Wikipedia Bullying Editors

Abstract

An arbitration case concerning the interactions of a few editors turned to a discussion about bullying. A portion of that discussion is included.


Introduction

Wikipedia is widely considered a leading “fair and balanced” online encyclopedia that rivals Britannica in reliable content. It is unique in that anyone may edit the content but there are rules intended to govern content selection and interaction amongst editors. As a social experiment the editors have formed a unique community that is loosely governed by these rules and enforced by volunteer editors known as “Administrators.”

The problem is that Wikipedia policies have made it possible for Skeptics to dominate parts of the online encyclopedia. These faceless people have run off virtually all of those of us who think an encyclopedia should say what something is without characterizing it as good or bad. Those who persist in making what they consider more balanced entries are often subjected to abuse that is more like the Lord of the Flies than a collaborative community.

An example is the Wikipedia article: Pseudoscience. I have an essay about it here that will give you a sense of how this is just a tool for vilifying frontier subject, but that is not the point of this article.  A faceless editor hiding behind the screen name of “QuackGuru” is clearly obsessive in his/her dislike of complementary medicine, especially chiropractic. Not long ago, QuackGuru included an edit in the Pseudoscience article that described the dangers pseudoscience poses to the public. In effect, he/she hijacked the article to create a reference that could be used to prove his/her argument about complementary medicine. (You can follow the resulting discussion in the Pseudoscience discussion page. You may need to look in the archive.)

The majority of editors ignored the inclusion of the material even though it was supported by a dubious reference. Ludwigs2, one of the few editor actively trying to balance the article, engaged in a long and increasingly contentious debate with QuackGuru and eventually asked for help from administrators. His choice of words in doing so reflected what had become a battle-ground mind-set shared by many editors, and instead of mediating the situation, one of the administrators blocked Ludwigs2 from editing for 72 hours.

The block was seen by others as punitive and clearly inappropriate. A second administrator reversed the ban–a “no-no” in admin world. In response, the first administrator reported the second one to other administrators for overturning his decision. There ensued a long (and as of this writing – 22 April 2011 – continuing) process which can be seen in the workshop here and in the decision here. Be sure to read the discussion pages.

The discussion about the ban evolved into a discussion about the relationship between editors and in the Decision discussion page, the discussion turned specifically to whether or not bullying existed amongst Wikipedia editors. I have copied the discussion below and would like to know what you think about it. However, before the discussion, I should stress the importance of this administrative action.

Value of Pseudoscience Article to Skeptics

Here is a comment by one of the more obtuse Skeptical editors concerning the value of the Pseudoscience article:

I find these discussions tendentious. Why don’t editors spend time writing articles? As a warning, almost anything written here will involve edit warring. There are a large number of editors who helped write this article over the years that will stand up to any Fringe-pushing POV edits. And even a slight change will become a battle. It’s only worth making changes to fringe editors with an agenda. Otherwise, the article is fairly useful. I use it all the time in the real life world as ways to point out pseudoscience. It’s probably one of a handful of articles on Wikipedia that’s actually academic-worthy. OrangeMarlin 17:03, 16 April 2011 (UTC) From Wikipedia

Please note the choice of terms: “edit warring,” “Fringe-pushing POV edits” and “fringe editors with an agenda.” The editor is expressing a point of view which is shared, albeit usually with more subtle expression, by the large majority of editors. (It is also a tell of Skeptics in that he assumes the academic quality of an article that is constantly in flux and written by people who forbid participation of subject matter experts.)

Supporting “Fringe Subjects” as a Blockable Offense

During the discussion that followed Ludwigs2’s request for help from the administrators, one of the more aggressive Skeptical editors commented:

Absolutely. Any chance of us ever making pseudoscience advocacy a blockable offense in and of itself? That would do the most to calm these contentious areas down.—Kww 22:36, 8 March 2011 (see top of page to begin thread)

Blocking for pseudoscience advocacy would potentially mean anyone proposing edits in any article that even looks like they think the subject is real could be blocked if enough anti-whatever editors are involved. That would be the last nail in the balance coffin. Why not look at the fact that QG is not willing to negotiate his position. Tom Butler 22:50, 8 March 2011 (UTC)

Tom, they are not being serious. they are just trying to insult/intimidate me in the hopes that I will react badly. this is a standard tactic (one I experience all the time from these editors), so don’t give it too much thought. —Ludwigs2 23:03, 8 March 2011 (UTC)

Actually, Ludwig, I am quite serious. This particular event is a symptom, not the disease. QG does seem to be acting out of frustration, which never leads to good results. I simply believe that removing the source of the frustration is the best solution. To Tom: balance doesn’t include treating pseudoscience as real. Never has, never will, and editors that believe that presenting pseudoscience in a favorable light is necessary to achieving balance don’t have sufficient competence to edit.—Kww 23:16, 8 March 2011 (UTC)

Trying not to put words in his/her mouth, I think Kww was apparently focused on the assumption that pseudoscience is “bad” and anyone who said otherwise was wrong. But the concept of “pseudoscience” has been developed as a broad-brush brand intended to prejudice people against anything not mainstream. Consequently, Kww was likely using it to mean that anyone who does not conform to mainstream thought is supporting pseudoscience. He/she has effectively said that, “If you do not believe in what I believe, then you should be banned from ever editing in Wikipedia.”

