User talk:Jimbo Wales

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Endowment fundraising brainstorming[edit]

Jimbo, please suppose you wanted to approach the wealthiest families to ask them for endowment grants. Is there any reason to exclude royal families and "autocratic ruling dynasties," whatever those are? EllenCT (talk) 03:21, 19 July 2016 (UTC)

[removed comment from the usual banned editor] Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:01, 19 July 2016 (UTC)
No, he's not in either category at present, but he's a good illustration of the failure mode. There are plenty of rich families, most of whom maintain family offices for coordinating philanthropic requests and gifts, so there is no need to approach those who may have a conflict of interest in wanting to whitewash Wikipedia articles about them. I am worried that there is no systematic approach to all of them, and approaching each on a case-by-case basis seems substantially less likely to produce the same kind of response than a coordinated approach in a systematic way across all of the philanthropically inclined wealthy. EllenCT (talk) 15:22, 19 July 2016 (UTC)
I welcome calm discussion on the endowment (without the usual bs from the usual places). There was a fairly long discussion on meta on how to get the endowment going, and I participated fairly actively. But I don't get over to meta that often and most folks on enwiki probably get over there even less often, so this is as good a place as any to discuss this.
The first defense from possible problems implied by EllenCT is simply to tell all prospective donors that giving to the fund does not come with any implied privileges or influence over the encyclopedia (or anything else - it would be an unqualified gift). Actually I think many of the prospective donors would enjoy hearing that. The entire purpose of the endowment IMHO is to insulate our projects from the outside pressure that might occur if we had to raise money in a hurry (no, we don't want to sell ads; no free passes on your company's dirty laundry, etc.)
A 2nd defense would simply be common sense. If you had a choice between asking the following people for money, which one would you choose? Pablo Escobar, Carlos Slim, or Donald Trump? Well Donald is a bit busy right now, and Pablo is in jail and likely to have any money he can get his hands on seized, so Carlos looks like the winner. Now some (many?) people probably have something against Carlos. I don't know what they have against him, I haven't checked, but everybody who has money has somebody who doesn't like them. If we were to have a list of attributes of people who we wouldn't take money from we could really limit ourselves and almost guarentee a very small endowment. Do they sell drugs? "ethical drugs"? alcohol? But excluding notorious criminals and major officeholders in corrupt regimes would be just common sense. Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:01, 19 July 2016 (UTC)
The Meta discussion is here. The one thing I wasn't clear about there that seems to have happened is that we are concentrating raising the endowment from large donors. Sure those are the folks who have the money, and asking our small donors again (say a special endowment raiser in the Summer or tacked on at the end of our usual fundraiser) might give them *donor fatigue*. Still I don't think we should rule out our usual small donors. Perhaps we could mix the two groups together with "challenge grants" or matching grants ala NPR. Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:44, 19 July 2016 (UTC)
I think there are good reasons to exercise judgment about donors, and that this needs to be done with a full assessment of the entire context. As Smallbones indicates, virtually any source of money could be complained about by someone, so the issue needs to be approached in an adult, thoughtful, and balanced way.
The most important principle needed is already absolutely crystal clear - donations do not buy any influence or control over the content of Wikipedia. Period. There is no wavering on this from anyone, anywhere, as far as I know. No one on staff has ever suggested it, no one on the board has ever suggested it, no one in the community has ever suggested it as far as I know. We are all clear on this point.
After that there will be considerations of both ethics and strategic communications. It is difficult to set down a full set of a priori principles here, but some broad outlines seem obvious to me, and probably to others. To use Smallbones' examples: Pablo Escobar, no; Trump, no; Carlos Slim, yes. Bill Gates is another example - very unpopular in certain free software circles, but that's not reason to not take a donation to the endowment. I could list a number of dictators who we should reject as donors including for example Nazarbayev.
One thing that is different in the case of Wikimedia, versus other nonprofits, is that we are in a very strong fundraising position and we have a great many wealthy friends who love Wikipedia. Other nonprofits may not have the luxury to be so cautious about who their donors are, and as long as they remain steadfast in principle #1 (i.e. to not give a pass to bad people just because of a donation) then I don't have a problem with that, even though we would choose differently in the case of Wikimedia.
On a separate note, the original question asked about "royal families" as well as "autocratic ruling dynasties" and I just wanted to note that most of the modern European monarchies don't seem particularly problematic to me - anyway, much less problematic than lots of other folks around the world.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 17:59, 19 July 2016 (UTC)

The elephant in the room[edit]

We might also want to discuss the elephant in the room: every time revenues to the WMF go up (as they have every year so far) the WMF ratchets up the spending so as to eat a large portion of the increase. If the WMF had limited year-to-year spending increases for everything other than keeping the servers running to 10% increase per year, we would already have a large enough endowment to run Wikipedia forever without ever again holding a fundraiser. Right now, if someone gave us ten billion dollars with no strings attached next years spending would go up by five to eight billion. --Guy Macon (talk) 03:34, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

To me, the elephant in the room is why we keep hearing the tired old meme that the WMF is inefficient at supporting us, the editors. It's clear that we need the WMF as a legal entity to keep Wikipedia and other projects on the internet. We also need them to improve and update the software, to provide the at least the minimum enforcement needed for policies such as child protection, harassment, and paid editing, to legally represent the foundation and editors where needed, to grow the movement and increase editor recruitment, e.g. in the global south. There are also things that the WMF does that, while not strictly required, are very nice to have, e.g. grants to support Wiki Loves Monuments and other global and local projects of importance.
I would suggest that anybody who thinks that the WMF is inefficient to find some comparison non-profits who work in the internet/educational field to be able to say something like "here is non-profit x which does a lot more with less money." I've looked around but never seen any such comparisons. There are not many groups that do something like what the WMF does, but they are out there, maybe the Khan Academy and similar projects. Please get some real evidence before complaining.
The reaction of some editors is likely to be "we don't need comparisons. We've seen that software project y was expensive and people didn't like it so it was never implemented." That reasoning, however, ignores the fact that software development is very difficult and risky even for the biggest and most experienced for-profit companies. Sometimes software just ends up not living up to expectations - that's just a risk anybody takes when they try to develop software. More generally, in any enterprise mistakes will be made as a normal everyday fact of life. Perfection exists only for those folks who perfectly accomplish nothing.
So if anybody want to drag up the old "WMF wastes donors money" meme, please come up with some real evidence to back up your claim. Smallbones(smalltalk) 14:18, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── The numbers speak for themselves. Everything you mention was being accomplished ten years ago but today the WMF is spending 300 times as much (52596782 ÷ 177670 ≈ 296) to accomplish basically the same job. I could accept a 10X increase, but 300X? How can anyone justify something like that? Is the WMF really accomplishing three hundred times more than it accomplished ten years ago?

Year Total Support and Revenue Total Expenses Increase in Net Assets Net Assets at year end
2003/2004[1] $80,129 $23,463 $56,666 $56,666
2004/2005[1] $379,088 $177,670 $211,418 $268,084
2005/2006[1] $1,508,039 $791,907 $736,132 $1,004,216
2006/2007[2] $2,734,909 $2,077,843 $654,066 $1,658,282
2007/2008[3] $5,032,981 $3,540,724 $3,519,886 $5,178,168
2008/2009[4] $8,658,006 $5,617,236 $3,053,599 $8,231,767
2009/2010[5] $17,979,312 $10,266,793 $6,310,964 $14,542,731
2010/2011[6] $24,785,092 $17,889,794 $9,649,413 $24,192,144
2011/2012[7] $38,479,665 $29,260,652 $10,736,914 $34,929,058
2012/2013[8] $48,635,408 $35,704,796 $10,260,066 $45,189,124
2013/2014[9] $52,465,287 $45,900,745 $8,285,897 $53,475,021
2014/2015[9] $75,797,223 $52,596,782 $24,345,277 $77,820,298

