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> The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia, Chronicle of Higher Education
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post Sun 12th February 2012, 5:47am
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The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia

Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription)

By Timothy Messer-Kruse • For the past 10 years I've immersed myself in the details of one of the most famous events in American labor history, the Haymarket riot and trial of 1886. Along the way I've written two books and a couple of articles about the …
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iii
post Mon 13th February 2012, 2:01am
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I have quoted some of this fantastic article in condensed form for those without access to The Chronicle, tying to stay within the bounds of "fair use". I hope this will whet your appetite enough to purchase the article if you are a conscientious critic of Wikipedia:

QUOTE

... I have not resolved all the mysteries that surround the [Haymarket] bombing, but I have dug deeply enough to be sure that the claim that the trial was bereft of evidence is flatly wrong.... So I removed the line about there being "no evidence" and provided a full explanation.... Within minutes my changes were reversed. The explanation: "You must provide reliable sources for your assertions to make changes along these lines to the article."

That was curious, as I had cited the documents that proved my point, including verbatim testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress.... Wikipedia requires its contributors to rely on secondary sources, or, as my critic informed me, "published books."...

So I waited two years, until my book on the trial was published. "Now, at last, I have a proper Wikipedia leg to stand on," I thought as I opened the page and found at least a dozen statements that were factual errors, including some that contradicted their own cited sources....

My improvement lasted five minutes before a Wiki-cop scolded me, "I hope you will familiarize yourself with some of Wikipedia's policies, such as verifiability and undue weight. If all historians save one say that the sky was green in 1888, our policies require that we write 'Most historians write that the sky was green, but one says the sky was blue.'..."

I guess this gives me a glimmer of hope that someday, perhaps before another century goes by, enough of my fellow scholars will adopt my views that I can change that Wikipedia entry. Until then I will have to continue to shout that the sky was blue.


This is what happens when crowdsourcing is used as a model for writing an encyclopedia. A commitment to excellence in referencing is abandoned in favor of a slavish adherence to a rule-based writing model that promotes manipulation of the text by amateurs and interlopers. This produces a reference which can easily be at huge variance with the best available scholarship on a topic.
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thekohser
post Mon 13th February 2012, 5:07am
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From the excerpted text, it certainly does sound like a fantastic article.

"The Book" team should get in touch with Professor Messer-Kruse.
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HRIP7
post Mon 13th February 2012, 1:38pm
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His account is MesserKruse (T-C-L-K-R-D) . From his talk page:

QUOTE
verifiability

You wrote: As for you claim about Wikipedia's policy, your characterization of it is absurd, especially if the "majority" source that is cited can be shown to be factually wrong. Explain to me, then, how a "minority" source with facts on its side would ever appear against a wrong "majority" one?
As odd as it might seem, Wikipedia (along with many other kinds of tertiary reference works) can easily carry "wrong" or "untrue" content. In short, following Wikipedia's verifiability and weight policies, Wikipedia is not "truth," Wikipedia is "verifiability" of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that. In truth, flaws abound in some Wikipedia articles, not so much because of careless or PoV editing, but because these articles are only meant to echo the secondary sources, which may be flawed. Sometimes, "minority" (less often-cited or published) sources do make their ways into articles, but not always: Editors might not allow some minority sources at all, calling them unreliable. Sometimes this is ok, sometimes not. Happily, there haven't been too many worries like that at Haymarket affair. It crops up most often on high traffic articles in the humanities and history (lots of sources mean more likelihood of widely repeated flaws and skewed weight). Gwen Gale (talk) 19:56, 22 January 2009 (UTC)

I see and I understand. I'm used to a different standard that relies on the citation and primary scholarship of source materials.MesserKruse (talk) 20:45, 22 January 2009 (UTC)

