User:Mike Cline/Archimedes was deleted

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This is an essay about Inclusion, Deletion and Goals. It makes the point that Tactics employed must not impede other strategic goals. I call it Archimedes Was Deleted

Archimedes was deleted[edit]

The story of Archimedes’ death and the Siege of Syracuse (Sicily) provides an interesting historical example of this idea in the real world. Archimedes was a brilliant Greek scientist and mathematician whose contributions to the defense of Greek Syracuse had beguiled the Roman invaders for 2 years in 214-212 BC. The Roman leader, Marcellus knew this and one of the strategic goals of the campaign was to capture Archimedes and use his wisdom and science for the benefit of Rome. Another obvious strategic goal of the campaign was the surrender of Greek Syracuse to the Romans. At this, the Roman soldiers prevailed because once the defenses of Syracuse were broken, the Romans were both tactically and numerically superior to the Greeks. When a Roman soldier on patrol encountered Archimedes in his home along with his scientific equipment, Archimedes resisted capture merely by refusing to go with the soldier when asked to do so. The Roman soldier, unaware of who Archimedes was or of his strategic importance to Rome, killed him—a perfectly rational, acceptable action for a soldier focused on doing his job in securing the city. Archimedes was deleted (CSD-A0). We will never know whether Rome’s failure to achieve its strategic goal of preserving Archimedes for Rome had lasting impact, but we are confident that they failed to achieve the goal.

It is not necessary to examine why this happened, but more importantly, we need to recognize that this type of conflict between tactics and strategy has consequences. We must strive to ensure that the tactics we chose to achieve one strategic goal (no matter how effective) must not impede achievement of other strategic goals. This is my concern about deletion.

Deletion is a Tactic – Inclusion is a Philosophy[edit]

First, I believe deletion is an activity, a tactic if you will, that supports an end-state goal of content quality WP:NOR, WP:V, WP:NPOV and WP:GNG, all policies that ensure WP is a trustworthy source of knowledge. If there is content that does not meet the quality standard, deleting it is an effective tactic to upgrade the overall quality of project content. Second, inclusion is neither tactic nor strategy. Inclusion is the philosophy that there are alternatives to the tactic of deletion to improve quality. Here is a hypothetical (however improbable) example of what I mean.

If the total content quality of the project was measured simply on a % scale where anything less than 100% indicated the project contained content that was below quality standards, you could have a simple strategic goal that said: At some point in the future, the quality of total project content is 100%. This would be a remarkable achievement, and as an end-state goal, says nothing of the path to get there as there could be multiple ways to achieve it.

One of those paths is simple and reflects to some degree how we operate today. When existing or new content is not up to quality standards and cannot be easily brought up to those standards, it is deleted and the overall quality of the project is raised. Deletion is a very effective tactic to improve overall quality.

Another path might be that any existing or new content that doesn’t meet quality standards is brought up to those standards by editors through mentoring, exhaustive research and rewriting. WP:BEFORE comes to mind here. If all efforts to improve specific content failed, the deletion tactic can be employed. If that could happen, then the overall quality of project is raised as individual content is first either improved or as a last resort deleted. This is the path an inclusionist tries to promote and take.

A third path might be the establishment of mechanisms that essentially rendered deletion as a tactic unnecessary. Regardless of how it was accomplished, if all existing content was brought up to standard and any new content always met standards, the need for deletion would be diminished and the overall goal of content quality would still be achieved. Imagine a project that didn’t require substantive deletion because all new content met the quality goal and all new contributors understood and followed a path that ensured new content met quality standards. A lofty but not undesirable goal, and one we should all strive for.

Deletion is a necessary tactic, but from an inclusionist standpoint, a less than desirable outcome. The fact that content has to be deleted means something else in WP has failed. It is absolutely not about those who delete, as they execute the tactic with skill, finesse and loyalty to the strategic goal of quality. It is about the potential impact deletion has on the achievement of other goals and finding ways to eliminate that conflict.

Tactics employed must not impede other strategic goals[edit]

Unfortunately, when there are multiple strategic goals in play, tactics chosen to achieve one goal, must not impede progress toward other goals. The ongoing strategy process at: Wikimedia Strategic Priorities highlights current strategic goals. WP is dependent on volunteer contributors and it is those contributors (active now and those who chose to contribute in the future) who will build the encyclopedia. The project has participation and scope goals as well as quality goals and those participation goals cannot be met if the road to becoming a new and active contributor is too hard. There is a presumption that some tactics, deletion for one, adversely impact participation and scope by discouraging participation of new contributors. This does not mean that deletion is a bad tactic to improve quality (it is actually a very efficient tactic in that regard), it merely means that when it is employed, it presumably can impede progress toward other goals—participation and scope—and needs to be employed judiciously.

Understanding our goals is important if we don’t want to kill our Archimedes[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision is stated thus: Our vision is a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. For Wikipedia to effectively support that vision, it will require much wider diversity of participation and ideas, a great deal more content and high quality standards. When any content is deleted, no matter how justified by the immediate context, we need to ask ourselves—Are we deleting our Archimedes?