References

Wikimedia Foundation financial development multilanguage.svg

--Guy Macon (talk) 16:05, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

A reminder: I asked for a comparison of another non-profit that is doing similar work to the WMF that is doing more for less. You obviously haven't shown that.
Instead you've given a comparison of the WMF to itself 10 years ago. That strikes me as comparing an apple orchard to an orange pip - yes they both have something to do with fruit, but that's all. You say "Everything you mention was being accomplished ten years ago" that's nonsense. In 2004 (correct me if I'm wrong) they had one employee, or were soon to get one. It's time for an adult discussion on this matter, if you think that the WMF is inefficient please show that using some real, relevant figures. Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:10, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
There is no nonprofit "that is doing similar work to the WMF", and you know it. We enjoy orders of magnitude more unpaid volunteer hours, and we aren't trying to feed the poor or cure diseases. All we do is serve up content on a website. It is really good content, but still.
So you think comparing 2015 Wikipedia to 2005 Wikipedia is apples and oranges but comparing Wikipedia to some non-encyclopedia is valid? You have set up a question that has no real answer, but completely glossed over the fact that you cannot justify a 300-fold increase in spending over 10 years.
Let's look at your claim "You say 'Everything you mention was being accomplished ten years ago' that's nonsense" in detail.
"It's clear that we need the WMF as a legal entity to keep Wikipedia and other projects on the internet". Was the WMF not a a legal entity in 2005? Was Wikipedia not on the Internet in 2005? Please explain, in detail, why you think that it takes three hundred times more spending to keep Wikipedia on the internet in 2015 vs. 2005. Is bandwidth 300 times more costly? Did CPUs get 300 times more expensive for the same computing power? Storage? Did the wages of a good sysadmin increase by a factor of 300? Are lawyers making 300 times as much?
"We also need them to improve and update the software". Please explain, in detail, why you think that the software in 2015 should cost three hundred times more than the software in 2005 did. Again, I could accept ten times more, but three hundred? No.
"to provide the at least the minimum enforcement needed for policies such as child protection, harassment, and paid editing". We didn't protect children in `2005? We didn't have to deal with harassment in 2005? If you said these problems are 10 times bigger today I could buy that, but three hundred times bigger?
"to legally represent the foundation and editors where needed, to grow the movement and increase editor recruitment, e.g. in the global south". Again, all things we were doing in 2005. Maybe we are doing them ten times better today, but not three hundred times better.
"There are also things that the WMF does that, while not strictly required, are very nice to have, e.g. grants to support Wiki Loves Monuments and other global and local projects of importance" Things that are nice to have do not justify multiplying your spending by three hundred.
I realize that you really don't want to discuss that 300X increase in spending. I wouldn't want to do so either if I were taking your position. Would you like me to start digging and finding out how much the increase of spending was for other nonprofits, or would you be willing to accept that the vast majority have not increased spending by a factor of 300 without accomplishing anything they weren't accomplishing when they were spending 0.33% as much? --Guy Macon (talk) 18:12, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
Guy - you are stating without any basis that Wikipedia is wasting money or inefficient. It's up to you to show what you're talking about. Spending has gone up 300 times since 2004. I don't think that is surprising at all. In that time Wikipedia has gone from a non-profit startup operating on a shoestring that almost nobody had ever heard of, to being perhaps the most important new educational institution of our time that just about everybody on the internet uses. Yes costs grow, and Wikipedia has grown. The growth has been amazing. But that is all you've shown. You suggest that maybe growing by a factor of 10 would be ok with you. Where did you come up with that number? Are you saying that Wikipedia is now 10 times better than it was in 2004? Where did you get that idea from? Do you have anything to back it up?
You say that there is nothing to compare Wikipedia to. Really? There are lots of sites on the internet that are educational. I mentioned the Khan Academy before, you might try various MOOCs and online education programs. Lots of universities have online programs - what are the costs and benefits of those programs vs the costs and benefits of Wikipedia? If you can't show anything like this, you really have no case for saying the WMF is wasting money.
What I really object to is those folks who go campaigning to convince folks to *not donate* to Wikipedia. Guy, are you one of these folks? Sure, if you don't like Wikipedia, feel free not to donate. If you have some basis for thinking that the WMF wastes money - even if you can't prove it - then maybe suggest to your friends to not donate. If you have any real evidence that WMF folks are misappropriating money, then report them to the FBI. But otherwise campaigning against WMF fundraising is completely unethical IMHO, beyond the pale. Let people who want to donate donate, let people who don't want to donate not donate. But don't mislead people with unsupported allegations.
Smallbones(smalltalk) 20:25, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
OK, I get it. You think that anyone who suggest any limits to the WMFs huge spending increases is "campaigning to convince folks to not donate to Wikipedia". Got a diff where I have ever suggested such a thing? I didn't think so. I have been crystal clear: get the spending under control, build up an endowment, and free the WMF from having to depend on donations forever. It's called financial prudence.
Will you still be a rah-rah ever-increasing-spending supporter when the WMF is spending two hundred million a year? A billion? What happens when the ever-increasing-revenues (so far) experience the inevitable downturn? When that happens will you finally admit that maybe, just maybe, the WMF spending like a drunken sailor wasn't the wisest course of action? --Guy Macon (talk) 23:47, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
Sorry if I misunderstood what you were driving at. But I haven't seen you push the "don't donate" idea, that's why I asked. I'm sure you've seen some of that though, and their financial analysis isn't that far from yours. Below where you say you think that the total WMF budget should be $5-10 million, seems very unrealistic to me. An 80-90% cut in funding would likely result in an 80-90% cut in the output of the things people want from the WMF. Maybe a bit less of a cut in output, but in any case the cut would be huge. No use quibbling here. Smallbones(smalltalk) 04:05, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Just out of curiosity, has Khan Academy's Smarthistory (which I believe that you played a major role in forming[1]) been the recipient of any of the WMF spending we are talking about? --Guy Macon (talk) 23:58, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
As far as I know Khan Academy has received $0.00 from the WMF. Smarthistory, which is now a separate organization, has received $0.00 from the WMF. (Could somebody on the board confirm this?) I didn't help form Smarthistory, but I did work on a Wikiproject cooperation with them. And I'll add that, while I enjoyed working with them on-Wiki, I received exactly $0.00 (total) from both of these organizations. Smallbones(smalltalk) 00:57, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
@Guy Macon: how much do you think is necessary for the Foundation to help address paid, government sponsored, and otherwise organized advocacy? I have no confidence in the community's ability to be free from the influence of such attempts at gaming the system. The record of such incidents uncovered over the past decade has shown that this risk has been increasing in terms of the number of people involved and the number of articles which they attempt to influence. Do you think measures to address these problems have been keeping pace with the magnitude of the risk? Do you think the risk has been growing faster or slower than foundation finances? EllenCT (talk) 20:43, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
How much do I think is necessary for the Foundation to help address paid, government sponsored, and otherwise organized advocacy? I think that five million US dollars a year, with a limit of no more than 10% yearly growth, can accomplish that and everything else the WMF does. You might be able to talk me into ten million, but that's a stretch. Not that the WMF is particularly effective in addressing organized advocacy -- I think the record will show that Wikipedia volunteers have done the lion's share of that work.
By comparison, five million dollars is roughly five times what the Free Software Foundation spends and about two million less than the Electronic Frontier Foundation spends -- and the EFF is involved in many lawsuits, does a lot of lobbying, and does a lot more software development than we do (and they do it far better). See [ https://www.eff.org/issues ].
Remember, I was here and actively involved in Wikipedia in 2009. I can tell you as an eye witness that in 2009 the WMF was not in any way failing to meet its responsibilities despite spending "only" 5.6 million dollars. As of 2015 they have added another 47 million dollars on top of that 5.6 million, and it has bought us...what? What, exactly is the WMF doing that they weren't doing and doing well in 2009? --Guy Macon (talk) 23:31, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
You and I have a very different assessment of the extent to which organized advocacy has affected the quality of the encyclopedia. I think it would take $75 million per year to address the issues. As far as I'm concerned if $5.6 million wasn't enough to optimize volunteer time with a unified backlog and implement a way to search recent changes in 2009, and $52 million isn't enough to even figure out how much searching recent changes would cost, then we need to get money to the people who can do those things. If it's so bloated, what would you cut? EllenCT (talk) 01:05, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
$75million would let you employ somewhere on the order of 1000 people on $50,000 per year (allowing 50% overheads). What, exactly, are 1000 going to do in fighting organized advocacy? About 110,000 editors edit in any given month, only about 10,000 of those are particularly active (at least 25 edits in a month - source). Do you really need one full-time employee for every ten active users??? What are they going to do all day? GoldenRing (talk) 12:41, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
They would work through the unified backlog which the Foundation doesn't allow us to wish for until November, using multi-level review of each other's work, assigned randomly, to distribute requests among them fairly and allow them to complete them correctly. They would supplement the work of volunteers just as volunteer firefighters work alongside professionals. There is only one way to find out how effective this would be. EllenCT (talk) 05:00, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
By "There is only one way to find out how effective this would be" do you mean "keep increasing spending without limit forever?" If not, how much is enough in your opinion? A billion dollars? A trillion dollars? You seem fine with a 300X increase that didn't solve the problem you describe, but you seem certain that increasing spending even more will solve the problem. Surely you have an estimate of how much spending should increase... --Guy Macon (talk) 06:35, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I've already stated my precise estimate, but I'm not confident the supplemental amount is larger than its expected error. EllenCT (talk) 13:36, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Does this include money needed for equipment like internet servers? Count Iblis (talk) 20:53, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
I don't believe that we actually own the severs, but rather rent hosting. I may be wrong; the WMF is pretty stingy with the details of what gets spent where.
Last year the WMF spent $1,997,521 actually hosting all of our pages. That's 3.8% of total spending.
Compare this to:
  • Travel and conferences $2,289,489
  • Donations processing expenses $2,484,765
  • Other operating expenses $4,449,764
  • Awards and grants $4,522,689
  • Professional service expenses $7,645,105
  • Salaries and wages $26,049,224
Sources are listed in references of the table I posted earlier.
Good luck getting the WMF to reveal any details other than the above broad categories. I have been trying to find out exactly what we bought under the category "furniture and computers" for years. I cannot find that information out and neither, it seems, can Jimbo or the board of directors. --Guy Macon (talk) 22:00, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
On the contrary, please see meta:Wikimedia servers which is a few years out of date and might not have the Texas datacenter. EllenCT (talk) 05:00, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
On the contrary, that page describes how our servers are configured, not whether we own them or rent them. In 2007 I was able to get the details of what was bought and how much it cost -- see m:Wikimedia budget/2007/Q1/hardware/purchase 1, but I challenge you to get that information for 2014 or 2015. --Guy Macon (talk) 06:35, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Well perhaps if they actually held their conferences in hub cities with already existing infrastructure rather than picturesque tiny Italian valleys miles from anywhere where the carrier pigeon is the fastest means of communication... The travel and conference costs would drop a bit.... Only in death does duty end (talk) 22:21, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Didn't you hear? Conferences in picturesque tiny Italian valleys are absolutely essential. Without them the WMF would not be able to (...rolls dice...) deal with paid editing. We need to spend, spend, spend! Spend like a drunken sailor, otherwise we won't be able to (...rolls dice...) search recent changes! --Guy Macon (talk) 13:06, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Why "rolls dice"? Are you implying that you have any evidence that a hard spending freeze would improve the encyclopedia more than growing the organization to address observed risks at the rate they have been observed to grow? If so, please state the evidence. EllenCT (talk) 13:39, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I am implying that you are starting with whatever you think Wikipedia needs to do better (and I agree on most of your choices), ignoring the fact that a 300X increase in spending didn't fix those problems, and making the unwarranted assumption that even more spending will somehow give us a different result. --Guy Macon (talk) 15:26, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Many problems have been fixed. Some are still with us. I have no evidence that the problems we face do not require additional spending, and if you do, please bring it to our attention. EllenCT (talk) 16:10, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I doubt "The travel and conference costs would drop a bit". The "picturesque tiny Italian" village (not at all a valley) was I think about the same distance from a major international airport (Milan–Malpensa Airport) as the 2014 central London venue was from the London airports, and I would imagine an awful lot cheaper as a venue. Oddly enough conference venues in major hub cities are rather expensive to hire. Johnbod (talk) 13:18, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
They could have held the 2014 event in a perfectly good venue *at Heathrow* (Or to be honest, almost any major international airport in the EU or the US) for a fraction of the cost. Not to mention getting a deal on accomodation. So yes, unless the WMF is willing to pony up a complete breakdown of the costs associated with the ridiculous location they chose this time, I am quite confident in saying it was far more expensive that it needed to be. Only in death does duty end (talk) 14:08, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I can't be bothered to pursue this, but I'd advise against considering a career in event management. Johnbod (talk) 14:15, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Mark my words, Some day the inevitable will happen: [A] Revenues will stop growing and start shrinking (nothing grows exponentially without limit forever). [B] The WMF will make only minor cutback in spending, or maybe not even that. [C] We will burn though our savings. [D] A bunch of people at the top will be fired. [E] Everyone who now thinks that a 300X increase in spending is just peachy keen will really, really wish that when the money was rolling in we had built up an endowment instead of spending it on things like conferences. But by then it will be too late. I am sure that those conferences are nice, but shouldn't making sure that the actual website will never shut down, become advertising-supported or end up sold to Google in a bankruptcy sale be a higher priority? --Guy Macon (talk) 15:26, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Just how much does it cost to keep the websites on the internet? As for what they do with the money that people give them, there are two primary thinkers about that, the people who give the money, many anyway, and all the finance people at or those professionally advising the WMF, or on their ctte's. There is no reason to think they don't think about that and the endowment. Begging the question, endowment for what? Is it an 'embarrassment of riches', perhaps. It seems obvious to me though that the WMF is and has been quite some time more than just keeping websites, it has something to do with leveraging a 'free knowledge and dissemination movement' (written, visual, audio, and computer code). What's the value of that? Who knows, but those in the movement will have something to do as long as they want to do it, with or without an endowment, or even a WMF, although chances are if the WMF goes away, they will create something(s) to take its place. Of course, the WMF can fail to keep itself going, that's a given. Life goes on. Perhaps what you are suggesting is that the WMF is a monopoly, and yes monopolies are both inefficient and a success but, so what? Should it try to maintain its monopoly, indefinitely? Why? -- Alanscottwalker (talk) 17:57, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
How much does it cost to keep the websites on the internet? Last year the WMF spent $1,997,521 actually hosting all of our pages. That's 3.8% of total spending. --Guy Macon (talk) 22:17, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Indeed, so your arguement is all for a small endowment to cover that, which hardly seems like something that won't get done since they are going to have an endowment and it likely won't be all that small. Alanscottwalker (talk) 01:59, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

