Controversial deletion on Wikipedia

The deletion of List of scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming [deleted] (copy on raised controversy on some web sites, especially those politically dedicated to debunking global warming and claiming it is a liberal conspiracy. (Breitbart)

It came up that there had been many attempts to delete this page, and this is claimed to be evidence of site bias. Now, there is bias on Wikipedia, the collective bias of the editorial community, especially the core active community and the administrators, and this has, over the years, selected against anything fringe. The basic deletion reason was that a list of “scientists” with some alleged unity of opinion (which was not the case, this was a list of scientists who, at one point or another, disagreed with “the consensus,” which is not a specific thing, so the list is almost inherently synthetic. To be sure, it was required that the disagreement be covered in reliable source, but this was a political coatrack, and the very existence of the list on Wikipedia was a POV argument, because of the obvious appearance. But it was obviously arguable; nevertheless, it’s difficult for me to imagine this in a traditional encyclopedia.)

However, before I look into this particular deletion in more detail, where a fringe point of view is unpopular with the Wikipedia community, we see coverage like “scientists consider parapsychology pseudoscience,” which is based on a survey of all scientists, and not experts in the field. That’s considered important, so why not in this case? But this was not a survey of all scientists, but a selected group out of many, which is a problem. 

So, the history. The Articles for Deletion discussion. The close:

The result was delete. I also intend to creation protect the article. This is because I see a consensus here that there is no value in having a list that combines the qualities of a) being a scientist, in the general sense of that word, and b) disagreeing with the scientific consensus on global warming. This cross-categorization is described by many persuasive commenters below as non-encyclopedic per WP:LISTN. No prejudice to the creation of a list of climate scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming. Bishonen | talk 21:30, 19 November 2019 (UTC)

The AfD lists a series of prior deletion discussions:

  1. Articles for deletion/Scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming
  2. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming
  3. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming (2nd nomination)
  4. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming (3rd nomination)
  5. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming (4th nomination)
  6. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming (5th nomination)
  7. Articles for deletion/List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming (6th nomination)

(so the latest nomination was actually the 8th).

(1) Filed 16 Sept 2007. During the first AfD, the article’s name was changed to address some objections. However, Wikipedia process characteristically suffers from a very Bad Idea, which is voting before all the arguments have been presented. Rather the presentation of arguments is mixed up with voting (and they call it not-voting, which is misleading). In the end, the only person whose opinion matters is the closer. If the conclusion is not actually consensus, the remedy will be another AfD in the future. The number of AfDs is an indication of a lack of consensus. As is typical with Wikipedia, nothing about this is reliable. The AfD shows the closer as “Mikka” but the actual user link is to Mikkalai, which is impossible, not registered until 2010. Mikkalai was blocked indef as a sock puppet of Timurite, but that investigation has been renamed under Altenmann, and the AfD edit history shows Altenmann. This would be a renaming. I found a Mikkalai renaming, to SembuBenny and then to Altenmann. There is a huge mess here. However, Altenmann who was an administrator, did sock and it looks like the user was desysopped by ArbCom. But it’s not in the user rights log. The removal was noted on Altenmann talk.

However, this is all Wikipedia arcanity. The close was within reason.

(2) The next AfD listed was proposed 2 May 2009. It includes a reference to the alleged second nomination, so this was an unnumbered third nomination. Closed as keep with no explanation. However, it was close to a snow, except that the actual policy-based deletion reasons were ignored. Typical Wikipedia AfD.

(3) the actual second nomination was proposed 29 May 2008. Besides the nominator, there was only one Delete vote and many Keep, so this was a snow close and did not consider the deletion arguments. 

(4) The next was proposed 22 October 2009. Previously, the antifringe faction (per my recognition of names) had not really shown up. It starts here. There were many Delete votes from recognizable editors. The close:

The result was no consensus. After reading all the arguments, and every comment, I think it’s fair to say that the only consensus garnered here is that global warming is controversial. The title of the article is clearly problematic; a significant amount of editors requested a rename if the article was to be kept, and considering that the no consensus closure will default to keep, I would suggest all parties work to find a suitable rename. \ Backslash Forwardslash / (talk) 22:51, 29 October 2009 (UTC)

Given that, more AfDs could be expected. The issue was not merely the name, it was the function of the list. The title did misrepresent in a common Wikipedia way: a condition that existed at some time is presented as if a present reality. The list, as it ultimately became, if it was not so before, became a list of notable scientists who have expressed some disagreement with some aspect of the alleged scientific consensus at some point in the past. Some are deceased, so can it be said that they “disagree”? This loss of specificity is common on Wikipedia, particularly from editors who have a point to make. I.e., “POV pushers.” Some of whom are administrators. And the general community often doesn’t recognize the problem. To recognize POV-pushing, it is often necessary to have an differing POV, but Wikipedia attempted to ban editors with POV. Except, of course, it didn’t ban editors with a POV in agreement with enough administrators. Only those who pushed too hard so that it became very obvious. This banning of apparent fringe POV led inexorably to a community bias toward the “mainstream,” more than natural (I.e., what is found by a neutral review of reliable sources, with due weight — which does not censor minority positions found in reliable source). It led to an inability to recognize what was POV-pushing and what was not.

