Who I am
My real name is David Goodman, and I would have used it from the beginning if I had understood WP better.
Wikipedia and the World
Every issue we discuss here has its real world counterparts. WP is a sort of laboratory, where we can explore the implications of issues which are not limited to our immediate needs. BLP is the obvious example, but also the nature of truth; The reliability of evidence; The degree to which we can trust our judgment and our senses; The extent our biases are perpetuated by the way we teach; The nature of social control; The liberty we allow to other people to do what we think wrong; The relative weights of individual freedom to be bizarre and responsibility to a social purpose; The role of personal feelings and trust as compared to abstract rules; Whether to obey social rules we think evil; Whether to respect social taboos; Whether to judge by motive or result. And the foundations and purposes of civil and criminal law, & the purposes of punishment. The specific WP issues related to all these will occur to you--I have specific things in mind for every one.
Many advocates of extreme free speech in the outside world are in favor of a restrictive POV at Wikipedia. Many who are libertarians of various sorts in the outside world are much less so here. Many who are proponents of radical change are much less so here. We justify our witch hunts by the need to appear squeaky-clean to a potentially unfriendly world.
Mostly, our examples are trivial. There are RW examples that are not the least trivial, besides the syphilis studies we all know about: The best atlas of human anatomy in the late 40s was prepared by a Nazi physician containing his drawings of what he knew were slides made from brain tissue of people killed in a concentration camp, and he is even recorded as having explained to the commandant the sort of specimen and method of preservation he wanted, so people were killed on purpose to make it. There has since been consensus to remove the atlas from libraries, though individuals have retained copies and argued for its continued value--there remains nothing of equal quality. (The slides themselves have been recovered, and buried properly, tho some of them are probably still in existence, because one brain can give thousands of thin sections.) In the USA in the 1950s, the question of what amino acids in proteins were essential for human growth was investigated by feeding human infants diets chemically prepared to be lacking in various amino acids, to see which ones stunted their growth. (The stunting from such starvation is permanent.) The compiler of the standard reference work in the late 50s decided to not cite these studies, even though there was no equivalent source of information, and no real prospect of another way to get it, and I don't think they have been cited since, As I said, our problems are not so consequential. They're self-protective, rather than immoral. Important as it is to protect WP, they do not rise to the same status.
What I believe about current issues at Wikipedia
The only 2 policies I see here that I have an uncompromising disagreement with are: consulting subject's preferences about whether to have an article (because I think it an invitation to writing to please the subject), and using arguments that would not be used for routine subjects in order to eliminate articles on unpopular subjects -- they are both questions of NPOV/Censorship & if we compromise about that we lose our purpose. There is a popular-liberal flattening of positions here, and I do not speak from any conceivably right-wing position. I am willing to compromise on NOT NEWS and NOT FICTION, because they just harm the scope of the encyclopedia, not the reliability.
There are also 2 patterns of interacting I unhesitatingly condemn: First, those who badger other contributors to the discussion: people should perhaps reach conclusions based both on the arguments and the degree of support for them, not the behavior of those supporting a particular position, but people in all contexts tend to discount the views of those who interfere with the proceedings. The other, often related, is the increasing and often successful attempt aided by discretionary sanctions to win arguments by maneuvering the opponents into poor behavior, even though this is often successful--people actually keep track of how many have been banned on their side vs. the enemy
What I know
I'm a librarian, among other things (with a MLS from Rutgers), and I claim the traditional ability of librarians to help users in subjects they know only a little about. But the ones that I think I do actually know something about are
- scientific publishing, and libraries and higher education in general.
- science librarianship, especially serials librarianship--I was responsible for the coordination of online journals for a major university library--Princeton--for about 10 years (before that I was responsible for the paper serials lists) -- and I have kept up with this field, and I have been on some of the relevant international committees.
- open access, in the sense of open access to published research (as an obvious development from the previous item). Here I am an advocate and commentator, making postings and writing reviews. No two advocates agree completely on anything, but I'm on speaking terms with most of them, and a good many of the publishers. To do this effectively, I keep up with the detail, & what the major scientific societies and publishers are doing.
