[Foundation-l] Has Wikipedia changed since 2005?

Peter Damian peter.damian at btinternet.com
Mon Oct 4 13:58:10 UTC 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Noein" <pronoein at gmail.com>
To: "Wikimedia Foundation Mailing List" <foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org>
Sent: Monday, October 04, 2010 1:09 PM
Subject: Re: [Foundation-l] Has Wikipedia changed since 2005?

> So, Peter, how is this communication failure [1] (and I think the mails
> I attached are a good sample of it, without judging who is right in
> calling the other an idiot) towards idiot editors is different from
> towards idiot readers?
> Apologies if my wording is bad, but as you would said, it's just a
> formal question, the knowledge is the same. :)

How is the problem of making a difficult subject clear different in the case 
of editors than readers?  That's an interesting one.  Good teaching and 
communication is about getting the maximum number of interested people to 
get the intended idea across.  This is very difficult.  Even in the best 
case, I estimate only about 20% of people will understand in any way what 
you are saying.  A simple proof of this is exam results. In any exam (an 
exam being a method of test which aims to assess how well some one has 
understood the teaching) there is a neat dispersion of results.

There is always a bottom 10 percentile of those who sadly don't get it, and 
frankly probably ever aren't going to get it.  I'm a realist.  Now most of 
those bottom 10% realise this, and will go away to study something more 
congenial.  Most of them. There is a tiny tiny fraction of those who don't 
get it, who believe they are fundamentally right, and that the teachers are 
wrong, and that they have been done some injustice, and the world owes them 

Now the problem: in the old days that bottom percentile fraction would 
self-publish some rant or other, or would just go away.  But now there is 
this thing called Wikipedia which is practically inviting them to edit.  It 
says "anyone can edit".

I had an experience with such an editor in late 2006.  He fundamentally 
wrecked the Philosophy article 
drove away a fine bunch of editors, and the article has never really 
recovered since (a group of us act as caretakers but on the principle of 
preventing any change, not improving it. I quote again from Mel Etitis (who 
himself was a casualty of this incident)

"Philosophy: I'm a philosopher; why don't I edit the article on my subject? 
Because it's hopeless. I've tried at various times, and each time have given 
up in depressed disgust. Philosophy seems to attract aggressive zealots who 
know a little (often a very little), who lack understanding of key concepts, 
terms, etc., and who attempt to take over the article (and its Talk page) 
with rambling, ground-shifting, often barely comprehensible rants against 
those who disagree with them. Life's too short. I just tell my students and 
anyone else I know not to read the Wikipedia article except for a laugh. 
It's one of those areas where the ochlocratic nature of Wikipedia really 
comes a cropper".

So in summary.  Most people who aren't very good, know they aren't very 
good.  A tiny proportion of those, don't realise this.  Quite a large 
proportion of those end up on Wikipedia.  Some disciplines have more of a 
problem than others. 'Hard sciences' have less of a problem.  Philosophy, 
however, is a crank magnet.

Does that explain the difference you were asking for?  There will sadly 
always be a communication failure.  Some people will never 'get it'. 
However, in the case of readers, you are remote from this and they don't 
give you a problem.  In the case of editors, they are there in your face, 
with their rambling barely comprehensible rants against those who disagree 
with them.  That is the difference, and that is the problem.


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