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Experts - a proposed idea for how to deal with the problems with articles, especially with biographies of living people


In recent times, we have seen a number of biography scandals, where living people have found that their biographies were incorrect to a level where it amounted to defamation and could seriously upset the individuals who they were written about, and also influence public opinion of them. Most Wikipedians probably already know about the John Seigenthaler Sr. Wikipedia biography controversy, which I also have my own subpage on at User:Zordrac/Seigenthaler, and a lot may also know a bit about the Daniel Brandt biography controversy, which I also wrote my own subpage on at User:Zordrac/Daniel Brandt. And the thing is that these ideas, particularly those that were written by User:Daniel Brandt himself, both in various talk pages, interviews, web posts, and also on his Wikipedia Watch page help us to work towards what would be a good way to do things. Whether we agree with the Wikipedia critics or not, the reality is that it has genuinely exposed some problems in Wikipedia articles, which, whilst a lot of us were probably vaguely aware of, we have only recently become acutely aware of. And, as I often say, the key to finding a solution is to figure out what the problem really is. Once you know what the problem really is, the solution is easy. And now, thanks to these controversies, we know acutely what the problem is.

The problem[edit]

The problem, basically, is that with living people, we are not allowing them to edit their own articles. If we totally scrapped WP:AUTO as a policy, and let everyone edit their own articles, then they would be a lot more accurate, there would be no chance of defamation or libel or any other legal problems, and things would be fine. If then, on top of that, we allowed people to use legal threats, and scrapped Wikipedia:No legal threats then people would be able to point out when things that are written about them maybe need to be fixed. Oh sure it upsets editing, but so does libelling someone. If you are libelled, that is a lot more awful than having someone threaten to sue you for libel. As these recent controversies (there are a number of others other than just the 2 above) have shown, in fact the ability to make legal threats is essential to make sure that Wikipedia is compliant with the law. So there really shouldn't be any doubt that that rule has to go. Oh, and note that Seigenthaler didn't actually sue Wikipedia, or Brian Chase, or anyone else. Indeed, I don't think that he stood a chance if he'd tried. But yet he threatened to, and we jumped because of it. Just to show how silly the rule is.

But the problem with scrapping the autobiography part is that if we do that, then its very difficult to conform to Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, which is an important policy. If we allowed articles that were just vanity articles, even if written by famous people, then we aren't really much of an encyclopaedia. So can we even allow them to edit? Not really. If we allow them to edit a bit, then they could be just pushing their own point of view in everywhere. And that's just not going to work.

But of course, if we were to write a biography about someone, as a published book, and we didn't even interview the subject of the biography, and released it as an "unofficial biography", then no matter how well researched it was, it would be nothing more than tabloid press. People would only be interested in it if they wanted a scandal. And that is incredibly un-encyclopaedia.

Obviously, its not always possible to interview people. Some people are too busy, have no idea how to use a computer, or otherwise don't want to use Wikipedia. But if they do, then wouldn't it help if their advice could be sought?

The solution[edit]

The solution is pretty obvious, and is already hinted to at WP:AUTO. The solution is to have them write in the talk page. But perhaps we can do better than that. Perhaps we can have a separate part of the talk page, or maybe even a whole new tab, just for asking questions to the expert, and then for the expert to answer it. In the case of living biographies, it would be the person who the article is about, or perhaps their brother, sister, husband, wife, father, son, etc. But ideally the person themselves.

So this is how I would envisage it. This page would be titled "Expert Page" and it would in a lot of ways look like a talk page. Except that there would be 1 person listed as the expert, and that person would need to get approval from an admin to be listed and approved as being the expert, and then they could write in there. And each person would write a question. And it'd look something like this:

Expert Page

Question from John:
I can't find out the dates for sure of when you started the business. Can you tell us the exact dates and where we can source the information?
Expert answer:
The business was started on 21 June 2002 - you can find the information on this page here:
Question from Peter:
Are there any other projects that you were involved in? These 5 seem to be the most notable ones. Can you think of any others? Are these 5 all important projects to you?
Expert answer:
No, the project on cheese making wasn't important to me. You should also note that I was involved in Wombling, which you can find out about on this link here:
Question from Jane:
This critic says that this is why you started the business, but we couldn't find anywhere from you saying why you started it. Was it for the reasons that they said?
Expert answer:
No, the critic got it mostly right but missed the important part that I was actually trying to avoid detecton, not to draw attention to myself. You can see the evidence here:
Question from Mary:
I heard someone say that there were court cases about you that were important. We could only find this one. Is this the important one? Are there any more?
Expert answer:
No, that case is very unimportant and I would rather it wasn't mentioned. There were several important cases, but unfortunately they are under a suppression order and I cannot display them publicly. But you can briefly mention that they happened and a quick summary of the result. The evidence of what happened is stored here:

Now, of course, we could conceivably just have any old person write stuff with just regular wiki software, and then put up with vandalism and misleading statements and people pretending to be experts and so forth. And it could be done on the talk page even, perhaps in a similar format to the To Do list, so its just at the top.

And of course, when experts don't answer, other people could try to, but the expert's opinion should always be recognised.

Applying this for articles generally (not just biographies of living people)[edit]

For businesses, someone who was involved in its creation would be an expert. For example, Microsoft could have Bill Gates as its expert witness. It may be acceptable also to have one of the executives as an expert. Indeed, perhaps even a high level manager who had worked there for a long time.

Similarly, it could be used for basically any topic. Biographies of dead people could be from their children, or husband or wife or brother or sister. And the aim would be to have the most expert person that we could find.

Of course, hypothetically, the encyclopaedia should *ONLY* be written by experts. In other words, we shouldn't be writing about stuff that we have no idea about. BUT - if nobody else is about to write it, then maybe we could write some stuff. Why not start a stub? Why not include some references? And then perhaps wait for the experts for later.

Why this is important[edit]

There are a number of reasons why this is important:

  • Accuracy of articles
  • Accountability of editors - they are accountable ultimately to the expert/subject of the article
  • Less legal pressure
  • Less criticism/higher profile of Wikipedia

Whilst so far Wikipedia has had very few legal actions against it, there is the air that it may very quickly become very serious and very common. Some sections have been reporting that people should "check to see if there is a biography written about them to see if it is accurate". And this is why this is really important.

What do we do now?[edit]

Well, right now, I'd like this to be proposed somewhere, and implemented in some way. I don't know where is a good place to put it, and I thought that I may as well make a sub page here, and then I can just refer to it if and when I figure out where I am supposed to be proposing it :).

Please write in User_talk:Zordrac/experts if you would like to comment on this page.