- I still know something about molecular biology, which is the field of my Ph.D. (from Berkeley) under Gunther Stent, and human biology, the field of my post-doc with Allan Wilson.
- As hobbies: printing history, medieval history (mainly western Europe), 18th century English literature (especially the 2nd half of the century), history of religions (mainly the Jewish and Christian religions), history of biology (particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries).
My professional bent has been to look for lack of clarity, nonsense, or contradiction, whether in contracts, advertisement, alleged facts, or argumentation. I've found my destined home in WP, for I see more than I would have imagined. Not all of it seems curable, but I expect to upgrade some of the librarianship pages, and some of the higher education ones, and perhaps all of the publishing ones. Plus, as all of the WP people do, whatever I happen to come across. Lately, I've also been working a little more with WP processes and standards, towards the possibility of increasing their clarity, reasonableness, and consistency. As the standards seem in practice to be defined by practice at AfD, I've also been working there.
But what I have been also doing is trying to improve the weak articles about probably notable figures or organizations that I come across, sometimes in WP:CSD, sometimes in WP:PROD, sometimes after they've been sent to WP:AFD. I try to send a customized message to the author, explaining in exact detail what's needed.
To the extent I have time, I also try to re-write some of the most deserving of these articles when it seems there is no one else around to do the job. I can only manage 1 or 2 a week, but if all WP editors did the same--as some already do--we would make very satisfying progress towards a better encyclopedia.
I also find sources for unlikely subjects, sometimes in unlikely places, but usually just in Google. The trick is patience, and figuring out what to expect.
But as for expertise at WP in general, I cannot say it better than Slim Virgin did:
"The importance of our content policies lies in the fact that, when someone arrives claiming to be an expert, we don't have to worry about whether they're telling the truth. What we ask of all editors (expert and non-expert alike) is that they rely on the best secondary sources they can find. This is something that real experts will be able to do, because they'll have read the secondary literature. You'll know the real experts by their edits, because they'll be able to tell us what other experts think about the subject, not only what they think about it themselves."
How I work
I generally do not follow up on non-essential issues in individual articles. If the editors there do not like what I do, I usually go elsewhere. WP:OWN is a good policy, but hard to enforce. WP:BRD when used for major changes seems mainly designed to increase the work at the Arbitration Committee.
If anyone who knows less than me tries to lecture to me, I know and use a good many ways of responding, other than simply asserting authority. But when someone knows more, I want to be taught. If I'm wrong, I say so. If I've messed things up, I apologize. If someone even thinks I've messed things up, I also apologize, for I must have been unclear in what I did. I'd rather get things right, than get them my way & wrong. For most things, there are several alternative right ways, but there will also be several alternative wrong ways.
If I adopt too much of a lecturing tone myself, I hope people alert me, because it usually wasn't intended. I've taught (biology, and librarianship), and the manner stays with you.
I have never been able to spell, and I type very inaccurately. If I've made a typo, just fix it--don't lecture me about it, for it won't do any good. Other people make typos too, and if I notice them, I fix them quietly. I think I'm good at straightening out unclear sentences, and I do some of this sort of copyediting as I go.
Not relevant -- because I can fairly present all positions, as I think the other side, although wrong, may at least sometimes be intelligent:
- very strong political views,
- very definite religious opinions.
I try not to let on what they are in editing or commenting.
Relevant -- because I have some difficulty keeping an open attitude, as I think the other side is generally ignorant, and is determined to remain untaught. I therefore usually avoid such topics on WP unless help is needed there--I can write against my convictions to strengthen an article that needs support, but not happily.
- distaste for quack anything: medicine, science, psychology, social science ... I often vote to keep articles on these subjects, because the advocates of orthodoxy here sometimes seem to be even less reasonable than the quacks--and because I think the best way to expose quacks is to let them state their views plainly.
Relevant-- because it will affect what I say here on the talk and WP pages:
- Dislike for deciding matters by technicalities rather than by merits, balanced with a preference for guidelines rather than unbridled discretion.
- Reasonable, not hidebound, definitions of "sources" and "notability" appropriate to the way people communicate in the 21st century.
- Confidence that the sensible interpretation of WP basic principles can cope with even difficult situations.