[edit]Haymarket

Thank you for your messages. I have ordered your book and look forward to reading it.
This weekend I will double-check what you've written about Avrich and his sources. If necessary, I will undo my change.
I look forward to collaborating with you in the future, but I hope you will familiarize yourself with some of Wikipedia's policies, such as WP:Verifiability and WP:Undue weight. If all historians save one say that the sky was green in 1888, our policies require that we write "Most historians write that the sky was green, but one says the sky was blue" (as absurd as that seems). As individual editors, we're not in the business of weighing claims, just reporting what reliable sources write. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 21:07, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
That is very fair and understandable. I understand the policy but also note that it is not currently consistently applied. For example, if Schaack is a reliable source for "friendly fire" why is he not also a reliable source for his observation that the "mob" exchanged gunfire with the police? Also, as far as verifiability goes, if it can be clearly shown that a source has misquoted or misrepresented another, we certainly should disqualify it on these grounds. Avrich especially has numerous quotations that in his book that are different from the sources he cites. Finally, I can work with the "majority" policy stated above, but will hope to see my "minority" view represented in the future. MesserKruse (talk) 21:13, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
I think we probably need to take another look at Schaack as you suggest. I, too, hope we can incorporate your insights into the article. That's why I'm going to read your book. That, plus a life-long interest in the Haymarket affair. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 21:47, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
That is great. I look forward to helping in any way I can. I look forward to a productive collaboration.MesserKruse (talk) 21:48, 26 August 2011 (UTC)


It doesn't seem he contributed after that; the above comment seems to be the last edit he made to Wikipedia. Malik?
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dogbiscuit
post Mon 13th February 2012, 1:55pm
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Could you run through Verifiability not Truth once more?
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QUOTE(iii @ Mon 13th February 2012, 2:01am) *

This is what happens when crowdsourcing is used as a model for writing an encyclopedia. A commitment to excellence in referencing is abandoned in favor of a slavish adherence to a rule-based writing model that promotes manipulation of the text by amateurs and interlopers. This produces a reference which can easily be at huge variance with the best available scholarship on a topic.

It is always worth reminding ourselves of that.

Wikipedia is (now) based on the premise that "anyone can edit" in the sense that even if you don't know what you are talking about you can make a positive contribution, there is no skill. As soon as anyone suggests otherwise, the WikiMagic is lost, so there are more and more ludicrous policy decisions made to justify that it is actually a disadvantage to be competent. If you have knowledge, and even can demonstrate that the contents of the articles are wrong, Wikipedians would rather stick with a flawed article than admit that someone who understands the subject might be able to contribute. Mediocrity raised to a high art.
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Malik Shabazz
post Mon 13th February 2012, 6:58pm
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Regretfully, I haven't finished reading Timothy Messer-Kruse's book, but it does seem well-researched. It is also unfortunate that Paul Avrich, whose book is the standard text on the Haymarket incident, isn't alive to defend himself.

With respect to WP:V and WP:UNDUE, I stand by what I wrote, although I might have picked a better example than the color of the sky (which can be easily verified). I'm not in a position to judge whether Avrich or Messer-Kruse is truer to the evidence, and where Messer-Kruse's seems proud to be an iconoclast, Avrich's account is consistent with prior scholarship.

Short of blowing up the encyclopedia (and I know some of you would like to do that), what would you do?

This post has been edited by Malik Shabazz: Mon 13th February 2012, 6:59pm
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thekohser
post Mon 13th February 2012, 8:38pm
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QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 1:58pm) *

Short of blowing up the encyclopedia (and I know some of you would like to do that), what would you do?

Allow Messer-Kruse to edit the appropriate Wikipedia article about Haymarket, such that the encyclopedia then includes statements such as, "Traditionally, historians have concluded that X is true; however, more recent scholarship by Messer-Kruse contends that Y is true." As the contentious information is further discussed by the historiographical experts, over time, perhaps other experts will help to edit the article so that an even more nuanced understanding is achieved.

Telling Messer-Kruse that his scholarship is not permitted in Wikipedia is about the dumbest way to proceed.
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Malik Shabazz
post Mon 13th February 2012, 8:52pm
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QUOTE(thekohser @ Mon 13th February 2012, 3:38pm) *

QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 1:58pm) *

Short of blowing up the encyclopedia (and I know some of you would like to do that), what would you do?

Allow Messer-Kruse to edit the appropriate Wikipedia article about Haymarket, such that the encyclopedia then includes statements such as, "Traditionally, historians have concluded that X is true; however, more recent scholarship by Messer-Kruse contends that Y is true." As the contentious information is further discussed by the historiographical experts, over time, perhaps other experts will help to edit the article so that an even more nuanced understanding is achieved.

Telling Messer-Kruse that his scholarship is not permitted in Wikipedia is about the dumbest way to proceed.

That's what I proposed, more or less; he wanted to rewrite the article to say the same thing his book says (i.e., the minority opinion).

