User:Andrewa/Do not boast

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

One of the more common reasons for friction on talk pages is that a contributor considers themselves to have expertise to which other contributors should defer.

Even if this claim to expertise is true, Wikipedia policy is not to take much notice of it at all. Instead you need to cite your sources, like everyone else.

This catches many newcomers by surprise and has been the subject of much discussion, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Wikipedia does not publish original research of any kind. If the claims you're making as an expert have been published elsewhere, just cite them. And if not, just publish them {but not here of course) and then you can cite them.

And many Wikipedians do have published work which is considered to be a reliable source, and which can be cited in articles. However even this does not in any way entitle them to a greater say in establishing consensus. It may even work slightly against them. While anyone can cite the publication, including the author, citations of your own work are (perhaps unfairly) treated with some suspicion.

And this is not completely unfair. The true expert will have no difficulty in citing sources other than themselves, and in this sense they are at a well-deserved advantage. But a problem is that the expert, unless an academic, may not be in the habit of doing so. They are used to being cited, not looking for citations. They may be very competent at finding sources, but sourcing facts that they and their colleagues routinely take for granted seems a pointless exercise.

I'm afraid you still need to do it. That's just the way Wikipedia works.

On the other hand, some genuine experts have no publications or credentials at all. These people are an excellent fit to Wikipedia, as they are under the exactly the same restrictions as the well qualified, and no more. But the need to source the obvious (as they see it) can still be a little galling.

And there's a third possibility, in that some who consider themselves experts are not. See the definition of unexpert below. This is a different problem, but with exactly the same solution. Cite your sources. If you're right they'll support you. If you're wrong, hopefully you'll learn. And if you can't (or won't) find any sources, then whether expert, inexpert, or unexpert, your expertise is, sadly, of very little use to us. It's probably best that you either (and preferably) find other ways to contribute, or (if that's not possible) go away... with our best wishes of course. Contributing to Wikipedia is just not everyone's cup of tea.

It actually works rather well, once you get used to it. It's fairly basic to the way Wikipedia works in fact. But it has both pluses and minuses. It can be a steep learning curve, particularly for those familiar with older and more conservative methods of publishing.

How to handle the expert? It doesn't depend on your assessment of their level of expertise any more than it depends on their own. That's one of the big pluses. Ask them to cite their sources. And cite your own of course.

Be polite. Point out that unsourced material can be summarily removed. Give them every chance. Assume good faith. We want to retain them and their expertise.

And never, never dispute their claims of expertise, however extreme and obvious their incompetence may seem to you (and yours to them, most probably). That is both contrary to Wikipedia policy and beside the point. It's a distraction at best. (And that's another of the plusses.) Attempt to correct their mistakes by all means, being careful to stay on-topic (see below... but off-topic mistakes can often be followed up on other talk pages if they are important) and (wait for it) citing your own sources. Everyone makes mistakes, and one of the marks of the true expert is that they quickly recognise and admit them. That's how they got to be an expert.

But be particularly wary of those who repeatedly demand sources of others but repeatedly don't cite their own even when asked. This is good evidence (but not proof) of falsely assumed expertise. But still be polite. Enthusiasm is good. If this enthusiasm can be directed into sound research, today's nuisance is tomorrow's expert, and that's a good outcome for Wikipedia.

Be also particularly wary of the contributor who provides lots of irrelevant but impressive-sounding technical or historical details in talk discussions, or who wants to dispute obscure details of the subject that are similarly irrelevant to the matter under discussion. The normal reason for this is that they wish to establish their credentials as the expert in the field, and thereby disempower others. There are two problems with this.

Firstly of course, it derails the discussion. It can be very difficult to resolve even simple issues if those who respond include irrelevant material. If others then reply to these off-topic comments, or if you lose focus and reply to them yourself, things can get very tangled very quickly. And quite commonly, even after wading through the reply, you find that the specific issue under discussion has not been addressed at all! And why should it be? The goal of the contributor was to show off, not to answer the question.

Secondly, even if the contributor does succeed in demonstrating their expertise, this is still a distraction. If Wikipedia does not give special rights to a contributor with a PhD in the subject, how much less should we give these rights to a contributor who seems to know what they're talking about but either can't or won't put together a valid, focused, well-sourced argument? Rewarding this behaviour is not only dangerous but completely illogical.

So don't boast of or otherwise promote your own personal expertise. At best, nobody is listening. Worse, someone may listen, and waste a lot of time that could otherwise be used improving Wikipedia.

Some useful definitions[edit]

(original definitions by User:Andrewa)

Expert: Someone who has already made most of their mistakes.

Inexpert: Someone who has yet to make most of their mistakes.

Unexpert: Someone who is an inexpert but manages to give the impression of being an expert (including and especially but not only to themselves).

See also[edit]

  • Wikipedia:Randy in Boise is an older, somewhat ruder but much funnier essay that covers some closely related and very important issues.
  • User:Andrewa/creed is a more positive take on the whole Wikipedia enterprise.