The bullying comes in many ways. First, Wikipedia has allowed such brand-like terms to become mainstream with numerous approved articles using them. Then most of the other editors said nothing, in effect agreeing with Kww. A new editor posted an opinion about how the term was harmful, first in the pseudoscience article, and when it was removed with the comment that it was “Soapbox, in the discussion page for the article. It was removed there for the same reason. Had Kww made a similar argument but supporting the article, no one would have dared remove his comment.

Bullying

These excerpts of discussions have been copied directly from Wikipedia under its use of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Please follow this link to read the text and then take a moment to respond to a brief questionnaire about your views.

All of the following is

An overdue comment on bullying

From: Wikipedia Arbitration Enforcement

A general comment per my perspective as a teacher and parent:

Bullies depend on one fundamental to carry out their activities, and that is, that the victim either is, or thinks of themselves as weaker than the bully.

Standing up to a bully is not becoming a bully, and shouldn’t be confused with bullying, but is refusing to lay down in door mat position, refusing to acknowledge that weakness Standing up to the bully as opposed to becoming the bully has more to do with ‘legacy’, that is, turning around and applying bullying tactics to someone else rather than standing up to the person bullying . Its not always easy for outsiders to see or tell the difference.

Not standing up to a bully leaves two options. Do not encounter them at all by avoiding the environment, or leave the environment if the bully is encountered.

Bullies are not emotionally mature so although sometimes one can discuss their behavior with them, most of the time the behavior will only disappear with the growth of maturity which often comes with time.

Bullies do not honor in their activity, integrity, or honesty in part because they lack maturity. Asking them to honor these things as happens on Wikipedia is an exercise in futility in most cases.

Bullies often become expert manipulators making sure their activities are not seen and or recognized by those in authority positions.

In real life bullying has serious and far reaching repercussions that include suicides. While Wikipedia editors aren’t likely to jump off a cliff if they’re bullied, bullying on Wikipedia is a serious and pervasive issue and we can expect that even here bullying is extraordinarily damaging to editors. Bullied editors may most often leave as a way of dealing with their situation, so we have little way of knowing how damaging bullying has become. Allegations of bullying should be carefully and painstakingly investigated in order to protect those editors who have the tenacity to remain despite the environment, for those editors who are bullying, and for the good of the Wikipedia environment. Quick superficial decisions cannot take into account the complexity or seriousness of these situations. olive 23:57, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

These comments are very worthy but what is their application to the present issue? Xxanthippe 00:15, 15 April 2011 (UTC).

Ditto that. What specific proposals, findings, evidence, etc do the comments refer? —Ronz 00:24, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

I don’t want to make any specific comments, but there have been multiple comments and discussions in this case that refer to bullying and who is bullying who, and when and where. I’m offering these thoughts, but because of real life commitments right now and my own situation can’t say much more than I have here. Perhaps the comments will persuade others to look closely at some of the Wikipedia goings-on in this case. Sorry for being obtuse. I just don’t have the time or energy to say more. Very little of the proposed decisions have been posted. This comment may impact those un posted decisions. If this is a bother to you all please delete or move. olive 00:33, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Allow me to untangle Olive’s point in a carefully and delicately phrased rant (I say delicately and carefully because I need to point to specifics but I want to keep it from becoming personal – that’s a tricky balance. If you suffer from TLDR syndrome, apologies in advance, and skip to the last two paragraphs.

It’s clear from what’s been said in this case that I feel bullied, by several editors in particular, and more generally by an attitude that prevails on project. I do not believe that these editors see themselves as bullies, and I do believe that each has (for the most part) the best interests of the project at heart – we can dispense with the whole moral quagmire of intentional bullying for the moment – but the fact remains that I have a very difficult time interpreting their behavior as anything other than bullying. For example, I can only see the block I got as an effort to (pardon the phrase) “put me in my place” for having challenged QuackGuru. There was no imminent problem that the block was likely to solve, and the block was too short to solve any long-term problem, so the only practical values it could possibly have were (i) to protect QuackGuru by disrupting the noticeboard thread I’d begun – which of course it did – and (ii) to teach me a painful lesson about complaining with respect to certain editors or situations. Both are bullying tactics designed solely to make sure that the project pecking order always keeps the right people on top.

Incidentally, I think QG is just a token here – at least, no one has bothered to try to defend him or his actions in any way, and everyone seems to agree that there are issues in that quarter. My sense is that by calling QG’s behavior into question, a number of people assumed that I was challenging the scientific perspective as a whole, and that triggered some unpleasant defensive posturing. Classic group dynamics…

More generally, I am constantly exposed to editors who threaten and insult me – this is a concomitant of working on fringe articles. I don’t really need to hear that something I’ve done is a policy violation that’s likely to get me blocked, nor do I need to hear that I’m a fringe advocate who ought to be driven off project, nor do I need to hear that something I said was uncivil or that I’m a bad person, nor do I need to be reminded of some unpleasantness I was involved in six months or a year ago; and yet, more than half of the comments directed at me from certain editors are repetitions of those kinds of statements. It’s demoralizing to have three or four different editors (or one editor three or four different times) tell me that I’m a POV-pusher who’s working on borrowed time, have them revert everything I try to do with meaningless edit summaries right up to 3rr, and then have fly-bys drop by to clinch the deal (and accuse me of edit warring for spice). I can hold my own in any reasoned discussion, but trying to discuss something reasonably with editors whose main activity is to revert me for senseless reasons, threaten me with sanction, and call me names… It’s just ridiculous. I’m high-functioning, determined, and very, very smart, and I find it a brutal, grueling experience trying to get even minor revisions on fringe articles through; I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t have my internal resources.

