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Conspiracy theories distract from real questions about grantmaking report

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By Gamaliel

Last week, my colleagues on the Signpost produced a news report covering a minor controversy about a report commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation. Written by the staff of The Lafayette Practice, a French research firm, it proclaimed the WMF as a leader in the practice of participatory grantmaking. In response to an apparently self-promotional WMF blog post heralding the report, an article by Gregory Kohs, longtime Wikipedia critic and founder of MyWikiBiz, alleged that the report, the blog post, and the Wikipedia article on participatory grantmaking—created by WMF staffer Asaf Bartov and since deleted—were a WMF promotional effort that constituted a violation of the conflict of interest guideline.

After a week of reading about article timestamps and speculation about whether Bartov had time to write the text on his lunch break or during work hours, I realized that everyone was making the mistake of taking this matter far too seriously, at least in the aspects they put under the microscope. This is a conspiracy theory, where minor facts are connected to point to a preordained conclusion, where coincidence is evidence of collusion, and where human motives are not fully understood and are only interpreted in the most nefarious way possible. And, as with all conspiracy theories, the time and effort of reasonable people are wasted having to investigate or disprove speculative and fanciful notions. It is not surprising that such a theory emerged from Wikipediocracy, where users spend years nursing and reinforcing each other's contradictory grudges against Wikipedia.

Is it really so unbelievable that Asaf Bartov, a Wikipedia editor since 2003, created a Wikipedia article on this topic of his own volition after hearing about the topic at a conference? That's what Wikipedians do: they create articles on new topics they hear about that aren't yet in the encyclopedia. If this was a conspiracy born out of some half-baked WMF promotional scheme, Bartov and his alleged conspirators could have easily covered their tracks using dummy Wikipedia accounts.

Kohs certainly knows about generating new Wikipedia accounts, as he uses them frequently to comment on Jimmy Wales' talk page and elsewhere – not to mention his use of them to vandalize the encyclopedia. Last year, Kohs bragged on Wikipediocracy about vandalizing Wikipedia articles during a talk at an unspecified college, as if, over a decade after the founding of the encyclopedia, we still needed to remind audiences that people can edit Wikipedia maliciously. After a quick Google search of his speaking engagements, within minutes I was able to find the offending edit; Kohs had made up a fake radio station for Rollins College. This was particularly irritating for me, as Rollins already has a radio station, WPRK, and I have fond memories of listening to it back when I was dating a woman who lived near Rollins. Later in that Wikipediocracy thread, he bragged again about more instances of this kind of vandalism, at other talks at Rollins and elsewhere. This is certainly more damaging to the encyclopedia than anything Bartov is alleged to have done.

Looking at the real issue

The report produced by the Lafayette Group for the Wikimedia Foundation.

Too much time has been wasted on empty speculation about the article on participatory grantmaking, or indeed the concept itself. I doubt any of those people speculating about the legitimacy of the phrase, including myself, are in any way qualified to make a judgment on the matter. The real issue is the report itself. How much was paid for the slim 37-page report? What value does this report provide? Couldn't this report have been assembled by paid WMF staffers or even interns?

There does not seem to be much heft to this report beyond being a colorful brochure for the Foundation. The report claims to be "new research" (p. 2) and "the first full survey of grantmaking at the Foundation" (p. 27), with lots of text and graphs about their fundraising, mostly without a clear rationale for inclusion. There are grand statements such as that participatory grantmaking is "a powerful movement building strategy", that the WMF is "innovative and groundbreaking" in its application of participatory grantmaking, and that this is on by far "the largest scale we have seen" among similar organizations (p. 2). Nowhere in the report is the term clearly defined; the closest it comes is by making frequent references to a previous Lafayette report which was not about the WMF. This is a crucial omission given the comparative claims made in relation to other agencies, some of which do offer direct assistance to grant applicants on a large scale.

