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

Jussi-Ville Heiskanen cimonavaro at gmail.com
Tue Mar 3 20:53:34 UTC 2009

Ray Saintonge wrote:
> I'm making a point of replying to this before I read any of the other 
> responses to avoid being tainted by them.
Since I think you make several insightful observations
well worth focusing on, I hope you will in return not
mind me replying in several messages to your one,  just
so I don't create a huge long message,  but can focus on
each point with the detail and consideration it deserves.

(I may take some time between each partial reply, just so
I don't give a quick and shallow reply.)

> Sue Gardner wrote:
>> * Do we think the current complaints resolution systems are working?  Is it
>> easy enough for article subjects to report problems?  Are we courteous and
>> serious in our handling of complaints?  Do the people handling complaints
>> need training/support/resources to help them resolve the problem (if there
>> is one)?  Are there intractable problems, and if so, what can we do to solve
>> them?  
> Training accomplishes very little if we don't know what we want that 
> training to accomplish.  At some level it is important, but it is not in 
> itself THE problem.  Courtesy is a personal quality that is most often 
> not amenable to training.  Discourtesies need to be handled with an even 
> hand.  If courtesy is shown to the subject, but not to the apparently 
> offending writer, the problem is exacerbated when the writer feels 
> pushed to defend his actions.  An intervenor who takes an unnecessarily 
> aggressive approach to fixing an article is as much a part of the 
> problem.  The intractable problems are rooted in human nature.
> I have always believed that the subjects of BLPs should have a right of 
> reply.  To some extent they should have the right to publicly rebut what 
> is said about them.  Such rebuttals need to be clearly identified and 
> attributed, and, unless they launche a clear personal attack on some 
> other person, even an outrageous reply needs to be added without content 
> editing.

Personally, (and I admit, this inflames me no end, and I *do*
lose sleep over it) BDP's should have a right of reply too, from
beneath the grave (yes, I am referring to Biographies of
Dead Persons), but they rarely get an even shake. There are
various Biographies of specific Swedish nobles from the late
18th century whose portrayal is clearly libelous, if it were said
of a living person, as it was written in the 1911 edition of EB -
and largely unedited, incorporated into the English language
wikipedia. (I wish I had the historiographical/biographical
know-how and energy to rectify that, but I have to admit I

And I am not claiming outrage at a systemic bias, but just
flagrant bias as per the author of the specific entry.

Sure, the persons themselves can not be harmed, but our
deep understanding of the forces of history, and what force
personality, heredity, cultural context and up-bringing play
within it, is immeasurably impoverished by getting a view that
is faulty.


Jussi-Ville Heiskanen

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