[Foundation-l] Request for your input: biographies of living people

Anthony wikimail at inbox.org
Mon Mar 2 18:33:18 UTC 2009

On Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Jimmy Wales <jwales at wikia-inc.com> wrote:

> Anthony wrote:
> > Sounds good, but how good is OTRS at handling these issues?  Are there
> any
> > statistics available as to what percentage of OTRS complainers are
> satisfied
> > with the resolution?  Does OTRS provide any escalation for people who
> aren't
> > satisfied with their initial results?
> In general, I think that OTRS does an excellent job, and they do provide
> escalation (to me sometimes, or to Mike Godwin).  I'm unaware of anyone
> making it through the OTRS process and not being (more or less)
> satisfied, with only one exception - a biography that I learned of
> recently (prefer not to say which one out of risk of accidentally
> causing a news headline) where OTRS had appropriately fixed the article
> but over time (2, maybe 3 years) the "errors" had crept back in.

What is the current "OTRS process"?  When I contacted them a couple years
ago I was referred to arb com, and didn't hear from them again.  I certainly
wasn't satisfied.

My problem wasn't in regard to a biography, but it was a "BLP issue" under
Sue's expanded definition (it was in regard to some things written about me
in the Wikipedia namespace).

I'm sure the process has changed in the years since, though.  Does the
current process ask people if they're satisfied?

(I put "errors" in scare quotes not to suggest that they were not
> falsehoods, but rather to emphasize that what was going on, in my
> opinion, was not innocent error, but maliciousness.)
> > Another good idea, but how would an article be accepted as "well
> balanced"?
> > You just can't write about a topic which has any level of controversy and
> > come up with an article which everyone will agree is "well balanced".  No
> > matter what you write, someone is going to have a problem with it, so
> > marking an article as "well balanced" is more likely to increase the
> > complaints rather than reduce them.
> This is contrary to all my experience.  Even controversial topics can be
> well balanced.

I completely agree that every article can be "well balanced".  In fact, I'd
say any rational person upon proper consideration would be required to
accept that a "well balanced" article is always possible.  However, what I
said was that you can't write about a topic which has any level of
controversy, and come up with an article which everyone will agree is "well
balanced".  My idea of what is "well balanced" in any particular situation
is probably not the same as yours, and it's certainly not the same everyone
(or every Wikipedian, which is sufficiently broad as to be basically
equivalent to everyone).

For example, consider the article now titled [[Bill Ayers presidential
election controversy]].  In my opinion, such an article is not "well
balanced" unless it discusses such things as the fact that, according to ABC
News, "Ayers admitted planting bombs at a number of government installations
in the 1960s", that he has said "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we
didn't do enough.", and that his wife "was once on the FBI's Top 10 Most
Wanted List for inciting to riot".  Yet these very facts were taken *out* of
the article in an attempt to make the article better balanced and compliant
with BLP policy.

Or take the Citizendium article on [[homeopathy]].  In its attempt to follow
a policy of neutrality, it comes up with such nonsense as "it is possible
that mainstream scientists and physicians have it wrong; perhaps homeopathy
is indeed effective, and, if so, there is something important to be studied"
and "Scientists in almost any area expect that, what today is the consensus
understanding will, in some tomorrow, by a mere curiosity in the history of
science."  I hope you would agree that this irrational skepticism does not
make for a "well balanced" article, but according to the article's
maintainers, such language is necessary to maintain balance.

So yes, a "well balanced" article can exist, but not everyone is going to
agree on what it looks like.  Maybe your comment that "This is contrary to
all my experience" was to imply that you believe Wikipedia can develop a
process which achieves this "well balanced" article?  If so, I'd love to
hear you outline it.  (Or, if you think the current process already does
this, I'd like to see some evidence for this, because in my experience
Wikipedia articles tend to be horribly out of balance.)

Just as a side note - in my experience, virtually no BLP complaints that
> I have heard in person were invalid.  Even highly controversial people
> (or perhaps, *especially* highly controversial people) aren't worried
> about the controversies being accurately reported.  They are concerned
> that they be reported fairly and in reasonable proportion to their
> overall history.  In my opinion, we fail miserably at that in far too
> many cases, and just because no one has complained yet, this does not
> mean that we are doing a good job.

Let me repeat that in a different way, for emphasis: I think that a
> great number of our biographies, and bad in a particular way.  Minor
> controversies are exploded into central stories of people's lives in a
> way that is abusive and unfair, and games players have learned how to
> properly cite things and good people have a hard time battling against
> violations of WP:UNDUE.
> This is true even in cases where the subjects haven't complained, and it
> is a problem not just in terms of our ethical responsibilities to
> subjects of biographies, but also in terms of our ethical
> responsibilities to our readers, who depend on us for neutrality.

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