User talk:Moynihanian

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

I write with mixed emotions. Some years back, I edited some articles here, and quickly wound up in the sort of editing wars referenced in Timonthy Messer-Kruse's article The Undue Weight of Truth on Wikipedia. The commentary here and elsewhere inspired me to create a new account to make my comments. For reasons that will become clear, I doubt I'll ever edit another article here. I wanted to explain why, in tones even enough to survive the roving bands of deletionists. We shall see.

Does Wikipedia Want To Fix Its Problems?

In writing, I make some assumptions, at least for purposes of argument: that those who are especially influential here care about Wikipedia's accuracy and credibility; and that they want address its flaws; and that they'd like to fulfill the stated mission of Wikipedia as a "user edited encyclopedia." To me, those assumptions are somewhat debatable. After all, the problems that Messer-Kruse, and others like him, have highlighted are not new. At the very least, they have continued to fester, and more likely they have deepened, and eroded Wikipedia's reputation to an increasingly serious degree. Left unaddressed in effective ways, the problems will keep eroding Wikipedia's substance, and with it, the encyclopedia's credibility. No one can say which straw will break the camel's back, or what pinch of salt added to a supersaturated solution will leave a pile of crystals at the bottom of the beaker. Maybe it will never happen at Wikipedia. But maybe it will. If it does, the problems highlighted -- once again, for his article was hardly a surprise -- by Messer-Kruse are what will sink the experiment.

It should be clear by now that I think he's on very solid ground with his criticisms. And that's all I'll say about it, because I think he and those who have supported his account have covered all of the territory that needs to be covered with respect to the specific incident. My words are aimed at a different level, as those who decide to keep reading will see presently. The responses from Wikipedians fall into two broad categories. One is those who think Messer-Kruse was wrong. That group focuses mainly on his manners. Messer-Kruse wasn't patient enough. He engaged in grandstanding, and maybe even book promotion, by taking his complaint to the Chronicle of Higher Education. He violated the Undue Weight rule. Because he is an expert with an opinion, he ipso facto violated the NPOV rule. By citing his own book, he was self-promoting. A second category of responses are sympathetic to Messer-Kruse, and focus instead on the brusque treatment he received, and on the misinterpretation of policies used to justify the reversion of his edits.

Policies Are Not The Problem

Leaving aside the specifics of which policies Messer-Kruse did or did not violate, and whether the policies should be rewritten, or changed, I'd say this: To frame Messer-Kruse's experience almost exclusively in terms of Wikipedia policies, including the broader issue of whether Wikipedia is increasingly hostile to new input, dodges the problems that caused the incident to begin with. Wikipedia doesn't lack policies and rules. Quite the contrary, it has too many policies. Your rules resemble the federal tax code; the exemptions, exclusions, and inclusions run into each other. Policies are contradictory, and unclear. In the end, they are often ignored, except when editors are fighting amongst themselves, or at least as often, against an outsider who naively followed the prominent exhortation to "be bold."

Every single thing about Wikipedia -- its highly difficult user interface, its dense forest of contradictory rules, and its rapidly ossifying internal culture -- has coalesced to come down like a ton of bricks on anything or anyone who even remotely threatens this site with "boldness." Messer-Kruse's work is bold: He has spent his life accumulating expertise on the Haymarket riots; advanced a bold thesis about the events, and the trial; wrote a book that survived peer review; and came here to incorporate facts into Wikipedia's article on the subject. And for that, he was forced to run the same gauntlet that countless uncredentialed users have run when trying to make far less bold corrections and additions to other material here.

His experience matters not because he's a scholar or an expert; all that did was make him ultimately less assailable by the usual methods here. What resonates about Messer-Kruse's experience is that it shines a light on what happens day in and day out throughout the Wikipedia project. Multiply his story by a few thousand, or more, and you have what a significant proportion of hapless people, drawn in by Wikipedia's promotional rhetoric, have experienced at the hands of an insular community that cannot effectively deal with disagreement, and cannot seem to understand that its many procedures, in the end, serve to exacerbate rather than help reconcile disagreements. As a result, Wikipedia is increasingly known as a place to avoid if there is any controversy surrounding a topic. Left unchecked, your future is to be an online version of World Book, useful for grade-school level material about topics that no one cares enough to argue about in the real world.