Endowment return and investment asset allocation questions[edit]

A no-risk investment gets you a roughly 2% return. To insure that we could keep the servers running no matter what would require a 100 million dollar endowment to guarantee the two million needed. And that's assuming that the WMF does nothing else. Sure we could stop the Wikimanias or stop paying €18,000 ($19,755 USD) to send Wikimedians to pop concerts in Germany as "accredited photographers"[2] or they could cut back some of the staff increase (3 employees to 240 employees in 9 years)[3] but they would still have to do some things, like defending us when we get sued. I estimate five million US dollars a year, with a limit of no more than 10% yearly growth for the WMF to keep running. That would take a 300 million dollar endowment. We haven't saved enough. But, of course we all know that the WMF won't cut spending to 5 million a year if revenues plummet. At best they will freeze budget growth and start spending down our current endowment. When that hits zero we go bankrupt. --Guy Macon (talk) 04:14, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
2% is not a reasonable performance goal. However, it is probably a reasonable lower bound expectation to use for conservatively setting endowment size goals. See Figure 1 on page 2 here and e.g. [4] for a more detailed discussion and performance correlation breakdown. EllenCT (talk) 18:50, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
At least in the US, running an organization off endowment investment is bizarre. Also, one can't say how much that Germany example, or those conferences actually raked in for the foundation to offset the cost -- what's called in business financials "good will" is the largest, most important asset the Foundation has, not money. Alanscottwalker (talk) 13:47, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
It seems to work for Harvard, See Harvard University endowment. --Guy Macon (talk) 16:34, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
No. Absolutely not. Harvard has not just raised an endowment and run off it, as you argued. It actually accepts a ton of money from others and government, and every year, more and more, as you already complained about, and charges tuition and fees to run itself. Not to mention, it charges rent on land holdings and buildings. Alanscottwalker (talk) 21:33, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Harvard and at least 828 other nonprofits:
Please see also Part II of that paper: "nonprofits whose primary business is predominantly financial ... consistently earn higher returns.... larger nonprofits, older nonprofits, and private foundations will tend to outperform," So, should the WMF go with an established, low management fee, commercial endowment fund e.g. Vanguard's until the new endowment investment team has proposed investments that actually would have outperformed them for at least a few years? EllenCT (talk) 18:25, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Again, it is false to claim Harvard runs just off endowment return. It incredibly raises substantial sums, more and more, every year. 21:37, 24 July 2016 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Alanscottwalker (talkcontribs) 21:37, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
I seem to have no made myself clear, and for that I apologize. I didn't say that Harvard runs off endowment return with no further fundraising or that Wikipedia should run off endowment return with no further fundraising. What I was trying to convey is that Harvard could run off endowment return with no further fundraising and that Wikipedia can't because we haven't saved enough. Thus, Harvard is protected should their revenue stream shrink, and we are not. I would add that Wikipedia is far more likely to experience a huge and sudden drop in donations that Harvard. All it takes is one scandal, and it doesn't even have to be real -- a wholly manufactured scandal can kill fundraising very effectively if it gains traction.
Are you of the opinion that our donations will increase exponentially forever? Has that ever happened anywhere? Are you of the opinion that donations will never, ever decrease? Are you of the opinion that, if our donations see a big drop, that the WMF's spending will track that drop as it has tracked the recent increases, or do you think they will eat into our savings to make up the shortfall? I don't say that we shouldn't have fundraisers. I say that we shouldn't have to have fundraisers. This is something that is within our grasp if we just start being prudent with our spending. --Guy Macon (talk) 01:43, 25 July 2016 (UTC)

