Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/RFC

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THIS RFC IS CLOSED - Please do not edit

The Arbitration Committee has a problem to pose to the community, and would like to solicit commentary and solution-suggestions from contributors.

Problem Description[edit]

This is a copy of an email I, Raul654, sent to the arbitration committee on June 3, 2005. In the ensuing discussion, arbitration committee members agreed that the problem description is accurate but disagreed with the proposed solution

In the light of some recent commentary [on the arbitration committee mailing list], I'm going to offer my own analysis of the situation. I think this is a very fundamental question and should have input from all members of the committee, and Jimbo too.

It very much used to be the case that arbitration was between one user who was clearly in the right and one user who was clearly causing trouble. (Because, really, until the commitee was created, there really was no way to get rid of troublemakers -- Jimbo exercised his authority so sparingly that it effectively gave them carte blanche to cause trouble). It's no surprise that most of the cases for the first 6-10 months dealt with ejecting troublemakers who had been allowed to roost for far too long.

Now, with the three revert rule acting as an "electric fence" (so to speak) to contain people from fighting revert wars of epic scale (along the lines of people reverting 100 times in a day), and the arbcom available to sort out the matters that are clearly black-or-white, things have become more, well, grey. Mark me this - from here on out, our primary problem will not be users who do nothing but cause general angst, but POV pushers -- people who edit Wikipedia with an agenda (even if they are not aware of it) While this makes our job infinitely harder, THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY A BAD THING. It is a sign that Wikipedia is maturing, that we have successfully established rules and mechanisms to ensure that good decorum is maintained

The $64,000 question is, then, what do we do about POV pushing? The arbcom has, for-better-or-for-worse, avoided getting involved in "content disputes". Now, I don't really like this way of phrasing it - many of our disputes are, ultimately, a dispute about content. We have already in several cases in which we sanctioned users for persistently editing with a particular bias, in violation of our NPOV policy. I think these are obvious examples of us getting involved in a content disputes. It would be more accurate to say that we have avoided dictating what an article should or should not say. Overall, I think this policy has been both good (in that it avoided concentrating too much power in one group of users) but it has also had a marked and demonstrable downside. Often times, POV disputes come down to two people (or groups of people) arguing that their version is better, and they are unable to come up with a compromise. Ideally, this where the mediation commitee would step in and help the disputants solve their problems. Unfortunately - at best - the mediation committee (which is currently dead and I don't see it coming back anytime in the near future) was only marginally effective in this regard. It became more of a stepping stone to the arbitration committee and then was ignored all together.

As a result of our no-content-dispute policy, the arbcom has not really had an effective means of solving these POV disputes (which is, as [arbitration committee member] alluded to earlier, why we have had so much trouble coming up with remedies). We have effectively hamstrung ourselves. More importantly, if the arbitration committee won't do it, who will?

Unfortunately, I don't think there's a quick or easy fix for this. I think the only way to remedy this would be to modify the whole dispute resolution process. It's been over a year since it was last changed, and it's about time we updated it to reflect the experience we have gained.

The solution I would pose is - we need someone (or a group of someones) to fill the vacuum we have created. For the purposes of this email, let's assume it's a group of people that I will refer to hereafter as the 'content committee' - no pun intended. This group would have the authority to decide that one particular version is better, and to impose a binding solution on the disputing parties. Ideally, they would be competent in the area of dispute or a related area. Nor do I think this job would even be particularly hard -- more often than not in a POV dispute, it is quite obvious even to a layman that one version is neutral (or mostly so) and the other is horribly POV.

This commitee would be subordinate to the arbitration committee. We would act as a sort of court-of-appeal, as well as reserving for ourselves the right to hear disputes about behavior. So to summarize -- in effect, I am proposing we replace the mediation committee with a committee (a) comptent in the subject area, and (b) capable of imposing a binding solution on the disputants, while (c) allowing users to bypass this step directly in favor of arbitration. In effect, we became a committee that looks at people behaving badly in general, while they look at specific articles that need a voice of authority to settle a disputes.

Now, just to get into a few other details that should be mentioned. Hypothetically, let's say we created this Content Committee (actually, if we want them to have comptence in a particular subject area, we would probably need to create multiple commitees or at least have ad-hoc ones handy) At first, there would no doubt be a tremendous rush to have them sort out hundreds upon hundreds of issues pertainting to every trivial dispute on Wikipedia. I think it needs to be made clear that the barriers to entry required for this group to take a particular case should be very high. Just because you have a disagreement with user:X on article Y doesn't mean you need to run to the Content Committee. I also think it's important that the people on this committee(s) be accountable to the community. Far be it for me to propose instruction creep (I coined the term, afterall), but if we were to have such a committee, it would probably be a good idea to have yearly elections alongside the arbitration commitee elections in December.

I'd appreciate hearing what all of you think of my idea.

--Mark

General commentary[edit]

I see no reason to replace the Mediation Committee. All that needs to happen there is for some folks who are skilled in mediation to take an interest. That will come as more people are aware of our problem. I will certainly do it after I leave the Arbitration Committee. Although I have only basic training in mediation and no actual experience.

The problems of POV pushers and content disputes are important but not necessarily linked with mediation. In fact, having some definite procedure is vital for making mediation work. If you can say to a POV pusher, "Ok, I can see that you are pushing a point of view and if you go on to further proceedings, others will see it too and you may end up with your editing restricted" then you can start bringing them around to a discussion of how they can ensure that that their point of view is included but not to the exclusion of other points of view. One reason mediation works in life is that litigation, and strikes, are ruinous. Our arbitration procedures are only onerous. Fred Bauder 21:25, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)

If a POV pusher can see, by looking at previous cases, that other point of view pushers have not only succeeded in fighting off charges of point of view editing, but been complimented by the Arbitration Committee for their "good work", it is rather difficult to negotiate or mediate with them. Fred Bauder 22:05, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)

I believe that the original scope of the arbcom allowed them to handle content disputes. Why not return to that original mandate? Snowspinner 23:16, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)

I'd prefer to see this delegated to someone else, frankly - the discussion that led to this RfC was sparked by a long letter of mine suggesting that we're becoming too interfering in the community. I'd personally like to some form of binding mediation - or a less formal and rigid arbitration process - to handle these disputes - so basically decent users never need to come before us at all. I'm really becoming quite against our practice of doling our paroles hand over fist in order to solve these disputes - I think it's going to cost us a lot of good editors if it continues. Ambi 23:26, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Arbcom is a wasite of time just like mediation. Unlike mediation arbcom is active. Since no one helped me resolve my case (even though a few notable attempts were made) I am exterminated off of the picture. You need a degree of SOLID rules and HEAVY enforcement. No maybes no BUTs. NO POV whatsoever policy probably is best otherwise its always a failing system as raises the "who determines whats NPOV and what isnt?" question. While sounding like martial law its actualy fair. There are different levels of pov pushing. Destroying a user is one of them. There should be a structure that "cures" the {{POV}}, {{disputed}}, {{totallydisputed}} articles. Since any idea I thought could improve wikipedia via a few wikiprojects were either "vandalised" to death by even admins or was overwhelingly rejected I no longer suggest ideas. Cat chi? 01:59, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

This is an excellent point/issue to raise. It is true that for a long time, conflicts over content could not be resolved unless re-packaged as conflicts over personal behavior and submitted as such to the ArbCom. Now, the ArbCom fills a crucial role. But remember, we are an encyclopedia first, and a wiki-community second. Contenat must be a priority here. I still believe in the wiki-idea, and do not want to refashion ourselves as something more like Nupedia. Be that as it may, we need a meachnism for handling content-related disputes. Obviously such a mechanism would not apply to all content-disputes. Most of us have been involved in content-disputes that were either resolved immediately or after a few days' discussion on the article talk page. But when a dispute goes on for weeks, we need a mechanism. I've been here a long time and although I have no objection to people seeking mediation under such circumstances, the Mediation Committee is not a solution; it is ill-equiped to deal with issues of content. We have two kinds of guidelines: guidelines and guidelines. The ArbCom is really the only body that can enforce behavioral guidelines. It only makes sense that we have another committee to enforce content guidelines. This committee can be independent with a narrow brief (Jguk's proposal) or it can be given a broader brief, but supervised by the ArbCom (Mav's proposal), but we need one of these two proposals to be developed, run by Jimbo, and, if he agrees, institutionalized. Slrubenstein | Talk 19:19, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I find any kind of idea of having a 'content committee' or similar abhorrent, and a reversal of everything wiki. Dan100 22:32, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

We are here to write a high-quality encyclopedia. Wiki is a means to that end. --mav 15:32, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Good point. But I am worried that the establishment of an editorial board (for how else could this be described?) could tarnish our reputation, and discourage editors. Dan100 22:51, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)

ArbCom should stay behavoiraly focused. Let the content disputes work themselves out. If you eliminate two persons causing edit wars, if the content is all that important, the rest of the community will sort it out, or maybe it simply isn't all that important.--Tznkai 14:20, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)


Not following our content guidelines like NPOV and NOR is a behavioral issue. --mav 15:30, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

As phrased, the content committee has to be competent (across a vast range of subject areas) and yet elected once a year (so can't be flexible about recruiting new members to deal with disputes outside its competence). I feel this is likely to cause problems with disputes in specialist areas (yes, I'm thinking of global warming and related...) William M. Connolley 22:45, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC).

I believe that ArbCom should remain focused on behavoir issues. The solution to this problem is to revive the mediation committee. In any type of anarchist social system (such as Wikipedia), mediation methods are crucial. Content disputes cannot be settled by arbitrary committees. Kaldari 19:14, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)

While, I truly believe that Wikipedia needs to improve its mechanisms for dealing with content disputes, it occurs to me to wonder something... Why does the Arbcom need our permission to consult with experts inside or outside of Wikipedia, if that would be useful to you in forming opinions about what is reasonable? Looking at histories and talk pages, it is not difficult to work out which editors are working in which categories of material. Is there any reason under the current system why you couldn't go ask them what they think? It's not the same as annoiting a content committee, and you would have to use your own judgment about who to ask and how to weight their opinions, etc., but I can't imagine its worse than getting buried in areas outside your expertise. Also, it might be useful to try this kind of informal process of consulation and solicited opinions, before trying to create a panel of official experts. Dragons flight 05:55, Jun 10, 2005 (UTC)

Proposed alternate solutions[edit]

If you have an alternate idea that you think could solve the problem, please place it below.

Alternate solution #1 by User:Jguk: Content arbitration commitee[edit]

A "content arbitration committee" which merely decides whether a given fact is adequately sourced should be set up - ideally in a way that enables it to give quick binding answers. Anyone ignoring binding answers could be taken immediately before the existing behavioural arbitration committee.

Users will be able to approach the content arbitration with new information/sources even once a decision has been made - but the old decision would remain until explicitly overturned.