By the way, the entire article has been posted here.
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nableezy
post Mon 13th February 2012, 9:44pm
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QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 2:52pm) *

By the way, the entire article has been posted here.

"In the spirit of fair use" somebody from Wikipedia has decided to violate the intellectual property rights of another person. Shocked I am. Shocked.
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iii
post Mon 13th February 2012, 9:50pm
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QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 1:58pm) *
Short of blowing up the encyclopedia (and I know some of you would like to do that), what would you do?


The biggest problem I see is that a published expert in the field was making factual corrections to an article which were then rapidly and reflexively removed. This was additionally accompanied by a condescending tutorial on Wikipedia's insipid rule-based culture. He was accused of vandalism for shit's sake! If the claim is that the factual changes were contrary to all the rest of the scholarship on the subject, then it should be easy for those advocating for the status quo to show how and why that is. If you disagree with his factual claim, it should be easy to show where he is factually wrong.

The discussion was shut-down before it could even begin by unnecessary rule-mongering. Instead of trying to engage actual scholarship or even simple fact-checking, you changed the subject and attempted to school an acknowledged subject-matter expert in the made-up vocabulary of Wikipedia. Rules that were developed as an ineffectual attempt to reign in the worst amateur proclivities should be of no concern to a scholar correcting errors. For example, the claim that there was "no evidence" presented at the Haymarket trial is a pretty remarkable one. When an expert offers a factual account that demonstrates evidence was in fact presented, what kind of scholarship requires outright removal of the demonstration or a parochial attribution as though the factual claim is only opinion? Either evidence was presented or it wasn't. Either these are factual errors or they are not. "Most scholars have reported that the sky was green in 1888, but the sky was blue." is a perfectly reasonable statement. But such would turn heads at Wikipedia! This is just a symptom of how fucked up and unctuous the community is.

But I can hardly blame you. This is the attitude that Wikipedia encourages its community members to adopt. It's the kind of behavior that will win you arguments and friends at that website. If you can argue with a WP: in front of the concept and [[]] surrounding it, you've "won" in the Wikipedia world whether or not the sky is blue. That's the crime that Wikipedia does to scholarship.
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thekohser
post Mon 13th February 2012, 9:54pm
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QUOTE(nableezy @ Mon 13th February 2012, 4:44pm) *

QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 2:52pm) *

By the way, the entire article has been posted here.

"In the spirit of fair use" somebody from Wikipedia has decided to violate the intellectual property rights of another person. Shocked I am. Shocked.


It seems that Chronicle has lifted the "pay-wall" from the article, though. At least that's the "key" that came up on a Yahoo search for "Chronicle undue weight truth Wikipedia". (Not that that makes the infringement much better.)
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post Mon 13th February 2012, 9:59pm
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QUOTE(thekohser @ Mon 13th February 2012, 4:54pm) *

QUOTE(nableezy @ Mon 13th February 2012, 4:44pm) *

QUOTE(Malik Shabazz @ Mon 13th February 2012, 2:52pm) *

By the way, the entire article has been posted here.

"In the spirit of fair use" somebody from Wikipedia has decided to violate the intellectual property rights of another person. Shocked I am. Shocked.


It seems that Chronicle has lifted the "pay-wall" from the article, though. At least that's the "key" that came up on a Yahoo search for "Chronicle undue weight truth Wikipedia". (Not that that makes the infringement much better.)


QUOTE(aprabhala@gmail.com @ Mon 13th Feb 2012 3:39pm)
It's behind a paywall, but in the spirit of fair use and in keeping with the author's intent (the article is on Wikipedia, and I believe the author would want to have us discuss it) I reproduce it here:

mad.gif
When has the "spirit of fair use" ever meant that one should copy and paste and freely distribute? I am amazed that this person apparently was able to ascertain the "author's intent" and what the "author would want" without bothering to ask the author. And I guess the publisher is simply not even on the radar screen.
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lilburne
post Mon 13th February 2012, 10:45pm
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QUOTE(iii @ Mon 13th February 2012, 9:59pm) *


mad.gif
When has the "spirit of fair use" ever meant that one should copy and paste and freely distribute? I am amazed that this person apparently was able to ascertain the "author's intent" and what the "author would want" without bothering to ask the author. And I guess the publisher is simply not even on the radar screen.


