[WikiEN-l] Criticism sections on bios of living people

Michael Snow wikipedia at earthlink.net
Sat May 6 22:41:30 UTC 2006

Erik Moeller wrote:

> On 5/6/06, A <jokestress at gmail.com> wrote:
>> 3. Are "criticism" sections valid in general, or do they just become a
>> repository for quibbles and an amplifier of relatively insignificant
>> hatecruft about a person?
> They are not only valid, in many cases they are necessary.

I beg to differ. In many cases they are not at all necessary. In fact, 
they are often symptoms of the shoddy research, writing, and 
organization that has gone into so many of our most problematic biographies.

> Wikipedia is not Wikinfo, writing from a "sympathetic point of view". 
> I hope
> that nobody would argue that we should have an article about [[Ann
> Coulter]], [[Michael Moore]], [[Uri Geller]], or [[Alexander
> Lukashenko]] that does not include criticism.

I'm not at all saying that criticisms should be omitted, or a neutral 
point of view abandoned. But their consolidation into separate 
"Criticisms" sections is generally undesirable, I would say.

> Important public and
> political figures in particular may affect, through their action or
> inaction, an entire society. To not describe the reaction in
> encyclopedic terms, or worse, to only describe one side of the
> reaction, completely undermines the purpose of an encyclopedia.

Yes, but the reaction should really be put in context, not put in a 
"Criticisms" section. Doing the latter causes a number of problems:

1. If you put the action (or inaction) under a Criticisms section in 
order to address the reaction to it, it implies that the action (or 
inaction) is deserving of criticism. This is not a neutral presentation.
2. If you simply talk about the criticisms without first discussing what 
gave rise to them, you're almost certainly not giving the person's 
accomplishments enough credit.
3. For people who have been involved in a significant amount of 
controversy, putting all of this material in a criticisms section makes 
the article unbalanced. It may also generate disproportionate attention 
to the criticisms. Again, this is a failure to create a neutral article.
4. Discussing actions and discussing criticisms in separate sections 
typically creates a lot of redundancy. This exacerbates the bloat 
problem that emerges on many of our controversial topics when they get 
heavy editor attention.
5. Having a separate Criticisms section encourages people to dump 
anything they can find in there (much like a Trivia section encourages 
similar random additions). As a result, they fail to integrate their 
material into the article and often add stuff that isn't particularly 
suited for an encyclopedia anyway.

> The existing guidelines strike me as sufficient to deal with the issue
> on a case by case basis.

The guidelines are perhaps adequate, because this is partly a cultural 
issue. But it's been clear for a while that we have serious systemic and 
cultural issues on articles dealing with living people.

--Michael Snow

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