For instance: Suppose User 1 adds the following statement to the Bill Clinton article: "Bill Clinton was the best president America has ever had". User 2 removes this as POV. A content arbitration committee would find that the statement isn't adequately sourced. It may be then that User 1 adds the statement "According to the organisation XYZ, Bill Clinton was the best president America has ever had". User 2 removes this as POV, but in this instance User 1 provides a source, so the content arbitration committee would accept this statement as sourced.

What the content arbitration committee would not do is say whether a given statement should actually appear in any given article.

Commentary[edit]

  • This idea seems a bit dangerous to me, since it will, in effect, become an editorial committee, something which the community has long agreed we should not have. — Dan | Talk 19:34, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
  • I'm suggesting something far more restrictive than that. A committee that just states whether a particular statement has been adequately sourced. It would make no comment as to whether that statement should be included in any article, jguk 20:01, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • Define "adequately sourced"--it's tougher than you think. For example, could I cite any number of websites and articles to claim that the Bush family controls the Illuminati (or vice versa)? Many fringe theories have actually never been refuted, simply because nobody's even heard of them except for their adherents. Thoughts? Meelar (talk) 20:30, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
    • The best thing you will be able to substantiate is the "[Website A] stated that the Bush family controls the Illuminati" (whatever that is), jguk 20:41, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
      • See Illuminati, btw. But anyway, I suppose I should have worded my criticism better. Essentially, these committees you're proposing have an exceedingly narrow mandate (is a fact adequately sourced), which wouldn't give a lot of guidance as to broader POV issues. For example, maybe something is true, but is given undue prominence in an article; maybe something is true, but is presented in such a way that it's not neutral. A real example might be in pro-life, which had a picture of President G.W. Bush signing a bill barring some abortions; the caption in the picture said "Ten pro-life politicians, all male, were present at the signing of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act". This is true and well-sourced, but POV nonetheless, and had it escalated into a real controversy, would not really have been solved under your proposal. An even better example is the recent kerfuffle over BC/BCE, in which both sides were essentially matters of opinion. If you ask me, consensus on talk pages is capable of handling most matters of factual accuracy; it's other types of disputes that present the largest challenge to the current system of dispute resolution. Meelar (talk) 21:01, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
        • The BC/BCE debate is an interesting case here. What would a committee decide here, especially as if they were to choose the politically correct option they would end up driving readers away? Readers prefer language they understand - but a committee would decide what its committee members understand (which is not the same as what our readers understand), jguk 21:12, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • I think this is a very reasonable proposal. We already distinguish between policies concerning content and politics concerning behavior. ArbCom traditionally enforces the policies concerning behavior, and has those policies to guide them. I see no problem with another committee set up to arbitrate disputes over content, as long as their brief is specifically to ensure compliance with content-related policies (NPOV, NOR, Verifiability, Cite Sources). I also think Mav's plan, below, is reasonable. Perhaps the two are complementary (as I see it, the difference is Mav's committees would push us in the direction of a higher quality encyclopedia; Jguk's would simply police violations of, and enforce, existing content-policies). Perhaps at this time, we can only afford to enact one of these proposals, but I bet as the community continues to grow the other one will become important as well. Slrubenstein | Talk
  • I dislike this, because it implies that anything adequately sourced belongs. This isn't true. Balance also implies that the article content should reflect the state/balance-of-opinion out in the real world. This has been an issue many times over at global warming and similar. The most difficult cases aren't over whether a given factoid is true or not, but whether, within the entire article structure, it is (un)balancing (William M. Connolley 22:37, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)) (Ahem. My dislike is, I now see, just about what Meelar said in his revised version).
  • I think this is a bad idea. First of all, 90% of serious content disputes are not about the verifiability of facts, they are about what facts are appropriate to create a balanced article. Secondly, why would members of a committee be any more qualified than the editors of an article to settle content disputes on that article? Generally, people who are knowledgable in a subject matter will already be parties in such disputes. Designating other people to settle a matter of content is thus completely arbitrary. The people who are most interested in protecting/promoting certain points of view are sure to be the people most interested in being on the content committee. Kaldari 19:10, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #2 by MacGyverMagic: Revive Mediation Committee[edit]

Revive the Mediation Committee. - Mgm|(talk) 19:37, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

  • What makes you think that more of the same-old-thing (which failed once already) will work this time? →Raul654 19:40, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
    • Hold elections and get in more fresh blood. A lot of cases get to arbitration, simply because "Mediation is broken". Mediation would never have "failed" if the mediators weren't getting overworked. Mgm|(talk) 21:26, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
      • Uh, no, I don't think it's that the mediators were overworked, I think the problem is that they never actually suceeded in getting two parties to agree. I don't think bringing in a bunch of new people is going to fix the fundemental flaw, which is that the people on Wikipedia are not professional negotiators, and simply don't have the skills necesary to sucessfully get two markedly differing camps to agree. →Raul654 00:37, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
        • I think the fundamental flaw of Mediation is that a lot of people simply don't want to do it and not making it mandatory gives POV pushers and other non-compliant people the option to simply ignore discussion. The mediation committee doesn't have enough power to force people to work together. I think mediation can work better with some changes, but I'd need the chance to implement them and prove it works. Mgm|(talk) 15:26, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
          • I think you've failed to grasp what pretty much everyone else has been saying (including numerous ex-members of the committee) -- (A) that Wikipedia, being a text-only and online phenemenon, does not not lend itself to successul mediation, and (B) that succesful mediation requires great skill on the part of the mediator, and that *almost no* wikipedia have it (Ed being the only exception) according to Ambi. Have you actually tried being a mediator? I tried it once, and it was a *spectacular* failure, for the reasons above - especially (B). So, I think your idea of "let's do the same thing we did before, only on a bigger scale" is doomed from the start because you have failed to correctly identify the reason it failed previously. →Raul654 19:03, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I would love to see the mediation committee revived, but the question is how do we revive it? Attempts so far don't seem to have gone anywhere. And an another question: how do we make a mediation committee that is effective in the sort of content dispute that Raul is talking about -- sannse (talk) 20:19, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • Effective mediation should make the parties come to an agreement, effectively stamping out any POV problems or arbitration issues. If it's up it should take away at least part of any content dispute as long as the disputants are willing to compromise.
    • They should be made aware that wiki is a collaborative project. Anyone not willing to discuss, should step away from the issue to cool down or face arbitration for disrupting the collaborative process. Mgm|(talk) 21:26, Jun 4, 2005 (UTC)
      • This is basically what we tried to do, though. With the exception of those done by Ed Poor, they rarely worked, and when he quit the committee, it was effectively useless. Ambi 23:29, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
        • Thanks for that wonderful endorsement, but I never "quit" the committee. I just became too busy to volunteer for each request that came up, preferring to have the committee chair assign cases. Now if y'all had appointed me to the chair, I would have done what MacGyver is doing now - even though I'd have to slack off in other areas. (Anyway, as Eeyore would say, "Thanks for noticing me." :-) -- Uncle Ed (talk) 16:58, Jun 10, 2005 (UTC)
  • I like this proposal, though #3 has some good points in that the committee needs some reforms. I've wanted to serve on the mediation committee for a long time, but every time I went to nominate myself I found another user had been discouraged from nominating themselves, so I directed my energies elsewhere. In my work as an advocate, I have found mediation is often an attainable solution, and I've kept several conflicts from reaching ArbCom because I was able to convince the users I was helping and the users they had conflicts with to reach an understanding and in some cases better their behavior. I know mediation is possible and I see no reason to eliminate or drastically reshape the committee— just a few changes here and there. -JCarriker 00:07, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I think MGM should at least be given the chance to try and make the MC work again before we try other, more radical options. Dan100 11:32, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • Reviving the mediation committee is the only solution that makes sense, IMO. Kaldari 19:19, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #3 by User:Sam Spade: Huge Mediation Committee[edit]

Overhaul the mediation committee into something huge, w lots of members and a carefully crafted ability to facilitate binding decisions. These decisions would need to be able to be reviewed, as often as necessary. The current committee is failing due to its smallness in size, and its lack of power. I suggest basic changes like:

  • Requiring mediation, rather than allowing it to be voluntary, in contentious cases
  • Allowing anyone to become a member, but also allowing clients and or senior mediators (depending on circumstances) to choose who will mediate a given case
  • Possessing an ability, carefully restricted, of facilitating binding decisions

Commentary[edit]

  • I have some reservations about this model, but as a whole I don't think it's a bad idea. In my experience, I don't think the problem with the original committee was a lack of people. More, it was a lack of mediation skills - we lacked the people who could drag two parties who'd been fighting for weeks together and make them come out with an acceptable compromise. But as to your suggestions - I think requiring mediation would be a useful step - although there's always going to be some cases which will need to head straight to arbitration. And while I'm fond of the idea of binding mediation, I think this could be very very bad mixed with "anyone can be a member". Ambi 23:33, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • The committee could use some reforms, and I agree with Ambi that requiring mediation would be a positive step. The process for becoming a member needs to be more accessable, but I disagree with the premise that anyone could be a member. We'd only end up with problem users on the committee. An vote of confidence is the way to go, similar to the current policy but more like the procedure for admins and bureaucrats. -JCarriker 00:13, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I don't like the current process for voting in admins or beurocrats, and obviously I dislike the current MedCom style of choosing their own heirs. That said, I wasn't sure about the "anybody can be a member" bit myself (its not what I first wrote, for example). My general thought is that if someone wants to be a mediator, and their no good, we don't have to choose them. Maybe there should be a process of removing crappy mediators (as we have of removing crappy users) by the elder mediators. All in all, I think power by appointment is bad enough, but that public voting (as opposed to anonymous, or some other method) is terrible. Sam Spade 00:32, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • Could you please elaborate more on an alternative voting system. I don't like the current system of selecting mediators, either Please see my post under #2 if you have't already. -JCarriker 00:40, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • Thats hard, there are alot of them. Frankly, I personally dislike voting a great deal. Not the actual doing of it, but the very concept of it. Wikipedia is not a democracy, it is a concensus driven project. My thought is let anybody who wants be a mediator, and we will quickly learn to respect the abilities of some, and to refrain from seeking the services of others ;) Those who prove themselves will soon become senior mediators, helping to coordinate the less experienced and less successful. Sam Spade 00:47, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • You can only mediate between people who are amenable to mediation - so there's no point making it mandatory. Also making a Mediation Committee open to everyone is a bad idea - most people have few or no mediation skills. Indeed I'm very sceptical that a 15 year old would have the requisite skills to mediate between two professional academics, for example. I have seen many examples where mediation on WP has failed because the "mediator" has become tempted to offer his own opinion on who might be right. Proper mediation not only really needs the mediator to know how to mediate, it also needs patience from all sides. We have a few people who do know how to mediate - but only a few, jguk 06:52, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
      • You are certainly correct that not everyone has mediation skills, and I strongly agree with your assertion that making the committee open to anyone automatically is not the best idea. As an advocate I have enough sense, to recuse myself from requests where I either strongly agree or disagree with a point of view involved in the conflict, or if I don't have the patience or time to deal with it at the moment. I hope mediators would as well. The only difference is that as an advocate its the best interest of the user your advising, as a mediator its resolving the conflict amicably. Age should not be a factor in selecting a mediator, only the requisite skills should enter into such a decision. I believe you mean average 15 year olds, there are 15 year olds that think on not only an adult level, but are also capable of advanced intellectual discourse and are respected and accepted by fair minded adults; I know this because I was one.- JCarriker 08:15, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I think the Mediation committee needs some changes too. Primarily in how requests are handled. I think it needs a subpage structure like RFAr for easy reference and I'll try to make it happen in the event I get chosen as a mediator. I'm not entirely sure about the other changes, though.... Mgm|(talk) 07:44, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
    • Sounds good to me on both counts. I wouldn't mind being a mediator myself, but I've been discourage by thier process of selection. Good luck!-JCarriker 08:15, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I can see problems with this proposed solution. Firstly, mediation is fundamentally a voluntary process: it assumes that those involved want to reach consensus, and even when assuming good faith I can't honestly say that I think that of some of the well-known POV pushers. Secondly, mediation is difficult when done with a group: it works much more easily if it is between two individual users. Thirdly, mediation takes place in private and yet the enforcement would be on the public articles. It's difficult to imagine that it will help matters to refer problem users to a consensus that has been hammered out in private and to which they have not been able to contribute. David | Talk 17:25, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #4 by User:Gmaxwell: Do nothing[edit]