There was a Deletion Review of this close. Train wreck, producing nothing but a recognition of no consensus. 

(5) Nominated 9 October 2011. Nominated by an IP. (I would require a second from an established editor before allowing discussion. But Wikipedia never established sane process. So enormous amounts of time are wasted, beating a dead horse. Or is the horse dead? A second opinion before we apply the full team? The close:

The result was keep. This article has caused concern for some years, though that appears to be due to the controversial nature of the subject matter rather than that it specifically meets deletion criteria, The parent article, Global warming, has also been a major cause of concern, but through careful editing (and ArbCom sanctions) is now a Featured Article. The main concerns about this article are that it is original research and is not neutral. These are editing issues. It is notable that a number of people opposing the article now and in previous AfDs seem to feel that the topic is appropriate, but that the article needs cleaning up. While AfD can and does discuss clean up issues, it should not be used as a substitute for tackling the issues on the article talk page nor for positive editing on the article itself. If problems are arising though attempts to clean up the article there are |more appropriate routes to go through than AfD. Arguments of fringe and undue are well countered both by the sources provided by Warden, and by awareness, as pointed out by NewsAndEventsGuy, that the article is prose linked in related articles on Wikipedia (not just templated). Lists by their nature sometimes fly close to OR as there are sometimes no sources available which group items together the way that Wikipedia lists do. However, the list appears to meet MOS:LIST, and provides both information and navigation. The two most controversial aspects of the list are the name and the use of quotes. These aspects need to be dealt with, but not by listing on AfD. I suggest opening a name discussion – either by RfC or Requested moves, and when that is concluded hold a similar discussion on the use of quotations in the article to see if they meet the guidelines in Wikipedia:QuotationsSilkTork ✔Tea time 21:16, 19 October 2011 (UTC)

While the quality of closes increased, I don’t see that the core issue was addressed by the closer. The problem was not merely the name and the use of quotes. An article on dissent re global warming may have been appropriate, but focusing on “scientists” — who, outside their fields, put their pants on one leg at a time — combined with the title issues creates imbalance. There were more Delete votes this time, mixed with “fringe” arguments. Again, recognizable anti-fringe factional editors taking predictable positions. This was a Keep close, but doesn’t really address the deletion arguments, again. And the lack of consensus was obvious. 15 Keep, 18 Delete. Calling this consensus does violence to the term. A closer may close — indeed is expected to close — based on arguments, not votes, but ideally the close should also match rough consensus. I have not analyzed the votes per editor experience, which a sane process would do. Wikipedia has never had sane process and rejected all possibilities for creating it.

Again, there was a Deletion Review, that, at great cost in editor time, modified the close to “no consensus,” the only effect being a general assumption that a more rapid relisting could be in order. Hence, no surprise at all:

(6) Nominated 1 February 2012. First result, Speedy Keep. But overturned in Deletion Review per yet another train wreck. So it was reopened, with the result: No consensus. One of the phenomena observed from repeated discussions is burnout. Instead of collecting arguments, to develop consensus on the arguments — before deciding on keep/delete, every discussion must re-create them, there is no accumulated wisdom. I argued for moving detailed discussions to Wikiversity, where it could be neutralized by inclusion, but Wikipedians in general never understood Wikiversity. An encyclopedia will be “neutral by exclusion,” generally, it must decide what is “notable,” rather than what is merely factual. Wikiversity also has a neutrality policy, but abandoned it at the end of 2017 as part of a “Ban Abd” movement. Long story. But what the Keep editors want could have been created on Wikiversity, as part of an overall neutral structure. Wikiversity allows subpages in mainspace, and subpages can express and even advocate, as long as it is attributed. (an attributed opinion is a fact if the attribution is verifiable). Lost opportunity because of collective blindness.

(7) Nominated 19 November 2014. By William M. Connolley, as it happens, who was desysopped in a case I filed. Highly POV, blatantly so, and ArbCom generally ignored this. This has become a factional cause, and factions can create votes in AfDs, rather easily. I attempted to raise the issue of factions with ArbCom. My sense is that they saw the problem as too difficult, so they looked the other way. It is indeed a difficult problem. but there is nobody responsible on Wikipedia, so difficult problems fester indefinitely. It is the lack of responsibility that makes Wikipedia unreliable, notice the difference with “reliable source.” The close goes into detail and punts.