This is bullying, intentional or not. In fact, the reason I get in so much trouble on project is not that I stir up trouble, but that I simply don’t ever give in to bullying, period. This makes people confused and angry – they don’t see that they are bullying, they don’t understand why I don’t accept it ‘the normal state of affairs’ and give in, they interpret the fact that I’m standing up for myself as aggression – and confused, angry people do confused, angry things that cause a lot of wikidrama which I end up in the center of. Which (frankly) sucks.

This is really the crux of the issue for me. AE Discretionary Sanction – which are undoubtably a useful, powerful tool – also happen to be a picture perfect bullying tool. Seriously, I could not design a tool for bullying that would be better suited to the task. As it stands, an admin can use AEDS to soundly thump whomever s/he likes as hard as s/he likes whenever s/he likes, with no need for justification or explanation (beyond a perfunctory “it was under the purview of the decision and within my discretion”), and almost no recourse for the hapless target. Almost every fringe article is arguably under one arbitration ruling or another, any editor on a fringe topic is subject to immediate sanctioning for next to no cause, admins are not notable for their charity towards fringe issues… I’ll give you whatever odds you like that if you looked over all the discretionary sanctions issued under fringe and pseudoscience rulings, the overwhelming majority (assuredly over 90%) will be against fringe-leaning editors, and a sizable proportion of those against middle-of-the-road editors like me and Littleolive oil, whereas AEDS are rarely if ever applied to even the worst, most disruptive science-leaning editors. I doubt it’s intentional, but I’m sure it’s a fact.

Don’t get me wrong – I can adapt to this (the fact I haven’t already been indef-blocked on some trumped-up charge should be sufficient testimony to that), but I don’t like it, and I don’t think this is what Jimbo et al had in mind when they came up with the idea of a collaborative encyclopedia – the whole “collaborate from the right perspective or else” thing tends to detract somewhat from the broader ideal. Sooner or later this is going to need to be fixed. —Ludwigs2 06:00, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

[A few posts have been removed here because they were just bickering between two editors.]

Defense of encyclopedia writing: The only purpose of the Wikipedia project is to write an encyclopedia, not to make editors happy. This is neither a social experiment nor a utopia. Some people may go away unhappy because their un-encyclopedic material is rejected. Guidance and suggestions don’t always work. That’s almost unavoidable. Firm measures against those repeatedly adding inappropriate stuff to Wikipedia is not bullying. Wikipedia does not allow anyone to write anything. That community consensus, like all others, is enforced by individuals editors and admins. Some of what has been called “bullying” in this matter may be the enforcement of widely accepted standards in narrow circumstances. Policies are meaningless if they’re never enforced. Will Beback 10:35, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Will: Let me just point out the obvious places you glossed over important distinctions

1.  Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia. It may not be about making editors happy, but it is surely not about making the experience so unpleasant for some editors that they go away and leave the ‘collaborating’ to people who agree with one perspective.

2.  No one has a problem with firm measures against people who disrupt the encyclopedia; the problem under discussion here is when firm measures are applied to well-intentioned editors because they hold the wrong viewpoint. That is unconscionable.

You’ve created a straw man argument which asserts that any limitation on administrative power will result is a complete inability to enforce policy. On the contrary, any healthy system of authority in the real world has strong limits and constraints on the use of authority, and this is considered necessary to ensure that authority is applied is applied fairly, equally, and justly. In the real world, one rarely finds the claim that unchecked authority is necessary for proper administration: outside of totalitarian states (where it’s a common theme) it is usually reserved for states of emergency where the need for rapid control of a situation temporarily outweighs niceties like humanitarianism and civil rights. Is that where you mean to go with this? —Ludwigs2 16:44, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

I agree Wikipedia was not created to make editors happy. The purpose of the encyclopedia is to inform. Wikipedia, the encyclopedia “that anyone can edit”, is both an encyclopedia and a community, and its policies and guideline reflect that, in that it has both, guides that refer to editing and those that refer to behavior. As in any work environment the quality of the environment directly affects the quality of the work. Bullies do not have the interests of the encyclopedia at stake whether they know it or not, and they sadly for themselves as well as for those they bully color the environment in a non positive way decreasing work output. Bullying has nothing to do with content, directly. Bullying is a behavior. However, how and what an editor edits may give a certain kind of editor “perceived permission” to bully.