Want To Fix Wikipedia? Grab It By The Ankles And Shake It

For starters, Wikipedia needs a fundamental overhaul. Not nips and tucks on this or that policy or rule, most of which are casually ignored anyway. You need to reassess Wikipedia's hostility to the very concept of a fact, and to the idea that anything might be true, or that the truth is worth pursuing. There are plenty of ways to elevate the role of facts and the truth without turning Wikipedia into a user-edited online Bible. But before you can even approach that potentially sticky wicket, you need to embrace the notion that there is such a thing as a fact, as opposed to something that was merely published in The New York Times.

From there, Wikipedia needs to ruthlessly prune its list of policies. They need to be clearer, less contradictory, and (especially) less numerous. When you do arrive at a slimmed-down core of them, then they need to be followed strictly. Groups (cliques, really) of editors who follow each others' edits cannot be allowed to descend on articles, repelling input that is neutral, factual, and sourced. Any honest Wikipedian knows that this happens all the time on this site, and that it repels not only newcomers but veterans. And finally, Wikipedia needs to radically de-emphasize the role of what can only be described as a sort of juvenile popularity contest when it comes to judging content. A contributor's irascibility, or even blatant self-interest, should never be an excuse for excluding content that is accurate, factual, and otherwise neutral. But at Wikipedia, much of the discussion in article talk pages winds up revolving around the contributor, as opposed to the contribution.

That's all for now, anyway. I'm not exactly hopeful, because I know you've been told all of this before, by many other people, in all kinds of ways. Yet, the steady stream of excluded, embittered contributors, and unreliable articles, continues. It's been a while since I've seen any statistics about your retention of editors, and what those who remain here are actually doing with their time. But, given the steady drip of accounts like Messer-Kruse's, it's readily apparent that the organization has grown steadily more resistant to outside input, not less so. As the old saying goes, "If you keep doing what you always did, you'll keep getting what you always got."

Again: Does Wikipedia Want To Fix Its Problems?

Which brings me back to my original assumptions, and my mixed feelings. Do those who are especially influential here care about Wikipedia's accuracy and credibility? Do they want to effectively address its flaws? Would they like to fulfill the stated mission of Wikipedia as a "user edited encyclopedia?" We'll see.Moynihanian (talk) 01:35, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

In response to your feedback[edit]

Why not get adopted, it is easy and fun! If you want more help on being adopted, just ask me and I will reply.

Androzaniamy (talk) 13:06, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for the suggestion. I know you mean well.Moynihanian (talk) 20:27, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

Not easy[edit]

I think that wikipedia eventually worked fine in this particular case. I know that, as you say, there are many cases where it does not work fine, where it is conservative to the point of alienating people making simple factual fixes.

I think that even your radical suggestions still, in a sense, dance around the problem. I've been through a wikibattle or two, and I've seen some where policies worked. So I don't think it's a matter of a need to radically rewrite or simplify these policies.

No. I think that the basic realization that's needed is not that facts exist; they do, but (aside from turning me into the dictator_ I don't think that there's a better way to establish them than back-and-forth argument. I think the crucial idea is that some behaviors are actively bad for Wikipedia, so bad that they outweigh the other good that an editor who engages in them may do. Once you accept that, then the next conclusion is that there should just be a lot less tolerance for such behaviors. Excessive wikilawyering, biting newbies, and straight-out bad-faith editing (which of course always hides behind WP:AGF)... I'm not suggesting that these things should be shot on sight, because that would be worse, but there should be a general attitude that the goal is not just to minimize the damage these things do, or to gently convince the editors involved to eventually/slowly/mostly outgrow them, but to eliminate them from the site.

So basically, I'm asking ArbCom to grow arms that are a lot, lot, longer. I think it calls for a new role; a community monitor, with strong powers, but also the very highest standards of neutrality, whose ONLY role is to seek out bad actors, warn them in clear terms, and then take action if they don't quickly mend their ways. I also know that there will always be good-faith objections to such a role, both in principle and in practice. That discussion is absolutely healthy, and since no community monitor could ever be fully neutral in that discussion, it would be the one place where the rules would stay as loose as they are today.

