User:JWSchmidt/Blog/22 September 2009

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The Letter from Michael Snow and Jimmy Wales about a "strategic plan" invites us all to "Post ideas on your blog". I was struck by the letter's mention of experts.

The role of experts within Wikimedia is an interesting issue. If you go to Google Knol and search for "Wikipedia" you can find articles such as "Wikipedia Inquisition" by professor Claes Johnson which mentions Wikipedia's "contempt for expertize". You can follow links from professor Johnson's knol to other published sources that discuss the problems that Wikipedia has with experts.

Perhaps the most most famous window into the role of experts at Wikipedia is the relationship between Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Sanger has discussed Wikipedia's "lack of respect for expertise". Rather than make use of people like Sanger who could have long ago facilitated the participation of experts in Wikimedia, experts are routinely and systematically driven away from Wikimedia. Sanger had to go and start another wiki project, Citizendium. At Citizendium there is significant interest in the idea that if you are going to be publishing reliable information on the internet then your wiki editors should be encouraged to work under their real names, not by editing from anonymous user accounts.

It is interesting to explore the kinds of "experts" who are allowed at Wikimedia projects and those who are driven away. A famous case is Essjay, a Wikipedian who claimed to to be a tenured professor with several advanced degrees. In reality, the anonymous editor behind the "Essjay" user account was a community college dropout. I will not repeat all the issues raised by this one case; it is only symptomatic of the Wikimedia approach to providing educational resources, an approach which facilitates falsification of biographical information and other problems. It is enough to point out that the Essjay debacle shows that the "Wikimedia way" of favoring anonymous editing over editing by experts leads to problems. One of the most serious problems is that when non-experts are allowed to take control of an information resource like Wikipedia, then POV-pushers will have an irresistible incentive to aggressively work to keep away the real experts who could challenge and expose the phonies like "Essjay" and errors in wiki content that are easy for experts to spot.

Is Wikiversity infected with "Wikipedia disease" and headed down the path of driving away experts? When Wikiversity started, participants who showed their value by creating and participating in learning projects were made custodians. Participants who showed up wanting to participate in the role playing game of "delete and block" were turned away. Since the hostile takeover of Wikiversity last Summer that situation has changed. Since last summer policy violators and deletionists have been encouraged to become custodians. Rather than being welcomed as a full custodian, User:Leighblackall was "put on hold" for not having made enough use of the "tools" (see Wikiversity:Candidates for Custodianship/Leighblackall). Why is it that two years ago, having participated at Wikiversity as a learner and scholar was enough to allow you to become a custodian, but not any more? Wikiversity needs scholars as custodians because custodians are supposed to examine community discussions and decide which arguments support the educational mission of the project. Under the new Ruling Party, you can show that you qualify for custodianship by coming to Wikiversity on a mission aimed at getting another Wikiversity participant banned, deleting the good faith contributions of other wiki participants and violating Wikiversity policy, for example, by secretly using your bot in an unauthorized way (see User:JWSchmidt/Blog/14 November 2008). It should be placed on the Main Page: "Interested in helping out as a custodian? All you have done is create learning resources? Get lost!" That would really encourage learners, scholars and experts to participate here.

How does Wikiversity treat experts? A few interesting "case studies" come to mind such as User:Jon Awbrey and Moulton. I've previously described how Jon Awbrey was treated when he dared to post links to some of his scholarly work on his user page. Both Awbrey and Moulton have been accused of posting "spam" when they have linked to their off-wiki scholarly resources. For such "friendly" treatment of scholars you can be rewarded with Wikiversity custodianship. What does this say to experts who think about participating at Wikiversity?

I've also previously written about Moulton and his treatment by Wikimedia. He tried to fix some some bogus biographies at Wikipedia, "encyclopedia articles" that were POV-pushing hatchet jobs that violated Wikiversity policy. For his trouble he was banned from Wikipedia. Moulton came to Wikiversity with a large amount of expertise and experience with online learning communities. However, rather than make use of his expertise, Moulton was driven away from this community. Why? Because Moulton dared to suggest that it is unethical to allow anonymous wiki editors to publish lies in online educational resources like Wikipedia.

In closing, I want to mention my own experience within Wikimedia. I've worked hard to attract experts to Wikimedia projects. I started the Molecular and Cellular Biology WikiProject as a way to encourage biologists to participate at Wikipedia. Due to the bad reputation of Wikimedia among academics, it is hard to get expert biologists to participate. I've been appalled to watch abusive Wikipedia administrators drive away academics like Johnson, Sanger, Awbrey and Moulton and I've participated in the never-ending struggle against anonymous POV-pushers who daily flood Wikipedia with lies and propaganda. I've watched anti-vandalism tools like blocks and checkuser misused to create a hostile environment for experts, academics and innocent non-vandals. I've been warned by Wikimedia "leaders" to shut up and not raise such problems for discussion and I've been invited to fuck off and leave Wikiversity. I've been threatened with being de-sysopped at Wikipedia for defending the right of experts to participate at that project. I was falsely accused of facilitating an evil "agenda" within Wikiversity and subjected to a bogus "emergency" de-sysop where there was no emergency, only an attempt to dump yet another an academic out of Wikimedia. I have decades of training and experience in academic research. I've had to watch Wikiversity:Cite sources be reverted from "official policy" back to "proposed". Why can't a scholarly learning community have a policy about citing sources? Such absurdities abound, yet my efforts to make Wikiversity a place for scholarly research projects has been falsely called "policy manipulation". I've had to watch while my own Wikiversity research project was falsely called an "attack page" and I've watched other good faith contributions to Wikiversity proposed for deletion and ruled unwelcome.

If Jimmy Wales is serious about getting better involvement of experts within Wikimedia then why not start with a house cleaning and a conversion of Wikimedia from a place that is all too often hostile to experts while facilitating abusive by POV-pushers and giving a free ride to abusive administrators who think they have the right to prevent or end discussions is by imposing bogus blocks and bans.

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