Open Letter to Wikipedia’s Sue Gardner (Following a Small – no, actually, Tiny, Donation)

Posted By on November 12, 2011

Sue Gardner is the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Dear Ms. Gardner:

Jimbo Wales and Larry Sanger, co-founders of Wikipedia. Sanger has now gone on to establish Citizendium. You may contribute money or expertise the latter at www.citizendium.org

Naturally, you are very welcome for the gift, even if it is no more than a widow’s mite.

However, at the risk of sounding like one who is attaching strings, I’m not really the one you need to thank.

Indeed, I’d like to let you know that this may be both the first and the last donation I’m able to give to Wikipedia.

Let me explain why. Your note refers to the value of “providing free, easy access to unbiased information” (emphasis mine).

That would be nice if it were true.

[Addendum: and, no doubt it is true for the vast majority of Wikipedia articles - just not the ones I'm concerned with].

I don’t know if you are the one who processes the comment forms from the donations or not. If so, I apologize for repeating myself, but here’s my “story” — in a little more detail than what I gave on the comment form.

I am a tenured University Professor with a PhD on a controversial topic from a tier one research institution.

Currently I am banned from even posting comments to talk pages on subjects that I have studied for almost twenty years, and on which I have published widely, both in mainstream peer-reviewed journals and in what one might call “alternative revolutionary” publications that are not peer reviewed but which contain a great deal of highly competent scholarship both by established University scholars and by writers from the broader community of readership that takes an interest in such things (teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc.) — many of whom, in my own opinion, have contributed more to the understanding of this topic than all but a few of those with better credentials.

Sue, I’m not going to say that I didn’t do some things to invite this ban.

By nature not being a person who deals well with Kafkaesque bureaucracies well peopled with graduates from Peter Principle‘s Institute for Advanced Studies, I made many mistakes and no doubt incurred the wrath of some who might have become allies had I been more accommodating to the dubious practices that were gradually brought to bear in a concerted effort to marginalize me from the wider community of Wikipedia editors and administrators.

But in my own defense I must add that the context of my perhaps overly defensive responses was one of standing up to Wikipedians of the sort quite prophetically described by Larry Sanger in his well-known Kuroshin analysis:

I thought that the project would never have the amount of credibility it could have if it were not somehow more open and welcoming to experts….The other problem was the community had essentially been taken over by trolls to a great extent.

A few days ago, on the verge of a permanent ban about to be imposed on me by administrators of the sort Sanger describes, I received a surprising post to my talk page.

Here’s what it said:

Hello, Wikid77 (talk) here. I am thinking that Wikipedia needs to create a group of graduate-level admins (“gradmins”), who can be considered to have a graduate degree from a major university, as a group of credentialed admins who help decide major issues. I suspect that Wikipedia will continue to support unneeded topic bans unless a more-scholarly approach is used to determine if a “clear and present danger” is really caused by a user writing on some article-talk or user-talk pages. Of course, in history, we have the Athens tribunal of 587(?)* and the condemnation of Socrates for asking too many “uncomfortable questions” at the wrong times; enter Plato meets Archimedes re/ education.

The test to promote gradmins would likely be transparent, in most cases: just ask a candidate some graduate-level questions about their specialty and whichever university granted their degree(s), and the answers should reveal whether the claim is true. I would also consider graduate students to become gradmins, but that might cause some conflicts, so perhaps limit to those who have already finished an advanced degree.

Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that an admin has yet to finish a primary-school education, so I wonder what level of thinking to expect in that case. I am reminded, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Imagine being an average 18-year-old person and trying to judge the impact of talk-page comments. Meanwhile, there are 500 other major topics, not banned, which need work to improve the quality of articles. -Wikid77 (talk) 03:30, 10

For the first time in six years a Wikipedia administrator seemed to have understood the real values at stake in my efforts, and those of many others, similarly harassed and browbeaten for their labors, to inject a degree of impartial honesty into the discussions in which [we] had been participating.

I take the liberty of repeating what seems to me to be the essential message of Wikid77′s remarkable and refreshing sign of the continued vitality of the idea of principlewithin your organization:

Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that an admin has yet to finish a primary-school education, so I wonder what level of thinking to expect in that case. I am reminded, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Imagine being an average 18-year-old person and trying to judge the impact of talk-page comments.

Had I not received that communication, from at least one Wikipedia editor who “gets” it, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Perhaps your day would be easier, and your reading load lighter, but you also wouldn’t have this rare opportunity to consider the significance of the widow’s mite of decency that Wikid77 has just donated to the future of your organization, to which his commitment could not be more obvious and for which his vision could not be more apt.

Imho, Wikipedia has a real opportunity here to make a long-overdue change.

If you don’t, I am confident in predicting that your project will only continue to attract such unwanted attention as that found in Adam Gopnik’s February 2011 New Yorker article: Wikipedia can’t deal effectively with topics “on which one side is wrong but doesn’t know it.”

I don’t know if this chance will come again. Good luck.

Carpe diem.

