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

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Wed Mar 4 08:53:46 UTC 2009

Jussi-Ville Heiskanen wrote:
>> Sue Gardner wrote:  
>>> * Wikimedians have developed lots of tools for preventing/fixing vandalism
>>> and errors of fact. Where less progress has been made, I think, is on the
>>> question of disproportionate criticism. It seems to me that the solution may
>>> include the development of systems designed to expose particularly biased
>>> articles to a greater number of people who can help fix them. But this is a
>>> pretty tough problem and I would welcome people's suggestions for resolving
>>> it    
>> The problem with rules that are too detailed is that the letter of the 
>> rules often overrides the spirit of those rules.  It does little good 
>> when a discussion about a possibly derogatory statement migrates to one 
>> about the use of primary or secondary sources.  When every detail about 
>> a BLP receives the same scrutiny the really bad stuff tends to fall into 
>> the background, and energies are sapped by being perfect over details 
>> which, even if wrong, are harmless.  The question, for example, of where 
>> the subject attended school is not usually harmful if it's wrong.  If 
>> the subject tries to correct this we need to trust him in the absence of 
>> reason for the contrary, and we need somehow to credit him as the source 
>> of that information.  To question this without reason presumes bad faith.
> This is not unexceptionally accurate. There are many details
> of biographical articles where it is not even close to presuming
> bad faith on the person in question to assume they might out
> of a perfectly natural human foible (a foible is not even close
> to bad faith) wish to gild the lily or embellish, or even retouch
> a blemish. I certainly know I have fallen for that in many
> instances, when telling tales of my deeds, and know many
> people who probably remember events I have personally
> witnessed wholly sane, sober and of sound mind with a vivid
> memory, but they remember what happened to their own benefit,
> quite naturally and non-bad-faith.

This is not a matter of actual bad faith on the part of the article's 
subject, but of presuming bad faith in anything that he might say.  As 
long as we are dealing with the most pedestrian of biographical facts we 
should assume that the subject will be truthful about this, not that he 
is trying to be deceptive. The kind of data to which one might "remember 
to his own benefit" is by nature more subjective. What school he 
attended, and what did he do there differentiates two different kinds of 

For the tales of your deeds I hope to be still alive when the 
Kalevajussi is published.


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