English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

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English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Gregory Maxwell
In a recent EnWiki policy discussion there was a conversation which I
found quite interesting.  I've removed the names to avoid singling out
the guilty, because I doubt they are alone:


Person A: "(...) I think that might be a good idea. Doing so for any
BLP deletion is a bad idea since they are usually for reasons
completely against policy (as in the current case where the only
reasons given are "The subject is going to sue us" and "We mustn't
harm people", neither of which are policies)"

Person B: "Heh, that last bit is a little disturbing. Indeed, there is
no policy that says we mustn't harm people. I think the idea here is
to change policy in order to reduce the amount that we unnecessarily
harm people. It's fair to debate to what extent this proposal actually
accomplishes that goal, but it's a little disturbing to here someone
basically assert that since there is no Wikipedia policy saying we
can't needlessly harm people, that it is okay...."

Person A: "This is a proposal to change procedure. If you want to
change an underlying principle, you need to do so explicitly."

Basically person A is arguing that avoiding causing harm to people is
not explicitly a English Wikipedia policy, and so if you want to push
a proposal or argument based on the concept of avoiding harm you must
first change Wikipedia policy to recognize harm avoidance as a
principle worth upholding.

I never used to expect Wikipedia policies to contain such points
because I always considered Wikipedia policies to ultimately be
subordinate to a number of higher powers: The laws of the countires we
live in, basic common sense, and basic human decency.   Yet I've seen
a number of cases were Wikipedia contributors seem to have built the
opinion that Wikipedia policies are the only rules binding the actions
of Wikipedia users, and that details like human rights not only should
but must be ignored unless they are established in the sovereign law
of Wikipedia policy.

Person B's response gives me hope that this believe system is not yet
the majority view.  ... So I'm left wondering, how the heck did this
start happening, and how can it be avoided?    Is it the result of how
the policies are presented? Or are there just a few bad applies that
need to be disinvited from the community.

Thoughts?

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

David Gerard-2
On 22/04/2008, Gregory Maxwell <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Person B's response gives me hope that this believe system is not yet
> the majority view.  ... So I'm left wondering, how the heck did this
> start happening, and how can it be avoided?    Is it the result of how
> the policies are presented? Or are there just a few bad applies that
> need to be disinvited from the community.
> Thoughts?


The problem is pathologically literalist geeks so socially crippled
they don't realise they are with a chronic inability not to hair-split
down to the Planck length.

They do have a point, and that's why WP:BLP only works because it's
the basic content rules (NPOV, NOR, V) applied in a really really
hard-arsed manner.

But I think they need to be reminded to be human. Not that I know how.


- d.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
I am Person A, so I will attempt to clarify what I was saying.
Basically, there is a difference between "This is what we should do"
and "This is how we should do it". We have policies on what kind of
content is acceptable (WP:V, WP:NPOV, etc.) and then we have a
separate policy on how we deal with content that doesn't (and can't)
meet those criteria (WP:DELETE, probably - my knowledge of shortcuts
is failing me!). "We should not do harm" is a matter of content and
that should be kept separate to matters of procedure. Now, it's not
necessary for all policy to be written down. We have plenty of
unwritten rules, and not doing harm could be one of them, but it isn't
- we do plenty of harm. We've always felt that neutrality takes
precedence over not doing harm. We've recently changed that for
marginally notable living people, but not for fully notable ones. We
try to minimise harm (that's an unwritten rule based on common human
decency), but not at the expense of neutrality. If we're going to
change that, it needs to be carefully discussed, and that discussion
should be separate from the procedural one.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

WJhonson
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
 
In a message dated 4/22/2008 10:03:38 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
[hidden email] writes:

"We  should not do harm" >>


-----------------------
If people are going to keep rephrasing BLP into "do no harm", can we please  
rewrite 9000 BLPs right away?  Because we certainly do "additional harm"  
collating and collecting details into one mass.
 
That's been the essential argument which is imho entirely ridiculous and  
specious.
 
So we collect together details like Jimmy dumped his girlfriend over the  
internet, Jimmy was born in Alabama and Jimmy ran a porn site and voila we've  
done additional harm that any individual source did not do.
 
"We should not do harm" is not what BLP says, nor what it should say.   We
are reporters and editors, the fact that we must oh I don't know... EDIT...  
should be relevant.  But we should not censor.
 