According to the report, the volunteer grantmaking committees are designed to be gender-diverse (p. 3), yet at the time of the report's preparation, the Individual Engagement Grants Committee and Grant Advisory Committee had only two and one female members, respectively, out of a total of over 40 members. The report was silent on how active those committees are in their review processes and the extent to which the grant recipients demonstrate how their grants affect WMF projects and how much value they provide in proportion to the size of each grant. No reference was made to the work of the WMF's evaluation team, which last year made a preliminary finding that there is generally an inverse relationship between the size of grants and their impact. It also offered no proper analysis of how effective the IdeaLab forum is in helping applicants to develop their proposals.

There is no doubt that there are many examples of consultants like the ones commissioned to complete this report who provide important services and insights, but there are also many who are grifters in fancy suits who produce little to nothing of value. In many organizations, needed materials are purchased from the lowest bidder, staff salaries are cut, and positions go unfilled while consultants enrich themselves. Instead of answering questions about timestamps and conspiracy theories, the Foundation should tell the community what value this particular report provides for the money spent upon it. We should be less concerned about who wrote a borderline Wikipedia article which a little over a thousand people have read and be more concerned about how the WMF is using its funds, so the community can ensure that the encyclopedia has not been improperly monetized by grifters. Perhaps it is not surprising that Kohs has chosen not to complain about this potential monetization of Wikipedia, as Kohs has engaged in eight years of criticism of Wikipedia because he was unable to monetize the encyclopedia in the fashion of his choosing.

Gamaliel has been an administrator on the English Wikipedia since 2004 and is currently an editor-in-chief of the Signpost. The views expressed in this editorial are his alone and do not reflect any official opinions of this publication. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section.
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  • I'm the first to comment? I agree with this editorial. I read the article and I said to myself, "what the f***k?" However I have to say (adding to my comment and will adjust the time stamp) isn't it a bit weird to run an "editorial" criticizing an article in the same "publication"? Coretheapple (talk) 23:13, 5 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Well, at least you correctly called this an editorial, I'll give you that. In summary: Greg Kohs did it, Greg Kohs is bad, Greg Kohs, People normally spend time crafting articles about obscure concepts coincidentally coined by WMF consultants so AGF y'all, Greg Kohs Conspiracy, Greg Kohs, Oh yeah the report seems to have been worthless, Wikipediocracy, Greg Kohs's paid editing... Whatever... Carrite (talk) 22:53, 5 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • The style of Wikipedia monetizing Kohs proposed - and was banned for by Jimmy all those years ago - is exactly what Jimmy now trumpets as the "bright line" policy. That's the main source of the seemingly inexhaustible resentment that drives Kohs's contempt for Jimmy and his acolytes. --Anthonyhcole (talk · contribs · email) 04:17, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I get that. And maybe if that happened to me, I'd express inexhaustible schadenfreude about every failing, real or imagined, in the encyclopedia for the next eight years. But I hope I would just declare victory, proclaim myself ahead of my time, and get on with my life. Gamaliel (talk) 04:22, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Ignored the report since I assumed the Foundation or Jimmy did something wrong. Love the project but there aren't exactly high expectations. I suppose I could care and actually read hat is going on but would rather provide content as a hobby and not tell anyone about how shameful it sometimes feels.Cptnono (talk) 05:18, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I interpreted it that way as well, but Gamaliel says that it was not intended as criticism of the Signpost but of the article. See his response to my post at the top. Coretheapple (talk) 18:32, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Gamaliel (talk · contribs) has been using the Wikipedia Signpost to attack a living person, in the above signed opinion-piece(not an "editorial") and in the comments. It is especially strange that this opinion piece doesn't link to The Examiner's piece, particularly after last week's Signpost competently reported that

    "Shortly after the blog post was published, Gregory Kohs, a long-time Wikimedia critic, published an article on alleging misconduct on the part of WMF staffers, specifically regarding Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline."