For the most part, do nothing. POV editors often cause an improvement in an article because they draw attention and cause refactoring. If all parties are behaving civilly and attempting to be constructive, then the end result should be an improvement. If they are not, then ArbCom can act without considering the POV edits directly. A related idea is that myopic editing should be discouraged, in that we should be more liberal in asking people to take a break from a specific article or set of articles if that is all they are editing, especially where the subject is controversial. We can do this because our community is large enough that it should never cause an article to go without an editor. Wikipedia is not a open pulpit, and we should discourage editors from only working on a small number of articles so that all our articles can be a community project. The discouragement should apply to all users, not just ones we judge to be POV pushers, but we should look the other way for articles where there is no controversy since there is no evidence that there are other editors who wish to contribute.--Gmaxwell 21:25, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

I support this. Indeed, being able to persuade a user to take a break from an article and especially to also edit more than just one article would give that user an opportunity to gain perspective. To see how Wikipedia works well elsewhere, away from that user's narrow area of interest or, and this is the issue which it is said is trying to be addressed, away from their own POV pushing. Paul Beardsell 09:14, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

So far this is the best idea on the page. Hierarchical content creation will drive a lot of editors away from Wikipedia, and especially from controversial topics (because now the fight is "not their job;" and further, their contributions will be seen as mattering less in light of the content committee's overrule); yet the cure for controversial topics is more editors, not less. This is one idea to "spread things around more," I'd like to hear others. Demi T/C 22:34, 2005 Jun 5 (UTC)

Agree totally. No way should Raul decide which POV prevails in articles. There's already far too much of that. Let the arbcom enjoy witchhunting dissidents and leave the content to the rest of us. Letting the general idea be current that editors are discouraged from focusing on "issue" articles is reasonable -- it shouldn't be yet another policy though. Grace Note 04:25, 12 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #5 by User:Thebainer: Wait for Article Validation[edit]

Hold tight and wait for Mediawiki 1.5, and hope that the m:Article validation feature can save us.

Or to phrase this more appropriately, look for formalised, structured ways of bringing outside editors into contentious articles. The ideological basis for not having a content committee from day one was sound - the aim was not to concentrate editorial powers into the hands of a small number of users. And feel free to criticise me for being too postmodernist here, but surely all Wikipedians edit with bias, whether conscious or not. A better way might perhaps be to allow either MedCom or ArbCom to enforce policies like WP:V, which are long-standing and well understood, rather than grant them sweeping new powers. WP:RFC is my preferred option for now, although it could be expanded. At least with a well-formed RfC to start from, ArbCom can act without being seen to be editorialising. --bainer (talk) 00:05, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

I really like these ideas. All hail m:Article validation feature! Sam Spade 00:37, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I agree with the preference for RfC's, but it seems an unreliable mechanism right now. Some RfC's bring a crowd of additional editors to look over a specific dispute and give their opinions, but other RfC's are virtually ignored. How could we increase participation in RfC's? Every time you respond to an RfC, you're allowed one extra revert for that 24-hour period?  :) The point of that joke is that we don't have any immediately obvious way to increase participation. Furthermore, in some cases, the new people commenting will be divided along the old lines, so we're right back in the situation that Raul is addressing. Still, I see more promise in having many people spend a little time on these disputes than in having a few people on a committee or board that has to spend a lot of time on the problem. JamesMLane 11:40, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think you're right, RfC can be quite inconsistent and unpredictable. But my essential point was that content disputes should involve as many editors as possible, and admin/arbitration action should be restricted to enforcing policies, like WP:NPOV, or WP:V, etc. --bainer (talk) 00:10, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #6 by User:Dragons flight: Content advisory board[edit]

I agree Wikipedia needs a body of people who are willing to volunteer their time to help resolve content disputes, but I think that the methods of such a group should be cast in a less confrontational way than Arbitration. I would suggest we form a fairly large group of experienced, trusted editors who can be called upon to help forge a consensus for the purpose resolving content disputes. Their role should be to take a serious look at the issues in dispute and work with the parties involved to decide how the article should be written. For the sake of a name, maybe call it a "content advisory board" or something similar. Once a consensus has been reached among the parties and their advisors (primarily through discussion, rather than voting), it should be considered binding in the same way as any other consensus, meaning that while other approaches can be discussed, blatant disregard for the consensus would be a behavioral issue subject to Arbitration if neccesary. Dragons flight 00:10, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

Note: I have made a somewhat different suggestion below, #12, which reflects a reinement in my thinking after some time for reflection. Dragons flight 15:26, Jun 9, 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

Really interesting idea - I was about to write roughly the same. There could be some overlap with the group of admins (who, as I would understand it, would represent trustworthy editors); however, I would recommend for an admin who is somehow involved in the topic to not use his position for exactly this group of articles in order to avoid a conflict of interest (as happened a bit with Cyprus_dispute, Hellenic_Genocide, Turkish_Cypriot_Genocide (now moved) et al). This outside experienced editor - the "advisor" - should know basically about the topic and read up a bit more about it. He should try to remain as neutral as possible, but has to have some executive power as well. As mentioned above, he must be in a position to enforce a reached consensus on users who have a blatant disregard for wikipedia behavioral standards. He should also be able to enforce consensus building and to prevent editing wars, like for instance locking/unlocking the article (in this case, a special notice should be placed on the relevant page - "Temporary Lock") and blocking users for a short period of time. All in all, he should be Superman w/o the laser view ;) - Snchduer 01:22, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

A "content advisory board" is an idea that would utterly doom Wikipedia, in my opinion. Do we write what is demonstrably neutral and verifiable, or what the content advisory board tells us we can write? Arbcom can already decide when an editor is writing neutral and verifiable information and when he is not, simply by checking for references, so what purpose would the board serve? --Tony Sidaway|Talk 01:48, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think you misunderstand me. I view it as mechanism for building consensus about what is neutral and verifiable. There are many content disputes where both parties bring references and point to authorities that support their position yet the editors involved can't come to agreement regarding how to describe the dispute and the different positions (for example because both sides want to be described as the prevailing point of view). Having several experienced editors come in and work with them to build NPOV description seems like a reasonable approach to content disputes (as distinct from behavioral disputes). And consensus exists because consensus exists, not because anyone says so. I would not want such a body to be telling people what to do except in the limited scope of issues that already been thoroughly discussed and debated and clear majority of editors (not just advisors) having reached agreement with respect to how to address the problem. It should be a very transparent process, and any decisions so reached would be subject to revision should a new consensus emerge. Dragons flight 02:46, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for the clarification. I still have my doubts but I wouldn't oppose a kind of expert mediation, although I think in practice it would really tax the goodwill of many editors. For instance, I would be surprised if Scientologists could accept an expert mediator who was acceptable to former scientologists or other people who have a history of hostility to scientology, and vice versa. You'd need someone with the stature, and the patience, of Nelson Mandela. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 20:37, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
So this would be more in the line of mediation then arbitration then? Ambi 02:49, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Yes, though focused on content, not on personalities. And if strong consensus is reached on content then continued editting in opposition I would imagine would quickly form the foundation of a POV-pushing Arbcom case. (Or possibly one could empower the board to handle that directly, but that would need to be thought through very carefully.) Dragons flight 02:59, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
I think that's one of the best ideas I've heard yet - it deals with the content issue without interfering too much with wiki principles. Ambi 04:26, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
If there's a group of editors who is willing to do the work, this would be a good idea, but I'm not sure there is. For example, it would take a good deal of reading for me to comment knowledgeably on the "Hellenic genocide" issue mentioned above. Do we have a large body of neutral parties willing to take on this amount of effort? Meelar (talk) 06:46, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
It strikes me that you'd need to be careful on such a committee. POV (and therefore your sense of what a NPOV is) is determined by each user's background - culture, country, religion, training, interests, politics, etc. If a committee did not have people of a fair mix that generally reflects WP's readership (and editorship) then we'd just end up giving WP a socio-political stance on some issues, jguk 07:01, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I see your point, but do you think it's such an issue when the decisions aren't really binding? Ambi 08:57, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #7 by User:Tony Sidaway. Motion to dismiss: Wikipedia isn't broken. Don't try to fix it.[edit]

If people are unable to come to agreement on content in Wikipedia, this is no business of arbcom's, or anybody else's.

If editors misbehave, Arbcom should bash their heads together, something it does very effectively and is deservedly proud of.

If editors don't misbehave, I don't think that it can be legitimately stated that a problem exists.

Wikipedia cannot write stable articles on subjects about which there is significant disagreement that cannot be expressed in a manner neutral enough to satisfy all major parties.

