|— Wikipedian —|
|Birth date||August 5, 1980|
I'm Alexander Cazort Zorach, usually known as Alex Zorach. I love Wikipedia and it is a major source of inspiration in my life, even shaping my value system, including the way I view communication, religion, education, and politics. I am a co-founder of Why This Way, a consensus-based religion, founded in 2012, that was inspired in part by Wikipedia and shares many aspects in common with it.
I would like to apologize for the times that I screw up edits; this is something I do frequently. Please accept my apologies in advance. I am continually realizing where I have room to grow and become a better editor.
- 1 Biases
- 2 Bio & potential conflicts of interest
- 3 Wikipedia Philosophy
- 3.1 Sources
- 3.2 Discussion
- 3.3 Merging / Splitting
- 3.4 Audience & Accessibility
- 3.5 News & Current Events
- 3.6 Notability
- 3.7 Censorship
- 3.8 Grammar & Writing Style
- 3.9 Deletion
- 3.10 Medicine and medicalization
- 4 To-do list
- 5 Decisions/discussions I disagree with and may revert in the future
- 6 Editors I know outside of wikipedia
- 7 Project Membership
Bio & potential conflicts of interest
I was born in 1980, and I graduated Oberlin College in 2002, and I also got a Master's in Mathematics from the University of Delaware in 2007, and a Master's in Statistics from Yale University in 2008. I also am an avid tea-drinker, and, as I mentioned above, I run RateTea.
In the past, I have worked in operations research for GCRTA, and I have run my own computer consulting company, called Sustainable Computing. I also have worked in and published one paper in the area of theoretical ecology, while working at UMCES. As of August 2012, I am employed by Green Mountain Energy as a sales agent in PA.
Mimi Cazort is my aunt, and I'm probably related to William Lee Cazort, but I'm not sure how. Also, William Zorach and Marguerite Zorach are my great-grandparents. Tessim Zorach of Zorach v. Clauson is my grandfather.
I tend to agree with most of wikipedia's policies and guidelines. This doesn't mean I always comply with them though:
- I am human and thus don't always realize when I am doing something that is counterproductive or against guidelines.
- A few policies I disagree with, and can be rather stubborn about.
I think most of Wikipedia's policy on reliable sources is right on. Interpretation of that policy is sometimes difficult. I am very cautious about using an organization's website as a source about itself. I tend to give more weight to local sources than most other editors, when it comes to establishing notability. I am also cautious of peer-reviewed scientific journals, when there is a conflict of interest in the funding of the studies being published, or any possible incentives for publication bias.
I strongly support double-blind review (anonymous submission + anonymous reviewing) in peer-reviewed journals. I believe that non-anonymous review leads to strong and potentially difficult-to-detect bias in the selection of which articles get published. This leads towards a greater portion of articles published by high-status, well-known regarded authors, even if the articles are lacking in quality, and a lower portion of articles published by low-status and relatively unknown authors, even if their work is high quality. This is especially important in areas where there are competing viewpoints and undue weight is a concern: views put forth by high-status individuals or institutions will be over-represented among peer-reviewed journals that do not practice double-blind reviewing.
Wikipedia's guidelines on sources do not discuss this issue and I think this is a serious omission.
In discussions on Wikipedia, I ignore (and recommend others to ignore) assertions of truth given without reasoning. In some cases, I think it is appropriate to point out when such empty assertions are being made, so that others do not give them weight or consideration. However, I do tend to consider statements of personal opinion, even when given without clear reasoning, as long as they are presented as opinion or intuition and not presented as truth.
For example, I would ignore the following comments, not giving them any weight:
- Delete: Non-notable.
- Comment: That is not true.
- Keep: Clearly notable.
However, I would give consideration to the following opinions or perspectives:
- I agree/disagree with so-and-so's comments.
- My intuition is that this is true, but I can't find a good source backing it up.
- I think merging/splitting these topics would make the page more accessible.
- I am concerned that such-and-such policy would be used for such-and-such an end.
