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Chapter funding and what skeptics and Latter Day Saints have in common

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By Jorgenev, Jan Eissfeldt and Jarry1250

Chapter funding discussion hits public forum

After the Wikimedia Board of Trustees last week published a letter threatening to withdraw direct funding from those chapters that do not conform to a number of criteria, including expectations on transparency, most discussion on the matter was on the internal-l mailing list, a private list now used for WMF-chapter communications (see also last week's "News and notes"). The news came just weeks after new fundraising agreements had been signed with several chapters, which require them to submit a budget to the WMF to have access to the funds. According to Wikimedian David Gerard, "quite a lot" of chapters complained about aspects of the letter, while none enthusiastically welcomed it. This week the discussion spilled over into the public mailing list, foundation-l, opening it up to the wider Wikimedian community, who responded with a number of viewpoints.

Some were critical of chapters' apparent resistance to the pro-transparency message. "What chapters seem to want is for the WMF to sign over the trademarks they need to do their own fundraising, and then simply hand over a portion of the WMF's own revenue on top of that. ... there's nothing particularly 'normal' or 'fair' about it" wrote Kirill Lokshin, an arbitrator on the English Wikipedia. Nathan agreed that the Foundation's position is understandable, noting that it has responsibilities to donors, said that "any misuse of funds by a chapter using Wikimedia marks would reflect back on the Foundation", anyway. "At least criteria are to be put in place now [which is better] than never. For chapters in good order they should not be an issue", wrote FT2.

There was also sympathy for the chapters. "Being on the board of a small nonprofit organization is both incredibly fun and rewarding and also totally not fun and thankless" commented Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wikimedia Australia president John Vandenberg had numbers to show that chapters are influential in driving fundraising (and hence in supporting the Foundation itself), wrote David Gerard. Wikimedia UK member Chris Keating and French Wikimedian Anthere agreed with the sentiment that chapters are valuable institutions in terms of both fundraising and their ability to provide "local partnerships with institutions they know about". Likewise, Jimmy Wales added that he believes chapters should be "innovative, creative, and independent".

As a result, some of the pro-chapter support spilled over into direct criticism of the WMF Board's methods, if not their aims. For example, Gerard described the letter and its aftermath as representing "a potentially catastrophic failure of volunteer liaison". BirgitteSB went further, suggesting that attempts to centralise control over chapters could suppress their diversity. Among the solutions suggested were "a simple and non-controlling framework of accountability and responsibility" (Jimmy Wales) and a "well-developed grants program" that would prioritise the retention of low overheads (Phoebe Ayers).

Guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia? Or more room for Latter Day Saints instead?

At The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011 (an annual US conference on science, skepticism, and atheism), Susan Gerbic gave a talk on "guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia and how important that is as skeptics for us to get the message out there". She suggested that skeptics should seek to redress a perceived imbalance in the presentation of the skepticism–religion divide on Wikipedia.

Despite assurances from Gerbic that "it's not vandalism, which it kinds of sounds like, because we are totally following the rules", concern has already been expressed that editors may attempt to give otherwise neutral articles a pro-skeptic slant. Although in the past there have been crackdowns on religious POV-pushing (most notably the Scientology arbitration case), Gerbic was clear that what has been left behind is not sufficiently pro-skeptic, describing the "skeptical content" on Wikipedia as "not very good". A YouTube video of Gerbic's talk and an accompanying blog post are available.

In unrelated news, Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), a non-profit organization that specializes in Mormon apologetics, has said they intend to be more active in Mormonism topics on Wikipedia. Church News, an authorized news site of the LDS Church, carried complaints from a FAIR sponsored conference that evangelical Christian editors (who have different religious beliefs) have "taken editorial control over several high-profile LDS articles" and that "if you show up on one of those articles, you will very likely, with 99 percent probability, have your edits reverted". The Deseret News, an LDS Church owned newspaper, had already touched the subject earlier this year (Signpost coverage: "Mormon newspaper examines struggles about Mormon topics on Wikipedia").

News in brief

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Thank you for your frankness. My agenda is obvious, I want to improve pages, reflecting cited articles that focus on critically thinking about subjects. Many pseudoscience articles rely on vagueness and only giving a slight nod to anything that is factual. I'm thinking about the blog I published last night on psychic Archaeology as a great example.