And indeed, Wikipedia has become very much a social experiment, one in which children edit alongside seasoned PhDs for example, and is one of the first four online communities. We can see every day that the encyclopedia community is experiencing growth as policies/guidelines/arbitrations are adjusted and changed to deal with the community needs, ensuring that the writers of this encyclopedia are always working in an optimal work environment. Bullying is an unfortunate, internal community mechanism that destroys that progress. olive 16:53, 15 April 2011 (UTC))

@ Littleolive. Cognitive distortions that are used to play the victim are equally problematic. They are used to manipulate others to gain sympathy. This bully meme is amusing in that the bullies are pretending to be victims. OrangeMarlin 17:43, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

@OM: you know, there’s a truth to what you say (though we’d obviously disagree on whom it applies to). Personally, I would prefer a situation in which people rarely if ever felt the need to talk about other editors – that whole ‘comment no content’ thing, remember? However, given that so many discussions on wikipedia boil down to that artful game of trying to cover someone else with shit while still claiming to smell like a rose, whining and bullying will always go hand-in-hand (you can always tell the biggest shit-smearers, because they’re the ones who scream like bloody murder over every imagined slight). It’s actually a fascinating psychological dynamic, if you examine it. —Ludwigs2 18:07, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

I don’t believe I was commenting to you. But I do thank you for proving my point. OrangeMarlin 18:09, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

yeesh, try to agree with someone… —Ludwigs2 18:30, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Actually Orangemarlin, my comments were general per bullying and are based on real life experiences and reading, rather than a meme that refers to Wikipedia, and were intended to bring out into the open what I see is a big problem, because it is damaging to every one involved and eventually the encyclopedia. I didn’t cast any one in any role on any side of the “fence”, nor do I intend to. A close friend and teacher died a few days ago and frankly in preparing his memorial/celebration of life service it occurred to me in a forceful way that we as editors are caught in our own small worlds that often do not serve anything larger than our own idiosyncrasies. Death has a habit of making certain aspects of life look trivial, and of highlighting the things we waste our time with. My comments are off track now with this arbitration so I won’t comment again olive 18:53, 15 April 2011 (UTC))

I just realized I’m a little late by a day or so in adding some details of my own experience, which very much involves long-term bullying and includes the use of AE as a means to do so. —Tothwolf 14:39, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Comment. I have had better things to do with my time than follow the ins and outs of this Much-Ado-About-Very-Little -Indeed Arbcom debate so I am not clear about who has been bullying who. However I find that the statement by Will Beback above to be a charter for bullies. The argument that the Might and Majesty of the Institution overrides the human rights of its constituent citizens is one that has been used by every totalitarian state since civilization began. Xxanthippe 00:51, 16 April 2011 (UTC).

My point is that enforcing content policies is not, in and of itself, bullying. Saying “you cannot add your personal knowledge to an article”, for example, is not bullying even though it may feel like it to the person trying to make an important contribution. Ideally, good Wikipedia editors respond with patient guidance and education, and avoid rude reverts and generic warnings. But content policies still need to be followed. More experienced editors who continue to violate content policies may exhaust the community’s patience. That’s not bullying, that’s the community responding to a problem user. In the final analysis, if people feel hurt when their inappropriate material is rejected then that’s their problem. On Wikipedia, editors have the right to be treated with civility. They also have the right to leave and the right to fork. I strongly support those rights. However there is no right to add material which violates content policies. Will Beback 10:03, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Will, I don’t think anyone’s disagreeing with what you’re saying, at least not generally. I happen to be pro-rule – I understand that role that rules play in making groups function smoothly – but like anything else in the world excesses turn even good things sour. When I go to an article to make a reasoned argument that some content needs to be added or removed, I do not want to be told that I cannot make the argument because of some senseless interpretation of policy, and I do not want to be blocked because he person making the senseless interpretation has friends in high places. The problem that started all this is a perfect example: QuackGuru’s interpretation of policy was utterly senseless, his use of the source was absolutely idiotic from any thoughtful perspective, he was exceedingly tendentious and aggressive in pursuing it – and yet I get blocked for trying to get help dealing with him? I could understand this if it seemed like some isolated mistake, but everyone knows Sandstein is a pro-skeptic admin, and Sandstein’s attitude makes it clear that it wasn’t an mistake (that he wanted QG protected, and he wanted me blocked, and he wasn’t at all concerned about the details). That’s just plain offensive. Not to be too blunt about this, but I really wish you guys would stop playing politics and let reason and sourcing handle these problems. The dedicated pogrom you all are waging against editors you perceive as ‘fringe’ is unnecessary and disruptive. There are better ways to manage content on fringe topics than hounding editors you don’t much like off of the project. —Ludwigs2 19:02, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Editor numbers seem to be dropping. Is that seen as a problem or not? From my own experience what is described here as “bullying” is a major problem. You have editors who are contributing content to articles being chased away by editors, who in general if you look at their records, do not. This site has been becoming less about editors building an encyclopedia and more about backseat busybodies who have equal rights to article authors getting to exert and abuse the right granted to them so they can have a power trip. Moreover because building an article is time-consuming while criticizing one isn’t, the busybodies not being tied down usually cover a lot more ground and tend to form what are essentially packs. Admins as a group are a party to this because they themselves generally fit the same profile and have the same mentality. You will see many instances where WP:VANDALISM, WP:VERIFY, WP:NPOV, WP:OR or their associated guidelines are invoked or could be used as a basis to explain an admin intervention. On the other hand I do not get the impression that WP:EDIT gets any respect or the now taboo WP:IAR—the two policies that give article contributors room to work. Subtraction of content now seems to be favored over addition despite being directly opposed by the WP:EDIT POLICY. Now you have before you a case that illustrates the above phenomenon and what happens when one actually sticks up for content. Notice also how the other major party that was key to instigating this action is nowhere to be found on this page. This is classic vandalism that has been pervertedly supported by admin action. This seems to happen on a regular basis at ANI. Lambanog 04:22, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