The simple inclusion of comments like "I think" or "I believe" or better yet, "Based on X, I believe" makes transparent that you are expressing an opinion. Failure to include such qualifiers can make your comments come across as dismissive, is disrespectful of editors expressing disagreeing viewpoints, and will make me and others much more likely to ignore your comments.
The best input to give in a discussion, however, is sound reasoning supporting your viewpoint and addressing all prior concerns raised in the discussion, and when appropriate, citing reliable sources. Such comments, in my opinion, almost always trump expressions of opinion and rarely fail to convince me of the truth of whatever view is being put forth.
I have been guilty of the following offense:
When reasoning is given, it becomes inappropriate to continue to state opinions without referencing that reasoning or explaining how your perspective relates to what has already been said. Stating opinions after sound reasoning has been given is disrespectful as it comes across as dismissive, and it has the effect of creating back-and-forth arguments where users are talking past each other. For example, if someone says: "I think this is non-notable because I am not finding enough reliable sources.", it then becomes inappropriate to express the opinion "I think we should keep this article." without addressing the issue of sources. On the other hand, if someone provides sources and says: "I think these sources qualify as reliable sources and provide significant coverage of this topic so I say Keep." it then becomes inappropriate to express an opinion like: "Delete, not enough sources." because this is not engaging with the previous comments--instead you must engage in it and be more specific about your perspective, i.e.: "I think these are reliable sources but I think the coverage is trivial." or "I do not think X source you gave is reliable because it looks like it is simply copying a company's press release." or some other reason.
Merging / Splitting
I tend to argue against merging articles when I see a possibility of pages being expanded, or when each article being merged is at least a page long. I often see people propose merges just because pages don't contain enough material to warrant a full page--but they are not anticipating future growth of the page. Similarly, if there is a full page of material, I think that in the interest of good organization and ease-of-use, it's best to keep the pages separate.
I also think that pages should be kept to a length of about 50kb max, and should be split when they go over this threshold, and in many cases, far before they even come close to this threshold. Most wikipedia users are not interested in reading that much material on one page, and breaking the page up into subtopics, giving short summaries on the main page, ultimately makes wikipedia easier to use. It also avoids painfully general redirects, and redirects that lead to a section (something that I think should be avoided except in the case where a topic is not notable enough to warrant its own article, but notable enough to be included on some other page).
Audience & Accessibility
Because Wikipedia is intended to be an encyclopedia and not a place for novel research, it seems important to me to keep articles accessible to a general audience rather than to allow them to become. The notion of a "general audience" varies from topic to topic. I tend to oppose the inclusion of highly technical details on a page in the absence of more accessible material. I think technical details are only appropriate to add once an article has an accessible overview, or in the case that an article is written about a highly technical topic and links back to a fully developed article explaining more fundamental concepts. I think this is primarily a problem with articles in mathematics and the sciences, especially ones in Chemistry and Biochemistry.
- I believe strongly in wikifying, and only defining terms on their main pages. I often get in arguments about accessibility because I delete expanded explanations of technical terms and replace them with links to the respective terms' wikipedia pages. In doing this, I am not trying to make pages inaccessible, I am trying to avoid duplication of material. I think that Wikipedia is most accessible when every technical term is wikified in its first occurrence on a page, and then that page has an accessible definition at the top of its page. This policy sometimes leads to circular links, and I don't have a problem with this, because I think much of human knowledge is inherently circular, and forcing it to be linear will ultimately make it wrong, inaccessible, or both. Also, I believe some things are more easily learned from context and by example, rather than by definition.
- I think keeping pages short, breaking pages up into subtopics, and having short summaries on the main page for a topic can contribute to making Wikipedia more accessible.
- I tend to want to keep mathematical proofs out of Wikipedia, except in the rare cases where widely-known simple proofs exist, or on articles about a notable proof. Choices of a "best" proof to include are often highly subjective: longer proofs and proofs that are too concise (omitting too much explanation) can both be difficult to follow, and thus add little to an article. I think a better option is to provide references to (multiple) proofs in external sources. My rationale for this:
- Anyone serious enough to read a difficult proof is serious enough to look it up in an external source.