In many cases, even people who are habitually a negative force in Wikipedia today would quickly shape up. In other cases, they wouldn't, and they'd be banned. I think that pretty quickly, the atmosphere that initially drove Messer-Kruse away would significantly improve.

Wikipedia and its interminable anarchy has a lot of strengths. But I agree with Moynihanian that there are serious problems and they should be addressed.

Homunq (talk) 19:03, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. While I disagree, I appreciate your effort and your good faith.
I don't think Wikipedia "worked fine" in the Messer-Kruse case. I think it worked abysmally. The only reason anything was corrected was that he took his complaint outside of Wikipedia, to places thst have enough influence to prevent Wikipedia from doing things it wants to do, i.e., extend its influence into academia. Given Wikipedia's fundamental disdain for accuracy and truth, I think it would be a disaster if academia were "Wikified." Therefore, as distressing as experiences like Messer-Kruse's are, on balance it's very good that we see them reported, because they serve to remind academics of the grave perils of welcoming Wikipedia into their realm.
For several years, Wikipedia has been discussing ways of making itself "friendlier," and of curbing the abusive behavior of its editors and administrators. Nothing of consequence has come from those discussions, and frankly I don't think anything can. Yes, there is far too much "Wikilawyering." In fact, the significant majority of what goes on here is "Wikilawyering," to cite yet another policy guideline that's roundly ignored. That's really what the policies exist to enable; "Wikilawyering," in practice, is used to defend Wikipedia and its content from improvement. But what counts most, at least to me, is that Wikipedia stands on a foundation of sand. An encyclopedia whose organizing premise is that facts are whatever a majority of people think they are can be reliable only when citing facts that can't conceivably lend themselves to dispute, such as the Census Bureau's 2010 population tallies. As soon as controversy enters the picture, Wikipedia is pretty much lost, because it is designed to be lost.
This works in a World Book world. Remember World Book encyclopedia? I used it through about seventh grade. After that, I looked for sources that were deeper, more sophisticated, and more authoritative. If Wikipedia wants only to be World Book, then everything's fine. If it wants to set its sights higher, and be credible in the realm of triple-digit I.Q.s and differing viewpoints, then it will have to fundamentally recast its relationships with facts and truth. I really don't see any other way. New policies, or better enforcement of the crazy quilt of what's already there? Beside the point, in my view. As far as academia goes, I hope the Messer-Kruse article is distributed far and wide, and serves as a powerful reminder to scholars of who and what they are dealing with if they come here. Moynihanian (talk) 19:21, 27 February 2012 (UTC)
Just one response: I agree that nothing much about the current situation can change from pure discussion, because results and consensus are chicken and egg. So there has to be a group with power whose not afraid to use it. I'm a committed anti-fascist and I'm aware of how I sound, but there's a difference between a scapegoating, posturing tough-on-crime fascist and someone willing to take responsibility and authority and leadership as a package deal. So, whether the solution is epistemology or police, the people at the top have to take sides. Not ignore the community, but recognize that there are problems, and take sides in the debate about how they can be fixed. Homunq (talk) 21:46, 27 February 2012 (UTC)
Don't kid yourself, someone owns Wikipedia. The people who contribute material are volunteers who own nothing. Yes, they could put up one hell of a squawk, but in the end it's the Wikimedia Foundation (I believe) that owns everything. And I see no indication whatsoever that they are anything other than complacent about these issues. The volunteers won't change it, either. They are self-selected, and have long-since signed onto a particular bit of magical thinking, i.e., the idea that facts are whatever the crowd says they are, and that this is tenable. So, to me, the only catalyst will come from outside. Moynihanian (talk) 22:13, 27 February 2012 (UTC)


Hello - Many of the points you make above strike a chord. For example, the default "Hey, there's a keep off the grass notice there!" attitudes (especially to intrusive experts...). Also, the futility of addressing every problem through policy and guidelines. Which in turn contrast with the 'real-world' ad hominem tone of much debate (snide as one likes as long as it's not a "personal attack"...). And that numbed feeling of personal hurt, maybe...