I'm in a soapbox mood today, sorta pissed off about the Genie (Susan Wiley)  
article, and the incredibly silly counter-arguments being used there.
 
Will Johnson



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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Wily D
On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 1:29 PM,  <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
>  In a message dated 4/22/2008 10:03:38 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
>
> [hidden email] writes:
>
>  "We  should not do harm" >>
>
>
>  -----------------------
>  If people are going to keep rephrasing BLP into "do no harm", can we please
>  rewrite 9000 BLPs right away?  Because we certainly do "additional harm"
>  collating and collecting details into one mass.
>
>  That's been the essential argument which is imho entirely ridiculous and
>  specious.
>
>  So we collect together details like Jimmy dumped his girlfriend over the
>  internet, Jimmy was born in Alabama and Jimmy ran a porn site and voila we've
>  done additional harm that any individual source did not do.
>
>  "We should not do harm" is not what BLP says, nor what it should say.   We
>  are reporters and editors, the fact that we must oh I don't know... EDIT...
>  should be relevant.  But we should not censor.
>
>  I'm in a soapbox mood today, sorta pissed off about the Genie (Susan Wiley)
>  article, and the incredibly silly counter-arguments being used there.
>
>  Will Johnson
>
>
>
>  **************Need a new ride? Check out the largest site for U.S. used car
>  listings at AOL Autos.
>  (http://autos.aol.com/used?NCID=aolcmp00300000002851)
>

Quoth the WP:BLP "An important rule of thumb when writing biographical
material about living persons is "do no harm"."

What this means, of course, is anyone's guess.

WilyD

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
> Quoth the WP:BLP "An important rule of thumb when writing biographical
>  material about living persons is "do no harm"."
>
>  What this means, of course, is anyone's guess.

What it means is that we should completely ignore NPOV with regards to
living people, which I don't think anyone is actually in favour of.
The policy page should be corrected.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

WJhonson
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
 
In a message dated 4/22/2008 10:37:08 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
[hidden email] writes:

Quoth  the WP:BLP "An important rule of thumb when writing biographical
material  about living persons is "do no harm".">>


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
However this "rule of thumb" is being spouted out as the  
"end-all-and-be-all" of the policy, which it's not.
 
There is no way we can collate disparate bits without doing "additional  
harm" and also additional good by the way.  Our actions do  additions.



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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

WJhonson
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
 
In a message dated 4/22/2008 10:40:10 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
[hidden email] writes:

What it  means is that we should completely ignore NPOV with regards to
living  people, which I don't think anyone is actually in favour of.
The policy  page should be corrected.


------------------------
I agree that it should be corrected to *remove* the apparent belief that  "do
no harm" is the nutshell of it.



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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Gregory Maxwell
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 1:02 PM, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:
> I am Person A, so I will attempt to clarify what I was saying.
>  Basically, there is a difference between "This is what we should do"
>  and "This is how we should do it". We have policies on what kind of
>  content is acceptable (WP:V, WP:NPOV, etc.) and then we have a
>  separate policy on how we deal with content that doesn't (and can't)
>  meet those criteria (WP:DELETE, probably - my knowledge of shortcuts
>  is failing me!). "We should not do harm" is a matter of content and
>  that should be kept separate to matters of procedure.

No,  a dislike of causing harm should be an element of basic human
decency.  It's not up for policy to decide.

Ultimately the outcomes, both short and long-term, must be considered
anytime procedure is applied.  A long time fundamental tenant of
Wikipedia is that you don't apply a procedure when you know it's the
wrong thing to do.

[snip]
>  We've always felt that neutrality takes
>  precedence over not doing harm. We've recently changed that for
>  marginally notable living people, but not for fully notable ones.

There is a pretty straightforward argument why neutrality and harm
avoidance are not necessarily in conflict:

When a noteworthy person does some horrific thing and later Wikipedia
goes on to produce a fair and accurate account of the event placed in
appropriate context and given appropriate weight, then  any resulting
harm was the subject's doing, not Wikipedias.  Certantly all
participants in a modern society are aware of journalism. They can
except reasonable editorial standards from people that right about
them, but not a shield against factual information and even criticism
over their acts, .. as has been affirmed many times by the courts of
any country which has any semblance of free speech.

Though in this case it is irrelvent if you accept this argument or
not, since what you were arguing against was not the total avoidance
of harm but rather and attempt to minimize it.

[snip]
>  We
>  try to minimise harm (that's an unwritten rule based on common human
>  decency), but not at the expense of neutrality.