Wikipedia’s content policies have grown stricter over time. When we decided that we could not host images without clear GFDL-licenses or public domain status it pissed off a lot of editors, but it made for a better encyclopedia. When we made a stringent policy on biographies of living people that upset some users too, but it was for the greater good. There have been recent efforts to make it a little harder to create new articles because most of them have been garbage which takes considerable effort to patrol and clean. Each of these steps may be seen by some as bureaucratic vandalism by perverse admins. But in addition to creating good content it’s also necessary to remove bad content. Our aim is not to please editors or to provide a free speech zone. Our only purpose is to create an encyclopedia. Will Beback 23:04, 17 April 2011 (UTC)

So Will tell me: Why do you think Wikipedia is a better encyclopedia than Encyclopedia Britannica or Citizendium? Why are science related Wikipedia articles generally underdeveloped in comparison to video game articles? Yours is a recipe to run Wikipedia into the ground. Lambanog 09:06, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I agree with Olive and Ludwigs that there is a lot of bullying going on in some of the science-related topics. Most of the bullies support what they feel is the “mainstream” school of thought on certain subjects. The Intelligent Design topic area is one place in which I’ve seen it occur in the past (check my talk page archives to see what I mean). I’ve been told by email that one reason it occurs so much in that and other topic areas is that many of those participants have asperger syndrome and thus, don’t realize that they are engaging in bullying behavior. I don’t know if this is true or not, so I’m reserving judgment on that idea. Because of Wikipedia’s torturous dispute resolution process, it’s very difficult to deal with bullying by other editors, so, as Olive states, many editors simply decide to move on. Cla68 07:11, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

The definitions of Bullying at the Wikipedia article don’t seem to apply this matter. Could someone explain, preferably with examples, what specific behaviors are being alleged? Will Beback 07:21, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Olive and Ludwigs, you were leading this discussion, so you please be the first to state what behaviors you have observed that you consider to be bullying. Perhaps you can do so without naming any names. Cla68 07:23, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

live has already said she doesn’t want to provide an explanation of what she means. Cla68, you say you’ve seen bullying at Intelligent Design. What form did that bullying take? Will Beback 07:51, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Since it happened three years ago, and most of the involved editors don’t appear to be editing Wikipedia anymore (unless they changed their usernames), I think I can talk about it in general terms without appearing like I’m trying to engage in dispute resolution about it. I’d prefer, however, for Ludwigs to lead off because he is the one involved in this case here. Cla68 07:57, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Cla68, referring to “told by emails is really not a good way to go here. Can I post here that I was told by email that everything you were ever told by email was wrong? Do I become slightly more right? Plese use examples accessible by diff references. Franamax 09:11, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Guys, I’ve already given a thorough description and examples of what I see as the bullying problem. Are you asking me to say something new, or to explain what I’ve already said? It would be helpful to know how what I’ve already said has missed the mark – that might let me tailor something new to be clearer. —Ludwigs2 08:50, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I’d have my doubts about diagnoses of asperger’s syndrome – I’ve seen the label thrown about alot online and especially not entertain it when “diagnosed” by one editor of another (and we are all just lines of text to each other for the most part). Casliber 09:19, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

It looks to me like Ludwigs is saying that the bullying behavior was connected to a block and some incivility all with the bad faith intent of harassing him on order to protect QuackGuru. He alleges that the block was meant to disrupt his ANI thread and to harass him into laying off of QuackGuru. He also alleges threats and insults. So is bullying a kind of harassment intended to alter an editor’s behavior to protect another editor or topic? How do we distinguish that from legitimate enforcement? Let’s say that an editor is promoting a certain viewpoint a little excessively, “POV pushing”. Let’s also say he’s being rude. He may not even be aware he’s rude. When people respond negatively to his behavior he could assume that their real intent is stop him from promoting his POV, which he probably thinks is under-represented. Once a person sees things in this way I don’t know how they can ever be convinced otherwise. Will Beback 09:46, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Will: Ok, this is something to work with. Clarifications first, and the I’ll answer your specific questions as best I can (Incidentally, it would have been nicer if you directed this statement to me, rather than casting it as a general statement to other editors about me – grandstanding not necessary, yah?). so, clarification points:

1.   I don’t actually believe Sandstein exercised ‘bad faith’; I believed he exercised bias and bad judgement. I have no doubts whatsoever that Sandstein intends to do what is best for the project as a whole, but when it comes to pseudoscience issues (as I see him in action) he is inflexible and unreflective enough that it can become a liability.

2.   As I said, Sandstein is trying to protect a particular perspective, not a particular editor. his support of QG is only because of a shared perspective on pseudoscience (I do not believe S would support QG at all for the same kind of actions in other topic areas).

3.   If you’re going to accuse me of having a POV, please explain what that POV is; otherwise, please strike that comment. This case revolves around my efforts to remove a gross misrepresentation of a published source and an exasperated statement I made that was interpreted as a threat – neither of those has been related to any putative POV. Making unsubstantiated claims of this sort is a nono – see below.