Nevertheless, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that some of the guys at the top, as you put it, aren't aware of the risks attached to the growth of a crowd-sourcing, policy driven editing machine. Best, —MistyMorn (talk) 20:56, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

Thank you for taking the time to come here and comment. Neither of us can know what "the guys at the top" are thinking. It's tempting to impute motives, but at the very least I'd need to do one hell of a lot more research about the people and their activities than I want to, before I could feel comfortable even trying to walk that path. I can say this much, though: None of these issues are new. "The guys at the top" have been aware of them for a very long time, and have done nothing meaningful in response. The only proven tool with Wikipedia is external pressure. Internally, I think they'll do what they've always done: engage in various forms of wagon-circling behavior. Moynihanian (talk) 21:26, 27 February 2012 (UTC)

A barnstar for you![edit]

Surreal Barnstar Hires.png The Surreal Barnstar
You have added some really good commentary to Wikipedia talk pages. Excellent "food for thought" for Wikipedia to advance to the next level of quality. Wbm1058 (talk) 21:39, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

While I was surprised a bit when I first read Wikipedia:General disclaimer, upon further review I don't see it as that big of a deal, in the sense that it doesn't seem incompatible with the goal of endeavoring to find facts and truth. Of course nobody can absolutely guarantee that they've found truth on every matter in the universe, hence the disclaimer that WIKIPEDIA MAKES NO GUARANTEE OF VALIDITY. Just because they can't guarantee validity doesn't mean they can't try to be valid—indeed they should. This is not incompatible with other encyclopedias and news organizations, as shown at Wikipedia:Non-Wikipedia disclaimers.

Wikipedia does say they want to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality. This is one of their emerging strategic priorities. They even take a "Quality control and assurance deep dive" and compare crowdsourcing to expert review. I haven't read and analyzed those pages yet, but I wanted to point them out to you so that you can read them, and I would like to read your thoughts about them here. And if you care to try to steer the direction of Wikipedia, it seems these pages can be edited. You'll never know how much wikilawyering you'll encounter until you try to edit them. Thanks -Wbm1058 (talk) 21:59, 28 February 2012 (UTC) 22:17, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for taking the time to engage. As I wrote in one of my comments, I see any effort by Wikipedia to compare its "quality" to a real encyclopedia as a public relations ploy. Most of the material in any encyclopedia will be standard, non-debatable stuff. There, it's likely that Wikipedia will be just fine. Where the rubber hits the road is with material that has any kind of controversy attached. That is where Wikipedia's fatal flaw emerges. Unless and until they directly address it, and make a genuine change, which I very much doubt they will do, I will consider any "quality comparisons" meaningless at best.
As for the nature of truth, etc., I don't see this as anything close to insurmountable. Once you step away from the realm of religious belief, no one expects any single source to provide a guarantee of truth. On most controversial topics, the "truth" is that there is a controversy, and the encyclopedia's job is to represent it accurately. Facts, on the other hand, are usually much easier to deal with. There, the key is avoid cherry-picking, i.e., to assemble facts that are relevant and fairly representative of the whole.
The Achilles Heel at Wikipedia is that, as a corporate entity, it disclaims the entire idea that there is such a thing as a free-standing fact. To Wikipedia, facts are whatever its editors and administrators say they are. This is a bankrupt idea from the get-go, and gets worse in practice, when you consider that the typical disputed Wikipedia article winds up not being "crowd sourced" but "clique sourced," i.e. dominated by a handful of people.
For Wikipedia to even begin to be intellectually credible, it must elevate fact to its rightful place at the top, and the center, of everything else it does. Nothing less can ever be acceptable. Moynihanian (talk) 01:08, 29 February 2012 (UTC)

Analysis of Wikipedia's Quality Control Efforts, In Response to Wbm1058

This will be ongoing and not quick. My first take on the links is that it's typical Wikipedia: a lot of fragmented efforts that dance around the central issue posed by "crowd sourcing." I'll be taking a deeper look and writing more, later. Moynihanian (talk) 19:41, 1 March 2012 (UTC)