    — Go Phightins! (talk · contribs) and The ed17 (talk · contribs), Questions raised over WMF partnership with research firm [1]
Linking to the relevant Examiner article was easy last week, and it should have been easy this week. Why were junior-high journalistic standards abandoned this week? Which Signpost editors objected to Gamaliel's BLP-violating attacks on Kohs, in his signed opinion piece? Which editors on Wikipedia object to Gamaliel's BLP-violating personal attacks on Kohs also in the comments section?
Greg Kohs republished his expose at Wikipediocracy, "Wikimedia Foundation caught self-promoting on Wikipedia", with a free-culture license (CC BY 2.0). Perhaps this license will facilitate proper quotation? Were there updates by Kohs? (I did not compare the publications.) Gamaliel's signed opinion-piece is discussed at a Wikipediocracy forum.
Kohs should be invited to give a reply, since he was so unprofessionally treated here.
LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 11:25, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, he did, as I assume the Examiner article wasn't written by a dead person. Coretheapple (talk) 15:39, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You could have easily corrected this minor oversight by adding a link, as I have just done, but I realize it's more fun to get on a soapbox. Kohs, as is anyone else, is invited to respond in comments, and since he's already responded in the comments of our news story from last week, I'm surprised he hasn't shown up here already. Gamaliel (talk)
@Gamaliel: Did you declare declare any conflicts of interests with respect to the Wikimedia Foundation? (For example, by declaring the monetary value of any travel, food, per diems, hotels, or other grants, either direct disbursements or reimbursements).
Journalists often declare such COIs up front. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 16:46, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Aside from being a volunteer account coordinator (an unpaid position) at The Wikipedia Library, I have no connections to the Foundation at all. Gamaliel (talk) 17:02, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for your reply and thank you for your service to the Wikipedia movement. So your meetings for the grant committees were done electronically and you received no hotel or flight or per diem or meal allocations for meeting in person? LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 08:48, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I have never served on a grant committee. If TWL distributes money, that's something I have no knowledge of or involvement in. I have never even had an in-person meeting with anyone from the Foundation. I've already told you the extent of my extremely minor involvement with the WMF; at this point you're just indulging in fact-free speculation in an attempt to find anything that will stick. Gamaliel (talk) 23:10, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You only disclosed your COI as a WMF officer (unpaid) after I asked. In the future, you should remember to declare such COIs with even greater alacricity than you share details about your past romances. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 10:10, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
That would be like declaring a conflict of interest because I edit Wikipedia, which is run by the WMF. We all do volunteer work on a volunteer site with servers owned by the WMF. Shocking, I know. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 19:00, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
While I realize why there is a need for coi declarations, I can't understand why you felt it necessary to ask that here... other than a misguided attempt to intimidate the author. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 06:34, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Professionals (and amateur journalists) declare a COI in their publications. Many academic journals require a declaration of COI or an explicit declaration of "no_COI" in every article---likely as an attempt to have integrity (rather than as an attempt to intimidate). LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 08:48, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Except that being a volunteer account coordinator for a program is about the same level of COI as me being a volunteer ambassador in the education program ... when I wrote an editorial on a completely unrelated subject a few weeks ago, I never thought to mention that as a COI (as it isn't), and I'm guessing Gamaliel thought the same way. Go Phightins! 10:48, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Interesting that Gamaliel did not attend Wikimania events, which typically are associated with substantial disbursements or allocations from the WMF.
Reports that the WMF hires editors with experience at The Signpost [2] also suggest that the English Wikipedia community should be concerned about relations among the WMF and Signpost editors, particularly if Signpost editors are defending the WMF and attacking its critics. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 11:15, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Viewed on a sliding sale of COI seriousness, with 0 being "no concern whatsoever" and 10 being "Greg Kohs," I'd say that what you're describing is somewhere between 1 and 2. Coretheapple (talk) 13:49, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You Wikipediocracy folks love to see everything as part of your Manichean battle against the WFM, so much so that you've completely ignored the fact that my editorial is heavily critical of the WMF report. That's not exactly the best way to audition for a WMF job. And I see you are still beating the disbursement drum. Somewhere, somehow, according to you I must have received some money from the WMF, or at least free hors d'oeuvres at some swanky WMF event. The more you comment, the more you convince readers that "conspiracy theory" was exactly the right phrase to describe this line of thinking. Gamaliel (talk) 16:05, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Kohs reported that the WMF removed his comments on the initial report[3], and he reports that critical comments here were removed (lately in the same thread). Full disclosure would have been better for all parties.