Relevant because it is the ideological basis of my work here:
- an extremely strong opinion that the uninhibited free play of ideas is essential to a free society and to humanity in general. (I basically follow J.S. Mill in this.) I will support reasonable articles or edits when I think the opposition to them is motivated by political or nationalist or religious sentiment--regardless of what I think of the views being expressed, and I apply this especially to the criticism of WP. I take pride in being what some call a First Amendment Absolutist, and I mean it in the literal sense. We are responsible for presenting information accurately and honestly, not for what people will do with it. The way to prevent them from interpreting it wrong, is to present it better, not to conceal it. If anyone thinks I have deviated from that position, I'd like to be told, so I can correct myself.
note about professors
People unfamiliar with the academic world may not realize this--and thus sometimes nominate these articles for deletion--occasionally even by Speedy-- but a full professor at a major research university is almost certain to be notable, and will almost always meet at least one of the provisions of WP:PROF
To avoid their getting mistakenly nominated, it is therefore advisable to include from the first more than minimal information: at least their major publications, their honors and awards, the most important work they did--with a link to the WP article on that subject. This makes them more informative from the start, just as all WP articles should be. I try to defend articles on such people when justified, but it is better if they are never nominated.
I like judging by quantitative information: books by library holdings, articles by citations. Once we guessed as through a fog of words darkly, but now we can measure. DGG (talk) 16:11, 26 March 2009 (UTC)
my approach to spam
Wikipedia is always dealing with paid spammers, people who earn their living by putting links to their own sites into web pages elsewhere. It is a large and well paid profession, and their activities are a serious danger to the integrity of any good site like ours. We have our methods for detecting and dealing with them. The most effective way is to block access to their web sites, by preventing links to known spam sites from appearing in Wikipedia. This is a partially automated procedure, carried out at several different levels, both at enWP and cooperatively by the different WPs. The other method is denying access to known spammers; this is a never-ending battle, for they just switch to a new account. Detecting these accounts, which we call "sock-puppets", puppets made by stuffing one sock into another as done to amuse young children, needs to be very fast and very stringent to be effective. This has led to a practice of blocking on any reasonable suspicion. Alas, anyone who deals with this much of the time will soon become over-suspicious, banning well-intentioned people and blocking good links. It's an inevitable side-effect of policing work.
This applies equally to commercial and non-commercial sites. I find the commercial ones easier to deal with, because they tend to add even larger numbers, and get caught all the sooner. And the non-commercial spammers have a narrower line between them and the well-intentioned people.
As for paid editing, I think it is wrong, because it interferes with the normal way people work here, and interferes with the good faith we extend to all users. The effects of such editing as we know about has usually been very poor articles. That need not always be the case, but so far almost nobody who understands Wikipedia well enough to write good articles has been willing to do it for money.
my approach to admin functions
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia with user contributed content, edited according to our policy, WP:PILLARS, by which anyone can edit, and several million people do. About 700 of them are active administrators (essentially, what is often called moderators elsewhere)--they have the ability and the responsibility to enforce the policies, in accordance with community guidelines and general consensus. In particular, they have the abilities to delete articles--either immediately in obvious cases or after community discussion, to limit editing on them, to block individual accounts from editing, and a few related functions. Otherwise, they have no more prerogatives than any other editor. I'm an administrator, but when I am not performing the above functions (and the only one I do much of is delete a few thousand obviously inappropriate articles a year, and when necessary protect them against re-creation), I'm just an editor. Like most experienced editors, and as required for all administrators, I do know the policies, and I remind people of them if I think it appropriate, but any editor can do as much.
When I comment, I try to distinguish between my own views, and those accepted here. There are some guidelines I do not like myself, & I try to change a few by giving my opinion at discussions from time to time, but I state it as my opinion and explain why. In a few cases, the guidelines have changed in the direction I preferred; in a few I have come to recognize the established guidelines better than my own idea; in a few, I have given up altogether but without changing my mind; in a few I once a month or so state my disagreement with the guideline to keep the issue alive. But I don't go around trying to argue (for example) each image deletion where I think the rule should be more liberal.