I also advocate that the pages of our spokespeople are clearly lacking. I do not want to cover up anything negative (see Brian Dunning (skeptic) for a great example of leaving negative where it was put. I know that Wikipedia is the single most important tool readers have to understand the world around them. When they are searching for one of our spokespeople, we need to make sure we have their backs, and frankly I do think that overall our representation is horrible. I wish that wasn't so, but with a few exceptions of the really popular people we have mostly stubs representing us. Shame!

As far as your assertion that I am not "following the rules" I would like to see that clarified so it can be discussed. Maybe I am doing something wrong but until I know what that is I can't change my behavior. I'm a self taught editor learning as I go. I'm passing on my thoughts, frustrations and tips to people on a blog (off-site Wikipedia) and hoping for help from others.

I look forward to your comments.

Sgerbic (talk) 16:00, 15 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I fail to understand how removing bias on pages promoting pseudoscience by introducing a balanced POV is not following the rules. In fact, it is desired by Wikipedia. Yes, this makes some topics more controversial and targets for cultish editing to remove such balanced POV, but this is nothing new to Wikipedia and an ongoing battle. --FreedominThought (talk) 18:47, 15 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Note: The above conversation appears to refer to earlier versions of the story, e.g. this one, which differ from the published version. Regards, HaeB (talk) 10:22, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

See Inteligent Design for an article that is completely dominated by a clique of self-righteous skeptics. You can hurt the project while still "following rules": The regulars there preferred to have the article to loose it's Good Article status than fix balance the coverage. The article should be about a concept, but it's actually about a legal case in the U.S.. --damiens.rf 17:31, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

What do you mean "lose its Good Article status"? It's a Featured Article! -- (talk) 17:40, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

"Following the rules" is neither necessary nor sufficient for the purposes of Wikipedia. The goal is to produce encyclopaedic articles, not to push the agenda of either "true believers" or "skeptics". For this reason the balance will vary from article to article, a comprehensive description of an "alternative system of medicine" for example, might be extensively citable, while there may be very little citable either supporting or opposing the treatments, and if there were it might well be better spun out as a separate article. The dangers of public calls to action, however well intentioned, are something that Wikipedia has been subject too many times and has, so far as we know, weathered, but not without creating a lot of needless conflict. Rich Farmbrough, 17:40, 16 August 2011 (UTC).[reply]

The Inteligent Design article is now featured and the lead is well written. Not sure to what damiens refers too.Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 18:50, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Delayed response, but while I do agree that parts of the Psychic archaeology article could be written more bluntly ("The problem with psychic archaeology is that it has no verified accomplishments"), I think you're a little harsh on the article as a whole. The dowsing section has to give how dowsing works *according to the theory of the dowsers*. It doesn't help to add "and this doesn't actually work" every other sentence. This is probably more clear if you think of articles on old scientific theories that have been surpassed; it's entire legitimate to talk about "when the four humors are out of balance, the easiest way to restore them is to drain away the excessive humor, such as via leeches to the blood." We know that this isn't very helpful these days, and when leeching is helpful it's not for the claimed reasons, but in an article on the four humors, Wikipedia should present what practitioners believed and how they applied the system. Same here; let dowsing theory stand on its own, then mention in the lede and in the Validity section that it doesn't work. SnowFire (talk) 23:14, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

What the pseudoscience skeptics, and anyone else, need to understand is how important the overall tone of an article is. That is one of the problems with the Inteligent Design article in that its overall tone is one of skepticism towards the entire idea of Inteligent Design. Someone reading a Wikipedia article should not be able to tell which side it is taking on the topic. In my experience, if you bring up the subject of "balance" with some skeptical editors, they will respond that the advocacy side for the topic, for example, those who promote Intelligent Design, is "fringe" and "undue". Cla68 (talk) 07:00, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
One always has to take a sceptical approach to anything, otherwise one can't distinguish fact from fiction. This is how the "scientific method" works, it has led to the modern technological world, including Wikipedia. Count Iblis (talk) 17:24, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
And what's wrong with noting that something is a fringe belief? Or that a particular POV is receiving undue weight in an article? Nothing. Powers T 21:18, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Again, if an article is truly NPOV, the reader should not be able to tell which side it is taking on an issue or topic. If one side is labeled "fringe" it should be described as such in the voice of a reliable source, not Wikipedia's voice. Cla68 (talk) 04:49, 18 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I wasn't talking about identifying it within an article. You referred to "bring[ing] up the subject of 'balance' with some skeptical editors", which implies discussion about what is "fringe" and "undue", not placing such claims within the text of an article. There is nothing wrong with an editor, in discussion, properly and correctly identifying a fringe view as "fringe". Powers T 12:57, 18 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Chapter funding