Jimbo, in addition to the return performance question above, regarding going with an established low-management fee endowment fund until the team you are putting together can prove that they can outperform them on paper for at least a few years, I also have asset allocation questions. [5] (from [6]) indicates that real estate investments averaged under 10% of endowment fund investments in the 1980s and 90s, but have since ballooned to become a far more prevalent type of endowment investment, at around 30%. What are your thoughts on this trend in particular, and whether real estate is an appropriate endowment investment in general? EllenCT (talk) 18:25, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

If an endowment is meant to keep Wikipedia going through hard times (think the Great Depression) it should be in investments that have zero risk of losing the principle. --Guy Macon (talk) 01:43, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
ElenCT is asking pretty much the right questions here (maybe a bit too specific) but I would like to go thru the idea of an endowment and what it can do for us in a more systematic way. I've expressed similar opinions before to the WMF, but maybe I'll be a bit more specific here, and my views are my own only.
  • What should we expect from an endowment? The following seem reasonable to me:
    • The WMF has taken on some obligation to disseminate our work here, but I'd think this could be accomplished at a minimum level by dedicating $10-20 million to keep the servers on (perhaps in read-only mode) for 10 years, if the WMF is otherwise incapable of doing it. This is pretty minor.
    • The WMF would like to be able to attract the best employees and other partners (e.g. GLAMs), which means that they should be able to guarantee that they'll be around in 2-5 years, no matter what happens. Say 2-3 years expenses should guarantee that, maybe $150-200 million (pretty important)
    • If there is some shock that makes it impossible for the WMF to raise any more money (hard to imagine, but maybe technological (new platform) or political (e.g. cyber world war)) the WMF should be able to finance a major technological change while still operating (maybe in a reduced mode) for 2-3 years. Perhaps the total of the endowment should be raised to $250 million to handle this. Looking ahead 10-20 years, I doubt we'll need this. But looking forward 50-100 years, we'd very likely need it.
    • I wouldn't want to limit spending by the endowment to just the above cases. Probably the most likely need would be where we see a major tech change coming 5 years down the road and need to develop a response in good time. Still a $250 million total endowment should be able to cover that contingency.
    • There is a requirement by the IRS that an endowment spend a minimum % each year, so as not to be a vehicle to accumulate huge wealth without benefiting society. I think it is 3%-5%. That amount should be enough to keep the servers on in perpetuity if the money is not otherwise needed.
I'd pretty much limit the purpose and the spending of the endowment to these type of things. I don't see a case for trying to fund the WMF in perpetuity from the endowment. 1st this never really works, e.g. the endowed chair that Isaac Newton held is still going and pays the holder about 10 pounds a year. We just can't see if there is a need that far out in any case
We are more or less tied to a specific technology, and while we can hope, to be able to make the switch to the next one, nothing would be guaranteed. Consider that broadcast radio was the most important media for say 1920-1955. Still going but pretty unimportant most places. Broadcast and cable TV were the most important media for about 50 years, say 1955-2005. It's still very important, but why do we think its successor, the internet, will still be around performing the same function in 50 years?
Other than the above, I think the WMF should be able to fund itself through the annual donations. This should help focus the ED and the board to make sure that the services the WMF provides are recognized by the public as being important. Sure the endowment can help with the occasional bump in the road (mostly described above), but the WMF should be able to prove its worth every year. More, particularly on investments, later. Smallbones(smalltalk) 19:47, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
You could have asked similar questions about WAIS, gopher, FTP, X.25 networks, TWX, Telex, phototypesetting via punched tape, tickertape, the telegraph, the printing press, postal services, semaphores, and the alphabet, all of which have built on and been able to incorporate the content of the earlier. I predict the Latin alphabet will survive the singularity. If it were up to me, I'd set a full perpetuity for everything the WMF does now (except for the mobile apps, which I think are redundant with the web service, distract vital resources from it, and we know people who use them donate and contribute less) plus, someday, professional support of the WP:BACKLOG as a goal, and use endowment income to reduce small donor fundraising by whatever amount it produces while the Foundation follows the existing budgeting process. EllenCT (talk) 20:40, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
(ec)
As far as investment returns, we'd have a pretty long term horizon (given the above purposes), say 50 years. There wouldn't be any real reason to accept a 2-3% "risk free return". Rather with a well diversified portfolio we could make around 6% more than that annually, on average. By "on average", I mean something like a total of 8% plus or minus 20% per year. So if we got the extra 6% annual average for 10 years, plus one year of -20%, we'd still be well ahead (more than 40% total). Since we likely wouldn't need much from the endowment over that time, it makes a lot of sense to make the "riskier investment". Of course there would be a lot of screaming in those few years when we get the -20% returns, and we shouldn't do the "riskier" strategy unless we could say "that's just one year in a long term strategy that is almost guaranteed to do better" BTW, nobody ever screams when you get the +20% years, though they might start saying "what's the use of stockpiling all this money in the endowment, we've got things we could spend it on." Dealing in a disciplined manner with both extreme outcomes would be equally important.
Trying to beat the market is the loser's game that everybody wants to try. The above returns would be available to us by just investing in an index fund, and paying a very low 50 basis points (0.50%) in annual fees. Folks who try to beat the market usually fail in that goal and also end up paying much higher fees, e.g. 150-300 basis points. The higher fees often end up eating up any gains since they are paid every year on the entire balance and compound.
Of course with a fund of $37 billion like Harvard we might be able to hire a true investment genius (but who knows ahead of time? and btw they had a -30% return in 2008), but with $250 million, we'd be pretty small beer to the market.
So what well diversified portfolio to invest in? Vanguard's no-brainer 500 index beats most active managers over 5 to 10 year periods, even before fees are counted. But we probably should diversify outside the US and with some smaller firms, not just the largest 500. So similar funds in Europe and Asia, minimizing fees. There's perhaps an interesting question about whether we'd want to be over-weighted or under-weighted in internet stocks. I'd guess, from donations of stock by internet entrepreneurs who'd like to lock up the stock for a few years (require us to hold the stock), we'd likely be over-weighted in any case.
How about bonds - aren;t they lower risk? Not really these days, and they'd really expose us to inflation risk. Right now you can lock in some really low returns for the next 10-20 years. Not my favorite.
How's that for a complete investment strategy in a couple of paragraphs? Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:09, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
How about a long-term investment strategy that will keep Wikipedia running even if the US experiences another great depression or hyperinflation? We don't know what lies 30 or 50 years down the road and the US economy looked pretty sweet in the 1910s and 1920s. --Guy Macon (talk) 01:56, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Just a couple of responses to this section. First, in terms of how the endowment funds will be invested I should point out that I personally believe in the semi-strong form of the Efficient-market hypothesis with some caveats, which in this context means that I agree very much with the general advice for low-fee index fund investing. The exact mix among asset classes that we should pursue is a complex question about which we should be thoughtful and take advice from active professionals. The kinds of factors I'd personally be thinking about there would include that we should likely want to consider that the global scope of our work and spending and fundraising means that our investment portfolio should not be too US-centric.
Second, I'd like to thank Guy Macon for his views on spending, even though I agree with them more in spirit than in the details. There are very valid questions, obviously, about what overall level of spending the Foundation should be pursuing, and very valid questions about spending priorities on various kinds of activities. But I think, Guy, that your analysis is much too harsh and factually mistaken in lots of ways, and that it also fails to take into account various risks and needs. Yes, we could cut back to just paying for servers and bandwidth, minimal "maintenance" on software only, no spending on community or chapters, no spending on mobile development, no spending on GLAM partnerships, etc. But I believe that such a path would not be the safest path and indeed would be suicidal for our mission.
One thing to note is that we are setting the endowment up very carefully to make sure that it can't just be a rubber-stamped piggy bank for some future spendthrift CEO/board. (I am thinking about questions relating to the endowment with exactly the 30-50 year mindset that you mention!) Here I've learned a lot from my experience on the Guardian Media Group board, and the relationship between GMG and the Scott Trust (which owns GMG but is a separate board which oversees their endowment fund). Our structure won't be exactly like their's obviously, but the core principle is that the endowment will have a different board composed mainly of different members. For the WMF to tap into the endowment fund, there is an additional "checks and balances" with a board who will rightly be considering long-term safety as being first and foremost.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 11:19, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Way to bust my door-in-the-face technique, Jimbo... (smile) --Guy Macon (talk) 06:53, 26 July 2016 (UTC)

