Wikipedia Debate: When Will Jim Wales Finally Step In?

wikipedia Rorschach


Wikipedia is embroiled in yet another controversy, this time over entries which reveal answers to the Rorschach ink blot psychological tests. For those who do not know, the Rorschach test is a series of 10 inkblot slides created by renown Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in 1921. The test, which most of us are familiar with vie movies and TV, is arguably one of the oldest continually used psychological testing apparatuses still applied to the profession. The point of contention is that Wikipedia is in effect offering answers that might ultimately skew results, thereby rendering the tests ineffective. The long and short of the debate being, psychologists might no longer be able to effectively use the tests as a tool to help patients.

The initial debate was over the Wikipedia presentation of a single plate, which has now turned into a full blow argument because of the (link to Wikipedia article) posting of all 10 plates by James Heilman, and emergency room doctor from Canada. Heilman included the images of all 10 plates, with the most common responses to them at the bottom of an article explaining the tests. The simple implication here is that posting what might be considered “normal” answers to the test’s questions, is in effect like giving the correct answers to any other test, only with much more dramatic effect. Besides skewing results, diluting the test’s effectiveness also renders tens of thousands of pages of research worthless.

Rorschach Wikipedia Debate

What Is Inappropriate Any Way?

This is not the first time Wikipedia has been under the microscope with regard to entries, nor will it be the last. From my personal experience, and in conversations with my friend Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, that organization can be about as hard to crack as Fort Knox as far as entries are concerned. My last discourse with Wales over entries there dealt with what one would think was a simple matter of “inappropriate content”, namely pornographic entries and links to Wikipedia.

Knowing Wales well these last few years, I fully expected something would be done about entries which clearly represented potentially damaging content for young children especially, but things were not that simple. The Wikipedia organization of editors and contributors turned out to be more like a secret society of wizards and monarchs than anything else. As it turns out, from this writer’s experience, Wales appears to have either little control over what goes on there, or he is decidedly uninterested in dealing with such issues. As to why, I can only speculate. I am wondering when or if Wales will ever step in to address some of these issues.

Social Responsibility

This go around, perhaps the more “weighty” arguments from the psychological and medical community will effect some action from Wikipedia’s elite? I seriously doubt it though. Wikipedia is perhaps the most truly excellent innovation of the Internet, with regard to communicating knowledge, and also as far as collaborative ideas go. I have always been a supporter of it, and Wales for that matter. Being a supporter however, does not mean being a “yes man”, nor is anything excellent made more refined in agreeing with the taskmasters all the time. At some point, maybe not here, Wikipedia as an entity is going to have to admit that some things simply must be left out or wholly public forums. If this is called “censorship”, then let it be so. I believe that exclusion or even compartmentalization of some knowledge is necessary. The more liberal “anything goes” types will always argue “free speech”, or some such nonsense. The fact always remains, some knowledge is too sensitive for a fully open forum.

Conclusion

Wikipedia or any institution for that matter, has a responsibility to all the people it engages. This is both a moral one, and a legal one. In the video above Jimmy is evangelizing the perfect argument for freedom of expression. However, the instances he has so adamantly helped, being those dealing with suppression of people, is a far cry from expressing anything and everything. As far as the morality of Wikipedia is concerned, I have always found that aspect to be insufferably nebulous and casual. When it comes to legally binding instances, when forced to, Wikipedia’s elite cave in like whipped puppies depending of course on the implications. I do not believe this is a function of Jimmy Wales’ ideals, but I do think it is a problem brought about by his style of managing – “non-micro” being the term here.

It should be noted that all psychologists are not up in army about this issue too. However, if the reader thinks about it, watering down decades of clinical research with a small Wikipedia entry does seem wrong – inherently. I would say it even goes against the ideals Wales first created Wikipedia for – educational and socially responsibility directed. At some point people are going to ask the question; “When is enough, enough?” Wikipedia as it is now would apparently allow articles on how to end life on Earth out of some ultra liberal religious ideology.

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Comments

  1. LjL says

    It’s nice to see some people make reasoned argument rather than “I don’t know why my friend Jimmy Wales doesn’t stop all this nonsense about freedom of information” rants.

  2. says

    Wikipedia has problems that are endemic to the system, problems that are due to irresponsible management, and problems that are due to an arrogant, morally-challenged, “lowest common denominator” user community. It sounds like you’ve already twigged to the last thing, and are nearly there on the second – and that’s good! The Rorschach Test issue illustrates both of those very nicely, but it also reveals problems that are endemic to the entire Wikipedia concept. In particular, it shows the “Experts vs. The Public” problem, in which the public usually defeats experts, unless one of the experts is a Wikipedia administrator; it also shows the “Attractant for Narcissists” problem, in which people become self-appointed crusaders for their own version of the Truth, and whose appeals to expert authority are self-serving and selective at best. The real hard cases eventually reach the point where they refuse to accept the possibility that their actions might have negative consequences, or that their opinions regarding how a subject should be handled in an encyclopedia might not be entirely correct. Perhaps it isn’t ironic at all that narcissism is one of the personality types that can supposedly be revealed by a Rorschach Test.