Freetards rarely learn
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mbz1
post Wed 15th February 2012, 2:12am
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It is actually quite a funny, or should I say "sad", story. A poor professor came to wikipedia to offer his expertise on the subject he wrote books about. In the very first message at his talk page http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=...oldid=265745388 he was recommended "to have a look at Wikipedia's policy on sockpuppets.", and then he was recommended http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=...oldid=265741836 "to have a quick look at Wikipedia's civility policy" In between he was sent to review "reliable sources" and "undue weight" policies bash.gif
This situation reminded http://allswool.blogspot.com/2008/04/tyran...f-ignorant.html this one to me.

This post has been edited by mbz1: Wed 15th February 2012, 4:39am
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iii
post Wed 15th February 2012, 3:57am
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And then we get idiotic commentary like this.

Apparently, Fifelfoo has it on good authority that the facts Dr. Messer-Kruse was pointing out are somehow not part of the "consensus amongst the scholarly community itself".

From the previous incarnation of his user page, it seems that he calls himself a researcher of "labour history and socialist history". I wonder how many original monographs he published.
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post Wed 15th February 2012, 4:23am
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QUOTE(iii @ Wed 15th February 2012, 3:57am) *

And then we get idiotic commentary like this.

Apparently, Fifelfoo has it on good authority that the facts Dr. Messer-Kruse was pointing out are somehow not part of the "consensus amongst the scholarly community itself".

From the previous incarnation of his user page, it seems that he calls himself a researcher of "labour history and socialist history". I wonder how many original monographs he published.

Your question reminded one commercial to me smile.gif Looks kind of what wikipedia gets hrmph.gif instead of Dr. Messer-Kruse and others like him.


This post has been edited by mbz1: Wed 15th February 2012, 4:37am
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post Wed 15th February 2012, 12:13pm
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Source-scolding of a very ignorant sort seems to be another way amateurs like to keep experts in check. I wonder if our friend Cla68 (T-C-L-K-R-D) feels the righteousness of his cause as he stands up to those experts:

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mbz1
post Thu 16th February 2012, 12:44am
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And for the record Here's a post at Gwen Gale's talk concerning her involvement
QUOTE
Hello. I just want to point out that I recently read an article in the chronicle here: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Undue-Wei...ruth-on/130704/ and it describes what amounts to an edit war that you were engaged in. I looked at the page and discussion in question, and it seems to me that you are boorish and a bully. I would like to suggest that you tone down your air of self-righteous authority, in order to encourage a more civil atmosphere on Wikipedia. It's especially ironic that when presented with what seems to be a very civil point by (presumably) the author of the blog, you ignored the substance of his argument and instead groundlessly accused him of being uncivil himself. If you're going to wear that hat of uncontested arbitrator of *TRUTH*, it would be helpful if you at least justified your claims in detail to those who go to the trouble of trying to actually discuss the truth in a balanced fashion using reliable sources. As it stands, you arbitrarily call seemingly reliable sources "unreliable", and other sources that support your preferred narrative "reliable," and this makes you an awful bully. Please consider changing your behavior and attitudes. Best regards. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Ashwinr (talk • contribs) 17:29, 15 February 2012 (UTC)


Oh, yes, and the professor got kittens smile.gif

This post has been edited by mbz1: Thu 16th February 2012, 1:51am
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iii
post Thu 16th February 2012, 3:37am
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I was waiting for some drone to make this argument:

QUOTE
Putting that kind of external pressure on an article, even if he is factually correct and has sources to back up his argument, sounds like a pretty basic case of conflict of interest to me.


Is this an poor attempt at humor? It almost reads like parody.
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dogbiscuit
post Thu 16th February 2012, 9:43am
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Could you run through Verifiability not Truth once more?
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QUOTE(iii @ Thu 16th February 2012, 3:37am) *

I was waiting for some drone to make this argument:

QUOTE
Putting that kind of external pressure on an article, even if he is factually correct and has sources to back up his argument, sounds like a pretty basic case of conflict of interest to me.


Is this an poor attempt at humor? It almost reads like parody.

It's a natural extension of having a belief that any knowledge of a subject disqualifies you from editing and COI is a way of expressing that. One day, we will see the combination of COI, OWN and 3RR and we will find that anyone who has made more than three edits to an article will be banned from Wikipedia for taking undue interest in what they are editing.
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