28 August 2007

Wikipedia: NPOV?

Until now, I have not given much weight to claims that Wikipedia has a 'liberal' (i.e. illiberal) bias. I have taken the view that being criticised by both sides of the culture war (W. is certainly not very popular with most of the il-liberal intelligentsia) is a healthy sign.

This is the first time I have had serious reason to doubt my confidence about this. The article "climate change denial" was created on 27 July. It was nominated for deletion on 31 July. The result of the discussion, on 8 August, was to keep.

I have not gone into the issues in detail, and I do not classify myself as either believer, sceptic or denier on climate change. Although I do find Bjorn Lomborg's point — that there is a strong aura of 'protesting too much' around climate change belief — persuasive:

A good saying among lawyers is: if you have a good case, pound the case; if you have a bad case, pound the table. And this is definitely a case of table pounding … which is kind of revealing about their arguments.
But I have two problems with the Wikipedia article:

1) Surely it would be possible to call it "climate change scepticism" and still have plenty of room for pointing out the weaknesses of the sceptics' position, and all the authorities who argue scepticism has no basis.

2) The article has a flavour of contempt, and of certainty of being in the right, which one does not find even in the article on holocaust denial.
Terms such as "deny global warming" and "climate change denial" have been used since 2000 to describe business opposition to the current scientific consensus. ... [Newsweek] reported that "this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks, and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change."
How has it come about that dismissing those who question the 'consensus' on climate change has become more acceptable (at least in this context) than with regard to whether the Nazis killed millions of Jews? The argument about sources of finance creating bias is relevant only to the extent that there is no bias in what research university funding bodies will support.

* NPOV = Wikipedia's neutral-point-of-view policy, which founder Jimmy Wales has said is "absolute and non-negotiable".

Update: Some more thoughts on Wikipedia here, from Peter Risdon.


bgprior said...

As wikipedia is open to submissions, is this not a case where genuine liberals can provide their own balance, rather than simply complaining about imbalance? Should we propose a balancing article on "climate-change alarmism"? It would distinguish between those scientists (the majority, I believe) who acknowledge that there is significant uncertainty but feel on balance that the AGW theory is the best available to explain the data, and those - some scientists, but more often journalists and politicians - who talk and behave as though there is very much more certainty than warranted by the science. It would encompass examples of events, such as our floods this summer, which were inconsistent with the models but which were cited by the ignorant and proselytizing (I guess that's pretty much the same thing as the mediocracy, if I understand you correctly) as evidence of climate-change.

Fabian Tassano said...

That would certainly be one possible approach. Though I wonder whether doing so would run the risk of turning Wiki into a forum for culture wars.

I hope this episode isn't a sign that the Wiki model is fatally flawed when it comes to areas of controversy, because I think so far it's been pretty astonishingly successful - pace all the critics.

ThunderDragon said...

I agree with you. Calling it "denial" just polarises the debate, and actually pushes simple sceptics like me MORE towards the other side of the debate.

I wrote a post on this a while back myself.

bgprior said...

Fabian, You wrote the book - we are already in a culture war, in which one side at least has no intention of honouring boundaries. The question is whether to go for appeasement or deterrence.

You are right and Oliver Kamm is wrong about the wiki model - a marvellous confluence of the freedoms of Eric Raymond and Ludwig von Mises. But like democracy, it is neither inherently good nor bad - it depends what one does with it. It is only flawed if we allow it to be captured by factions, just as democracy is flawed when it serves the purposes of interest groups.

Mencius Moldbug said...

You might enjoy my proposal for how Wikipedia-like systems can handle controversy.

The Wikipedia model's success so far has been a consequence, I think, of the fact that the original admin pool were the sort of amateurish types who love working on something unimportant for free.

The original "Wikicrats" were fairly broadly distributed politically, and they tended to love truth more than power.

Now Wikipedia is important. It has power. In the future, it will only have more power. Intellectual power is political power, and people just love the stuff.

We have some older intellectual power structures. They have names like "the press" and "the universities." I'm afraid your book takes a month for delivery in the US, but I get the impression you have a pretty good idea of how they work. I suspect Wikipedia is slated for much the same fate.

Fabian Tassano said...

Interesting stuff, Mencius. I hope you're wrong that Wiki will go the way of all social verification systems, and become the mouthpiece of a hegemony.

Message to American readers. I should like to get a bit more exposure for my book in the US, where I suspect it is more likely to find a sympathetic audience than here in the UK. So the first six applicants will get a complimentary copy sent by post. You can find my email in the sidebar of Educational Conscription. (Sorry to make you work to find it, but - like the National Health Service - I think some obstacles are necessary for a good supplied at zero price.) A mention of the book on an applicant's blog, if they have one, would be nice, but is not essential.

Steve_Roberts said...

There is no such thing as a neutral POV, only a POV which does not jarr one's own values. This is why the Wiki model works well for matters of fact - independent of personal values, and less well for clashes of strongly-held belief - both derived from and generating values. Since the 'man-made global warming' issue is not a matter of fact, but rather a belief about the future, Wiki does not handle it well. However, the use of the label 'denier' is an ugly sign of ad hominem argument, which demonstrates that the 'consensus' has abandoned science and turned to the methods of politics