Anthony Watts over at WUWT.com, his community-service-as-science-blog, has a recent post up on the reinstatement of William Connolley to Wikipedia after having been banned as an editor back in: Wikipedia Climate Fiddler William Connolley in the News Again. Since its very short I’ll reblog the article in its entirety:
Apparently Mr. Connolley has edited 5428 Wikipedia articles, most about climate. Die Kalte Sonne:
Unbelievable but true: The Wikipedia umpire on Climate Change was a member of the UK Green Party and openly sympathized with the views of the controversial IPCC. So it was not a referee, but the 12th Man of the IPCC team.
I’m not sure how accurate the translation is, but it suggests he was somehow part of the IPCC “short list” team. See it here at Die Kalte Sonne via this Google Translate link:
With over 5000 articles he’s edited, it makes you wonder if Mr. Connolley was employed by someone or some organization specifically for the task.
The main thrust of most subsequent commenters was to harp on the wiki-depridations of Connolley specifically and Wikipedia’s problem with out-of-control editors, and the unreliability of Wikipedia generally. Wikipedia, naturally, has a page even on this subject: Criticism of Wikipedia.
I had some comments of my own naturally. I’m going to try not going to turn this post into a rant about Mr. Connolley or his actions or character with the exception of how he has chosen to characterize himself via the use of a tutelary animal on his personal blog, the stoat, I would rather focus on people’s attitudes towards Wikipedia in general. My first comment was a new iteration of my old saw on Wikipedia:
I thought we had finally gotten rid of Connolley for good myself. Sigh…
Anthony said: “With over 5000 articles he’s edited, it makes you wonder if Mr. Connolley was employed by someone or some organization specifically for the task.”
Fortunately, or unfortunately, no; all it takes is a pathological personality. At this point Wikipedia does not have an effective method of dealing with pathological personalities who lack the self-restraint to restrain their enthusiasms [or psychotisms] and confine their work to the level of their personal competence or exclude their own biases. This shortcoming, and it is a major one, is Wikipedia’s greatest hurdle to overcome. If we don’t get over it, eventually it will kill the project. On the other hand an entire global civilization is learning to edit an encyclopedia. This is no small thing. One might expect there to be some problems at first.
I am a [very modest] Wikipedia editor, if you were to stumble across my own User Page you would discover that I have edited several hundred pages – mostly very minor edits. You would also find this statement:
Quite simply put, massively collaborative projects such as Wikipedia are the way Humanity will do things in the future. If you wish to be part of Humanity’s future you must learn to participate and to contribute in what ever way your resources and talents allow and your inclinations direct you.
Using Wikipedia is a valid form of participation in the Project, but is not enough. What is required of you is three things, your: Time, Treasure, and Talent. Sending in some of your hard earned treasure to support the Wikimedia foundation is a valid form of contributing, but is not sufficient to fulfill the obligation to contribute; your time and your talent is also required.
The thought I will leave you all with is this: all human knowledge WILL eventually be aggregated into a single digital database, who do you want to hold the keys? YOU or Gooogle???
Time to get to work.
I see Wikipedia, its offshoots, attempts at reformation, and competitors as very important impulses in the evolution of global human civilization which I first touched on in November 2011 in the post: The Durability of Links – the impact of the massively collaborative.
After I watched the conversation amongst commenters at WUWT develop I began to notice that the comments tended to fall into either the category of disparaging William Connolley or disparaging Wikipedia, no one else really picked up on the thread that I left them that Wikipedia is significant and important for reasons other than its present suitability as an encyclopedia. My second comment was to reiterate and amplify the first, hoping that people there at WUWT would catch onto my real point, which was not to defend the Wiki against all critics:
A lot of good points are being made about Wikipedia’s editor problems, pretty much everyone at Wikipedia recognizes the problem and has for years, even from his twisted point of view William Connolley is acting to control [as opposed to working out a solution for] the problem. We do not yet have a solution to the problem, or the will to carry it out, but working out a solution [and I emphasize “working out”] is of singular importance to humanity as a whole. I will reiterate my warning:
All human knowledge WILL eventually be aggregated into a single digital database, who do you want to hold the keys? Who do you want to be the gatekeepers?? YOU or Google??? – or the UN, the federal government, the Chinese, or <insert the evil bureaucratic entity of you worst fears here>.
The wiki in general and Wikipedia in particular represents an entirely new category of human interaction: the global, open-source, massively collaborative project. How Wikipedia – meaning us – solves this problem is of enormous importance in human evolution. The wiki is how humanity will do things in the future, if it is to be a future not completely dominated by evil bureaucratic entities over which you and I have effectively zero control.
The wiki offers hope to our global problems because it is essentially an INDIVIDUAL effort, A LOT of individuals doing their own thing and learning to cooperate with each other to produce a work that they would never be able to accomplish singly. To the degree that we have problems with herd mentality, and ‘consensus’ enforcement & etc. is exactly the degree to which the Wiki is failing. Consensus, a reasonable, reasoned consensus has something to do with it, but is not ‘it’; ‘it’ has a lot to do with a lot of people learning to act with self-restraint, cooperate with each other, and how to deal with uncertainty and personal bias ‘reasonably’. This has never happened before on a global scale, it will not be easy, it involves A LOT of people getting over their own personal ‘whatever’.