"As a result of our no-content-dispute policy, the arbcom has not really had an effective means of solving these POV disputes." Well taking the hotheads out of the mix does help, and is all that arbcom can be expected to do. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 01:01, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

Right on! The main proposal here is essentially a power grab by the ambitious and not yet quite powerful enough, in their own opinion. In my view there isn't so much wrong with Wikipedia that abolishment of the ArbCom or, failing which, its impeachment would not fix. Paul Beardsell 02:57, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Erm, maybe if you actually read the proposal...
We're trying to delegate power we already have, and find a way to solve a particularly class of disputes without taking punitive measures against users if that can be avoided, possibly by starting another committee of people to work in this area. Ambi 08:16, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
No. That's a nonsense. I have read the proposal. It is actually a proposal not to delegate existing powers but to assume new ones. The ArbCom does not currently have the power to do what is proposed. Now it is proposed we are going to have a sub-committee or another committee which will have overall responsibility for content. And it will not matter whether the new (sub-)committee will be the Editorial Supervision Board or the POV Policing Committee, or the Wikipedia Censorship Panel; the spirit of Wikipedia is broken by this measure. Paul Beardsell 09:09, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Now, you are just talking out of your ass. Yes, as a matter of fact, we *DO* have the power to intervene in content disputes. "The Arbitrators reserve the right to hear or not hear any dispute, at their discretion." --Wikipedia:Arbitration policy. We have voluntarily refrained from dictating what article should say, but that's not to say that we don't have the power to under the rules, and in fact it is an authority which we are looking to delagate away. Your claim that this is a power grab simply does not correspond with reality. →Raul654 21:17, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
If I have erred in overstating my case and such a power really has been already legitimately delegated to the ArbCom, then, OK, my mistake. Else I suggest we have a circular argument from Raul654 yet again. Circular argument: "The ArbCom has a certain power because it has reserved it for itself." Using the same argument the ArbCom could sell Wikipedia to AOL. Now, I know and you know you do not have that power. But I know and you know also that reserving the power to sell Wikipedia in your own self-crafted "policy" would have no effect. Sorry, silly example, but it makes my point. You do NOT have a power just because you have reserved it for yourselves in your own "policy". Saying so is talking out of your arse (to quote you). If you could have made a better argument, that you do legitimately have such a power, then you have not yet made it here. Yet. Try again. Paul Beardsell 23:13, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

But the proposal is much more dangerous than it seems. Essentially it means that those unable to make their points in the editing process would be appealing to an editorial panel. It would be a move away from common authorship, a body of work created by its users, to one more like Brittanica. It would kill wikipedia. Paul Beardsell 02:57, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I agree with Tony. The wikiway works far more often then it fails. It would be nice if more people got involved in RfCs and 3rd Opinions and nipped problems in the bud. It's amazing what a little education in wikiways and some suggestions of compromises can do. Dan100 10:34, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

Copied here from a message I sent to the mailing list →Raul654 18:42, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

I am keeping an open mind as to possible solutions (although I remain unconvinced by arguments put forth by Tony Sideaway-et-al in favor of more-of-the-same -- keeping the status quo and/or reforming the mediation commitee). Tony's arguement is a sort of optomistic eventualism (http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Eventualism). In other words, ignore the problem, let the users fight it out, come back in a year, and the article will have improved... probably. I find this to be a trite and downright lazy response to a real problem. Yes, it is true that in a year, the article will have probably improved. In the meantime, however, good users become frustrated from tangling with POV pushers (Think of Adam Carr as the canonical example, although lesser disputes like this arise on AIDS (with HIV deniars) and Evolution (creationists), and the people there too become burned out). What do you tell someone who edits these articles when a new user comes along, and obviously starts pushing an agenda? It's very easy to view Wikipedia from 2,000 miles high and say everything is fine and getting better, but it's a bit less rosy when you actually come down to earth and actually have to deal with someone like this. In such a case, I don't think Tony's plan for strategic do-nothingness is the best solution -- I certainly think we can do better.
Thanks. Well my approach to this is that editors get burned out because they become wedded to one article or one subject. If I find myself getting too involved in something usually I just move on. I think there is a tendency to think of oneself as being the little boy with his hand in the hole in the dyke, holding back the tide of POV. But in practice I've found that if I just ignore an article for a month or two nothing much bad happens. If I'd spent that month arguing back and forth I would be utterly cheesed off. Thus editor education is more important here than special methods to resolve contentious articles. There are some subjects that will always tend to attract controversy, you put your finger on it when you say there will always be another newbie coming in and playing the POV game. It's all down to education. It isn't the end of the world if Wikipedia says that Kim Jong Il is a tremendously nice chap one day, it doesn't even matter if it says Richard Nixon was the greatest US President of the twentieth century the next. Eventually someone will come along and remove it. Trust your fellow editors. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 20:51, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • I see part of the problem is exactly that good editors do "move on" and "avoid conflict," which leads to messes like Religiousness and intelligence. The cure is more editor involvement, not good editors staying away from subjects where they know they'll be in a fight. I agree that no new committees should be formed, and no big actions taken, but a little nudge here or there might improve. Demi T/C 23:13, 2005 Jun 5 (UTC)

Bad example. Religiousness and intelligence is just over a week old and has had ten editors. Not enough time for anybody to burn out and certainly not an example of an article becoming a "mess" because editors stay away. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 07:20, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Ignoring the back and forth between Raul and Paul, I think Tony Sidaway has got the right idea. This is optimistic eventualism, but I happen to think that is more responsible than irresponsible, and is not lazy at all. The conflict between two points of view is both natural and good. The wikipedia community does a surprisingly well job of policing itself, the ArbCom, by its nature, is going to deal only with the worst, the ugliest, and the most problematic.

The big picture is what is at stake here, and I think that is what we should be focused on. Ultimatly even if the ArbCom, or another comittee with the content disputes delegated to them is given the authority to arbitrate content disputes, what power do they have, that normal wikipedians do not? They can ban disruptive users, and they can order pages protected, just like any other administrator. However, choosing a point of NPOV, and then "locking it" through protection, to me is the last resort, used only to protect from vandalism and massive edit wars spanning several users.

Wikipedia is not ideal. ArbCom is not ideal. Dealing with content disputes is not ideal. I cannot see any reasonable alternative however, that is not inherently worse and against the spirit of the community.

ArbCom sounds like its starting to burn out, which is not surprising. The only alternate solution I can see is to expand the ArbCom, with the same (self imposed) mandate of policing the actions of errant community members. Delegate cases too diffrent subcomittees, the more complicated issues to the main ArbCom, the clearer ones to smaller ones. Or simply get fresh blood in frequently to lower the stress load. The more time you spend on the microscopic, the more time you see the sick, disgusting, and terrible. Zoom out, and you see the beauty. You need to spend time doing both, or you're gonna go nuts. To me, that is where the main issue lies. Everyone who cares enough to post on here, has seen some truly stupid stuff go down, but even POV pushing on several articles can lead to a better one, quickly. In the short time I've been an editor, I've watched from afar the greatest selling female artist article, as silly as I personally find it, go from onesided, to multi faceted and beautifully NPOV.

Wikipedia isn't broke. This is a free content anyone can edit encylopedia opened to the unwashed masses. A little dirt and grime is expected.--Tznkai 14:43, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)


I'd never really heard of eventualism, and reading the article on meta now I find the perspective described there (that something else called immediatism may eventually take hold and become the predominant paradigm) inexplicable and frankly incredible. To wiki is to eventualize, nothing is complete. From this to this took eighteen months and a score of editors. Wikipedia is the greatest vindication any eventualist could ask for. --Tony Sidaway|Talk 17:09, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #8 by User:Leifern. Designated NPOV "admins"[edit]

It's been my experience that there are some common themes in NPOV disputes, typically:

  • Slightly delusional editors: Someone who believes he/she has a special handle on reality and discounts alternative points of view.
  • Semantics. For example, I was taken to task by an anonymous editor for writing that people were murdered in Auschwitz. This, the person felt, was a prejudicial term - "killed," he said, would be neutral.
  • Burden of proof. The stuff of rhetorical fallacies - one part views his/her facts as self-evident; while there aren't enough sources to substantiate the other point of view.

I would propose that we designate individuals who take it upon themselves to facilitate a structured dialogue on what precisely the points of disagreement are, consider suggestions to bridge the gaps, and if necessary, submit a proposed new version to the arbcom, explaining how the proposed version was arrived at. The arbcom will then be able to evaluate the proposed version and decide what to accept.

The designated individuals would get this responsibility by:

  1. Tagging themselves as candidates for the role
  2. Explicitly recusing themselves from topics where they have a POV
  3. Successfully editing a number of NPOV disputes, getting endorsements from both parties
  4. Being granted the designation, and then accepting assignments

--Leifern 15:03, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

  • I don't think it'd work. Everyone has a POV on pretty much all disputes around Wikipedia. People need to recuse in all such cases leaving little to go with. Mgm|(talk) 15:20, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
    • What makes you think everyone has a POV on all disputes? And if that were true, nothing would work, since the same argument between two individuals would carry over into the arbcom, mediation committee, etc. --Leifern 15:27, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • I don't see how or why admins should recuse themselves from editing articles on which they know they have a strong POV, if their edits are perfectly in accordance with NPOV. Remember, one of the principles we live by on WP is that evidence of POV pushing outside of WP is no evidence of POV pushing inside it. David | Talk 17:09, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • I stand correct,Dbiv makes perfect sense. As long as people can keep detached and don't push their own POV it might actually work. Mgm|(talk) 17:14, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)
      • I absolutely think that individuals with a point of view are capable of presenting a neutral presentation of the topic - see Hillel as an example of the principle. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't have any faith in this whole enterprise, because presumably people tend to write about topics they have an interest in. But the problem with NPOV disputes is rarely that knowledge is lacking from the article; it's that two or more editors are entrenched in their positions. Rather than trying mediate, I think it would be better for someone to rewrite on the basis of the available information. --Leifern 16:19, Jun 6, 2005 (UTC)
  • Your idea is very close to one I've been considering, Leifern, with some small differences. (Correct me if I misunderstand your intent, & I'll fork this under a section of alternative proposals.) My idea would be to have the ArbCom appoint a referee with the power to require the various parties in the dispute to write their own versions of the article -- but making them follow such preferred guidelines such as NPOV, citing sources, etc. This referee does not make anything more than minor edits (e.g., grammar, spelling, minor points of style), limiting her/his input to getting the parties to keep working on their drafts until they are two parts of the same article -- at which point the referee then merges the versions. I really don't know if this could work, but it could at least be tested by the ArbCom by making it part of their remedies -- as I believe so could your proposal. -- llywrch 03:13, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • While I could think of some situations where this might work (and have done similar things myself when mediating), I can think of two issues there. Firstly, having two seperate versions and having to merge them is messy. Secondly, there are instances where we probably don't want the articles merged (i.e. if one side is engaging in crackpottery) or where it wouldn't necessarily be helpful (i.e. BC-BCE) or where it would be almost impossible to do (i.e. Global warming). Ambi 04:01, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
      • I think I made an implicit premise that I should have made explicit: to me, success is not measured by the parties coming to agreement; it's measured by the existence of an article that is reasonably NPOV. In other words, I care less about the egos of the individuals involved than the outcome. So in that sense, I'm not looking for someone to referee - I'm looking for someone to take the time to learn from all parties and hammer out a new version that reflects the state of the controversy as well as some of the foundational information. This will require strong editing and critical reasoning skills, but not necessarily mediation skills. --Leifern 16:13, Jun 6, 2005 (UTC)
If you want one person to, in effect, create a new article from the material under dispute, Leifern, then it not only is unlike my idea, but seriously conflicts with it. My idea is to have someone intervene in the Wiki process to get it past a troublesome bump to a useful article; your idea is to have someone take the article out of the process & create something new. Unfortunately, your solution would very likely to result in the original parties being even more entrenched in their positions, add a new party to the dispute, & increase the conflict. -- llywrch 19:01, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #9 by mav. Content subcommittee[edit]

My idea is somewhat similar to Raul's except it does not go as far. Here is my email response to Raul on the ArbCom mailing list:

Interesting idea. I floated an idea very similar to this a while back on WikiEN-l when there was a move to force the ArbCom to make these type of decisions directly. My idea was to have a content specialist subcommittee to the ArbCom that we would consult when content issues arise. They would *not* have any power to enforce their decisions nor any authority of their own. But we could declare their decisions binding for issues we present to them by an up or down vote (although I imagine that voting down would be as rare as jury nullification is in the real world).