Your other factual points are basically correct. With respect to the two questions you raised:

4.   Is bullying a kind of harassment intended to alter an editor’s behavior to protect another editor or topic? That’s too specific: Bullying implies the use of force, threat, harassment, or other strong-arm tactics to create, defend, or exercise control over others, usually because the bully cannot achieve some desired goal through civil, reasoned, non-authoritative interaction. In this case, no one could possibly defend QG’s actions or goal in rational terms; what he is doing is that far off the deep end in terms of logic and scholarship. However, QG never tries to explain using reason, but attempts to browbeat other editors into compliance by endless IDHT repetitiveness; other editors (such as you and Kww) never try to explain using reason, but focus on efforts to cast me as someone with a particular problematic POV who should be ignored; Sandstein never tried to explain using reason, but arrowed straight for sanctions behind the cover of unilateral discretion. All this is mild bullying in its own right, and taken collectively is not at all mild.

5.   How do we distinguish [bullying] from legitimate enforcement? This is actually easy, though there are (as with everything) some gray areas:

Legitimate enforcement is objective and impersonal: it always seeks to solve particular problems and to measure the solution against the scope of the problem. For instance, numerous editors and admins in this case have pointed out that the reasonable course of action in this case would have been to ask me to rewrite, redact, and/or apologize (and even I can see that any of those would have been reasonable requests). This is what confers legitimacy: clear examination of the problem, measured and restrained application of enforcement, willingness to work with the editor to resolve the problem.

Bullying is subjective and personal: it focuses on exerting power over people in order to keep them in line, and doesn’t really care about the facts or context of any particular issue. Power of this sort can be achieved in any number of ways: IDHT behavior and mindlessly reactive action (which frustrates and exhausts people who try to discuss things); labeling, name-calling, or other efforts to put editors in defensive minority positions (which also frustrates and exhausts people, because they have to waste energy contradicting such demeaning comments); excessive emphasis on rules and policy (bullies love bureaucracy, because bureaucracy allows the application of force without reason); repeated accusations and threats of sanction (which creates an uncomfortably hostile and paranoid environment); etc… In short, whenever editors create a hostile environment that makes individual editors or editors of a certain “type” feel threatened, insecure, offended, frustrated, or etc. – i.e., where the aim is to raise the perceived costs and risks of participation so that some editors feel inhibited and defensive about contributing, while others feel righteous and empowered – you’ve got bullying going on.

Hope that clears things up for you. —Ludwigs2 17:33, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I said this earlier that QG doesn’t respond well to being talked to negatively. If s/he is talked to politely then usually the response is also polite, at least that’s been my experience with him/her. We have to remember, which I’ve said before but deserves repeating in case it was missed, that behind every screen name is a real person with real feelings. Everyone should be treated with respect and assumption of good faith. Of course assuming good faith isn’t a suicide pact but that being said, everyone has to at least start with assuming good faith. I think Will Beback hit the nail on the head and I agree with what he says. @ Ludwig: would you like to change what you say about Sandstein? I know RL has you stressed so I’m thinking maybe your stress here made you say the assumption of bad faith above. Please adjust your comment or supply difs showing why you feel Sandstein treated you unfairly because of an assumed POV. Thanks, —CrohnieGalH 12:09, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Crohnie: I’m happy to change any overstatements I made about Sandsein – what particular statements did you have in mind? As I said in my just-previous post, I don’t think S is guilty of bad faith; I think he’s guilty of bias and bad judgment (which only demonstrates that he’s a fairly normal human being). I wouldn’t normally worry about things like that, except that he’s in a position of authority which lades him with a higher standard of accountability – the unconscious indulgence of bias using discretionary sanctions can cramp a lot of people unfairly, and hurt the project as a whole .

With respect to QG: I’ve exchanged many, many posts with QG over his peculiar use of wp:V to misrepresent scholarly sources – most of those posts were civil and reasonable, though most such threads eventually break down. The problem, I think, is that QG uses this policy approach a lot in his editing on fringe articles (particularly at places like chiropractic which has been one years-long squabble). Consciously or unconsciously, I don’t think he wants to give up this approach because it’s something that he’s come to depend on; at least, whenever I try to explain to him that he’s misrepresenting sources badly he retreats from the discussion into repetition and it goes nowhere. I can’t not tell him that he’s misrepresenting sources when he clearly is (because the misrepresentation needs to be removed) – to that extent talking to him negatively is unavoidable. I can be nice about it, but it needs to be said. You see why I’m at a loss over this. —Ludwigs2 18:00, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Bullying is simply intimidation. I almost always see comments in Wikipedia that are only mildly stated opinion but which results in treatment of editors that are disfavored by the mainstream editors. For instance, this editor claims the desire for subject matter experts in Wikipedia, but then says that they must adhere to “policy.” In fact, he is faster than any editor I know in reporting COI and it is clear that his well-meaning words are really subtle threats that what he considers fringe editors had better edit as he (and the mainstream editors) sees the rules.

Another editor who is well-known for similar intimidation with his black and white stance on editors he sees on the other side of science. here. He later make it clear to me that my attempts to change the pseudoscience article from name calling to a more balanced “what it is” article as evidence that I have no right to edit in Wikipedia. Every way I phrase the desire for more balance is heard as pushing pseudoscience.