Addressing the philanthropically inclined wealthy in a systematic way[edit]

Jimbo, I agree that donations should not buy influence. Even if there are sufficient wealthy friends who love Wikipedia, as you say, do you see that there is the risk of an appearance of a conflict of interest involved with soliciting endowment donations only from established friends?

Again, I want to urge you to approach the philanthropically inclined wealthy with a systematic process that will not only avoid requesting donations from those who have been involved with controversies in the projects, but also will not favor those with whom you or the Foundation have pre-existing relationships. I have commented in the past about companies that profit by selling ads thanks to the hard work of Foundation volunteers through the use of Wikidata to re-synthesize infoboxes in search results -- a practice which is likely harmful to consumers of medical information, because the most important vital facts as customarily appear in article introductions are far more rarely covered in Wikidata. That is one important reason to avoid the influence of such large corporations, which may be fast friends with the Foundation, and may be the easiest to convince of the value proposition supporting the endowment. Similarly, who is to say that today's friendly tycoon or royal family member might not be tomorrow's labor market abuse poster child or despot crushing people under jackboots, iron fists, and using known false information to send our children to unjust wars in distant lands?

Therefore, I recommend the following process to address endowment fundraising:

  1. Create a list of the family offices of the wealthiest families;
  2. Add royal families in good standing among the international community;
  3. Add reputable wealthy individuals who have been involved with philanthropy;
  4. Remove those known to have used their wealth to promote controversial views, convicted criminals, autocrats, despots, dictators, opponents of human rights, those with a pattern and practice of civil law violations including labor market abuses, and those whose donations might otherwise tend to bring the Foundation into disrepute;
  5. Remove subjects with prominent or ongoing controversy issues in the projects' articles concerning them;
  6. Prepare letters to the remainder soliciting donations, and make it entirely clear that it is inappropriate for you to discuss issues with articles with potential donors, but include the usual detailed instructions for reaching OTRS volunteers;
  7. Invite donors to a reception and banquet where you would speak for half an hour on a different topic depending on the level of donations; for example,
    1. Donors at the $5 million or greater level could be entitled to a talk about the relationship between organized advocacy editing and the core content pillar NPOV policy;
    2. Donors at the $20 million or greater level could be entitled to a talk on your views of Wikipedia's de facto role in financial market governance;
    3. Donors at the $50 million or greater level could be entitled to an open "fireside chat" talk where all you do is answer their questions for an hour;
  8. For the wealthiest potential donors for whom it is convenient, hand deliver the solicitation, and bring t-shirts and buttons for everyone in the office when you stop by; and
  9. Follow up with telephone calls personally after two, four, and six weeks.
  10. ...Non-profit!

Please let me know your thoughts. EllenCT (talk) 20:42, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

@EllenCT: I'm guessing they're already doing about half of that already. I hope anyway. Some of the rest seems a bit extreme, but we'll see what Jimmy thinks. 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3 strike me as totally over-the-top and almost nobody would want to get such "bonuses" from Jimmy.
The paper linked in 7.2 has a very interesting title "Crowd Governance: The Monitoring Role of Wikipedia in the Financial Market" and I've even skimmed 3 pages! My initial reaction is that Wikipedia contains almost no useful financial information related to corporate governance - so how could Wikipedia effect it? We probably do have some good info on a company's products and marketing, and the names of the folks in the top offices, but real financial info would have to start with audited financial statements, which every publicly traded company has, but they almost never are linked to in Wikipedia. About the only information asymmetry I can see that a Wikipedia article would reduce is the possibility that a small scandal is developing somewhere in the world related to the company. Company insiders would probably know about these, and Wikipedians probably like to report on these. Any big scandals however would likely be in the major papers already. Interesting idea, but the practicality looks iffy to me. Smallbones(smalltalk) 22:47, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
@Smallbones: why not let donors decide for themselves? What do you think they want to hear about Wikipedia? That you are interested in the subject of one of the proposed talks contradicts your assertion that almost nobody would want to hear Jimmy's reflections on it. I would pay a lot of money for a ticket to any one of those banquet talks. You aren't almost nobody, you are an editor who has indirectly enriched the lives of countless others now and for posterity. If you think you can do better, let's see your proposed donor banquet topics. The governance thing works because brands watch their articles more than they tweet. EllenCT (talk) 00:58, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
@EllenCT: I think I owe you a big thank you for something in there, Thanks. The rest I'm not so sure about :-) I wouldn't pay even a million for any of those talks with Jimmy - but maybe that's just me. I'm a little tight with my money sometimes. I would pay $20 for an hour long "fireside chat" with Jimmy, but only if he bought the beer. Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:23, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
So, what do you think rich donors want to hear from Jimmy? "How to make small talk with your chauffeur using Wikipedia"? "Understanding and relating to the plight of the poor and dispossessed by monitoring Wikipedia for emerging threats to summer chalets"? "Are the articles on your investment artwork properly cited to the most reliable sources"? "Controversies in Ming Dynasty pottery articles"? "Hiring the best lear jet pilots by contacting active WikiProject Civil Aviation editors on their talk pages"? Come on, it's not polite to insult someone's judgement without trying to do better, especially while brainstorming. Sofixit! EllenCT (talk) 02:36, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you or your judgement in any way - just a bit of joking. I don't have any experience asking billionaires or centimillionaires for money, and I doubt that I'd be any good at it. I'd think that many of them are very busy and would just like to cut a check after a few pleasantries - or actually somebody else cuts the check with just a phone call. Just about anybody who might give a million would likely get chatted up as much as they wanted. Possible topics that Jimmy might know about for internet types: the future of crowdsourcing, or maybe is internet harassment going to kill crowdsourcing?, possible changes in copyright laws, the right to be forgotten, internet or mobile growth in country x, government interference in the internet, etc. The point wouldn't really be that Jimmy knows more about these topics than the potential donor, or even that he is a true expert in these areas, but that his opinions might end up changing in some small way how these issues turn out. That's my take in any case. Smallbones(smalltalk) 03:05, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Some of those are very good ideas. I would put the future of crowdsourcing at the $10 million level, but someone in Research would need to help write that speech. Changes in copyright law could be at around the $2 million level. Do you think Jimbo has expressed coherent and consistent opinions about the right to be forgotten? I'm not sure anyone has, so I would steer clear of that, and harassment is just depressing, and I doubt rich people care about it, but who knows, throw it in at $30 million and see if there is any demand. I'm not sure Jimbo can give a talk on mobile growth without the appearance of a conflict of interest or worse, making statements that stockholders of his for-profit companies might conceivably be able to sue him for. By the way, not even joking about questioning people's judgement unless you try to do better is an (the?) essential characteristic of brainstorming.
But the point is, by making the topic dependent on the donation amount and awarding reception and banquet talk tickets, the family office personnel will have to put the decision in the hands of those who control the money, which means we won't get a brush-off from staff decisions that the wealthy themselves never see. EllenCT (talk) 05:16, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
There's a lot in this thread, and I'll try to go through it now in a systematic way to give feedback as best I can. If I miss something important, please ask again.
1. "do you see that there is the risk of an appearance of a conflict of interest involved with soliciting endowment donations only from established friends?" - well I think this could be problematic in a way, but this isn't really a relevant question, as we are not only working to contact existing friends, but to cast a relatively wide net. As far as my work personally, I'm going to be most effective talking to people whom I have known for years and who I know are favorably pre-disposed to like the idea of an endowment for Wikipedia. But of course there's no reason to limit the requests to just that group. I want to emphasize that while I think it could be problematic in a way (mainly because it would limit the fundraising unnecessarily), I don't really see how it would constitute a "conflict of interest". For whom?
2. Of course we are pursuing a systematic process as you outlined. Marc Brent at the Foundation is in charge of it, and he's doing a good job.
3. Given that I very happily do all the things in your list of 1-3 free of charge all the time, I don't see how donors would consider it particularly interesting to have those be perks. When I have meetings with potential major donors (which I am doing more and more as we ramp up the endowment campaign) we have conversations about all kinds of things... they often are really interested in all the same kinds of topics everyone is interested in - how do we deal with potential corporate abuse of Wikipedia, etc. I would say that virtually no one in the entire world seems particularly interested in my views on financial market governance except for you. :-)
4. "I'm not sure Jimbo can give a talk on mobile growth without the appearance of a conflict of interest or worse, making statements that stockholders of his for-profit companies might conceivably be able to sue him for." - that's almost certainly false. I talk about mobile growth all the time - it's a staple of my speeches to talk about the growth of mobile, particularly in the developing world, and why I view it as critical for Wikipedia. I really can't imagine any shareholders having any issue with anything that I might say on the topic.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 09:27, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Item 1 reminded me of an issue I'm dealing with in another venue. I'm the new co-president of an organization. I've observed that our approach to selecting new board members relies too heavily on reviewing our collective list of established friends. I view that as a problem. I'd like to see more diversity on the board, and think the lack of diversity stems partially from our board selection approach. However, while I would call it a problem, I wouldn't call it a "conflict of interest". It is a common problem of boards, can be addressed relatively easily if you make the attempt, but the problem is possible insularity and lack of diversity, not conflict of interest. --S Philbrick(Talk) 12:18, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I totally agree.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 11:01, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Jimbo, thank you. I am sure that plenty of wealthy people would be interested in your reflections on the ways people interact with brands on Wikipedia, and I stand by my recommendations. EllenCT (talk) 13:45, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