I think the phrase "threatening to withdraw direct funding" is a bit inaccurate and may reflect, or seem to reflect, a particular point of view on the issue that isn't shared by everyone (including, I'm sure, the Board itself). While the letter suggests that some chapters may not be able to participate in the fundraiser itself, I'm not sure I'd characterise it as a "threat"; additionally, substituting grant funding for fundraiser participation is still "direct" funding of a sort, and the affected chapters could still solicit and receive funding in other ways. Nathan T 20:03, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I'm not sure "threat" is really a perjorative term. You can threaten someone for the right reasons, or you can threaten them for the wrong reasons. I don't think the word itself makes a difference.
Point taken about "direct" funding though. That's probably the wrong word. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 11:28, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]


WP has both a standard style guide (wp:MOSLDS) and a naming convention (wp:NCLDS) for how to appropriately describe the Latter Day Saint movement; how is it that this article could get that most basic element so wrong? You could have said "...elements of the Latter Day Saint movement have said they..." or "...elements of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) have said they..." and been more correct, but the existing wording is simply wrong. Since the Church News article was about a presentation given at a Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) conference, it would have been even more accurate to characterize the comments as coming from that group, since there is no official connection between FAIR and the LDS Church. We also have an existing article on Church News, so a wikilink on it would have been useful for readers to understand what that publication is. -- (talk) 20:37, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Its still a wiki; I've wikilinked the Church News reference as you suggested. As for the name of the Church... Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) leaves out a couple of words, perhaps in the interest of brevity (I didn't write it) but it does wikilink to the correct place, and I doubt anyone will be confused as to the reference. Nathan T 21:19, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Actually, no, it doesn't link to the right place -- it redirects to Church of Christ (Latter Day Saints), an organization that doesn't currently exist, but has several sects that claim to be the continuation/successor of that organization after the succession crisis. Unless Signpost editors are prepared to declare that the LDS Church as the single true claimant to the original organization founded by Joseph Smith among all of the Latter Day Saint sects, perhaps a truer description, with the correct name, would be better. Those affiliated with WikiProject Latter Day Saint movement try to avoid POV issues like this by adhering to the wp:NCLDS & wp:MOSLDS, regardless of any individual personal beliefs about this core topic in the Latter Day Saint movement. -- (talk) 21:35, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Since you are obviously familiar with the application of the guidelines in question, perhaps you could fix the article? Thanks. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 21:39, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Done. -- (talk) 21:48, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
As for how we (I) got this wrong, it's because we (here, I) was writing under immense time pressure. I apologise if any members of the movement were offended by my choice of the words, but I don't think that anyone would have misunderstood them. (Thanks Nathan for updating the article.) - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 21:24, 16 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I agree with the revisions that made, and I added a comma. On an loosely related note, I read the FAIR article, and I think "promoting Mormonism" might not be quite the right term. They seem to be taking more of a defensive stance. But I don't have a lot of experience there, and could be wrong. -- Adjwilley (talk) 00:28, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I agree that the suggestion for the news article itself mostly implies a moderate ("defensive") view although suggestions that alternatively-viewed editors "own" articles would suggest that their is some "offensive" work to be done from the author's POV. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 11:28, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
You're right - there is no obligation to be NPOV - as this should reflect Wikipedia's (or Wikipedian's) viewpoint. I do think that the promote is too strong a word. Don't worry about your speedy writing - I used to write for the Signpost ("In the news" editor for about a half year back in 2006) - the pressures to be done on time are unique in the Wikipedia world. --Trödel 16:12, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]
We obviously slightly different interpretations of the word. No worries. - Jarry1250 [Weasel? Discuss.] 16:35, 17 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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