- 1 Okrent's Law and editorial balance
- 2 On helping troubled editors
- 3 On shenanigans and nonsense
- 4 On freedom of speech
- 5 On interactions with anonymous individuals in a public forum
- 6 On public versus private discussion in an online setting
- 7 On the (in)numeracy of the mainstream press
- 8 Useful Wikilinks
Okrent's Law and editorial balance
|“||The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true.||”|
|“||A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy. It serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they've stopped doing this is a mystery.... "Was the president successful in convincing the country?" Who gives a shit? Why not tell us if what he said was true?||”|
Apply and interpret WP:NPOV with due care and caution, please. Devoting equal time and space to all 'sides' of a controversy only makes sense if all sides are equally credible. Where a preponderance of evidence – or an outright consensus among experts – exists, we fail as editors if our coverage does not accurately reflect that understanding.
On helping troubled editors
|“||Wikipedia editors are generally generous and helpful people, as one would expect from a volunteer-driven project.
The average Wikipedian will bend over backwards to help — until he gets the impression that you're asking him to bend over forwards.
On shenanigans and nonsense
|“||Miss Tangerine was one of the faster-learning Auditors and had already formulated a group of things, events and situations that she categorized as 'bloody stupid'.
Things that were 'bloody stupid' could be dismissed....
—Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett
On freedom of speech
|“||...if you are here to treat Wikipedia like a country in need of a libertarian centered human-rights struggle, you're missing the point.||”|
On interactions with anonymous individuals in a public forum
On public versus private discussion in an online setting
|“||The real world affords us many ways of keeping public, private, and secret utterances separate from one another, starting with the fact that groups have until recently largely been limited to meeting in the real world, and things you say in the real world are heard only by the people you are talking to and only while you are talking to them. Online, by contrast, the default mode for many forms of communication is instant, global, and nearly permanent.||”|
There are ways to have private online conversations with other individuals or groups (likeminded or otherwise, depending on your tastes). Posting your opinions – of Wikipedia, of its practices and policies, and of its other editors – in online forums and under identities easily linked to your Wikipedia persona is not one of those ways. Posting those opinions and comments on sites which exist explicitly to criticize and comment on Wikipedia (and thereby, perhaps, to influence it) is certainly not private.
In the offline world, if you decide to post insults, 'evaluation', attacks, or criticism of your co-workers in the window of the shop across the street from your office, you shouldn't be surprised if they read what you've written. You also shouldn't be surprised that your coworkers allow your publicly-posted writings about them to color their relationship with you — no matter how superficially (and hypocritically) polite a person you pretend to be to their faces. Making permanent, public, globally-accessible statements about people is very different from bitching about your coworkers privately, over beers, at home.
The meme that obnoxious comments publicly posted in non-Wikipedia venues somehow shouldn't be held against their writers here is nothing more than selfish rationalization for otherwise inexcusable petty, cruel, nasty, cowardly behavior. It's arguing that giving someone the finger isn't rude as long as there's a pane of glass between the two of you. Briefly, it's bollocks.
On the (in)numeracy of the mainstream press
A colleague recently drew my attention to this article, which appeared in the Toronto Star on 5 July 2010. Our article identifies the Star as Canada's highest-circulation daily newspaper. The article, titled "One in three Ontario criminal verdicts overturned", deals with a recent report examining the success rate of appellants at the Ontario Court of Appeals. The centerpiece of the story is the fact(oid) that in appeals of criminal cases, the court apparently granted 35% of appeals in 2009. Right off the top, the title is misleading — the vast majority of verdicts are never appealed, so far fewer than one in three are overturned. (The court heard only 446 appeals; I don't know how many lower court cases took place, but Ontario has a population of more than 13 million: bigger than the U.S. state of Illinois or the entire country of Greece.) Worrying in a more subtle way, however, is the following quotation about a third of the way into the article.
|“||"Thirty-five per cent means for every 20 people, seven are successful," said Paul McNicholas, an associate professor at the University of Guelph’s department of mathematics and statistics. "That’s an awful lot...better than one-in-three."||”|
—Tracey Tyler (Legal Affairs Reporter), "One in three Ontario criminal verdicts overturned", Toronto Star, 5 July 2010
What does this mean? Is the Toronto Star – one of a major Western nation's premier daily newspapers – so fearful of its own (in)numeracy that they call on a university professor to offer a quote, rather than write a short statement of their own about percentages and fractions? Is it more credible to have a professor of mathematics and statistics perform basic arithmetic? Is this a healthy precedent?
A more subtly insidious point is the editorial commentary implied, where the professor is quoted as saying "That's an awful lot". Is it? It's about a third of appealed cases, true — but does that mean that the trial courts are incompetent, or just that appellants and their lawyers are being sensible about what cases that they bring to appeal in the first place? Should a professor of mathematics' comments be used to offer implicit evaluations of the criminal justice system? Is this statement being (mis-?)presented as an argument from unqualified authority?
As Wikipedia editors, we must be extraordinarily careful to evaluate the use and context of 'expert testimony' as reported by the mainstream media. While newspapers tend to be extremely cautious about accurately reproducing the words spoken by people, they are much more poorly qualified to weigh and evaluate those statements in areas like science and mathematics which require highly-specialized, technical expertise.
You'll look like a crank if... — editing strategies which will weaken your perceived credibility
The Policy Reform treadmill...an incomplete essay.