A favored tool for bullying is name calling. Editors who seek balance in Wikipedia articles about frontier subjects are routinely insulted by people who think we are “Fringe-pushing POV edits”.

It is like a secret handshake; anti-“fringe” editors show their membership in the Skeptic club by calling frontier subject editors “fringe POLV pushers” and that automatically produces a unified front to push the edit into a corner and intimidate him or her with threats of blocking, for COI, Undue and all of those rules so easily interpreted to support the majority viewpoint. The majority of you are automatically discounting this as a “fringe POLV pushers” rant, but if you considered the point of view of someone trying to say that a subject is about “This” and not about “This pseudoscience fringe idea,” you would see that the above examples are about intimidation with the intention of controlling. That cannot be good for the long view of an encyclopedia that needs to explain societies culture and not just the dominant group’s culture. Otherwise it needs to be renamed to “Skeptic’s Wikipedia.” Tom Butler 18:01, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Wait, using your embarrassing logic, you’re guilty of the same thing. Skeptic club? Anti-fringe editors? Laughable at best. Really pathetic at worst. I haven’t laughed so hard in months. OrangeMarlin 18:52, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Just for everyone’s personal edification, let me point out that OM is using overtly personal and demeaning language here (e.g. ’embarrassing logic’, ‘Laughable at best’, ‘Really pathetic at worst’, ‘I haven’t laughed so hard in…’). This is (AGF) a particular kind of communication style – a kind of jocular, poke-em-in-the-ribs, insult-swapping, good-natured badgering that’s very cool among friends. Now I’m tempted to respond in kind and say something good-naturedly insulting about OM (I’ll leave that to everyone’s imagination), and I suspect if it were just me and him we’d go back and forth at it a few times until we established a feeling of camaraderie – the kind of thing you can see happen between jocks in any locker room in the world on any given day. But when this is done in writing in front of strangers it is easily misinterpreted as abusiveness, and no doubt if I did so someone would accuse me of being uncivil. Best, perhaps, if we simply avoid this kind of jocularity in order to avoid giving the wrong impression, hmmm? Ludwigs2 19:20, 18 April 2011 (TC)

Okay, another example: New user 207.154.107.14 posted in the pseudoscience article: here

“Pseudo-science appears to be a derogatory term aimed at those who may be bringing new scientific information to the science community. For instance, the Wright Brothers were working on “pseudo-science” until they proved their heavier than air flying science. It is this author’s view that the term “pseudo-science” should be stricken from Wikipedia, as it is merely defamatory, deprecating, and itself is not open to the self-indicting accusations it purports. All of its premises could be dealt with objectively and rationally one by one, but the underlying motive behind its inception makes it merely argumentative and itself not open to scrutiny. Thank you ..”

He was immediately reverted for WP:SOAPBOX (HG) so he tried it again in the pseudoscience talk page here and was immediately reverted by a second editor for the same thing. No one has ever greeted this editor and no one has attempted to explain to him or her why the edits were not appropriate as placed. That is a clear “brick wall” kind of bullying.

I might add that the comment is well considered, demonstrably correct and should have been considered. It has also come up many times and will come up again and again until the article is better balanced. Tom Butler 20:23, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

That’s a bad example. If reverting this edit counts as “bullying”, then we need more bullying. That text is inappropriate for about five different reasons. Under no circumstances should editors ever add anything containing the words, “in this author’s view” when referring to themselves. The point of Wikipedia is not to have editors expressing their personal opinions on matters. Clearly, deleting that kind of material is not bullying. It’s part of the necessary work of enforcing content policies. Will Beback 21:29, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

The diffs presented earlier by Tom in this thread are very good examples of bullying. Being labeled as a “fringe editor” then having an editor muse if it could be established that being so is a “blockable offense” is clear bullying. Anyway, the issue of bullying in the science in pseudoscience articles is a bigger issue than this case, so it probably needs to be brought up elsewhere with participants who can do something about it, perhaps with en.Wikipedia’s configuration control board, charter organization, or Admin council. Oh wait… Cla68 23:08, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

New thread: Removal of information

Will I’m just curious, can you refer to many instances where the principles of WP:EDIT were protected that were not blatant vandalism involving an IP? There seems to be a culture at ANI and apparently among many admins where the removal of information is tolerated even encouraged. But isn’t the removal of sources sometimes automatically tagged by the system in the way section and page blanking or repeating characters is? If an IP was to remove a source, the automatic reaction of many is that it is vandalism, however, there are some dedicated users who seem to do little else but that yet are allowed to run rampant. I was unaware of the user formerly known as Science Apologist but through recent experience his case came to my attention. Is the attitude exemplified by that character alive and well? Do you support it? Lambanog 10:56, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I split this off because it’s a separate question from bullying. I haven’t followed Science Apologist’s career closely so I won’t comment on his behavior. But as for the general question, I do think that WP:EDIT is one of the more frequently forgotten policies. However that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many legitimate reasons for deleting material. Personally I routinely revert noticeable deletions of sourced material, even by non-IP editors, when they don’t leave a reasonable explanation for the deletion. In the case of “fringe” material, then there are cases where removing material is appropriate, especially from non-fringe articles. So it’s fine to have an entire article devoted to the flat-Earth hypothesis, but we shouldn’t include that theory in the main Earth article and if someone added it then it should be deleted or moved to another article. Will Beback 11:14, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