Monsanto must be pleased[edit]

We have successfully scrubbed the lede of GMO controversy article of all mention of scientists or academics who have concerns with GMOs. [7] [8], following Monsanto's PR campaign to "enlist academics in the G.M.O. lobbying war".

Will we soon completely dispose of the WP:NPOV requirement to make edits like these easier? We did such a good job giving BP's version of the Deepwater Horizon spill, until some reporter had to call attention to it--as if such POV writing is problematic.[9] --David Tornheim (talk) 17:58, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

Your insinuation that those who disagree with you on this issue have been "enlisted" by Monsanto is way out of line. It's precisely this inability by combatants on both sides to consider that their opposite numbers are acting in good faith that has made the editing environment on GMO articles so toxic. Shock Brigade Harvester Boris (talk) 18:06, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
I am not a "combatant". I was not suggesting that editors were "enlisted" by Monsanto, but that editors were quoting the enlisted scientists and deleting the concerns of scientists that were misbehaving by criticizing GMOs. I'm sure Monsanto is pleased, and these editors should be praised for their success in presenting Monsanto's view and eliminating scientists' views that do not conform, as we did for BP.
I never suggested this was not good faith. I have no doubt editors believe they are doing what is best for the encyclopedia, and they are certain that the numerous scientists who raise concerns about GMOs are just nuts, and these editors have every right to believe that. Similarly, I have no doubt those who put BP's views of the Deepwater Horizon spill for good reason believed that BP's views were the most accurate and encyclopediac. If you have evidence the editing is not "good faith", please provide it. --David Tornheim (talk) 19:07, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
David Tornheim should have been t'banned from the GMO area a good while back. I'm amazed the community is still tolerating this stuff. Alexbrn (talk) 13:42, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Alexbrn and Carrite since they've voiced similar concerns, this is mostly because I believe people really just don't have the time or energy anymore to put up yet another AE case, especially with the history of all this. That and those of us involved in the topic have been trying to ignore David's behavior issues and focus on content. It looks like there's enough concern from the community though that an AE case should hopefully help put a stop to this behavior, so I've opened one up here. Kingofaces43 (talk) 17:49, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
The attack on Folta was absolutely ridiculous. Monsanto essentially gave the university a donation to help cover the costs of his existing outreach program, so that he could essentially do extra work for free. What a scandal! --tronvillain (talk) 18:22, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
I know. What could possibly be wrong with using the university to do your PR work? [10] or buying politicians LEGALLY to get the legislation you want. [11]. The idea that money "corrupts" is naive. [12] [13] --David Tornheim (talk) 19:13, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
Doing more of the science communication he was already doing isn't "PR work." And I don't think sixty grand buys a lot of politicians. A corporation about the size of Whole Foods somehow controls the government eh? --tronvillain (talk) 21:56, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
@Tronvillain: did you read the Forbes piece you linked to? "Monsanto’s $25,000 donation to the university’s foundation to support travel, food, and a digital projector for Folta to deliver a year of monthly academic and public GMO education workshops.... To be clear, the $25,000 was not a grant or contract and in no way provided personal funds to Folta, either as salary support or additional remuneration" (emphasis added.) If it wasn't for personal funds, then who ate the food? Similarly: "I don’t think a visit and a donation from the Monsanto Company is a relationship.... If I had this to do over again I’d absolutely call this a relationship." That contradiction is either evidence of denial or willingness to say what he doesn't believe to avoid similar situations in the future. EllenCT (talk) 21:48, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Yes, I read it thanks - as I said, additional work for free. You're complaining that he got to eat while doing that work? Pathetic. --tronvillain (talk) 14:43, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
  • I agree completely with David Tornheim, whose work in this area has earned my greatest respect. What he points out are facts. His opponents are reduced to smears and gamesmanship. Bravo for doing the hard work, David! Jusdafax 20:03, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

@Driftwoodzebulin: and @Alexbrn: Your edits are in the two diffs at the top of this discussion, so you have a right to know that your edits have been mentioned. --Tryptofish (talk) 21:39, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