Nobody should take anyone's advice as Gospel; I give the best I can, but I've been sometimes wrong. A person who knows enough to decide for themselves should do so. A person who does not, should learn. A person who just comes here once should be helped to do what they intend.
My approach to ANI, AE, and ArbCom
Before I joined arb com, when someone asked me it they should appeal there, my advice was to stay away from these processes, because almost nobody came out the better for it. Now that I have some considerable experience at Arb Com, I feel this way all the more strongly. But during the period I have been there (5 of the last 6 years), Arb Com has redeemed some of its usefulness by accepting some degree of responsibility for dealing with undeclared paid editors, and for removing administrative powers from some of who deal most destructively with individuals. DGG ( talk ) 23:56, 19 August 2020 (UTC)
- Rescuing worthy speedies & prods and drafts in all fields & discussing the procedure
- keeping articles about academics & academic organizations from deletion
- adding articles for major ref. sources
- keeping important "in popular culture" articles from deletion, and upgrading their content (I've pretty much given up on this one)
- Changing AfD to "Articles for Discussion" and considering all good faith disputed merges and redirect there also. As of Dec. 2009, this is under active discussion. (I've by now given up on changing the ''name'', but the practical function has changed to include a full array of alternatives.)
- Removing promotionalism from articles in my fields of interests--currently, academic researchers and universities. The great majority of articles in these fields are written with a considerable degree of conflict of interest--sometimes by the individual, but more commonly by the organization's press agents.. This problem is not unique to these fields--most articles on professionals and organizations, whether commerical or non-profit, are written with COI, and usually by PR staff, but I can work most effectively in those areas where i know most exactly the way the PR people write. More recently, I have been broadening this to include anything written by an undeclared paid editor. The immediately urgent task is to drive them out of Wikipedia. Now that we have formalized the requirements for declaring COI, I think the increasing amount of work by declared paid editors to be of such consistently low quality that we should probably prohibit them as well. DGG ( talk ) 23:56, 19 August 2020 (UTC)
- adding refs to old articles, & marking and rewriting parts that were plagiarised from PD sources
- spam removal from existing articles. What most needs removal around here isn't inappropriate articles, but the excessive spam in a great many articles.
General view of things here
I think an encyclopedia should be useful, but how many people a particular part of it might find it useful doesn't matter. I've been a teacher and a librarian all my life, and my satisfaction from it is in the individual people I know I've helped and taught, and the ones unknown to me who will be helped by the work I've done. I'm here to continue that work, with what skill I have acquired. I know it sounds idealistic. But I speak seriously, for if you are here I think you might share that idealism. One person at a time, one article at a time. The person before me, the piece of work before me.
with respect to consensus at AfDs
In general I do not think it is the business of the closer to decide between two conflicting policies. Their job is to discard arguments not based on any policy, or those with conflict of interest, and and then judge consensus. The questions asked at RfAdmin are enough to identify admins who know enough to tell what is policy and what is not, as long as things don't get too complicated. It is not enough to identify admins who understand all policies well enough to judge which of conflicting ones to apply, or how to interpret them in difficult situations. A good thing, too, or we'd have no admins, because none of us agrees on all of that. The only people here competent to judge conflicting content policies or how to interpret them are the interested members of the community as a whole, acting in good faith.
The assumption in closing is that after discarding non-arguments, the consensus view will be the correct one, and that any neutral admin would agree. Thus there is in theory no difference between closing per the majority and closing per the strongest argument. But when there is a real dispute on what argument is relevant, the closer is not to decide between them, but close according to what most people in the discussion say. If the closer has a strong view on the matter, they should join the argument instead of closing, and try to affect consensus that way. I (and almost all other admins) have closed keep when we personally would have preferred delete, and vice-versa. If I wanted a place where my view of proper content would prevail, I'd start a blog or become an editor of some conventional publication.