Sincerely Yours,
Roger Stritmatter, MA, PhD
Associate Professor of Humanities
Coppin State University
General Editor, Brief Chronicles

*399 BC is the correct date.

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14 Responses to “Open Letter to Wikipedia’s Sue Gardner (Following a Small – no, actually, Tiny, Donation)”

  1. Lurking Ox says:

    Roger, I think you should win some kind of award.

  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    I thought you were going to say, like ten years in Siberia. :)

  3. Lurking Ox says:

    Not that many. And I was thinking you could have summers off.

    No, I think it admirable that you care enough to be involved with things like this – things that most people (myself included) would rather avoid. Officialism, bureaucracy, ignorance, redundancy, mannered protocol, repetition, red tape, etc…

    “Still it is Nietzsche, the son of Odin, with his Thor-hammer pounding the planets to dust!” (From a letter, paraphrased….) I just love that line.

  4. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Five? : ):

    Honestly, I hate it. But I must love it also, or I’d be even more of a coward than I am. I just can’t stand to see such tiny minds in charge of what people are allowed to know, tossing about phrases like “Not RS” or “fringe theory” in ways that make themselves sound just so self-important but are really just markers of their own ignorance or prejudice.

    Give me Prometheus on the wrack any day over *that*.

    You know, though, who is truly a hero on Wikipedia? – our own I will say “Dr.” Lavendoski, who is even now putting Reedy to school, with the patience of a saint, and a lawyer’s knowledge of the Byzantine ways of Wikidom, that are truly breathtaking to behold. Being out for the count, I can only watch on bemusedly and be instructed in how to behave myself the next time. : ):

    Yours, huddling over my fire and cracking jokes between bites of my crust of bread.

  5. Dear Lurking Ox
    I recognise that line!

    It comes from My Sister and I, Nietzsche’s Asylum Writing, rejected out of hand by the Nietzsche establishment led by Walter Kaufman. How good to read it! How very rare an occurrence! And of course it poses very similar problems to those our man poses!
    http://www.amokbooks.com/books/fnsister.html
    http://hewardwilkinson.co.uk/docs/MySisterandI.pdf

  6. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Pipe down you two, this is no place to be discussing the Nietzsche apocrypha. This is a serious intellectual site. : )

  7. This was why we wanted to turn to consider serious philosophical matters such as Nietzsche’s identification with Odin and Thor, and not some old discredited chestnut like the Shakespeare Authorship Question….

    Still I suppose people have to play with their train sets….
    http://michaelsrailways.blogspot.com/2010/10/expo-ng-2010.html

  8. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Ok, well, I’ll allow it this one time. Just not again.

  9. Lurking Ox says:

    Heward, enjoyed your remarks and thanks for the links.

    ‘My Sister and I’ still commands a prominent position on the bookshelf in my office although I have probably not read through it in more than a decade (hence my foggy attribution – wondering if I had wrecked that quote or gotten it right). There are parts that stick with you – like good poetry. Parts as good as anything I have probably ever read. So, if not Nietzsche, who?

    Parts of the book soar, majestic, sprawling; some Shakespearean, some remind me of “Ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time…” Quite an eclectic collection. I purchased the book almost as a novelty and while reading it noticed that it began to feel a good bit more sustantial than that. Thinking that if it was just a fiction, then it was a grand fiction.

    Strangely enough I purchased my copy in London, 1993, finished it at Stratford-upon-Avon a week later.

    “Not the height, it is the declivity that is terrible. The declivity, where the gaze shooteth downwards, and the hand graspeth upwards…. This, this is my declivity and my danger, that my gaze shooteth towards the summit and my hand would fain, cluth, and lean — in the depth.” (My Sister and I – probably paraphrased…)

  10. Roger Stritmatter says:

    No wonder you Oxfordians always get kicked off Wikipedia. Tom Reedy says, “just don’t do that again,” and you do it anyway!

  11. Lurking Ox says:

    Sorry, Roger, I had to get my turn.

  12. Lurking Ox says:

    Get? Take. Take my turn.

  13. Dear Lurking Ox, I think the Nietzsche Apocrypha is such a minority concern, – alas especially amongst Nietzsche scholars! – that, whilist it does offer analogies to the SAQ, it would be probably better to pursue it elsewhere. I myself have done my best to honour the neglected dead in this matter. It was delightful to see you quoting it, and much of it is indeed, in several respects, beyond anything Nietzsche wrote almost anywhere else, except in the ‘Madman’ parable in the Gay Science, and a few of the final notes in Ecce Homo, and the letters from Turin. But I think it is for elsewhere, and I would be very glad to pick it up privately, IF you wish, and if we feel it needs to go public, on my blog. My email is:
    hewardwilkinson-at-gmail.com
    and my blog is at:
    http://hewardwilkinson.co.uk/blog/

  14. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hey Heward, I was just imitating our wikipedian friends (although not very well, since if I were doing it well I would have just deleted the comments or put a lineout through them). Talk on, here or wherever you like. I edited your email address. Best not to put it out like that on the internet, as bots will scoop it up and start playing games (yes, believe it or not) with your account. : ) : Don’t let self-important admins rain on your parade.

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