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- Gender: male
- Wikipedian since: January 23, 2004
- Interests: Politics, History, Philosophy, Economics
- Personal motto: "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." (Albert Einstein)
Sadly, I never kept track of the articles I created or rewrote from scratch - let alone the ones I simply made large contributions to - so you won't see any list of such things here. Unless I go through my watchlist to find them. Which is not worth the effort, IMO.
I believe that one of the major sources of POV in wikipedia articles is what I call asymmetric controversy.
An asymmetric controversy is a controversy between two sides, one of which is particularly interested in the issue and fanatical in defending its POV, while the other doesn't care about the issue a whole lot. Articles on such issues will inevitably be biased in favor of the fanatical side, because they put most effort into writing about it.
Thus, an asymmetric controversy can be described as any controversial idea that is popular enough to attract a band of loyal supporters to defend it on wikipedia, but not popular enough to attract critics. Paradoxically, this means that any idea widely considered too insane to be criticized will have a favorable article written about it, since its advocates are fanatical about the issue while its opponents consider it too crazy to bother with. Keep in mind that what makes these controversies asymmetric is not the number of people on each side, but the intensity with which they defend their views. One single-minded user with a lot of time on his hands can hold off many disinterested users at once.
Innocent until proven guilty: a policy idea
Far too often, I have noticed the following editing pattern:
- User A edits an article to insert an assertion of fact.
- User B removes the assertion of fact.
- User A reverts and challenges User B to prove that the assertion is false.
This goes contrary to every logical principle regarding the burden of proof. It is up to the person making a positive claim (User A) to prove the truth of that claim, not up to the person denying it (User B) to prove that the claim is false. Wikipedia should adopt a clear burden of proof policy to deal with such things. In other words, if you see an article containing an unsourced claim that you believe to be false, you should be able to remove it without worrying about someone reverting you. And if you see another user removing an unsourced claim, you should not revert him under the assumption that "if X was in this article for a long time, it must be true".
Average End Quality Hypothesis
One of the assumptions of Wikipedia is that continual editing by multiple users will result in a continual increase in the quality of an article. This has proven true as a general trend. However, I do not believe adequate attention has been given to important exceptions, and, most significantly, to the rate of improvement in article quality.
I have done a bit of research and reflection, and I have reached a conclusion that I call the Average End Quality (AEQ) Hypothesis. It is based on the following observation:
As the quality of an article improves, the rate of improvement declines.
In other words, if Q(t) is the quality of an article at time t, then Q'(t) is positive but downward sloping, or Q"(t)<0. The graph of quality over time looks something like this:
Notice that the quality function appears to level off. This is not accidental. It is a well known fact that not all edits improve the quality of an article; some, in fact, detract from quality. Not all of these are simple vandalism that gets reverted as a matter of course. Some are subtle insertions of uncited speculation, POV, reorganizations of material that disrupt the flow of an article, bad grammar, and so on. They are not enough to have a visible effect on the upward trend of quality for new and short articles, but once an article gets very lengthy and detailed it becomes increasingly difficult to copyedit and remove errors buried deep inside the long text. As a result, bad edits are able to balance out good work and article quality levels off at a value I have termed the Average End Quality (AEQ).
Of course, editing never actually stops. The actual quality of a given article may spike above or dip below the AEQ for various periods of time. But whenever actual quality goes above the AEQ, bad editing gains an upper hand over good editing and drives it back down. Likewise, whenever actual quality goes below the AEQ, good editing gains an upper hand over bad editing and pushes it back up. In other words, if an article gets too good then most editors will declare "mission accomplished" and leave, allowing random bad edits to erode its quality; but if the article gets too bad, a large number of editors will be attracted in an attempt to fix it.
Thus, the quality of most detailed, lengthy articles oscillates around the Average End Quality:
Some might say that the AEQ is good enough, so there is really no problem. However, this property of Wikipedia results in a lot of wasted effort from editors who work hard to get the quality of an article above the AEQ, only to have it eroded down over the next few months. And, in some cases, articles that were once of a very high quality have been reduced to near incoherence. Given all this, I propose that the very best articles on Wikipedia be placed under permanent page protection. After all, the whole reason why people are free to edit articles on Wikipedia is because this policy results in an overall increase in article quality. But if we have good reason to believe that it will result in a decrease in quality for articles X, Y and Z, then it is only reasonable to place articles X, Y and Z under some sort of protection:
Such a protection policy should only apply to articles of exceptional quality, and it should not be a blanket ban on all edits; rather, there should be a requirement that any new edits must undergo some review process before being allowed. This could be the first step towards Wikipedia 1.0: At first, only a handful of articles would have the required quality to be protected, but more would accumulate over time.
I am sure this idea can spark endless controversy. Fortunately, however, it is not just a matter of opinion. There is, in fact, a very sure way to tell whether the Average End Quality Hypothesis is true or false. What articles are recognized as the very best on Wikipedia? Featured articles, of course. Let us do a survey of former featured articles and determine whether their quality has increased or decreased on average since the day they were featured. If it has decreased, then it is true that continual editing usually lowers the quality of our best articles, and therefore it is a good idea to implement some sort of protection policy on them.