I have read this page, although imperfectly, I'm sure. The word to use here is information, not fact. We summarize the information in reliable published sources. I agree, personally, that there are facts. For example, Jerusalem is under military occupation; that is a fact; however, Israel has "annexed" it. Jerusalem is part of Israel is not a fact, but many would have it so, and, frankly, world peace might be served thereby. That is very simple, even boring, example. The Haymarket affair, on the other hand, is difficult, complex, and, thank God, interesting. Serious work on it takes hundreds of hours; it is hardly surprising that M-K demurred even though he is already familiar with the relevant sources. We are doing some work on giving credit to academics for work here, but it is not an established mechanism. Academics are busy and other work they do pays, if not in money, in terms of professional recognition. User:Fred Bauder Talk 20:37, 1 March 2012 (UTC)

Fred, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and to respond. I run on a bit, but the alternative is to cut it down too much and not offer the reasoning behind my conclusions. The gist of what I have to say is actually quite simple, I think.
I think Messer-Kruse offered documented facts about the Haymarket riot, and was rebuffed because, in the end, Wikipedia as a corporate entity (as opposed to some contributors) doesn't recognize the independent existence of facts. I think this is absolutely critical, and is smack dab in the center of Wikipedia's intellectual bankruptcy. In most instances, it won't matter, because no one's disputing this or that fact, such as the land area of Tennessee. However, as soon as there's a real dispute, a lack of adherence to the primacy of fact renders Wikipedia helplessly and hopelessly unreliable.
Academia has plenty of problems, but anyone who digs through the pile will find that, underneath it all, the Western academic structure is built on the primacy of fact and a belief in the pursuit of truth. As I say that, I realize that, sadly, an appeal to "Western" intellectual tradition has come to connote, in certain quarters, a political slant. For me, there is no such slant. For me, fact is the concrete we stand on; even when there is no fact, the lack of it enables the discussion to be productive. When fact is removed, we are back to the Middle Ages, with silicon. Thoughful academics, and plenty of others, realize it, and rightly shun Wikipedia as a result. Moynihanian (talk) 05:13, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

The issue of Truth predates Messer-Kruse[edit]

Efforts to produce competing encyclopedias which endeavor for higher reliability have not really caught on. --Wbm1058 (talk) 16:41, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

Yes, I know the issue predates the Messer-Kruse incident. I made that clear from the beginning; indeed, it's probably the biggest reason that I have so little expectation that those who control Wikipedia have any intention of changing the organization. These problems are in no way new; Wikipedia's owner is well aware of them, and (I presume) quite comfortable with the status quo. I think any "changes" will be mere window dressing adopted for p.r. purposes. Moynihanian (talk) 05:24, 3 March 2012 (UTC)

Well and Concisely Said[edit]

Thank you, Moynihanian, for putting the central issues of "Wiki culture" into perspective here. From having been solicited years ago to write some of the original Wikipedia articles I have gone on, over the years, to perform small edits here and there, but have mostly confined myself to slight corrections of spelling, punctuation, and the fixing of the occasional dead link. Certainly there has been little incentive to do any "bold" editing, and a great deal of incentive to avoid doing so. This is, as you say, most unfortunate, and the situation of Messer-Kruse serves to shine a public spotlight on the issues involved.

How I came to follow this particular incident is not important, but through it I became for the first time fully aware of the Wikipedia policy of favoring consensus over fact. No purported source of information can maintain such a policy and hope to retain any serious credibility.

The notion that consensus is somehow indicative of the truth is patently absurd and demonstrably false. The majority view form many centuries was that the Earth was the physical center of the universe. So entrenched was this view that those who suggested otherwise -- with hard evidence to back them up -- were persecuted and all but silenced. It took the Church until 1992 to finally admit that the majority view on that point was -wrong-.

Likewise, the idea that secondary sources are somehow preferable to primary sources is counter to the most fundamental principles of scholarship. Wherever did the creators of Wikipedia get the notion that an encyclopedia is nothing but a collection of third-hand reportage of second-hand opinion?

Finally, and related to the use of primary sources, I would note that -- where Wikipedia seems to frown on the idea -- /most/ encyclopedic works actually -solicit- experts to write articles in their various fields of expertise for the encyclopedia. If you pick up a volume of Britanica, a copy of the Harvard Dictionary of Music, even a handbook of chemical or physical constants, you will find most articles end with the initials of the expert who composed the entry, and whose credentials are supplied in a list of acknowledgements at the front of the book. Such experts frequently cite not only primary sources, but also original research. Why shouldn't they?; they are experts in the field.