The result was no consensus. This list has been nominated for deletion on a roughly yearly basis, with the previous five discussions being variously closed as “keep” or “no consensus”. I recall that the entire topic area is subject to discretionary sanctions.

In this discussion, the automated count says that 23 editors want to keep the article, and 27 (plus two IPs) want to delete it. That’s not a manifest consensus to delete, so I need to determine whether there is a particularly compelling argument for deletion, or whether the “keep” arguments are particularly weak, all in the light of our policies and guidelines.

Reading the arguments presented, many on both sides must be dismissed out of hand, such as “speedy keep because it’s the n-th nomination” or “delete because it’s a vehicle for shaming people”; these and similar arguments are not based in our policies and guidelines. Even after dismissing these arguments, and those opinions that are mere votes without argument, or that are based only on a position in the underlying scientific or ideological dispute, no clear consensus emerges.

A principal argument for deletion is that the inclusion of some or all of these scientists on this lists is original research and a violation of WP:BLP because, as per the nominator, “none of the BLP,s that I can see have actually stated that they oppose the consensus on AGW”. Many “delete” opinions repeat or refer to this argument, or simply assert WP:BLP or WP:NOR violations without further argument. This argument is, at least, not compelling enough that it would override the lack of numerical consensus and mandate the deletion of the article. That’s because our policies do not require that we base our articles about the views of living people solely on these people’s own statements about their views; rather, within the framework of WP:V, we are allowed (and indeed encouraged) to rely on reliable sources that are independent from the subject of the article. As shown by Binksternet in this discussion, such reliable sources appear to exist about this topic.

Another argument for deletion is that it is original research by synthesis, as there is (in the view of those advancing this argument) no objective criterium for including somebody on this list. This is a much more solid argument, but it too falls short of being compelling: The article’s lead contains a relatively thorough set of inclusion criteria, and most “delete” opinions do not make clear (or at least not clear enough to mandate deletion) why those criteria in and of themselves might violate any applicable policies. There are some interesting arguments about this issue, such as those by Noren, but they are not extensively debated or supported by many other participants. To the extent that “delete” opinions argue that the inclusion of any particular individual(s) on this list is problematic, this is evidently a problem that can be solved through the editorial process and also does not mandate the outright deletion of the whole article.

Finally, another serious argument for deletion is that, as formulated by TenOfAllTrades, “these individuals and their opinions should be discussed in context, according to the prominence and importance of their views, in the context of appropriate articles on climate science.” In effect, this is an argument that the whole article oversimplifies the matter and gives undue weight to its more or less binary inclusion criterium of agreeing (or not) with what the article describes as the scientific consensus in this matter. While I am personally inclined to find this argument the most convincing, it also does not quite pass the threshold of requiring deletion in the absence of a clear consensus for deletion, because this problem too can conceivably be addressed through the editorial process, e.g. by nuancing and explaining the positions espoused by each of these scientists.

This leads me to conclude that, in the absence of a consensus to delete it, the article must be kept by default again. However, this does not preclude future deletion nominations if the serious concerns about the structure and content of this article, including some of those mentioned above, are not addressed to the satisfaction of most editors. The tenor of the policy-informed opinions in the annual discussions about deleting this list seems to trend towards deletion, and it is the responsibility of those who wish to keep the article to seriously engage with, rather than to simply dismiss, these concerns.  Sandstein  19:53, 7 January 2014 (UTC)

So, again what is a surprise is how long it took, not that there was not another AfD.

(8) Nominated 12 November 2019. The AfD was advertised on the Fringe Theories noticeboard, which has become a haven for the anti-fringe faction, so it is no surprise that many from the anti-fringe faction showed up, quickly voting Delete. Nevertheless, the list has severe POV problems. Given the canvassing, it’s not clear there was a genuine consensus, but the proof is in the pudding. If there was strong opinion for Keep, I’d have expected another DRV. It has not shown up. To be sure, this is biased toward the core (that knows how to use that process) and against newer users. Users with anything approaching fringe opinion or who confront systemic bias either leave in disgust or are banned, so the community, over time, warps toward a common denominator. Real encyclopedias are edited by experts, academics, trained to review neutrally (while they don’t always succeed, that is the pressure in academia.)

One can see the factions clearly if one reviews many discussion like this, but that kind of review is heavily discouraged on Wikipedia. It is not that people should be blocked because factional, it is that sane governance would factor for this. Ban discussions, for example, used to be closed based on the opinion of a majority of “uninvolved” editors, but I never saw a close that reviewed the participants for possible bias. Wikipedia guidelines and policies are often like that: designed to sound good, but with no responsible enforcement. It’s an adhocracy, nobody is responsible for sins of omission.