I posted on the talk page of the article here, where you of course threatened me for "casting aspersions" for shedding light on this.
You said "'scrubbing' implies a deliberate attempt to suppress information" [14]. You mean like white-washing? Well if it was not a deliberate attempt to delete the criticisms from scientists, are you saying these edits were accidental? --David Tornheim (talk) 22:19, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
I'm saying that, absent evidence to the contrary, the edits should be considered good faith. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:37, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
I did not discuss motivations. I was showing the results of the edits. The effect of the edits speak for themselves. --David Tornheim (talk) 22:50, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
I see that you said: "...scientists that were misbehaving by criticizing GMOs. I'm sure Monsanto is pleased, and these editors should be praised for their success in presenting Monsanto's view and eliminating scientists' views that do not conform..." In my opinion, you did not say in so many words that the editors' motivations were to please Monsanto, but you implied it. We had an RfC about this, with something like 90 members of the community taking part. There's a heated discussion going on right now about the policy against outing, and part of what editors are discussing is how to handle evidence of COI in a proper manner. Doxing someone is obviously a bad approach, but insinuating a COI is not beneficial either. ArbCom determined that calling editors "shills" for industry is unacceptable. What ArbCom in their infinite wisdom failed to fully anticipate is how editors are learning to avoid the key words that would trigger AE, but still communicate their distrust of the community consensus, wink, wink. --Tryptofish (talk) 23:01, 23 July 2016 (UTC)
If this page is under discretionary sanctions and he said that, the only curious thing is why David Tornheim is still working on this topic. Carrite (talk) 02:20, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
The paid editor calls for punishment of unpaid volunteer for pointing out POV-editing. And we wonder why readers are losing confidence in Wikipedia and we have a hard time keeping volunteers. --David Tornheim (talk) 02:35, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Really? Paid editor, I forgot that. So, presumably if I offer Carrite enough money, he will strike his comment and nominate you, David, for Admin? Jusdafax 02:48, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Yowza!!! Touched a nerve there, didn't I? I forgot to mention that I'm on the Monsanto payroll, rollin' in the bling, baby, my network of Roundup Ready Sockpuppets paving the way for the Final Victory of my corporate masters. Wooooo!!!! Somebody ping me when this case hits ArbCom, I'd be happy to put in a couple hours of edit history research, gratis... Carrite (talk) 04:37, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Given your unique qualifications and proper attitude, I was going to suggest you contact them at the email below; but I see you are already one step ahead of me, padding your resume. Excellent! You have a bright future ahead of you. --David Tornheim (talk) 05:39, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

Is there any policy against simply telephoning Eric Sachs, Monsanto's director of online PR Regulatory Policy & Scientific Affairs and just asking if they've been coordinating activity on Wikipedia? 97.118.166.40 (talk) 01:08, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

What an interesting email that is! Also interesting that two years ago is when I noticed a surge in aggressive pushback by Monsanto. The "Holding Activists Accountable" section featuring Kevin Folta is fascinating. I just noticed Mr. Folta's article neglected to mention his alleged COI in the article lede, and have added a sentence per the existing article. Jimmy, this might bear watching. Jusdafax 02:04, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
If you take a longer term view, and I mean on a time scale of a generation, then what you see is that David Tornheim & co. by winning the argument in Europe, have created precisely the conditions allowing them to make the points that there are now making here. You have to ask how Monsanto ended up being in a monopoly position. The reason is that European companies cannot compete due to political roadblocks. If this had been different, then such companies operating EU rules would behave in a more acceptable way as judged by David and then a lot of the opposition to GM foods that actually derive more from Monsanto's business model and has less to do with the fundamentals of genetic modification, would not have arisen in the first place. Count Iblis (talk) 18:48, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
There is a lot more to it than that. You are making sweeping generalizations on issues with very complex interrelationships. How much do you think the monoculture brought about by Monsanto's monopoly costs consumers in those generational time-scales?[15][16][17] I'm a proponent of genetic engineering, and I see it as no different in principle than animal husbandry and crop hybridization, but I am opposed to the situation where rampant consolidation has led to monoculture issues instead of robust competition between seed producers. EllenCT (talk) 19:12, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
The bottom line is that a reasonable debate to deal with real problems never took place in Europe. What happened is that Europe pretty much turned its back on the GM industry by not participating in it. One then loses any influence one could have had to shape this industry. Count Iblis (talk) 19:56, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
If you visit http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm change "Registered / Withdrawn" from "All" to "Registered" and click Search, you can see about 70 varieties of GMOs, from American and European manufacturers. Europe has most certainly not turned its back on the GM industry. EllenCT (talk) 20:58, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
If you try to buy GM foods in the supermarket here, you may be dissapointed :) . Count Iblis (talk) 17:32, 26 July 2016 (UTC)

Retaliatory filing for shedding light on this issue[edit]

Kingofaces43 has filed an action against me at WP:AE. See Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Enforcement#David_Tornheim. --David Tornheim (talk) 21:03, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

I was particularly impressed with the part of the complaint where he accuses you of ranting for objecting to the removal of wikilinks from references about one of the diseases caused by a controversial pesticide. EllenCT (talk) 21:12, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

I don't have anything useful to add to this debate directly at the moment, as I'm not familiar enough with this area to have any ability to make thoughtful judgments. I find much of the above discussion reasonably productive, but other parts of it I find disappointing and not very helpful. "Monsanto must be pleased" is a combative and irrelevant way to start a discussion. I frankly don't care one way or the other if Monsanto is pleased. Perhaps they will be pleased because they have managed to help communicate factual information to the public in the face of crazed pseudo-science. Perhaps they will be pleased because they have managed a coverup of monumental proportions in their ongoing quest to poison the public. Or perhaps (more likely) they are a large large organization with a mixed set of motives, some of which we might rightly approve of, and some of which we might rightly disagree with. My point is, the criteria for good writing in Wikipedia has nothing to do with what Monsanto wants - nor with what critics of Monsanto want.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 11:00, 25 July 2016 (UTC)

Sorry if my title gives offense. I will keep your concern in mind before posting on your page in the future. The title is meant as an attention grabber. I see your page as a public forum, and it is the last safe place I can talk about the problem on Wikipedia. I would never use something like that in an article.
I totally agree with your last statement that what Monsanto or Monsanto's critics want in the articles is not what is best for the encyclopedia, which is why I made this post, because too much of the articles are written from Monsanto's perspective rather than being NPOV and balanced, where critics' views are being unreasonably deleted. --David Tornheim (talk) 11:48, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
The boxes at the top of Talk:Genetically modified organism have information about the exhaustive and exhausting RfC that was held on the topic. Are you saying that Monsanto have influenced the outcome of that RfC? If so, does that imply that a significant number of participants in the RfC were stooges acting in the interests of Monsanto rather than Wikipedia? When an RfC is held, should it be binding or should editors continue to argue about the findings in any available forum? Johnuniq (talk) 12:07, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
No, of course not (to your question "does that imply that a significant number of participants in the RfC were stooges...?"). Yes, of course, the RfC should be binding. I did not question the findings. Some of the recent edits I refer to following the RfC went *way* beyond what was determined by the RfC, that a closing admin called them "twisting the result of the RfC". Please see my comments and diffs at WP:AE and at Coffee's talk page (referred to there). --David Tornheim (talk) 12:16, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
What Johnuniq fails to note is that there were two previous RfC's on GMO's that went the other way. So much for "binding." Jimmy, while I'm no scientific expert, I have followed the "GMO's on Wikipedia" issue for several years. David Tornheim is on to something. I submit that he is being harassed because he has been unusually effective in pointing out deficiencies in the writing of some of the GMO articles, and the methods used by parties with a demonstrably pro-Monsanto slant. His comment regarding your Talk page here being a final safe haven is sadly true. May I suggest you look into the matter further? David's defense at WP:AE, noted at the top of this subsection, gives additional details, for starters. Jimmy, you have previously expressed concerns regarding undisclosed paid editing, and advocacy editing. I contend this thread outlines a fascinating case study, given the fact that Europe and other countries worldwide have enacted legislation regarding GMO's and glyphosate, the herbicide in "Roundup" weed killer that Monsanto makes billions of dollars from. The stakes in how that information is presented on Wikipedia are substantial. Thanks for any time you can spare for investigating. Jusdafax 12:10, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
  • Jimmy, what I find interesting is the email from the IP (in the section above). Monsanto's PR campaign began in 2013, which is exactly when Wikipedia changed forever for me. As I warned you then, when it first became apparent to me, Wikipedia has a Monsanto problem. Ever since I edited my first Monsanto-related article, I received essentially the same treatment as David, and experienced my first of a never ending series of noticeboards, with people crying out for me to be banned from WP in the last ArbCom, even though Roger Davies weighed in saying there was no evidence provided for any of the claims made against me. The thing is, if editors who ask for a reasonable amount of neutral information from your biotech articles are harrassed and eventually silenced, it's your brand that is hurt when articles read like PR. Wikpedia should not be quoting GMO advocates in its "scientific consensus" sourcing, but many editors "voted" that Pamela Ronald would have top billing in this most controversial claim, and critics (or "anti-GMO" advocates), such as Sheldon Krimsky, would not. Krimsky found that no consensus on the safety of GMO food exists in the scientific community. petrarchan47คุ 12:47, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Not shockingly most editors did not find a source from a guy with a philosophy degree, with zero scientific research background, who gave massive weight to Seralini, and had already written and anti-GMO book, all that compelling. Capeo (talk) 15:52, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Unless and until we get some actual evidence to the contrary, I think it is highly unlikely that the issue here is paid advocacy - and as is well known, I'm quite the hawk against paid advocacy. What I think is far more likely is a bit of a crusader mentality against pseudoscience by people who have been working diligently to keep it out of Wikipedia for a long time. I'm not saying that is the case here, by the way - as I said in my first response, I don't currently have enough information to guess. But there are areas that I do know about where I know exactly how these debates tend to go, so let me talk about that for a moment. Here I will speak not just about the principles of Wikipedia but about my own personal beliefs, and I say that just to be transparent.
Some areas of knowledge attract crackpots and cranks, and the victims of crackpots or cranks who then become advocates of very bad ideas. One example is a particular pet peeve of mine: homeopathy. There is a long standing pattern to debates in this area. The pro-homeopathy people cherry pick results which purport to support homeopathy with very little concern for the basic principles of study quality, and (importantly) with very little concern for the basic principles of statistics. (The odds of getting 5 heads in a row is 1/32. Imagine a room with 500 people in it holding a contest to see who has the 'ability' to get 5 heads in a row. A few will very likely manage it. We can all agree that doesn't really mean anything. Similarly, do enough studies with a 5% or 1% margin of error, and eventually you'll get some false results. That's how it works.)
So you'll get a handful of studies pointing in one direction with the vast majority pointing in another direction. Why? Well, point to big pharma, point to what the tobacco companies did, point to all the many ways that science might be corrupted, etc. Make the argument that the coin flipping experiment proves that there is significant scientific uncertainty about whether people have the ability to flip 5 heads deliberately. Make the argument that homeopathy works or that at least should be treated as a plausible theory based on a handful of papers.
I think most people (except homeopathy advocates!) will be with me to this point.
When confronted with this people can quite naturally get fairly intolerant of people coming around again and again trying to push an agenda. This is true even when we stop and acknowledge that, for example, Monsanto is a big company that many people don't like, etc. The danger here is one that I think most people are aware of - the danger is that if you are used to batting away nonsense claims from POV pushers, then when you get into new territory with new information, there can be excessive conservatism.
Now please everyone keep in mind a couple of things - (1) "Jimbo said..." is seldom a useful argument. (2) I'm not taking sides as I know too little about GMOs to have an opinion worth listening to on the particulars of the topic. Both these things seem plausible to me: that there could be serious dangers (and amazing opportunities) in our newfound abilities to edit genes (CRISPR and similar), and that there are pseudoscientific luddites fear mongering. What is going on at Wikipedia in these areas I don't know.
What I am saying is that based on my long long experience, and unless and until specific evidence arises, we should not assume that any editors in this area are pro-Monsanto at all, much less paid advocates or tricked by paid advocates. What we should assume is that some of us may be crusading out of sincere beliefs and thus slightly less tolerant and reasonable in dialog than we might hope if we stepped back to reflect.