There’s a reason we use the term “editing”. Editing involves the addition, correction, and removal of information. The removal of information should be “tolerated and even encouraged” if that information is inaccurate, misleading, or presented in a way that violates this site’s content policies. I will never, ever understand the irrational bias that adding material is inherently superior to removing material. Adding low-quality material makes the encyclopedia worse, and removing it makes the encyclopedia better. MastCell 16:59, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

There many policies and guidelines related to what information is allowed in articles and when, such as WP:V, WP:OR, WP:NPOV, WP:BLP, WP:FRINGE, WP:MEDRS. In the case of WP:BLP, repeatedly violating it by adding poorly sourced, contentious information may result in a block or worse. —Ronz 17:07, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

@MastCell, same question I posed to Will: Why do you think Wikipedia is a better encyclopedia than Encyclopedia Britannica or Citizendium? How much time does it take to add a good source? How much time does it take to remove a good source? Do you ascribe value to time? With additional information you have something to work with. You can sculpt it; you can play off of it. But if you have nothing, you have nothing. Lambanog 17:33, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I’m not sure I think that Wikipedia is a better encyclopedia than Britannica. You’ve framed the question in a way that doesn’t have much real-world validity. People don’t remove “good” sources; why would they? They remove sources that they think are bad.

Asking whether I ascribe value to time is sort of obnoxious, so I’ll pass it over. I will say that it’s often much more time-consuming to fix a large batch of poorly worded and sourced material than it is to rebuild an article from scratch using good sources from the get-go. Moreover, it’s disrespectful of others’ time to dump a bunch of material in an article and expect others to polish it. People who make the effort to fix poorly sourced or inaccurate material should be supported, not reviled, even if that effort often involves removing material from Wikipedia.

Of all the problems besetting this project, a lack of raw written material is not high among them. Quality of information is a much more serious concern than quantity at this point in the project’s lifecycle. MastCell 20:50, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

I think Wikipedia is a better reference than Britannica in many respects and that it shouldn’t be too hard for a Wikipedian to explain why. If one cannot, then one will fail to appreciate Wikipedia’s strengths and the factors that contribute to them.

Right here on this page people are complaining about bullying; are you suggesting we’re not in the real world? There are mischief-makers running around removing good sources. But as your reaction clearly demonstrates admins are less likely to look and listen but instead reply that editors are being obnoxious.

If it’s less time consuming to write an article from scratch rather than polish an existing article there is nothing stopping that. But this is Wikipedia, a collaborative effort by volunteers on a wiki and has policies that are cognizant of the realities. Are you saying you are unaware of WP:IMPERFECT? Your reaction seems to have fundamental conflicts with core Wikipedia principles. You are quite right when you say that people who make the effort to fix poorly sourced or inaccurate material should be supported, not reviled—but such people are usually doing a better job when they’re adding more material than they are removing. For example, it’s easier to tell them apart from vandals that way.

The idea that lack of raw material is not an issue is fanciful. Are you saying that in your view Wikipedia is likely to get better in the future by removing information it already has rather than by adding more? Don’t be irrational. Lambanog 10:19, 19 April 2011 (UTC)

What does this discussion have to do with the Arbcom? —Ronz 15:51, 19 April 2011 (UTC)

To give context to the case at hand by calling attention to the culture at ANI that is hostile rather than protective of editors adding to articles and the regular failure of admins to respect and follow the precepts of WP:EDIT POLICY. Lambanog 16:04, 19 April 2011 (UTC)

Hmmm. If admins and the community “regularly fail to respect and follow the precepts of WP:EDIT”, then it seems that the policy no longer reflects current practice. If that’s the case, then we need to revise WP:EDIT to reflect existing practice. After all, policy is intended to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive, and it appears (from your comments, as well as from my own observations) that WP:EDIT currently fails in that regard. MastCell 22:34, 20 April 2011 (UTC)

Of course that is something you can venture, but that is another step away from a proven policy that has contributed to Wikipedia’s success. Many claims that Wikipedia’s problems are such and such coming from people it seems who have never truly embraced the philosophy that contributed to its growth. If you want Wikipedia to stagnate like Citizendium then it is within your power to promote policy changes to achieve that end. Probably explains why editors are abandoning ship: Wikipedia isn’t working as advertised. Lambanog (talk) 04:38, 21 April 2011 (UTC)

MastCell, just as a philosophical aside on a point that never fails to irk me: Policy is always prescriptive. Even when one says that policy is descriptive of existing practice, what they mean is that policy describes practices that should be considered ‘normal’ or ‘best’ practices (because they are what the community already does). We write policy because we expect people to follow it because we think it shows good ways to do things – that’s the very definition of ‘prescriptive’.

If you need a clear example, please consider wp:CIV. if this simply described community practices it would say that editors are nice to people the agree with and absolute biatches to people they disagree with. That’s what seems to happen – I can count on one hand the number of editors I’ve seen who are universally civil to everyone; most editors have their likes and dislikes, things they can tolerate and things they can’t, and there’s no shortage of examples of people being unpleasant to each other. CIV policy written to reflect actual practice would not be anywhere near as heartening and high-minded, and that’s because the policy is intended to prescribe better behavior than currently exists. —Ludwigs2 17:39, 21 April 2011 (UTC)

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