- With difficult proofs, the effort necessary to physically obtain a book, even by interlibrary loan or getting a friend to copy or scan it to you, is dwarfed by the effort necessary to actually understand the proof.
- Proofs are inherently logical, so they can't be edited naturally in the way a wiki is. This isn't to say we should keep all logic or proof out of the page, just lengthy logic. Also, I recommend to avoid structuring page to refer in a logical manner to material earlier on the page, since this makes editing cumbersome. I think Wikipedia is more useful when pages read more like a network and less like a linear progression of deductive logic. This approach to mathematics can be unnatural to people trained in formal mathematics (I spent 3 years in Ph.D. programs in math and statistics and I have a tendency to think and write this way myself) but I think it's essential if our pages are to be accessible and useful.
- I believe mathematical formalism needs to be used sparingly and integrated into the text of mathematics articles. Bourbaki-style expositions of formalism are entirely inappropriate to Wikipedia. I believe that articles should use prose in place of symbols whenever possible, and the prose should be Wikified and woven into a narrative that emphasizes the purpose for the use of whatever mathematical formalism is being presented, and provides intuitive interpretations for logical structures and formalism whenever possible. Beyond simple definitions, any formalism that does not have a clear and widely accepted intuitive interpretation is probably too specialized to be included in wikipedia, unless it is appearing in the definition on a specialized page. For example: I believe such formalism is appropriate on a page like Bol loop, but is not appropriate on one like Mean squared error.
News & Current Events
Wikipedia is not a newspaper nor is it a place for synthesis of news items. At the same time, news sources are often among the most valuable sources available for a topic; in some cases they are the the only sources available.
As new news comes out, it is important to quickly updating articles based on new information, to ensure that they remain accurate. But I think it is crucial to exercise restraint before integrating new material into wikipedia pages, especially when it is not clear how notable that material will be in the long-run. Rapid editing back and forth as events unfold is a huge waste of effort since it doesn't create a quality finished product--not only are most of the edits quickly overwritten, but such actions often lead to material being included in a page out of proportion to its long-term importance, so the page has to be continually revised later--such actions can actually make more work for later editors.
I almost universally embrace Wikipedia's notability criteria, but I think that frequently, arguments to delete material are made without adequately understanding the criteria or its purpose. Its purpose is to ensure the quality of wikipedia by limiting coverage to topics which can be reliably sourced--its purpose is NOT to shut out material that is "not important enough" to be included. I frequently see people argue fallacious arugments such as:
- "This person/book/topic is not well-known or influential." Being well-known or influential is irrelevant: what matters is receiving significant coverage in reliable independent sources.
- "You can't use that source to argue notability because no one reads it." It doesn't matter if the sources are widely read or influential, it matters if they are reliable and independent.
- "I am an expert in this field and I think this person/topic doesn't deserve a page". Notability is not about "deserving" a page--there are plenty of topics which deserve pages who don't have them because they don't have significant coverage in reliable independent sources. Notability is about whether it's possible to write a reliable and accurate page on the topic.
- "There's no content on the page / it has no sources / it is being blatantly used for advertisement / it is a target for spam and vandalism." These arguments are all irrelevant to notability and deletion discussions. Wikipedia guidelines very firmly establish that a page should not be deleted just because it is not adequately sourced, only if it cannot adequately be sourced.
The few times when I suggest to delete against the trend
- I feel very strongly about keeping current events out of wikipedia, only incorporating material if it is notable for inclusion in the long-term. Wikipedia is not a news source. I think editing pages as events unfold is ok when you make minor changes to keep the page accurate, but it is not ok when you add sentences and paragraphs about current events that have not been shown to have more than minor importance in the long-term.
- I may want to delete material others see as notable in cases where an event or topic receives heavy coverage in association with promotion by a celebrity or an aggressive promotional campaign by a wealthy organization or individual. In cases like these, I think the notability being observed is not of the event or topic itself, but rather, of the fact that the influential, powerful, or wealthy individual or organization has tried to promote the topic. I think the topic belongs on the page for these individuals or organizations until there is evidence from reliable sources that the topic has attracted attention on its own merits, irrespective of a powerful, influential, or wealthy party using resources to attempt to force the topic into the mainstream.