    If there’s one thing I hope people take from this sort of issue, it’s that there really is a “Wikipedia perspective” on almost any controversial subject. As you’ve recognized, that perspective is extremely insular and values “civility” – which translates to “avoidance of all negative reactions to, or personal criticism of, established Wikipedians” – above almost anything else, including morality, accuracy, and fairness. Meanwhile, Jimbo & Co. realized a long time ago that drama and controversy are just another recruitment strategy. Jimbo in particular won’t step in to try and quell it unless his personal interests are threatened.

  3. Mihaela Lica says

    Thank you for mentioning that, Gregory! We will certainly review the site and help you in any way we can.

  4. Gregory Kohs says

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Phil. I too, welcome discourse, and my passion for disclosure of the truth motivated me to rally a few colleagues, and we created a Florida non-profit organization dedicated to exposing the dangerous and deceitful aspects of the Internet. We’re called the Internet Review Corporation, and you may likely enjoy our work in the blogosphere found at:

    Akahele.org

    If you know what “wiki” means in Hawaiian, perhaps you can guess what “akahele” means! :-)

    • Phil Butler says

      Thanks Greg, we got the message. :) The truth is difficult sometimes but we want to always tell it to the best of our ability.

      Always,
      Phil

  5. says

    Phil, you say that Jimmy Wales is your “friend”, but that he’s done nothing to try to address your palpable concerns about problems on Wikipedia. Some friend! Disclosure: Jimmy Wales is not my “friend”. In fact, he back-stabbed me in October 2006, then took almost a year-and-a-half to figure out that I wanted an apology.

    You’re not doing your readers any service with this shallow reporting. Wales is not “the founder of Wikipedia”. That’s a myth he came up with about 4 or 5 years after Wikipedia was actually primarily created by Larry Sanger. Sanger brought the wiki architecture to the existing encyclopedia project. Sanger named it “Wikipedia”. Sanger formally opened it for public editing. And Sanger hashed out 90% of the general principles and guidelines that govern Wikipedia, while Wales sat back and tried to figure out what to do with Bomis.com. This is all cited and referenced on this big encyclopedia website that I think you’ve heard of.

    Sorry to see you’re caught under the spell. I’m confident you’ll emerge from it one day, though. Everyone seems to eventually catch on to the scam. The question is how much damage you’ll suffer in the meantime.

    • Phil Butler says

      Greg, Thanks so much, and actually you are spot on in so many respects. I tend to hold on to these nebulous affinities, when all the while, deep inside, I understand that most of these people would not give me air if I was trapped in a bottle. From my side, I guess I wanted to be friends, and Jimmy, well he just gave me a little access is all. I actually spent hundreds of hours writing positive and hopeful articles about Wales and his businesses. Just so you know, I am about to write something a little more profound about not just Wales, but all these CEO types. I hope they all are reading this.

      My partner Mihaela is just now reading the other side of this story, and together with as much information as we can glean (it is after all the Internet), we will, as you say, emerge from the fog of possibility soon. I just always wait until the hot poker is actually emerging before I grab my butt. :) No seriously, Sanger, like so many others 8including us in some situations) deserves not to be forgotten as Mihaela puts it. The weak part of all these people using our good natures and well intentioned donations of self, is that the trail of good wishes and effort reveals the end result of the collaboration.

      For my part, personally, I took 4 days to do the first Jimmy Wales interview I did. Spent 3 or 4 hours making it reflect the very best ideas and hopes I could, and posted it on Profy.com for a whole 15 bucks. I will not divulge yet the dozens of emails and efforts on his or other people’s behalf, as the time is not right (still just feeling the burning sensation from the poker). There are probanly 15 CEO’s out there, from this Web 2.0 facade, who deserve a lot less than the people who helped them. This is business, as most of them would say. Well, business in this world is a little different. As Leonidas would have said; “This is the blogosphere!”

      Meanwhile, my methodology is to rescue relationships, and too, to give until every suggestion of jaded tale-telling has disappeared. I am only aware at this point that I consider Jimmy my friend. For him, far more than me, the way we appear to treat people who are inordinately kind to us, is, well, you can see the end of that rainbow. I applaud your efforts toward what is right, and if we can, we will certainly help you. I am sorry you have felt the pain of the knives too, and it appears perhaps more deadly stabs. For us now, the crumbs from these people’s tables are less savory, and less necessary too. We get hammered all the time because we believe in things and people.

      Thanks so much for stopping in and giving perspective here. We welcome discourse, not out of content necessity so much, as out of doing good work.

      Always,
      Phil

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