expert in anything before you invent it. It saves the world a minute or two per well-known “fact”, but stifles plurality in many areas which may be nothing, or less than nothing, without plurality.
Wikipedia boasts a lot about Democracy and Freedom. Those of us who don’t constantly flaunt those words will however usually understand that they may be nice ideals, but implementing them effectively is the big problem, as well as knowing when not to. When “Democracy! Freedom!” come to our ears, “Hypocrisy” very often immediately echoes through our minds. Or maybe: “The only good indian is… an indian registered to vote?!” A lot of these people didn’t understand the Rights Of Man until about 1970, if then. There is no freedom to drive on public roads in the USA for those under 13, which is good, and there is too much freedom for people to own machine guns, which is bad. Experience has shown that acquiescing to deceptively intoxicating appeals for “Democracy” and “Freedom” often leaves you wondering why “They” end up with all the democracy and you lose your freedom. Don’t doubt that Wikipedia represents more of the same. I’d have appreciated the freedom to express sound science on Wikipedia, free from gangs of little emperors like Martynuik and his playmates who put the Red Guards to shame; but all I got was my time wasted and hypocritical insults for being a genuine scientist, who was nonetheless following the rules. Never mind high minded ideals – I’d have appreciated my enquiries just being handled competently, and certainly not in such a transparently psychopathic style as Awrich’s.
What is to be done?
Many within Wikipedia know how to feel and show genuine respect for those not like themselves, but its dominant culture doesn’t. And with any complex system with too many faulty components, it can’t even do what it was supposed to do, even if that made any sense in the first place. It’s like a gigantic rat that can’t really think but has currents flowing through its brain which can be influenced by reward and punishment. We’re not in a position to offer much reward, and our individual punishments will be small. It will be like voting, but then they do wrap themselves in that Democracy flag, don’t they! But little by little it can be influenced for the good:
On pages where not much discussion occurs, there is little need to update the corresponding talk page. Do, on the first edit, but if it’s a page dominated by tiny-minded nutters, just insert the edit straight into the page itself, and offer the explanation there. It is vital that readers understand the issues around the controversy, which is why your justifications must be on the main page. If the area’s been dominated by a big mistake, it will be removed quickly, but on the English language sections, it will probably be by someone who lives in the USA, so judge your timing advisedly.
Since you will have to re-edit several times, or you may edit numerous pages and want to avoid being blocked, the obvious solution is to use a “nick” (i.e. nickname, or id) unconnectable to you, and access Wikipedia via the TOR browser. This is now easy enough to download and use (and of course free). You would need this because they might start inserting code to detect your computer id, and either block everything that comes from you, or do whatever someone or something like Awrich might think up. But though Wikipedia has claimed to allow access via proxies like TOR, in practice, you might find the id it provides for you already blocked.
(Before making any controversial edits, you would have set up a new wiki id, and taken the precaution of doing a few fairly innocuous edits with the id elsewhere on one or two days beforehand, and possibly a week or more before, just in case they started placing extra restrictions on first-timers. Ideally you’d randomly set up and initiate new wiki ids frequently, to maintain a set you could use when needed!)
Use Wikipedia by all means, but remember that on many pages it enshrines bias, and never link to Wikipedia: people don’t need help looking something up on Wikipedia, but they do need help finding better places.
It used to be said of dogs and walnut trees that the more you beat them, the better they be. That’s certainly the only treatment Wikipedia would understand. It’s the only way of trying to prevent its mass stupidity corrupting the world’s subtler knowledge, and perhaps, as with the “wisdom” in the sense of the Portia quote at the start, even its sanity!
* [From above:
But my unique angle is taking Popperian principles seriously, so he’s claiming those have minimal or no acceptance in academia. I think you’ll find they’ve been the only basis for all scientific experimental design even before Popper went up to university. Arwich could confirm by reading the first Sciencepolice2012 posting that those are my guiding principles. My other basic message is that palaeontologists don’t follow those scientific principles properly; I also add that the reason is because they’re not intellectually up to it, and that goes for numerous technical issues in the science too. Best example: their work, and errors, are based on information systems issues for which they have no training or qualifications, but in which I have an MSc etc. (other similarly relevant areas could be mentioned). This is a straightforward situation even Arwich could not misinterpret if he were dealing in something other than lies.
1: Popperism IS ACCEPTED in the higher levels of academia.
2: Palaeontologists can’t follow it properly because they’re thick, and they neither accept nor try to correct the situation because it’s more convenient for them to be immoral than risk compromising their own image.
3: …Therefore I nor anyone else should care what “palaeontological academia” thinks.
4: 90% of palaeontological views I support are those of others. And EVERYTHING I wrote for the Velociraptor page had either been already expressed in references it already cited, or was clear to the naked eye in the image already in the page, or was an elementary logical clarification, basic thinking skill, or a correction of elementary theorisation principles.
But if we’re going to look at “minimal acceptance”… it was ‘minimally accepted’ that humans were upright before the split with chimps… until vindicated in October 2009. It was ‘minimally accepted’ that dromaeosaurs had flying ancestry until… well, subsequent discoveries have made it abundantly clear even though many are slow to accept it. It was ‘minimally accepted’ that family trees based on bone shapes were dodgy until the mammal family tree had to be re-written in the light of the DNA based topology. Trail-blazers and those who see what’s going to happen tomorrow, are always going to be pushing views currently held by a minority. That is unavoidable, but it is not necessary to continue to allow the transparently stupid habit of the likes of Nathan Arwich of trying to undermine the most valuable researchers.]