This would, IMO, set up proper checks and balances.

The big issue as I see it, is recruitment of non-involved parties and whether or not this would be a standing set of subcommittees (each with their own set of coverage) or if we would have to empanel them on a case-by-case basis (we would likely have to do this at first to build enough subcommittees, anyway).

....

Each branch of the subcommittee would cover a different broad area of knowledge, such as biology, chemistry, or history. As the Wikipedia community grows sub-branches will be formed as needed (history will likely be the first area to have this happen). Members of the subcommittee would be elected by the community for their knowledge in the area (as demonstrated on Wikipedia or through outside credentials) and for their good behavior and neutrality. They would, of course, recuse themselves if they are involved in any case before them.

The content subcommittee would not declare certain facts in the outside world to be true, but would instead judge whether or not a user in arbitration has followed Wikipedia policies that concern content (such as No original research and NPOV). Making this determination is something that requires knowledge in the area of the content dispute.

NOTE: This is just a tool to make it easier for the ArbCom to see just who is being NPOV, who is violating NOR, and who is presenting fringe views as if they were mainstream.

The reason why I think this would be a better plan than having a fully separate content committee is that cases are almost always an intertwined mix of behavioral issues and content issues. So having completely separate bodies looking at different aspects would be redundant and would very often result in a case being heard twice.

The potential danger of this plan that needs to be guarded against is the possibility of drifting from NPOV and toward an SPOV (specialist/sympathetic POV) where the view of so-called specialists dominates articles and outside views are marginalized more than is appropriate. So vigilance and oversight will be needed. --mav 17:02, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

  • I quite like this idea although I think it needs to be developed into a fully worked path. Firstly, I would not refer to a 'content specialist committee' but to an 'NPOV consultation committee' as describing more accurately what it would do. There already is an NPOV tutorial to which users who have developed good ways of achieving NPOV are invited to contribute, so I don't think it violates wiki principles. What I think is needed is an agreed process for what happens when other editors (not being sockpuppets) continue to edit against the findings of the committee as endorsed by ArbCom. Also, if ArbCom is to accept purely content disputes, is it appropriate for them to impose the same sorts of sanctions as for user conduct cases? David | Talk 17:46, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • Well NPOV is not the only issue that would be looked at, strictly speaking. But Content Consultation Subcommittee would be a good name (thus avoiding the use of 'specialist'). If and when other people edit in the same way, then there would already be a case against another user that could be used as a template to expedite a new case against the new user. I am weary of having direct rulings over content be binding to people who never even heard of the case before. Thus the use of an expedited arbitration process once the offending user is made aware of the situation and fails to modify his/her behavior. --mav 17:57, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I like this proposal, although it will take time to set up and there will be (of course) disputes over who should be eligible for any one committee. Also, I think this proposal needs to be formulated narrowly enough so that Wikipedia does not become nupedia (I am sure Mav has already thought of this). For the record, I also think Jguk's plan, above, is reasonable (as I see it, the difference is Mav's committees would push us in the direction of a higher quality encyclopedia; Jguk's would simply police violations of, and enforce, policies like NPOV, NOR, Cite Sources, and Verifiability). Perhaps the two are complementary. Perhaps at this time, we can only afford to enact one of these proposals, but I bet as the community continues to grow the other one will become important as well. Slrubenstein | Talk 18:45, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I can't really see this as workable. Do we have enough 'experts' in areas required? How would they be elected to these sub-committees? Dan100 22:14, Jun 5, 2005 (UTC)

The people question is the question. Without enough qualified people, my plan would not work. I fully agree with you on that point, but I do think that the community is large enough that a fraction of them could serve on a content subcommittee in their area of expertise. The beauty of the my plan as I see it, is that the arbcom would not have to greatly change the way it does things and the dispute resolution process would not need to have an extra step.
The content subcommittees would be a resource the arbcom uses to help it check what is or is not NPOV or otherwise not appropriate content-wise in areas that the arbcom is not competent in (we are a mixed bunch, so as a whole the only area we are collectively competent to judge are cases involving behavioral infractions). I gave the example of me knowing very little about advanced mathematics on the mailing list. That means that I am not really qualified to determine what is an NPOV treatment and what is bordering on original research in that area (I could do this, but it would take a great deal of time and research). Having a pre-selected and vetted group of mathematicians to ask would be a great service to the arbcom. How they are elected is something I'd like to get more community input on. --mav 02:13, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I'm just not sure that we really could find enough suitably-qualified people (and verify their indentities and work) who'd be willing to take on such issues. And isn't it quite likely that the best-qualified people are already working on articles in their areas of expertise, and thus quite possibly already caught up in any disputes? Dan100 11:05, Jun 6, 2005 (UTC)
We will not know unless we try. The failure of my plan would result in the status quo - nothing worse. My plan calls for these subcommittees to cover broad subject areas, so the chance of people working on the same articles will be minimized. If and when that happens, those people will be expected to recuse. --mav
From my experience, there are plenty of users who have suitable qualifications to act in the way Mav suggests. Have a look at the user pages of some of the most prolific contributors, and also recognise that some users don't identify their 'real world' qualifications and experience. I don't think this will be a problem. David | Talk 16:49, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

This would really help clear up cases where one side is engaging in crackpottery. However, how would you define expertise for the purposes of the committee? I also think that while this would make what we're currently doing easier - I really want to get away from hearing content disputes in general. A dispute like the global warming one needs the dispute to be solved - not a swath of paroles on every single user involved - and under this, we'd still be dealing with the dispute by doing the latter. Ambi 04:07, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Expertise could be shown through real world credentials or through Wikipedia work. I believe that content disputes can be minimized by making sure people follow our content policies, such as NPOV and NOR. Making sure people follow those rules and making the community aware that we are enforcing them should help a great deal. But yes, in areas where there are strong POVs on both sides of an issue in the real world, there will be conflicts here. We are not an isolated island. Keeping this in check will be more like housekeeping than a one-go project. As we get more experience in enforcing our content policies I think we will be able to more easily take care of theses issues. Being able to consult a group of trusted users who have some knowledge of the subject area will be very helpful. --mav 15:24, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Mav is right that we won't know until we try. But the criticisms of Mav's proposals are very revealing. Wikipedia has been around for over 4 years, and has grown exponentially. If we still do not have as contributors people with a fair degree of expertise in the main areas we cover, then we are a failure. How can you write an encyclopedia without people who know what they are talking about, or, minimally, people who have the skills to adequately research new topics? If Dan100 (or anyone) thinks we don't have enough people like this for the committees Mav proposes, then Dan100 is saying that we simply do not have the capacity to write a good (let alone excellent) encyclopedia. That many editors seem to think this way is very disturbing. Slrubenstein | Talk 22:08, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

You're putting words into my mouth. Please do not do that! I am not saying any such thing. Dan100 23:03, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)

I am opposed to the subcommittee idea because I believe whatever processes/entities are created to deal with content disputes need to coexist with arbitration, not be dependant upon it. As a community, we need to find ways to improve our mechanisms for dealing with content disputes before they develop into bad behavior. Dragons flight 00:23, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)

Well of course we need ways to deal with these things before they get to arbitration. That is what the earlier steps of the dispute resolution process are for. But once violations of our content-related policies do reach arbitration, it would be nice if that body could handle them in a timely manor and without arbitrator burnout. As is, the arbcom simply does not have the expertise in all the various fields of knowledge needed to make it relatively easy to judge whether or not content-related polices have been broken in any but the most obvious cases. --mav 01:55, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Well think of it this way. Suppose we did create a body of vetted and approved experts to assist the Arbcom, why should we not then rely on those same experts to assist in other content disputes before they reach arbitration? Dragons flight 02:31, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)
Since this body would not have any authority to do anything punitive, I don't see why they couldn't help out earlier on. The only problem is that act would likely result in them having to recuse themselves once the matter went to arbitration, thus depriving the ArbCom of their input. I'd much rather improve the RfC process by adding a 'desired outcome' step to it and have mediators run it. But again, my focus here is to improve arbitration. The earlier steps are a separate matter that can be dealt with separately (nothing stopping us from expanding the focus of the content policy advisory board once it is created). --mav 03:09, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think this idea is good only in theory. In practical terms, I think it raises more questions than it answers. (How many committees, how many people on a committee, how to keep them all current and running, how to vet the members, etc.) I think the effort would be more trouble than it is worth. (This comment added by Maurreen Demi T/C 19:28, 2005 May 21 (UTC))

Sorry, forgot to sign. Maurreen 05:57, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Again. This is a point that will be worked out as we go forward and my plan does not, in any way, change the way the ArbCom does things except allow it to more efficiently hear cases that involve accusations of content-related policy violations. We hear these cases already but it is often very hard to determine who has been following policy and who has not. Whatever selection process that is used should be simple. We already select many different types of users, so objecting to this proposal based on not having that question answered is a bit odd. --mav 20:34, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Mav, you've made fair points in response to me above. But just how would we select these people? As Ed Poor said on the mailing list, the only people who can judge experts are other experts. Dan100 23:03, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)

Ed PoorThat idea is wrong. As I said in my problem description above - Nor do I think this job would even be particularly hard -- more often than not in a POV dispute, it is quite obvious even to a layman that one version is neutral (or mostly so) and the other is horribly POV. →Raul654 23:39, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)
I agree more with Raul than with Dan on this. I don't believe that the only people who can do it are other experts. As I actually said on the mailing list, it's very difficult for non-experts to judge the qualifications of experts. We need to address this difficulty. -- Uncle Ed (talk) 17:03, Jun 10, 2005 (UTC)

I rather like this one, too. James F. (talk) 20:44, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I completely agree with Mav's proposal. However, I would also propose forming a (small) oversight committee from current arbitrators/bureaucrats/admins to oversee the subject committees. This oversight committee would only be responsible for making sure everyone in the committees are acting fairly, are NPOV, and are qualified. This, I believe, would "check and balance" all the specialized committees and would also take the current strain off the ArbCom. Flcelloguy 13:29, 11 Jun 2005 (UTC)

OK, so Ed didn't quite say what I thought he did. But the fact remains - it's a nice idea, but I'd really like to some ideas as to how we could select people. Although Wikipedia has thousands of registered users, only a few hundred are active on a daily basis at any one time. Out of these people, would there be enough qualified in a specific area to form a committee? How would we find the people who are potentially qualified? How would we verify their qualifications? Would these people be willing to 'work' on such a committee, and be subjected to such scrutiny? Could all of this be done in a reasonable timeframe? Dan100 13:34, Jun 11, 2005 (UTC)

Let's not overthink this to death. :) The truth of the matter is that we won't know if there are enough people unless ask around for volunteers and volunteers won't be coming forward until we have a framework set-up. Activity level is not that important due to the fact that any particular person on these subcommittees will rarely have any case to consider. I imagine the selection process would be a hybrid between the way we select admins and the way ArbCom members are voted in. I've already said what the qualifications would be (verification of outside credentials will be skewed toward trusting the word of any otherwise trusted user; but most people will present portfolios of Wikipedia work). But I leave most of those details to be decided prior to an election since most of the ideas I present here will have little resemblance to the final rules. Either way, this should first be set-up as a 6 month experiment. At the end of 6 months we will have the opportunity to tweak the whole idea or get rid of it. --mav 02:01, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Thanks for getting back to me Mav.