with respects to making and changing policy
Policy and guidelines are hard to change; essays often remain essays, because one or two people persistently objecting with or without reason can in practice filibuster a change to a guideline. That has happened here repeatedly: schools, places, shopping centers--not always in the direction of permissiveness--a considerably more restrictive shopping center guideline which I supported did not attain guideline status because one person pretended there was wide objection. Nonetheless, many such almost-guidelines are widely followed. Wikipedia is NOT BURO, and what we do here consistently is the policy and the guidelines. We could probably get many essays established as a formal guideline by trying again, but people rarely try, because it is not worth the debate--it operates as a guideline just the same if we follow it. Most people who are interested in writing articles would rather write them than argue about the wording of what everyone more or less agrees on anyway. It is that spirit of paying more attention to the articles than the formalities that is responsible for the success of Wikipedia. In other projects people talk about the project; here we reach a practical working agreement and do positive work (if it sometimes seems the other way around, it's less so here than elsewhere, but further motion in that direction is to be resisted.)
current views on particular policies
Wikipedia is unreasonably restrictive about many elements of copyright. The effective rationale behind Wikipedia's policy is the need to appear squeaky-clean to those who would oppose us. I accept this, but even so we overdo this. The US courts are quite flexible about what constitutes fair use (as a compensation perhaps for the extreme rigour of copyright law in other respects, like duration). We could go very far before we came near it. We could for example, justify almost any informative use of a low resolution image. The principle that our material must be free for others, who might be making commercial use which has much less protection, does not justify it, because a warning is sufficient.
On another tack, if Close paraphrase is thorough enough, it is an effective way of escaping the automated copyright detectors, especially if the first sentence is replaced entirely--when it gets detected, is because we're suspicious, or the person involved gets lazy and lets too much stand unaltered. People including those at Wikipedia react the usual way to something wrong that they cannot prevent or catch except occasionally--go overboard with the ones that have been detected.
Even well-done close paraphrase normally changes the wording, but retains the sequence of ideas. This is wrong in schools, because the entire point of academic writing is to show you can create an original sequence of ideas. But we don't do original research, and copying someone else's formulation does not hinder the purpose of an encyclopedia. The courts are clear that retaining the sequence does constitutes copyvio, but their standards except for creative works are much laxer than ours, on the basis of it not normally having done any actual harm.
General view on strategy
Adapted from Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution:
- In the period after the February Revolution had overthrown the Tsar, when the Bolsheviks were a very small minority, Lenin's slogan was "patiently explain", as he urged the policy of talking to workers and soldiers individually to convince them of the validity of the party's program. Most of his colleagues wanted either to compromise with the more moderate politicians, in which case they would have been quickly swallowed up by their opponents, or go out immediately on the streets, where they would have been destroyed immediately. Lenin and his co-workers continued persuading until they were a majority in the key places--the forces of soldiers and sailors who would have been sent to suppress them. That's when they went out on the streets, in October, and they succeeded immediately. DGG (talk) 19:50, 30 May 2008 (UTC)
How primates work
We all know it is difficult to work here, and care about something, and maintain perspective, for it does not come naturally. And when there are people on the other side willing to exploit weaknesses, then it results in Mobbing, to which there is no immediate helpful response for the victims. Primates have evolved to do things that way; further evolution will only take place if the environment requires it. Fortunately, the environment can be modified. One of the ways of modifying it is over-abundant resources--which, as applied here, means having so many topics to work on that individuals can choose their own area. But when there are many people who insist on working in an area, and they each passionately want their views to prevail, there are traditional ways: either the stronger drives out the weaker, or someone stronger yet-- or the community generally--feels bothered and forces a peace (either by dividing things up or choosing one side and exiling the other). But if the net result is dysfunctional, there's room for a little evolution, and those willing to make only moderate demands and show prudence in making them win in the long run. More precisely, their descendants do. DGG (talk) 16:04, 15 April 2009 (UTC)
This problem has become more prominent, in considerable part because of the 2020 US election. There are ways that might help ameliorate it, but I defer further comment on it until after the election: the current environment is too toxic because the possible results are so consequential. DGG ( talk ) 23:56, 19 August 2020 (UTC)
How Wikipedia Ought to Work
At AfC, Human judgment matters more than formal standards
In reviewing articles, reviewers need to have high standards. But it is not advisable for a reviewer to use their own high standard to make decisions about articles when the consensus is otherwise. True, the interpretation of "likely to pass AfD" in this context varies. Originally, some people interpreted it as having anything better than an even chance; others interpreted it as enough for GA status. There's a rough agreement on somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4, but in practice most of us aim much higher: of the many hundreds of drafts I have reviewed, I do not think more than 5 or 10 of them have been subsequently deleted, and very few have even been challenged. But I think there is by now agreement on not interpreting it by using standards other than those actually used at AfD, whether higher or lower. It is, for example, wrong to accept an article because one thinks it ought to be accepted at AfD, when one knows very well that it is not going to happen. I have in a few respects a somewhat different concept of notability than most, which I sometimes express in discussions. But I never make a decision on an article, whether closing AfD or deleting at Prod or speedy, or tagging or accepting a draft, on the basis of anything other than what I know or at least believe to be within the range of consensus interpretation. Admins must follow the consensus, and so ought anyone making a judgment.