The current edifice of Wikipedia may fail to “work out” its problems, in which case it should be replaced – by one that works. Google is probably capable of doing the work, the UN probably not, maybe the Chinese, but would you really want any of those people holding the keys to the sum of human knowledge? Really?? This IS going to happen, in our lifetimes, probably much sooner than anyone realizes – or wants. The solutions to the problem are for each one of us to find, it’s an individual problem, and ultimately the solutions are individual ones.
Time to get to work, this is actually important.
I appreciated a number of comments, but one in particular by someone who goes by the moniker Skiphill stood out in my mind because it caught onto something that I had noticed some time ago, namely William Connolley’s choice of tutelary animal which he uses as the name for his personal blog: Stoat: taking science by the throat. How telling.
Commenter Skiphill wrote:
All one needs to know about Connolley is described at Wikipedia, under his species namesake, the Stoat:
That Mr. Connolley should self-identify with a particular member of the weasel family in this way speaks volumes to me and goes a long way in helping understand the controversy and conflict which surrounds his personality, not everyone elicits such a direct venting of so many spleens – something is going on with Mr. Connolley that I find curious, namely that he has chosen to identify himself and his public work with a creature with such a strong killing instinct and few pleasant social characteristics.
For what it’s worth I don’t have any personal axes to grind with Mr. Connelley and I have had only one, albeit indirect, Wikipedia interaction with him, which was to support his position in front of a bunch of ‘global warming skeptics’ that the Wiki page on French author and climatologist Marcel Leroux: did not meet published Wikipedia guidelines for “notability’ and ought to be subject to deletion if not brought up to standards. [ed. note: it was subsequently deleted] As it happens this all came about from a blog post over at E.M Smith’s blog: Musings of the Chiefio last September: Marcel Leroux Wikipedia. At that time I commented that the article on Leroux did not meet Wikipedia quality standards and ought to be either improved or deleted; additionally, I laid out a very specific set of instruction on how to meet Wikipedia quality guidelines for notability, which was to add at least two verifiable sources who where not Marcel Leroux himself, something the article at that time did not have. Simple enough, except that nobody over at The Chefio wanted to do the work, they just wanted to whinge about it. [I understand completely, I myself still have one shoe in an internet ‘put up or shut up’ boat from about that time period – still working on getting the other shoe out, except that for me the payout thus far, has been about 50,000 words of writing and sixty plus hours of work – yuk – and still not done – the main reason not much has gotten done on this blog in months – denial]
Back to present discussions.
Another name for such a “namesake”, as Skiphil put it, would be tutelary animal. Here at the Meme Merchants Consortium we have had much to say about the concept of tutelary animals previously, particularly in the case of Visin’s post on the subject of Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan in his 2011 essay: Black Swan Bad – Tutelary Insults, the strangest beast in the world can’t be imagined – or how Cygnus atratus dreams of being a Platypus, which I will excerpt here:
A tutelary animal [you could also have tutelary plants if you want] is an animal symbol that represents a set of key attributes of something in the human world. For instance the horse might be considered to be the tutelary animal of the Age of Steam during the industrial revolution, that period in Western Europe and North America between roughly 1770 and 1914. Think about it for a moment, “horse power” as the standard unit of mechanical power, and the “iron horse” as moniker for the steam locomotive, both point to the horse as the metaphor for the tractive effort of steam, tamed for the service of man. Also, the early steam engine is articulated like the limbs of a horse, it consumes fuel and excretes waste, it ‘breathes’, and for thousands of years the horse had been a primary Western symbol for fieriness. One could of course come up with different criteria and different animals to describe that period of Western history, but the point is that the animal symbol is supposed to teach you something about how to understand the concept under consideration, in our example the Age of Steam is supposed to be more understandable by recognition of the horse as being emblematic of the age. It is in this way that the black swan is supposed to be a tutelary animal symbol for Nassim Taleb’s theory of rare, high impact events.
Skiphil then excerpted the following passages from the Wikipedia page on the stoat.
It is listed among the 100 “world’s worst invasive species”
The stoat has large anal scent glands …. When attacked or aggressive, the stoat excretes the contents of its anal glands, producing a strong, musky odour produced by several sulphuric compounds, which is distinct from that of least weasels.
Stoats are not monogamous, with litters often being of mixed paternity
The stoat is an opportunistic predator, which moves rapidly and checks every available burrow or crevice for food.
The stoat is a usually silent animal, but can produce a range of sounds similar to those of the least weasel. Kits produce a fine chirping noise. Adults trill excitedly before mating, and indicate submission through quiet trilling, whining and squealing. When nervous, the stoat hisses, and will intersperse this with sharp barks or shrieks and prolonged screeching when aggressive.
Aggressive behavior in stoats is categorized in these forms:
Noncontact approach, which is sometimes accompanied by a threat display and vocalization from the approached animal
Forward thrust, accompanied by a sharp shriek, which is usually done by stoats defending a nest or retreat site
Nest occupation, when a stoat appropriates the nesting site of a weaker individual
Kleptoparasitism, in which a dominant stoat appropriates the kill of a weaker one, usually after a fight
Submissive stoats express their status by avoiding higher-ranking animals, fleeing from them or making whining or squealing sounds.
I have always thought that Mr. Connelley’s choice of tutelary animal was most unfortunate, and most telling, it is simply amazing the way the subconscious works, it seems now that at least one other person has picked up on this. And now you know too.