To be honest I'm seeing little appetite for taking any suggestions further, so the whole thing's moot really. Dan100 (Talk) 21:51, Jun 19, 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #10 by Demi: Characterize consensus and NPOV disruption[edit]

What does it mean to establish consensus? Once established, what if one dissenting user continues to edit counter to that consensus--is that a disruption? It seems to me that some of what Raul654 is trying to address boils down to that. Let's not have an NPOV committee--we are all the NPOV committee, and the less we have to distinguish between "greater" and "lesser" users the better. But once we've "come to our decision," perhaps we need to make it clearer that editing in opposition to that consensus is disruptive; or that going on an editing crusade in the absence of a consensus to do so is also disruptive.

This could be added to the existing WP:NPOV and Wikipedia:Consensus. I'm not suggesting vote counts or anything similar here, just some additional nudging so that people will feel freer to involve themselves in subjects which are "fought" over--the more editors for these, the better (and note my support for Gmaxwell's proposal above). If people feel like they have done something useful in participating in a consensus discussion, rather than buying themselves an endless fight, they will probably be more likely to do so. Demi T/C 22:53, 2005 Jun 5 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

I love it. Let me expand it a wee bit: honor consensus. This means two things: First, document very clearly what the consensus opinion is, how it has been reached, and what alternatives were considered. This is necessary because we have many situations where new users make changes against an established consensus without being aware of it. This is because the consensus is not clearly documented, or only documented in the history of one talk page while being relevant to more than one article, etc. We need a form of institutional memory that does not require digging through talk page histories. Second, once consensus has been reached, it should be enforceable. (This was what one of the Gdansk/Danzig polls was about.) I'm not sure how to do this, but what good is consensus if nobody is bound by it, in a real, actionable sense? This proposal would eliminate the need for designated "Content Committees". Everyone with expert knowledge on a given topic should have articles in their field of expertise on their watchlist, or monitor a public watchlist for a given topic. Those editors then are in fact the "content committee" in a sense, because they can help establish consensus, but they don't need to be given a special status. Finally, there should be a way to crack down on extremely blatant POV pushing. We need to establish guidelines on what counts as blatant POV pushing, but assuming we have those, persistent POV pushing, especially without debate, could be made a blockable offense. --MarkSweep 04:55, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

This idea doesn't seem too useful to me; in many cases, it's impossible to define consensus due to low participation. If me and one other user agree, is that a consensus? If not, how can we attract more attention reliably? I'm not sure this suggestion works in the current WP environment; I prefer Mav's suggestion above. Meelar (talk) 16:11, Jun 6, 2005 (UTC)
  • Part of this is about being able to attract people to the consensus process, by making it a little more productive. Secondly, recognizing when there is no definitive consensus is important, too. For example, if a wide-ranging editorial standard (honorifics, BC/BCE, British vs. American spellings--whatever) is proposed and no consensus reached, we probably don't want people ignoring that and trying to change articles to match their proposal (or counterproposal). Demi T/C 06:03, 2005 Jun 7 (UTC)
  1. It could be useful to make the consensus page more definitive. People have different ideas about "consensus."
  2. Sometimes consensus has already been establised on particular issues after much discussion. New people might not realize that, so a notice could be put on the talk page. For example, on September 11, 2001 attacks, a compromise was made concerning the word "terrorist." The compromise was noted at the top of the talk page, with the intent that it would stay there and inform anyone new. Maurreen 05:55, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Why is consensus needed anyway?[edit]

Wikipedia's job is NOT to determine what the "consensus view" of anything is. If there so much disagreement about some topic that it requires effort to reach a consensus, I think this means that there are SIGNIFICANT differences of opinion about what's what.

Wikipedia's job in such a case is not to determine who is right but to describe:

  • what the major points of disagreemont are
  • why the various advocates disagree

Back in the second half of the 19th century, scientists (i.e., experts in the field of medicine) had no idea about germs spreading disease. There was only ONE PERSON in Vienna who had the slightest inkling - this was before Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur. As Ray said,

Sometimes great scientific discoveries have come from people who stubbornly maintained their opinions on a discovery. Verifiability is a more important criterion than being the position of a small minority. [1]

Recall what our purpose is: to spread knowledge. If we take even baby steps toward the idea of using "majority vote" or 95% majority or the like to determine the CONSENSUS about what is true, we will FAIL as an encyclopedia.

Committees that need to take action, require consensus. Politicians choosing whether to support or oppose a military campaign or an international treaty MUST come to some sort of consensus. But the scientists and librarians and journalists and "intelligence" analysts who advise them must not give up searching for the truth, even when that search takes them away from the agreed-upon, politically formed consensus.

(Think of DNA testing proving that an inmate on death row is really innocent, for example. The jury came to a consensus that he was guilty, but then it turned out they were wrong.)

We dare not take the risk that politically correct viewpoints can trump independent discoveries (see Lysenkoism).

Hey, maybe I'm completely wrong about global warming - along with PhD's like Richard Lindzen and Sallie Baliunas. Twenty or 30 years from now, when the earth is burnt to a crisp and you guys are all saying I-told-you-so, at least I'll be able to say that I did not hound out Dr. C. from Wikipedia. When it came down to (a) the article is a mess, vs. (b) William felt compelled to leave - I agonized over it, but I think I made the right choice.

And he's still here, and we still need to come to terms with this "consensus vs. minority" issue in regards to NPOV policy. It's an issue that just won't go away. -- Uncle Ed (talk) 17:36, Jun 10, 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #11 by Beland: Informal juries to aid consensus, ArbCom for unreasonable behavior[edit]

Reading some of the above proposals, I agree with many of the principles mentioned.

  • Power to dictate the content of large numbers of articles should not be concentrated in the hands of a few.
  • Consensus, including consensus between opposing factions, is an effective way to write articles.
  • Outside participation is necessary to break logjams in disputes.

I don't think "POV pushing" should be a wikicrime. People are perfectly welcome to try to make sure that a particular POV is represented in a set of articles, as long as they don't try to exclude others points of view. Sometimes people present their own POV as if it were fact. This is easy to do unintentionally, if you don't know what you assume is the truth is actually disputed. Plenty of people seem to get carried away when writing about a certain topic, and lose the encyclopedic tone and NPOV that we would ideally like to see in all articles. This leads to biased articles, but the best solution for this is for people with other points of view to read them, notice this, and do something about it.

The problem comes when people unreasonably insist on things being a certain way. Sometimes that's because they don't understand the NPOV policy or they aren't willing to abide by it. Sometimes that's because they have a "POV of one" which is incompatible with most everyone else's idea of what a neutral article needs to say.

If we leave people to their own devices to form consensus on articles, we seem to end up with a lot of unresolved disputes. This is not so bad as long as the articles are tagged for the benefit of readers, but to build a respectable encyclopedia, we need things like this to get resolved.

I don't support the idea of an elite NPOV hit-squad, no matter how trustworthy. There will be inevitable questions of and accusations of bias. Also, people appointed to volunteer committee posts have a way of wandering off and neglecting their responsibilities. Dispute resolution is not also not particularly pleasant, and lends itself to burnout quite easily.

We currently have the RFC process for article content disputes. Personally, I've both used it to request outside participation, and jumped into article disputes myself. It seems to have worked well in all the particular cases I've been involved in.

It sounds like it may not work so well in all cases. Well, it can be enhanced. Instead of appointing NPOV judges, why don't we create a sort of informal NPOV jury pool for each dispute? We could create a simple script to randomly generate the names of active Wikipedia editors with a certain minimum number of edits. Boilerplate notices could be posted on their user talk pages (either automatically or manually by one or more of the parties involved) that their participation is requested in a dispute on a particular talk page. If they decline to participate (or don't happen to in a certain amount of time), either alternates can be chosen, or the pool can be made big enough in the first place that enough opinions are likely to be gathered in one round.

Having half a dozen people say to a person, "No, it's not just your opponent. You really are in out in left field on this one," seems to be quite effective in resolving certain kinds of overly stubborn opposition.

The Arbitration Committee need only become involved if someone wants to file a behavioral complaint about how someone is not cooperating in this process. I think the Arbitration Committee should be able to look at a dispute and say, based on the factions involved and the outside opinions gathered, this particular person is being somehow unreasonable - for example, insisting on a POV statement and rejecting all reasonable alternatives or NPOV encapsulations, disrupting the discussion process, refusing to discuss reverts, removing the dispute tag, etc. They should be able to see through the everyday partisan accusations that one's opponents are POV pushers, and be free to say, "Your opponents are participating in the discussion within reasonable bounds. Keep talking to them; ask for more outside opinions until you get this resolved."

I think it's very important important not to come up with too many constraints on how an article should or should not be written. Many times, the dispute comes down to very minor things, like wording or how a particular thing should be spun. I have certainly seen situations where outside parties come in and make substantial re-writes that make the initial argument moot. The Arbitration Committee should only say, "User X is being unreasonable; they need to be removed from this discussion", or declare a demand for an article to be a certain way to be either POV or otherwise unreasonable (based on "jury" input). They should not mandate that certain things be included, or expressed in a certain way. Those decisions should be left up to community opinion. This includes standardization and usage questions, which often require site-wide voting to settle (or not settle). But the community also should not, after a few days of deliberation, say, this version is how this article is going to be written, and anyone who comes along any makes any substantial change to it is Violating Consensus. That will stifle growth and improvement. This is not to say that controversial points, and previous agreements accomodating differences shouldn't be well-documented so that future editors don't re-create problems that have already been fixed in at least one mutually acceptable way. Just that there may be more than one way to avoid a certain problem than what the warring factions happen to have come up with sometime last month or last year.

I would also note that in some cases, opposing factions are arguing in ignorance, and that instead of a random selection of equally ignorant people to come along and get them to play nice, what is actually needed is a subject expert or more research to shed some light on the subject. This can sometimes reveal that both sides have made incorrect factual assumptions, which will both resolve the dispute, and correct errors which readers would otherwise have been exposed to (whether the article was considered neutral or disputed). I hope that the "Wikipedians on the street" and the Arbitration Committee will be wise enough to identify these situations and act accordingly.