- The question of how good an article must be in other respects is also not exact. For example, people are still declining drafts because they did not have inline references--but except for BLPs or truly disputable statements this is not required for a WP article, and I do not think any current reviewer does that. The way I think of it is that I would not want an accepted draft to go to AfD if the way the article is written would incline those commenting there to delete it--AfD sometimes does & should delete really incompetent articles if nobody will fix them. And I don't want my name associated with what I think junk, in any case--and for that reason I will often let someone else review if I know I might be unreliable or erratic or tempted not to follow consensus, just as I would let someone else close an AfD in such cases.
- There is a way to handle articles with gross formatting errors that are otherwise acceptable: if I'm going to accept it, I fix them. It is usually much easier for me to fix an article than to explain to a new user just how to fix it, and I'll either fix the draft or accept and then fix the article. It is also the best way to teach the newcomer, teaching by example. If the problems are less than major, affecting style rather than readability, they can and generally will be fixed in mainspace.
- Most people whose drafts or articles are rejected never come back; often that is all to the good, but sometimes it loses us a potentially helpful and active contributor. AfC is as much about the contributors as the articles. We can deal with articles of dubious quality later, but there is no way of getting back someone who has left us. The life of WP depends on continuing to attract contributors. It's actually the most important thing we need to do here--everything else needed will follow.
It is not possible to tell whether or not something is notable by the WP:GNG
- To expand in terms of articles: I cannot judge whether or not something is notable by the WP:GNG , because I could argue equally well in either direction. The key terms "substantial" and "independent" can mean almost anything; no source is always reliable (or unreliable), and either their strengths or weaknesses can be emphasized. Using exactly the same arguments but changing a few words, I could argue that the references are either sufficient to meet the GNG or the opposite. Therefore I judge which way to argue by my own judgment about whether it is appropriate for Wikipedia to have an article, using rational criteria as
- real world importance
- principal national organization of its type
- highest level award
- market share
- historical significance
- promotional or encyclopedic intent of the article
- usefullness to the reader
see also my 2012 Wikimania presentation outline: User:DGG/Notability 2012
People who use WP expect when they look for an article, to find something.
- To expand in terms of images: The only restrictions should be encyclopedic purpose and fair use in US law. We should interpret the "minimal use" requirement of the foundation as meaning the minimum that would allow us to provide as much relevant encyclopedic content as possible in the widest sense that the words will bear, and our NFCC policy should be changed to accommodate this. And at another level, I'd support a campaign for the WMF to remove their NFCC policy altogether and agree to host anything that's educational & legal. The purpose of Wikipedia is to provide freely accessible content. The purpose of Commons is to provide free images for reuse. They are different projects.
I do not attempt to convert my opponents--I aim at converting their audience.
- To explain, this is why I try to avoid head-to-head debates with other editors. Once things have reached that stage, experience here as elsewhere shows that people are not generally successful in convincing their direct opponents to reverse their views. If I think my views are right, the only practical audience is the uncommitted—and especially the newcomers. Sometimes there is enough common ground for realistic attempts to reach a compromise solution: one where people continue to disagree, but find enough agreement for common action, without giving up their principles. The first step in working towards it is generally as clear a statement as possible of what one's position actually is. In debate between sensible people, this can be done without it being taken as hostility.
my view of WP
my view of general WP editing difficulties
my view of biographies in WP
my view of the meaning of NPOV
my view of notability
my view of content and behavior
my view of copyright policy
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