Sad to say, but I feel that wikipedia is becoming a web version of the Usenet newsgroups, and is heading towards the same ignominity. At the begining there was an open, optimistic, anarchistic envirionment. But eventually cliques formed, dug in to their selected niches, and consolidated their domain against all new posters, whom they began to see as invaders. Perhaps this is a natural and inevitible progression; I hope not, but at any rate it is certainly a real one. Your comment about Wikipedia becoming the web equivalent of Worldbook is poignant. It could have been so much more; now I only hope it dosn't end up being much less. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:54, 23 March 2012 (UTC)

Well, look, I don't think it's realistic to expect a corporate entity to change unless it's staring over the cliff. Which Wikipedia is not doing. The reason Wikipedia exists is that its founder, Jimmy Wales, and his backers in the venture capital world, wanted a high-profile demonstration project for the "Wikia" software used to create and edit its articles. The "encyclopedia" was an afterthought, but it took off. Now it's out there, warts and all, with a big organization supporting and defending it. (Interestingly enough, Wikia's infernally difficult and annoying software looks like a big commercial flop, which will come as no surprise to anyone who's struggled with a "Wiki." Yet Wikipedia lives on, with a life of its own.)
Those who run Wikipedia know of all the problems, including the basic contradiction right at the center. But it's in their interest to keep things as they are, because to do otherwise would probably destroy the whole thing. It's a bit like, say, the Mormon church. Any serious person looking at the totality knows that Joseph Smith was a con-man, plagiarist, and vigorous bigamist who cobbled together the "golden plates" from a few history books written in the 1820s, Masonic rituals and symbols, and popular circus-show concepts of "Egyptology." Somehow it survived, and at this late date the so-called "Council of 12" in Salt Lake isn't going to emerge from the office building behind Temple Square and say, oops, folks, it's been fun but we've been kidding you all these years.
So Wikipedia will go on. Its reputation is pretty much non-existent among academics and other experts, and increasingly among the general public. Every so often, there'll be another Messer-Kruse. But Wikipedia will still be out there. No one's going to kill it, or change it in any way that actually addresses the critical problems in a meaningful way. Moynihanian (talk) 22:19, 3 April 2012 (UTC)


Please stop trolling (example: ) Bulwersator (talk) 14:29, 8 September 2012 (UTC)

  • That was the first Wikipedia edit made by Moynihanian in several months. It's obviously a matter this person feels deeply about. The comment was posted on the relevant talk page in response to a current event regarding that page. I don't see how such a comment could, by itself, be considered trolling. —MistyMorn (talk) 15:18, 8 September 2012 (UTC)
Thank you, Misty Morn. The accusation that I was "trolling" is sadly typical of how Wikipedia's culture deals with people who express ideas that run contrary to those of this or that clique that has circled its wagons to protect errors. I see that my comment on the matter was censored. Is there any wonder that Wikipedia's reputation is in the gutter? Moynihanian (talk) 18:44, 9 September 2012 (UTC)

October 2014[edit]

Stop icon
You have been blocked indefinitely from editing because it appears that you are not here to build an encyclopedia. If you think there are good reasons why you should be unblocked, you may appeal this block by adding the following text below this notice: {{unblock|reason=Your reason here ~~~~}}. However, you should read the guide to appealing blocks first.  v/r - TP 21:05, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
    • Wikicensorship in Action Oh how typical. I wasn't blocked for "not being here to build an encyclopedia." I was blocked because I pissed off a flashmob. Thanks, kids! Moynihanian (talk) 21:08, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
Sorry to see that you were blocked. You may find better coverage of the issue here. Regards, Wbm1058 (talk) 14:50, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

The Federalist[edit]

I am neither a fan of "The Federalist" nor an opponent, but they are a longstanding right-wing voice. To even suggest otherwise is blatantly disingenuous, period.

"Longstanding" as in less than two years? Your writing style is very familiar. Have I read your work offline in a blog before? Viriditas (talk) 00:34, 23 October 2014 (UTC)