-- Beland 08:06, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Comments[edit]

  • Makes sense. 131.211.151.251 09:35, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • I was going to suggest beefing up the article RFC process, and I see thats a part of your proposal. From my viewpoint, the article RFC process doesn't work terribly well: not enough people come along to look/help. Some way of beefing it up is required if it is to be more useful (binding voting a-la VFD, perhaps) William M. Connolley 22:51, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC).
  • Strengthening RFC has merit. But the messages to talk pages could be seen as spam. Maurreen 05:44, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • Excellent proposal. Messages to talk pages is a great idea, and should be seen as a duty, not as spam. Messages could be limited to go to only those who have opted in as outside commentators. Tom Haws 23:29, Jun 9, 2005 (UTC)
  • This sounds a lot like Wikipedia:Third opinion, which is a great idea in theory but nobody ever checks it. Right now, it seems the only way to get anyone to comment on the validity of an article is to VfD it, and that doesn't work when the topic really should exist. If there could be a 3O-like page that got even a tenth of the readership of VfD, I think the problem would be solved. RSpeer 05:12, Jun 10, 2005 (UTC)
  • I don't really see how this is any different from what we're doing already. Except that, in reality, people will be jerks. And there will not be an in exhaustible pool of calm, educated, competent people with lots of time on their hands to solve people's mess for them (time that these educated, competent people could spend on, gasp, writing encyclopedia articles) dab () 10:15, 22 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Food for thought from Maurreen[edit]

Mav asked me to comment on his proposal, and I've read most of the rest of the page.

I don't follow the Arbitration Committee, so I don't know much about the situation, or the problem under discussion. It's not clear to me, for example, whether the issue is more a matter of pages that do not find consensus, or people who do not follow consensus; or how much knowledge of a given article subject would be called for to properly address such disagreements.

I think a lot of the comments above have merit. Some would be impractical, and some would need refinement.

Acknowledging all that, here a couple of my ideas:

  1. RFC Patrol.
  2. Volunteer subject consultants.

The RFC Patrol might be able to address disagreements before they get too frustrating. I had an article RFC that brought no one to the article, as far as I could tell.

The volunteer subject consultants could be used by regular users or the arbitration committee. They could just list themselves somewhere, and possibly their qualifications. Any vetting needed or desired could be handled on a case-by-case basis. Maurreen 06:17, 7 Jun 2005 (UTC)

On improving RFC participation[edit]

RfCs don't get many respondents as there's soooo many requests (those who do respond can't be everywhere!), and that it's hard to be interested in stuff outside of your area of er, interest. I can't see a way to get more people responding to RfCs. Maybe someone else can? Dan100 22:55, Jun 7, 2005 (UTC)

You know, I've noticed that when disputes are posted on topical or regional noticeboards, they tend to get a reasonable response. There are a few under Category:WikiProjects, including the regional ones and a successful LGBT one that just started up recently. Active WikiProjects are also a good place for that sort of thing. Maybe we should encourage people who come to RFC to post to the appropriate special interest page, and encourage people to bookmark, watchlist, or affiliate themselves with noticeboards that align with their interests. People do add themselves as participants in these pages; if you are looking for a subject expert, this is not a bad place to start. (There's also the ability to look at who's editing articles on the topic, and leave them personal messages, but that seems more hit-or-miss.) -- Beland 04:54, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

These are good ideas. Another possibility is splitting up article content RFCs into maybe five general categories, roughly aligned with the general Wikipedia categories.
On a category tangent now: Maybe it could be good to collect things together that aren't now. For example, under "Science," we could have science articles and regular categories, science RFCs, science Featured Articles, science Peer Review, science VFDs and CFDs ... Maurreen 02:32, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)
That's a very good idea (both the first and second parts). I imagine getting such a large change made would be difficult though. But splitting the RfCs should be easy enough. Dan100 21:07, Jun 9, 2005 (UTC)

Alternative Solution #12: Content Dispute Forum[edit]

When this issue was first described, I made some suggestions (Alternative Solution #6) based on my initial reactions; however, based on all that has been written here and some additional time for reflection, I've come to somewhat different conclusions about what should be done, and will outline my current thinking here.

I would propose creating a formal process that I would dub the "Content Dispute Forum" as a mechanism for addressing how Wikipedia's content policies (e.g. WP:NPOV, WP:V, WP:NOR, etc) should be addressed to contentious issues. The goal of this forum would be bring ongoing content disputes to the attention of the community and arrive at community consensus for binding principles that would explain in detail how Wikipedia policy should be applied to the content issues at hand.

Proposed process[edit]

I would propose that the process for accomplishing this look something like this:

  1. One or more parties come to the Content Dispute Forum and present a short summary of the ongoing dispute.
  2. Uninvolved parties read the summary, certify that it is an appropriate dispute to be addressed by CDF and indicate their willingness to help be involved in bringing about its resolution. For this purpose, I would regard appropriate disputes as those that are focused on content (rather than behavior), have significant scope (i.e. major impact on one article or nontrivial impact across many articles), and have demonstrated significant discussion between the involved parties without reaching a resolution.
  3. For disputes which receive some predefined number of certifying votes, create a subpage and move onto the next step where both sides present evidence supporting their view of how the content should be presented and discuss why they believe they have a better approach for creating an encyclopedia article consistent with Wikipedia policies. At this step outside parties would also be invited to present supporting evidence.
  4. Discussion ensues involving any interested editors. The goal of such discussion would be:
    1. Work towards community consensus on how to appropriately apply Wikipedia policies in this situation (for example: Which POV, if any, should be described as a dominant POV? What standards of merit should be applied in deciding whether a very minority opinion warrants inclusion?)
    2. Provide concrete examples of writing that the community feels is appropriate for this subject.
  5. After general (and preferably unanimous) agreement is achieved with respect to the above, record that agreement by clearly stating the principles for how Wikipedia should deal with this subject and conducting a vote. I would suggest that a principle be enacted if it receives at least 10 total votes and 75% of all votes cast. Further, I would propose that such votes never be "closed", but rather once a principle is accepted, it remain in effect as long as it has more than 2/3s support. (I say 2/3 instead of 75% to discourage sock-puppetry and single vote flip-flops). Such votes would be announced on the CDF in general to again try to involve a diversity of opinions.
    • Example principle: In recognition of the hundreds of contributing authors and statements of support from many national and international scientific bodies [links], the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be regarded as expressing the majority position of climate change researchers. (Presumably a principle like this would also be followed by principles elaborating on how to recognize and when to also include significant minority positions.)
  6. Such principles, thus accepted, would then guide editors as to what is acceptable style for articles on disputed subjects, and persistent failure to abide by such could guide the Arbcom in deciding content related disputes.

Advantages[edit]

I see the process I have outlined above, or something like it, as having a number of advantages.

  1. It provides a focus on content rather than behavior. Far too many content disputes escalate into childish bouts because editors take things personally and come to see them as being about those other "idiots who are too dumb to recognize the truth".
  2. It brings in outside voices. With luck, or some effective recruiting, it might even bring in outside experts, but if the arguments and evidence are well presented, any intelligent person should be able to have an informed opinion about what is reasonable wiki writing. (Hence we avoid the need to recognize and vet a specific panel of experts).
  3. It provides a firm, clear, and enforceable definition of consensus. Blatant POV pushers, acting in bad faith are easy to root out, but on contentious issues both sides can have a good faith pursuit of NPOV and still be unable agree on what that should mean. At present, there is really no effective process for elaborating what NPOV should mean in such disputed cases.
  4. It avoids the potential pitfalls of bias and control that are inherent in creating any Content Committee, Editorial Board, or the like. Also, it continues in the spirit of universal editorial control that has defined the Wikipedia way and hence should be more easily accepted by the community.
  5. It requires that the reasoning be provided and accessible. Unlike the appeal to authority approach of a content committee, anyone would have an opportunity to understand why a particular decision was made.
  6. All actions are reversible. Groups of people can be fairly dumb sometimes, so it is clearly beneficial not to set any content guidelines in stone. Similarly, if someone comes to Wikipedia and finds what they regard as bias has been enshrined as one of the content principles then they have the opportunity to work to change it through intelligent arguments rather than merely being frustrated at how biased we all are.

Disadvantages[edit]

There are also a least a few disadvantages (and probably more that I can’t see).

  1. It requires that people be willing to get involved in content disputes, at least to the point of reading the material and expressing an opinion. Hopefully most disputes will be of sufficiently broad interest to attract a necessary selection of volunteers to help work through the process. The certification process should help with this, by avoiding issues that truly no one wants to consider.
  2. Compared to simply questioning appointed experts this will take more time and effort, and doesn’t provide any easy way of responding to Arbcom requests.
  3. Group think. If you look at polling data, Wikipedia might end up endorsing belief in God, aliens, angels, and Saddam’s involvement in 9/11. I understand this as a concern, but I think we have to trust that most editors really are committed to NPOV and want to make a good encyclopedia. In my opinion, I think it probably wouldn’t do any worse than the current system which already allows anyone to edit anything, though we would probably have to try it to find out.
  4. Voting is evil. Well not exactly evil, but being able to win a vote is not the same as finding a solution that best satisfies all the interests involved. Though if one is going to craft binding guidelines on persistently disputed topics, then I think voting is largely unavoidable. There has to be the ability to define a clear level for success and failure. However a threshold of 75% or so will hopefully ensure that minority views are persistently included.
  5. Gridlock. Just because we have a formal process and involve outside parties, doesn't mean a solution will be reached. Ultimately though, I would hope that by clearly spelling out the issues should clarify everyone's concerns. Some cases may well end up with situations like AD/BC vs CE/BCE where both are officially tolerated despite strong objections on each side.

Well, this is my current idea, hopefully people will find it interesting / useful. Dragons flight 08:49, Jun 8, 2005 (UTC)

Commentary[edit]

I like this proposal a lot. IMO, the biggest problem would be attracting sufficient participation, however. It might need a strict word-limit on the statements, to ensure editors don't have to wade through megabytes of text. Meelar (talk) 17:46, Jun 8, 2005 (UTC)

(William M. Connolley 17:31, 11 Jun 2005 (UTC)) I too like this proposal. I would like to add (to this, and perhaps all others) that the process is still subordinate to the arbcomm, which could step in if there was gridlock, or if manifestly wrong things were voted in (Saddam caused 9/11, to take DFs example). I would hope that the mere fact that the arbcomm could step in would strongly discourage any such vote-stuffing.

