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Everything you need to know about Wikipedia, in two quotations

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit... Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.

In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

— How Facts Backfire, Boston Globe, 11 July 2010

The Cynic's Guide to Wikipedia

He who is attached to notability criteria and NPOV will suffer much. The man who expects only self-promotion and POV-pushing will never be disappointed.

The Fourth Law of Stupidity: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places, and under any circumstances, to deal with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.[1]

  1. If you wrestle with a pig, both of you will get muddy. And the pig will enjoy it.
  2. Ignorance is infinite, while patience is not. Ultimately, you will lose patience with the unchecked flow of ignorance, at which point you'll be blocked for incivility. The goal is to accomplish as much as possible before that inevitability comes to pass.
  3. If a person edits Wikipedia largely or solely to promote one side of a contentious issue, then the project is almost certainly better off without them.
  4. On Wikipedia, any form of real-life expertise is a serious handicap. If you have real-life expertise on a subject, do not under any circumstances mention it here.[2]
  5. If your edit sticks close to the original source, you will be accused of plagiarism. If your edit is paraphrased to avoid plagiarism, you will be accused of straying from the original source. Rinse and repeat.
  6. Jimbo's talk page is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
  7. If you hand an olive branch to a Wikipedian, he will likely try to beat you to death with it.
  8. Anyone who edits policy pages to favor their position in a specific dispute has no business editing policy pages. Corollary: these are the only people who edit policy pages.
  9. The more abusive an editor is toward others, the more thin-skinned they are about "personal attacks" directed at themselves.
  10. The more a viewpoint is odious, ignorant, wrong-headed, or obscure, the more likely its adherents will perceive Wikipedia as their best opportunity to promote it.
  11. The most challenging, nuanced problems facing Wikipedia tend to attract the editors least capable of handling complexity or nuance.
  12. Anyone who defends their edits by citing WP:NOTCENSORED doesn't have the first clue.
  13. When a Wikipedian uses Latin, you can be sure they are up to no good.
  14. if $username =~ m/truth|justice|freedom|neutrality/i, then the account should probably be blocked preëmptively, because nothing constructive will ever come from it.
  15. Being blocked has never made anyone more civil. On many occasions, it has made people less civil. Nonetheless, our default approach to increasing the general level of civility is to block people.
  16. Forced apologies are worse than meaningless; they're demeaning both to the apologizer and to the recipient. Nonetheless, Wikipedians are obsessed with demanding forced apologies from people who clearly aren't sorry.
  17. When someone complains that Wikipedia is biased, it usually means that their ideas have failed to gain traction because they've misunderstood this site's goals. For example, to a committed flat-Earther, Wikipedia will appear to have a systemic round-Earth bias which stymies their efforts to contribute.
  18. The more an editor is incapable of assuming good faith, the more prone they will be to cite WP:AGF at others.
  19. Wikipedia's processes favor pathological obsessiveness over rationality. A reasonable person will, at some point, decide that they have better things to do than argue with a pathological obsessive.[3] Wikipedia's content reflects this reality, most acutely in its coverage of topics favored by pathological obsessives.
  20. The more often someone cites WP:CIVIL, the less likely s/he has any idea of what actual civility entails.
  21. You can tell everything you need to know about an editor's understanding of Wikipedia's sourcing guidelines by their approach to the Daily Mail.
  22. The amount of fuss that an editor makes over retiring is inversely proportional to the likelihood that s/he will actually retire.
  23. Anything truly insightful has been said better, and earlier, by someone else.

Received wisdom

Sources of self-esteem

Today's recommended reading

Prepare to be horrified


  1. ^ For example: Alfred Russell Wallace once accepted a challenge from a Flat-Earther who offered him ₤500 if he could prove that the Earth was round. Wallace demonstrated the curvature of the Earth in a simple, elegant, and irrefutable manner. But instead of paying up the wager, the Flat-Earther launched a years-long campaign of defamation and harassment against Wallace.

    In the end, Wallace won a libel suit and put an end to the nonsense, but it had cost him years of his life and well more money than the wager was worth in the first place. A more elegant demonstration of the Fourth Law Of Stupidity would be hard to invent. The moral of the story: you cannot reason someone out of a fundamentally irrational belief.

  2. ^ You might naïvely think that a project attempting to summarize human knowledge would value people who actually know things. You would be badly mistaken, for two reasons. First of all, Wikipedia tends to attract obsessive amateurs—people who are deeply interested in arcane topics but who lack academic qualifications or recognition and thus view such things with suspicion and/or envy. Secondly, Wikipedians have really strange ideas about "conflicts of interest". It's been seriously suggested, for instance, that a physician has a conflict of interest in writing about medical topics, by virtue of actually knowing something about them.

    Wikipedia's hostility toward real-life expertise is usually externalized and blamed on the experts, who are portrayed as too arrogant and entitled to thrive in this democratic marketplace of ideas. But that's bullshit. Experts get frustrated because Wikipedia lacks any mechanism to ensure that sane people triumph over pathological obsessives. (If anything, our existing processes reward pathological obsessiveness much more than sane, reasonable approaches).

  3. ^ Or, as my father told me when I was young, "Only a dumb-ass argues with a dumb-ass."