And such do develop oligarchies, per the Iron Law of Oligarchy, it is inevitable. So moving to a neutral encyclopedia project would require creating responsibility, which, of course, the oligarchy resists. Strongly. Vehemently, every time a possibility was created that might set up responsible persons. The cost is enormous. Consider the labor wasted in all those discussions. In the last AfD, it was pointed out that the article represented a huge investment of time. This discussion was telling:

History The nominator advertised this nomination elsewhere, saying “I couldn’t find any past AfDs on this… This was puzzling as the topic has an extensive history at AfD. Looking into this, I reckon that the use of the {{article history}} template is the problem, as this obfuscates the article’s history by showing none of it and, instead, just shows a brief comment that is easy to miss. So, we should note that the page in question has not just been at AfD 8 times before, it has also been at DRV 4 times too. And, of course, the page is still here. Since the page was created in 2005, over 14 years ago, it has been edited over 4000 times by over 700 editors. Last year, it was read over 100,000 times and so, over the years, it must have had over a million readers. And that’s not counting all the mirrors and translations.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George SantayanaThe Life of Reason

Andrew D. (talk) 14:50, 13 November 2019 (UTC)

Advertising AfDs (neutrally) on relevant noticeboards is a good thing. The last AfD on this article was in 2013. Things have moved on since then. Alexbrn (talk) 14:58, 13 November 2019 (UTC)

Alexbrn is the 5th most active poster on that noticeboard. ජපස (jps) is the most active. Notice how they both rush here so quickly. Andrew D. (talk) 15:35, 13 November 2019 (UTC)

It’s called a “watchlist”. (We also have a special alerting service[1] – recommended!) Alexbrn (talk) 16:16, 13 November 2019 (UTC)

Andrew Davidson seems to be implying that something improper has happened here, I’d like him to spell his accusation out clearly, please. ApLundell (talk) 19:41, 13 November 2019 (UTC)

There is an obvious problem. Was that notice “improper?” If someone brought the deletion discussion to the attention of the “global warming denialist” community, it would certainly be considered improper, but if it’s a noticeboard, even if the noticeboard is preferentially followed by the anti-fringe faction (i.e, as expected by the name), it is tolerated.

Guaranteed: if an editor points to an obvious problem that calls into question the practices of a faction, the editor will be attacked. It becomes an “accusation of impropriety.” When I pointed to the effect of a faction wrt cold fusion and the Ban Civil POV Pushers movement, ArbCom joined by attacking it as not evidencing violations of policy. But the whole point of my raising the issue was a defect in policy, I was not asking for anyone to be sanctioned because of factional editing, only that it become visible. There was no analysis of editors in the close. There never is, or if there is, it’s not clear. And Wikipedia structure makes this extremely difficult to research, tedious, a lot of work, and very few will invest it. Plus, it’s known, if you do that and reveal the research, it’s wiki-suicide. Even if you are rigorously and carefully neutral.

I am of the opinion that global warming is a real danger, becoming truly urgent, but I also believe that the public needs reliable and neutral information, not information pre-digested to create the “correct” impressions. I was an editor dedicated to neutrality and was banned as a result. One of many. The community failed to protect whistle-blowers, and it continues. Fanatic haters are, far too often, allowed to continue if what they hate is a popular target. 

And yes, you can take them to ArbCom, which shoots the messenger much of the time. When I realized that the situation was too far gone for reform, I abandoned Wikipedia, abandoned all attempt to work within the system, and was “community-banned” after I had completely stopped editing the project. They do that.

I agree with the deletion, only it should have been done many years before, avoiding an incredible waste of time. Now, who is responsible for that waste? In normal organizations, the responsible person would be fired. But there is no responsible person on Wikipedia. A closer is theoretically responsible, for a single decision, but only egregious and obvious error has ever resulted in some sanction, often nothing more than a troutslap. If that. Factional editors have learned to keep their own activity moderate, relying instead on the overall pressure exerted by the faction, and especially through watchlists — which was admitted by a factional editor in that discussion cited. To observe the effect of factional POV pushing would require massive research, and there is no reward for that, only punishment.

Unless the structure is reformed, it is predictable that Wikipedia will continue to be unreliable. As a feeder project for a responsible project, it could become useful with POV pushing harmless. My opinion is that such a project is possible, that would harness the immense corpus of work generated ad hoc on Wikipedia, but it will take sophistication. And funding. It will be a hybrid, with features of traditional encyclopedias like responsible (and paid!) supervision and even paid editing, and crowd sourcing, reviewed professionally. It will not be completely “free,” but may be advertising-supported — or supported through membership fees or donations. I think that “responsible” and “free, as in unpaid” are probably contradictory. 

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