Alternate Solution #13 by Whig: NPOV subcommittee[edit]

I find that many of the solutions proposed above are either overreaching (putting general content disputes at issue, with designated experts, etc.) or insufficiently binding (NPOV "admins" with no particular authority to rule on disputes). Having been through a recent substantial (and unresolved) NPOV dispute over the prefixed use of styles in biographical articles (a dedicated minority of editors have blocked consensus and the ArbCom has declined to address the issue because of its content-centeredness) I believe that there needs to be some means to make a firm determination of the Wikipedia NPOV policy on such matters, without addressing larger questions of content, and without requiring a conduct dispute to be at issue. An NPOV subcommittee should be appointed and delegated authority by the ArbCom to hear such matters, to consider and make rulings when and if they choose to accept particular cases. These rulings should be binding but may be appealable to the ArbCom at its discretion. Whig 16:26, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Advantages[edit]

The ArbCom can avoid being drawn directly into content disputes, while providing a mechanism for enforcement of the NPOV policy. Whig 16:26, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Disadvantages[edit]

I don't see one. The ArbCom has authority which it can delegate in this fashion, and it seems essential that the NPOV policy be either enforced or allowed to wither on the vine. Whig 16:26, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

  • I think the problem is that wikipedia content then becomes subject to commitee rule, rather than consensual agreement, and the possibility of abuse is something I find worrying. Hiding 19:25, 13 Jun 2005 (UTC)
  • The NPOV subcom may not be familiar enough with the subject at hand to be able to make a good judgement. TheProject 01:55, 21 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Alternate solution #14 by Coolcat. Court model[edit]

Modern courts have a simple structure of: couts < higher courts < supreme court

We could use this model to be something like: RfCfUD (Requests for comment for user disputes) (any admin and regular user vote) < Admin Com (any and only admins vote) < ArbCom

  • Cases should survive two votes to get to arbcom.
  • This way arbcom wont be overwhelmed with unnecesary cases.
  • I think the reason Arbcom becomes/becoming a joke (no offense intended just a matter of speaking) is their lack of time to respond to overwhelming number of cases which will increase.
  • Cases could be resolved in lower comitees. Non-Arbcom commitees should not have determined members. I am not seeking a new arbcom either.
  • Mediation is salvagable. The issue is both users should "want to talk". Else it can't succeed.

Alternate solution #15 by ChrisO. Start small, set measurable criteria[edit]

A "one size fits all" content committee isn't going to work. There are simply too many content disputes going on, and some will take a quite disproportionate time to resolve. This is due to a combination of entrenched viewpoints and disputable facts (see Talk:Terri Schiavo/Mediation for a case in point). There's also the problem that, as we've seen in this discussion, there isn't yet widespread acceptance that a content committee would be reliable - would it simply substitute its own POV for someone else's?

I suggest that we should instead start small and concentrate on particular content issues that can be resolved by applying measurable criteria (i.e. resolving them mechanistically rather than having to make value judgments). Content disputes should not be resolved on the basis of POVs but on the basis of agreeing what is measurable and verifiable, rather than what is morally "right" or "wrong".

The issue of naming is, I think, a good place to start. Naming disputes can be extremely contentious (as in the case of Gdansk/Danzig or, more recently, the Macedonian Slavs). Discussions very often degenerate into arguments about who has the most moral right to use a particular name or whose rights are being (supposedly) infringed in the process. Votes end up being the subject of campaigns by rival partisans seeking to put one over their rivals. The outcome of such votes can be determined simply by which side manages to get out more voters, not by the strength of their arguments; indeed, NPOV rules can end up being ignored entirely (see Talk:Macedonian Slavs/Poll for a prime example of this).

Naming disputes can be resolved mechanistically and in an NPOV fashion by applying objective criteria and disregarding subjective ones. For instance, the following are all objective factors:

  • Is the name in common usage in English?
  • Is it the official current name of the subject? (official in terms of being used in a legal context, e.g. a constitution?)
  • Is the name used by the subject to describe itself or themselves?
  • If an historic name is mentioned in the article, is it in an accurate context?

and the following are all subjective:

  • Does the subject have a moral right to use the name?
  • Does the subject have a legal right to use the name?
  • Does the name infringe on someone else's legal or moral rights?
  • Is the use of the name politically unacceptable?

A neutral panel could determine which of the objective factors are met while setting aside the subjective factors - something that partisans on both sides simply will not do. We can note the existence of the subjective factors but cannot allow them to dictate the outcome of naming disputes. This approach would facilitate transparency and consistency: if we have clear criteria for resolving content disputes, we can't be accused of making ad hoc decisions. Bear in mind that the process has to be seen to be fair in order to be accepted.

See my more detailed comments at User:ChrisO/Naming disputes. -- ChrisO 01:14, 25 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Second general commentary[edit]

I am new to Wiki so this may all be tainted by my ignorance of local affairs, so with that apology made, I find this page is interesting because it seems to fail to grasp the nettle. If everyone is acting reasonably, then the implicit goodwill will always lead to a negotiated settlement without the need for outside intervention. But in Wiki, as in the real world, people sometimes care too much about their own POV and systems have to be put in place to keep the peace and resolve the disputes by force. Inevitably, this involves declaring winners and losers. What form this process of resolution takes is barely relevant. The only significant requirement is that the ultimate decisions have to be enforceable because, otherwise, the decisions will simply be ignored not only by the immediate parties, but also by future editors. Hence, the sequence of debate here should be: whether the current systems work — the extent of this discussion suggests problems; if not working, what are the specific problems and what strategies might resolve them? As it stands, this page is a rudderless ship because we are not asked to address particularities but are asked to suggest quasi-legal, binding/nonbinding, special referee/mediation/arbitration systems in a vacuum. If the major problem is behavioural (i.e. a failure to act reasonably in any given dispute), then the content of any page disputed is irrelevant. Whoever is going to make a decision, simply looks at what is said and done as editors, and decides whether this is behaviour up with which Wiki will put (or not). But, if the problem is defined as content based, then whatever system is proposed has to have some quality of fairness about it, which predicates some degree of subject expertise in the adjudication. But this is a dangerous door to open because it may be simply imposing the adjudicator's POV on the parties when what is really required is a compromise editing task to produce an agreed text that all the parties in dispute can live with. -David91 17:11, 9 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The alternate solution I propose leaves discretion with the NPOV subcommittee to accept or decline cases. I think when the issue is very content-centric it is hard to frame a simple question which a subcommittee could practically engage without expanding their scope and requiring outside expert testimony, etc., all of which I think leads to overreach and a sort of de facto editorial board which goes against the WikiWay. However, when a question is framed in simple enough terms, i.e., "Does the prefixed use of honorific styles conform with the NPOV policy?", the subcommittee can engage (at their option) to answer. This is the particular dispute which I brought recently to the attention of the ArbCom, in fact, and one in which a steadfast minority of editors are able to block consensus unless some authoritative and binding determination were brought to bear. However, the ArbCom themselves have sought to avoid engaging content disputes, for what I expect are a number of excellent reasons, not least of which is presumably their desire not to become embroiled in endless editorial decisionmaking. As well, they have plenty on their plates dealing with user conduct disputes, adding more workload without delegation would surely drain their limited time and energy. I think my proposed solution addresses an essential need if the NPOV policy shall not be abandoned whenever substantial disputes arise. Whig 06:28, 10 Jun 2005 (UTC)

So, if I understand your answer correctly, ArbCom's express remit or their consistent decision-making, excludes arbitration on content issues. Equally, although there is a NPOV committee, it has a discretion whether to accept content disputes. And mediation is voluntary so the immediate parties can refuse to resolve their dispute. There are also implicit assumptions that there are a significant number of disputes that are unresolved and that this "disturbance in the force" cannot be allowed to continue. At this point, my own ignorance takes over. Why is the jurisdiction of the NPOV committee discretionary? If it exists at all, it exists to resolve any dispute as to the neutrality of the content. Giving the committee a discretion seems irrational and a flaw that creating a further committee will do little to remedy. I repeat my simplistic view that the nature of the problem is conduct-based. What everyone on this page seems to be upset about is the failure of some editors to act reasonably. The answer, therefore, is to determine that narrow issue in each case and the consequence: a ban on those editors found to be unreasonable from contributing to the given pages, leaving the task of reaching a consensus version of the content to those editors willing to negotiate. Or am I missing something? -David91 08:42, 10 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think David91 has put this very well. Surely the bureaucracy should be limited to governing user conduct, and questions like the one posed above ("Does the prefixed use of honorific styles conform with the NPOV policy?") should be put to the community. We already have mechanisms for this (WP:3O, WP:RFC etc), adding another layer, particularly a non-compulsory, discretionary layer, is just instruction creep. --bainer (talk) 12:16, 10 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I disagree. The point you are missing is that there are important cases where the current system works very badly. Disliking instruction creep is all very well, but it doesn't mean no new rules are ever allowed, especially since those most closely involved in the current process feel that new rules *are* required. Asserting that the problem is conduct-based isn't really true. Many of the arbcomms *judgements* have tended to be conduct-based, when they would more naturally be content-based, is because they do their best to avoid ruling on content - not because it wasn't content that was the problem. If you want an example, then greenhouse effect had a long sterile edit war (I was half of it) where we were all terribly polite and well behaved (ahem...) but simply couldn't agree on what was the correct content. Somewhat to my surprise, the arbcomm have now settled that case (and produced the right answer). But... it does illustrate a potential problem with a content-committee: some of the problems considered are going to be quite specialised. OTOH, since they did get the right answer, maybe that isn't such a problem William M. Connolley 17:21, 11 Jun 2005 (UTC).
That is a very interesting RFAr you mention (it can be found here). ArbCom specifically avoided making findings of fact, and instead reinforced the importance of editing consistently with policies. However, they did acknowledge that you are highly knowledgeable in the field, propose that admins who consider blocking the parties for reverting judge sources based on this guideline. However, the key is in the proposed principles. I believe that those principles concord with what I have said. To add a content committee is to undermine these long-standing principles. --bainer (talk) 02:40, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC)
It is an interesting case, but (IMHO) you are misreading it. In order to settle it, the arbcomm *were* obliged to make FoF [2] [3] (which were written up after-the-fact in order to back up their decision [4]). Forcing a case that is essentially about facts/opinions into the mould of a user-conduct dispute is an undesirable distortion. And, of course, I can't say I care for their decision. The proposed principles are nice, but how useful are they? Most require interpretation: you couldn't cite them in any dispute and have them be of any use. William M. Connolley 18:59, 14 Jun 2005 (UTC).
The ones I was referring to were [5] and [6]. ArbCom avoided finding that "climate change is this" or "greenhouse effect is that". Rather, they recognised which users were knowledgeable ([7]) and which were acting against the consensus ([8]). ArbCom never created a consensus, they made decisions about user conduct in response to the existing consensus. As to implementing the principles, I think that the idea of having administrators enforce principle on involved parties provides a way forward (perhaps it could be enforced more broadly). --bainer (talk) 04:45, 15 Jun 2005 (UTC)
To clarify my alternate solution, it is not a "non-compulsory" layer. The NPOV subcommittee would have discretion to accept cases, but if they choose to decide a controversy, their decision would be binding, subject to the possibility of appeal to the ArbCom (however if the ArbCom up to this point has steered clear of such disputes, the likelihood they would accept such an appeal might be very small). If the NPOV subcommittee ruled, and an editor continued to flaunt their decision, that would however become a user conduct dispute that might go to the ArbCom if other avenues of resolution were otherwise exhausted. Whig 21:04, 11 Jun 2005 (UTC)