Amusingly, an attempt to minimize harm is *precisely* what you were
arguing against, ... You now claim to be attacking another position
"We mustn't harm people", but thats a straw man. Your opposition was
taking the positions that "we can't needlessly harm people" (we must)
"reduce the amount that we unnecessarily harm people" and said so
explicitly.


Can you explain to me why you were arguing against minimizing harm?

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
> Amusingly, an attempt to minimize harm is *precisely* what you were
>  arguing against, ... You now claim to be attacking another position
>  "We mustn't harm people", but thats a straw man. Your opposition was
>  taking the positions that "we can't needlessly harm people" (we must)
>  "reduce the amount that we unnecessarily harm people" and said so
>  explicitly.

It's not a strawman, it is exactly what (some) people were arguing.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Gregory Maxwell
On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 2:02 PM, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:
> > Amusingly, an attempt to minimize harm is *precisely* what you were
>  >  arguing against, ... You now claim to be attacking another position
>  >  "We mustn't harm people", but thats a straw man. Your opposition was
>  >  taking the positions that "we can't needlessly harm people" (we must)
>  >  "reduce the amount that we unnecessarily harm people" and said so
>  >  explicitly.
>
>  It's not a strawman, it is exactly what (some) people were arguing.

It's certainly not what the people you were talking to there were
arguing, they were quite specific.  (And I'm not sure sure thats what
anyone is arguing, I'm pretty confident that compromising neutrality
is a decidedly minority view).

I'm glad to hear that you're not a complete monster. ;)

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Ray Saintonge
In reply to this post by WJhonson
[hidden email] wrote:
> So we collect together details like Jimmy dumped his girlfriend over the  
> internet, Jimmy was born in Alabama and Jimmy ran a porn site and voila we've  
> done additional harm that any individual source did not do.
I'm amused by the suggestion that stating that someone was born in
Alabama somehow does harm.  It's been a long time since 1865. :-)

Ec

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
> It's certainly not what the people you were talking to there were
>  arguing, they were quite specific.  (And I'm not sure sure thats what
>  anyone is arguing, I'm pretty confident that compromising neutrality
>  is a decidedly minority view).

I'll use the nomination in the Stefano AFD as an example (I
specifically said I was talking about this case). It includes the
sentence:

"If real people are negatively affected, we do the right thing, and
stop hurting them."

That's an absolute statement that we mustn't do harm and doesn't even
try and take into account whether the harm is justified. (I know
that's just one sentence, but even in context, I think that's how it
was intended.)

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Nathan Awrich
In reply to this post by Ray Saintonge
The idea that "I don't have to do it if the law doesn't make me" or "If it
isn't against the law there is no reason I can't do it if I want to" is not
exactly limited to Wikipedia. Seems to be a standard human character defect,
to not do difficult things unless forced and to not forgo anything wanted
unless forced. Wikipedia hasn't been immune to this problem, but I'm not
sure if the "Do no harm isn't a policy" is really the same thing.

Harm is relative, it doesn't work as an objective standard in editing
(unlike in medicine, whence "First, do no harm."). If an article is sourced,
we may 'do harm' by making more centrally located and prominent a collection
of published criticism of an individual. That doesn't mean we shouldn't
appropriately include sourced criticism.

Nathan

On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 2:32 PM, Ray Saintonge <[hidden email]> wrote:

> [hidden email] wrote:
> > So we collect together details like Jimmy dumped his girlfriend over the
> > internet, Jimmy was born in Alabama and Jimmy ran a porn site and voila
> we've
> > done additional harm that any individual source did not do.
> I'm amused by the suggestion that stating that someone was born in
> Alabama somehow does harm.  It's been a long time since 1865. :-)
>
> Ec
>
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>
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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

David Goodman
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
In the long run, we avoid harming people in general by telling the
truth. The proposition that we must never report anything unpleasant
about anyone even to report the truth about that person's notable
activities is contrary to the production of a NPOV encyclopedia. We
probably do need a explanation of the meaning of do no harm; as I
understand it it consists of the wide dissemination of technically
public but not widely disseminated negative information about a
private individual. The classic example is the identity of the victim
in the Central Park Jogger case. It was reported in one NYC paper, but
the others none the less refused to include it. We use it in WP,
because the victim later chose to publicize it widely in a book.

