February 10, 2008

Wikimedia head: Wikipedia "policy "verifiability, not truth" is stupid"

She said it, not me (about Wikipedia's policy):

I will not edit the article any more. My concern has been stated: the policy "verifiability, not truth" is stupid.

Florence Devouard (handle: "Anthere"), Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation 11:08, 10 February 2008 (UTC) (the Wikimedia Foundation is the parent organization of Wikipedia).

This was regarding an editing dispute over references concerning the topic of the relationship between the commercial venture-backed startup Wikia, and the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation.

To elaborate:

I'll drop the matter for now, but I feel greatly the frustration of all those who have biographies in Wikipedia about them, when the biography states something hugely false about them, and they can not get the error to be corrected, because the burden of proof relies on them to prove that the editors are wrong. If something kills Wikipedia one day, it will be precisely this. The inability to admit that something is wrong, unless the contrary is mentioned in the mainpress. The press does not care about stating something correct. ...

For the record, I strongly agree with her. But then, I have a reputation as an enemy of the state, err, one of the "negative people and FUD mongers".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on February 10, 2008 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Truth is unobtainable.

Falsehood is obtainable (qv falsifiability) - we can demonstrate something to be untrue.

Instead of truth, we have consensus - widespread agreement as to what we believe the truth to be (probably). And unfortunately for scientists, faith has to be admitted to the table here (if enough people believe something to be true even without any evidence, and even in the presence of conflicting evidence, it can still be accepted as the truth - and fatwas issued against gainsayers).

Consensus is not entirely democratic, but largely based upon authority: scientific or religious. Humanity divides itself along this line, i.e. pursuers of discovered truth vs guardians of received truth. Each has contempt for the other.

Where Wikipedia is creaking at the seams, if not miserably failing, is in its poor ability to represent authority in terms of what stands or falls within its pages.

Just because knowlege can be collectively assembled by supposedly altruistic all-comers does not mean that all contributors must be given equal authority, nor that any authority they already possess must be ignored.

Wikipedia could be forgiven for requiring all contributors to demonstrate and accrue authority according to their fields of expertise, but it cannot be forgiven for ignoring it, let alone doling out arbitrary or disproportionate authority.

Wikipedia can be fixed.

The schism between science and faith cannot, thus we probably need N+1 Wikipedias. Wikipedia 0 being science based and hosted on a primary 'A' archive, and Wikipediae 1..N being faith based and hosted on a larger, secondary 'B' archive. The latter archive including knowledge passed to us from extraterrestrial/future civilisations via select humanoids on Earth. The B archive, or 'B Ark' for short, will no doubt require extra special security, probably one day needing to be remotely hosted on a satellite in high earth orbit - to keep it out of harm's way.

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at February 11, 2008 09:20 AM

I agree with Seth that a Wikipedia policy centering on truth, superior to verifiability but still incorporating verifiability where possible, would be a better construct.

However, what is completely unacceptable at present is a policy for verifiability on all things that don't make Jimbo Wales look bad (the Red Sea, asteroids, King Louis XIV, etc.), and a policy for truth-set-by-the-involved-parties on all things that make Jimbo Wales look bad (Openserving, Carolyn Doran, the ties between Wikia and the WMF, etc.).

That, to me, would be a disgusting solution, but I'll bet you it's the one we get.

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at February 12, 2008 02:01 PM

Digital restrictions protest photos. Boston Public Library

Posted by: the zak at February 13, 2008 12:36 AM