I described Wikiversity a bit in a blog post, An Avalanche of sock puppets, which is what had happened there. Until now, Wikiversity has been a safe place to study and explore and discuss topics, within the goals of the two major goals of Wikiversity: the creation of educational materials — as distinct from books (Wikibooks is for that) — and encyclopedic articles (that’s Wikipedia).

Wikiversity has a neutrality policy, and mainspace resources should be neutral, and the expression of opinion should be attributed, not presented as fact. That has been, at least, my position, which, handled in certain ways, avoided revert warring over “point of view.” Points of view and advocacy of them are allowed on Wikiversity, but not in any possibly misleading way. That is, fringe views may not be presented as if mainstream.

In that blog post, I give Parapsychology as an example. That resource, which grew with the contributions of a number of users, was attacked many times. And the recent development is that a bureaucrat decided that resources that attract attack and disruption should not be allowed. This might be appropriate for primary or secondary education, but not for the university level, where controversial topics may be studied and academics will be defended (usually, at least) against attack.

There was dispute over this on Wikiversity, mostly over “wiki studies,” which was actually part of the original mission, but “study” and “attack on users” often got mixed up. Historically, study was allowed if it did not defame specific users and not if it did. Mixed up with this becomes the study of Wikiversity itself.

It was well-established on Wikipedia that administrators should have a “thick skin,” and that critique of administrators was allowed … by guidelines, that is. In practice, criticizing an administrator can be wiki-suicide, even if the criticism was fully validated (i.e., by the Arbitration Committee). The committee, composed entirely of administrators, clearly is biased against non-administrators and it tends to shoot the messenger even when it accepts the message.

On Wikiversity, however, it was understood that administrators should not use the special tools in any dispute where they are involved. Neverthless, when they did, and commonly, nothing happened. That comes up when I document my block log. I was not the only user to run into this. The arguable founder of Wikiversity, JWSchmidt, was told that he could go fuck himself, by a bureaucrat, and then was blocked by that ‘crat. Was this a proper block? Not by tradition, but … wikis often ignore tradition, policy and guidelines when there is no administrator willing to enforce them, and arguments about recusal failure are often considered “wikilawyering,” with no realization of the damage done by the mere appearance of bias. Instead, the focus will be on who was “right,” and recusal failure will be excused.

I wrote a proposed recusal policy which dealt with the issues and which allowed recusal failure in an emergency (i.e., in a situation reasonably considered urgent by the administrator, it was not necessary to specify in advance what exactly consistituted an emergency, and the admin could even be “wrong” about that, it would not matter, if they then did what the proposed policy suggested, which was actually common practice on Wikipedia: if taking an action that might be controversial, immediately request review. If an admin did that, even if he or she was “wrong,” the action could still be legitimate. Without that review, involved use of tools could be a serious offense against the community, creating an appearance of bias, rather than the generation of consensus.

In general, my experience, administrators oppose the development of policy that might restrain them. They tend to be the most active members of the community, and so they will see and participate more intensely in central process, which most users ignore.

This was my thinking years ago, when I started to participate in Wikiversity (and the principle of participation bias or the cause of the Iron Law of Oligarchy operates in this way. It is not possible to avoid the Iron Law, but it is possible to turn it to the benefit of an organization and there is one, highly successful, that did just that.I had written extensively about this before I ever became involved in WMF wikis.)

That thinking could be predicted to bring me into conflict with some administrators (not with all), and historically, some supported what I was doing). This will come up when I annotate my block log.

Abd on Wikiversity.




Leave a Reply