I think wikipedia has a number users who attempt to censor wikipedia by excluding certain topics or attempting to tone them down. For example, I have noticed that extremely sexually explicit topics tend to be deleted or suggested for deletion more readily than other topics which have stronger ground for deletion. I also notice that the pages of many corporations, prestigious universities, and other influential organizations seem to have lots of people watching them and attempting to sanitize the pages by removing material that is negative towards the institution. I also feel that people shy away from words like "criticisms", "limitations", "drawbacks", "controversies" etc, making claims of POV when in reality they are taking highly controversial or negative material and making it seem bland or neutral, when it is not. I have little tolerance for any of these types of censorship and will gladly revert edits.
Grammar & Writing Style
I get very bent out of shape when people make edits that introduce grammatical errors, are ambiguously worded, or have very poor writing style. I recognize that I don't have the best writing style, so I think I'm in a pretty good position to say that if you edit a page and your writing style comes out worse than mine, you've done some serious damage to the article! Don't be mad if I revert your edit; instead, if you really want to get the ideas out there or make an important change, do it again, and do it carefully. I'm much more likely to take an edit seriously if it's well-worded and grammatically correct--and I think other editors are too. Sloppy edits will often get reverted by me without much thought, because it can take a lot more work to integrate the ideas from poorly worded prose into the article than to simply flip it back to where it was. It also makes it seem like you didn't put much effort or thought into the edit!
I think the wikipedia deletion process, which does not make the material from deleted pages available to users of the site, is overused, sometimes as a form of censorship. The only time I believe such permanent deletion to be justified is in the cases of:
- Copyrighted material
- Slander or libel, especially with living persons.
- Other legally problematic material
Sometimes when I encounter a deleted page, I find myself questioning the deletion process because I cannot see the material that was deleted. Often, being able to see that material would make me understand why it was deleted.
Merging+redirect is often a good alternative to the deletion process, because it allows the history to be viewed and it preserves whatever worthwhile material there was on the page. Even if there was no material worth keeping, I still think conducting a "merge"/redirect is a better way of preserving the history of the situation.
Medicine and medicalization
I object very strongly to the medicalization of topics on wikipedia. I notice a pattern on many pages of people using the standards of western medicine alone to determine whether or not to include material on a page. I think this introduces many problems, including:
- Inaccessibility -- making a page hyper-medical often involves introducing long, specialized medical terms
- Bias towards western culture and western science
- Shutting out of alternative perspectives, including non-western medicine and so-called "alternative" medicine, and also anthropological and historical perspectives. This happens when people start (without discussion) using the standards of western medicine to judge what material is appropriate for inclusion on the page. The standards of western medicine are not the standards of wikipedia. This is to say, my interpretation of WP:NPOV is that a respected journal in the social sciences or humanities is just a valid a source as a respectful medical journal, including when talking about topics that people think of as "medical" topics.
When possible I think that only the most basic, accessible medical information should be included on the main page for a given topic, and all specialized medical information be relegated to sub-pages. I think that the material on a main page for any topic should include a balance of material from western medicine, non-western and "alternative" medicine, and also non-medical perspectives.
I am also conscious of the potential for financial interests to corrupt Wikipedia's neutral point of view on medical topics. Bias can be introduced simply from the fact that the medical profession employs a large number of well-educated people, so a disproportionate number of people come to Wikipedia editing topics from a medical perspective. The result is an over-emphasis on this perspective and an under-emphasis on other ones. I would like to see all editors exercising greater caution when it comes to the medicalization of topics.
You can view my to-do list.
Decisions/discussions I disagree with and may revert in the future
Sometimes a discussion has an outcome that I disagree with strongly enough that I feel the need to note it here with the intention of reminding myself to return at some point to make changes of my own or engage in further discussion. The vast majority of situations I disagree with do not ever end up here.
Editors I know outside of wikipedia
You can find my project membership and awards on my page of boxes; I didn't like the boxes cluttering things up here.