As applies to us, if something disreputable is published in a tabloid
about the early career of a notable but private individual, we would
not include it unless widespread more respectable sources did so. I
would extend it to not doing the same for most public figures either.
Once the story is truly widespread, no further harm can be done.

On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 2:37 PM, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]> wrote:

> > It's certainly not what the people you were talking to there were
>  >  arguing, they were quite specific.  (And I'm not sure sure thats what
>  >  anyone is arguing, I'm pretty confident that compromising neutrality
>  >  is a decidedly minority view).
>
>  I'll use the nomination in the Stefano AFD as an example (I
>  specifically said I was talking about this case). It includes the
>  sentence:
>
>  "If real people are negatively affected, we do the right thing, and
>  stop hurting them."
>
>  That's an absolute statement that we mustn't do harm and doesn't even
>  try and take into account whether the harm is justified. (I know
>  that's just one sentence, but even in context, I think that's how it
>  was intended.)
>
>
>
>  _______________________________________________
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>



--
David Goodman, Ph.D, M.L.S.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:DGG

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
On 22/04/2008, David Goodman <[hidden email]> wrote:
> In the long run, we avoid harming people in general by telling the
>  truth.

I don't see how that works. If the truth is negative, telling the
truth does harm. The net result to society is positive (we generally
consider having a free, neutral encyclopaedia a good thing), but that
doesn't mean we haven't harmed the subject.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

WJhonson
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
 
In a message dated 4/22/2008 11:32:12 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,  
[hidden email] writes:

[hidden email] wrote:
> So we collect together details like  Jimmy dumped his girlfriend over the  
> internet, Jimmy was born  in Alabama and Jimmy ran a porn site and voila
we've  
> done  additional harm that any individual source did not do.
I'm amused by the  suggestion that stating that someone was born in
Alabama somehow does  harm.  It's been a long time since 1865. :-)



------------------------------
My point isn't the individual atomic details.  It's the collection of  
details in one article.
Knowing that Jimmy was born in Alabama and that he ran porn site x and now  
is the "at-least-nominal" head of Wikipedia, *could* be used to do further  
research, for example one could find a picture of him in his high school  
yearbook right?  Once you find that detail, can a person then argue against  it's
inclusion?  It is relevant to a biography to know where someone went  to High
School or that they were arrested at age 15 for shop-lifting or that  they won
the blue ribbon for the biggest hog at the County Fair.
 
We create the situation from where you can further that sort of  research.  
That very situation, that we create, and that has not previously  existed, is
what people are arguing against.
 
That is, to wit, *if* we find details from the newspaper about Jimmy's  early
life, that we can't include them, simply because they don't exist already  
somewhere ....else.  That position is exactly the argument used on the  article
about Genie feral child, and so far I am the sole voice of reason *imho*  to
argue that it's a ridiculous argument.
 
Will Johnson



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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Luna-4
In reply to this post by Thomas Dalton
On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 11:59 AM, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]>
wrote:

> I don't see how that works. If the truth is negative, telling the
> truth does harm. The net result to society is positive (we generally
> consider having a free, neutral encyclopaedia a good thing), but that
> doesn't mean we haven't harmed the subject.
>

That's one difficulty of applying  "do no harm" simplistically. :) Asimov's
robots managed to figure out a 0th law to supercede the 1st in important
circumstances; why can't we?

-Luna
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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

Thomas Dalton
On 22/04/2008, Luna <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 11:59 AM, Thomas Dalton <[hidden email]>
>  wrote:
>
>
>  > I don't see how that works. If the truth is negative, telling the
>  > truth does harm. The net result to society is positive (we generally
>  > consider having a free, neutral encyclopaedia a good thing), but that
>  > doesn't mean we haven't harmed the subject.
>  >
>
>
> That's one difficulty of applying  "do no harm" simplistically. :) Asimov's
>  robots managed to figure out a 0th law to supercede the 1st in important
>  circumstances; why can't we?

Actually, in some of the stories, the "0th law" was just a special
application of the first law, rather than a law of its own - can we,
too, do without the instruction creep? If we interpret "do no harm" in
a general sense, rather than in the sense of harm to the subject, then
we should be ok. A non-neutral article (or lack, thereof) does more
harm overall than a neutral but necessarily negative article, it's
just harm to different people.

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Re: English Wikipedia Policy as sovereign law

WJhonson
In reply to this post by Gregory Maxwell
That it's time for a concerted attack on "do no harm"
We cannot be journalists without doing harm.



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