This is what our old saying of "Assume Good Faith" is about - and it works for both sides of a heated debate like this. Assume the other person isn't a Monsanto shill. Assume the other person isn't a pseudoscientific Luddite. Assume that we all want to improve the encyclopedia and avoid heated rhetoric that tends to cause people to dig in and not listen.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 20:02, 25 July 2016 (UTC)

Still unanswered FRS question[edit]

@Harej: does the Feedback Request Service distribute requests with or without human intervention? Can you please point to the location in the FRS bot's source code where the distribution of requests to user talk pages is made? If not, can you please say who maintains that source code at present? Thank you. EllenCT (talk) 16:22, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

EllenCT, requests are done automatically. The current maintainer of the code is Legoktm who can explain more on how it works. (It is probably very different from when I first wrote it several years ago.) Harej (talk) 17:19, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

@Legoktm: could you please help us understand this? The question originally came up in February, and it's still unanswered. I would love to recommend the FRS, but before I can do that, I need to understand how the requests are distributed: randomly? If so, where is the random number generator invoked in https://github.com/legoktm/harej-bots/blob/master/frsbot.php#L53 et seq? Round robin? By sign-up order per batch (meaning, those listed later on the sign-up lists will tend to get fewer FRS requests)? Are human interventions involved? Can the FRS system be gamed by modifying the order of the sign-up lists? Or by modifying them between the time an RFC is posted and announced by FRSbot? How many users does the FRS inform of each RFC? Can that parameter be changed? If so, where? Where is the documentation for your code? Do you intend to comment your code? Thank you for any help on these questions you can provide. EllenCT (talk) 18:33, 24 July 2016 (UTC)

I am not proficient in PHP (I mostly do assembly on small microcontrollers with maybe 64 bytes of RAM total) , but if I am not mistaken, most good PHP randomizer programs use the mt_rand() function to generates a random integer using the Mersenne Twister algorithm. I don't see that in the code you reference; any chance that it is being invoked in some sort of function or subroutine that I am not seeing? --Guy Macon (talk) 16:50, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
Not claiming to be a PHP expert either, and I only quickly scanned the code, but as far as I can tell that code applies no deliberate randomization. I think (but wouldn't swear to it) that it uses some variant of LRU sorting and filtering based on users who have either been notified of a given RFC already or have been notified about a number of RFCs in general above a configured threshold (one per 30 days I think). Based on my understanding of the linked code, which users are notified and in what order should be entirely deterministic. In practical effect—and again a caveat regarding my understanding—all users who have signed up will be notified every time unless they match an exclusion criteria. The exclusion criteria that I spotted are: a) you've been notified of this RFC before; b) you've not signed up for RFCs in this category; or c) you've already received the maximum number of RFCs per time period that you've allowed in your signup.
It also appears to go through the entire list of users who have signed up on every run, and applying its own time-based sort on the list, which would imply that there is no obvious way to game the selection based on modifying the sign-up list (at any time, before or after the RFC is posted). There may be a way to affect the order a given user will appear in for that user's first RFC notification, but not for any subsequent notifications. That "may" depends on a separate task that gets the list of users from WP:FRS and inserts it into the database (and which I haven't looked at). But since this code gets all users from the database each time I think it unlikely that this can be effectively used as a vector for gaming the system.
Personally, my biggest concerns here would be that the code has the hallmarks of "sysadmin programming" (quickly thrown together with the priority on getting it to work, not on making it maintainable; cf. eg. the lack of source code comments and the use of variable names like "$temp01") which makes its author a single point of failure and a bottleneck (which, incidentally, I'm sure he's aware of, but even Legoktm has a finite number of hours per day to maintain existing tools and develop new ones; so my concern here should not be taken as a criticism of his work!). Any risk of gaming the system seems unlikely and non-obvious, if not even non-trivial, to exploit.
Anyways… off-the-cuff and inexpert, but hopefully of at least some help until Legoktm has time to chime in with a fuller explanation. --Xover (talk) 18:51, 25 July 2016 (UTC)

Hi, I'm not sure how we ended up on Jimbo's talk page, but basically the FRS tries to notify as many people as possible, there is no randomization.

  • Are human interventions involved?
    No? Yes? The bot takes instructions from humans about new RfCs I guess.
  • Can the FRS system be gamed by modifying the order of the sign-up lists?
    No? The bot maintains its own database.
  • Or by modifying them between the time an RFC is posted and announced by FRSbot?
    I don't really understand what you mean here and what is being modified, but I don't think so.
  • How many users does the FRS inform of each RFC? Can that parameter be changed?
    It depends on how many users are eligible to be notified.
  • If so, where? Where is the documentation for your code?
    There is no documentation.
  • Do you intend to comment your code?
    Not really. It's not my code tbh, I just ported it to work on tool labs and somehow got stuck maintaining it. I'll review pull requests though! Legoktm (talk) 11:25, 26 July 2016 (UTC)
@Legoktm: thank you. We are here because we are trying to figure out whether FRSbot can solve jury selection problems which could lead to more robust dispute resolution. Any idea whether it's round-robin or first-in-first-out per batch by signups? Where is the FRSbot database? Are its contents public? How much money would you take to document the code, and how much time do you think it would take? EllenCT (talk) 17:38, 26 July 2016 (UTC)