Generally, Wikipediocracy has among the highest page-ranking for discussions of Wikipedia, so it is obviously of interest to many editors and the public. Speaking only for myself, I consult it (with a skeptical eye) when I encounter a strange personality behaving oddly on Wikipedia..., because I find its diversity of informed opinion and intelligent and often funny discussions more refreshing than a York Peppermint Pattie [4]. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 19:47, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The conspiracy is hard at work, apparently. No comments were removed here, as anyone looking at the edit history will see. Please stop wasting everyone's time with obviously false accusations. Gamaliel (talk) 20:43, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
To his credit, Kohs has retracted his accusation. It seems it was all a simple misunderstanding. The Signpost and I thank Kohs for his correction. Gamaliel (talk) 20:17, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
I was the first to comment on this post, and I did so pretty soon after getting the Signpost on my talk page, and I see no oversighted edits in the edit history. My very very dear friend Gamaliel (who I have never heard of in my life before this exchange) is correct on this matter. ODear, you seem like a real COI militant. Good for you! I take it you agree with me that it's strange, to say the least, that Kohs does not disclose his rather enormous COI in his Examiner text or bio? Coretheapple (talk) 21:36, 9 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Regarding "enormous", see below. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 17:21, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
After having violated our WP:BLP policyies with attacks on Kohs, you and The Signpost editors should welcome him to comment. The continued attacks on Kohs just make you look cultish. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 06:44, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Darn, that is just so reminiscent of Mr. 2001's same line of bullhockey (and of course, we all know who Mr. 2001 was). By the way, welcome back! I see you were permablocked under a different username. And congratulations on ducking the question. Coretheapple (talk) 16:19, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
So many personal attacks (back with no evidence) in so few words. Who is the remarkable Mr2001 (talk · contribs) and why do you accuse me of being him? LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 16:51, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
No, and I'm reasonably confident you are fully aware, despite your rather small number of edits in your current account, that I am referring to the IP who inhabited Mr. Wales' user talk page some months ago. The fact that this discussion has drifted into "make believe ignorance" is giving me a shocking feeling of deja vu from that time-wasting discussion. Coretheapple (talk) 16:59, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
You find this a time-wasting discussion, after your previous contributions to this page! Please link where you find that you have been in a useful discussion. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 17:03, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Don't you think that Mr. Kohs should have identified his rather enormous COI in his Examiner article and bio? Perhaps you didn't notice that I had asked that. If you don't want to respond, that's fine, but I'd appreciate hearing your opinion on that. Then we can have a useful discussion. If you don't, I'm not wasting any more time engaging in a ridiculous conversation with a person whose real-life identity couldn't be more obvious. Coretheapple (talk) 17:10, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
If you are curious about anything enormous of Mr. Kohs, you should ask him directly. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 17:21, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
No problem. I didn't expect you to respond (and the thing about "asking Mr. Kohs" is amusing under the circumstances). Good luck with your new account and try to stay out of trouble. Coretheapple (talk) 17:26, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
This entire discussion is ludicrous. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 18:57, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Oh, I wouldn't go that far. I've talked with this gent in the past, and it's always interesting for a short period of time. Coretheapple (talk) 15:31, 11 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I guess I'm a little confused here on a couple of things. The editorial read to me like a criticism of the Signpost's article, an interpretation that I believe was shared by another editor, but I accept Gamaliel's explanation that that was not it's intent. Secondly, it seems to me that the "editorial" label is possibly problematic. That is utilized in newspapers to state the view of the publication. I am not clear on this, but this appear to be an "op-ed" not an editorial. If it was an editorial, it really belonged in the same issue as the Signpost article. Coretheapple (talk) 18:35, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Agreed. It should be correctly labeled as a signed opinion piece. The id of the author may identify him as a member of the editing team. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 18:47, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
It may have been thematically best placed in the previous issue, but I didn't even think about writing this piece until after publication of last week's issue. So it goes. Gamaliel (talk) 19:03, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Was it intended to be the Signpost per se expressing this opinion or yourself? I agree with it either way, just to be clear. But "editorial" implies that the Signpost publisher or staff was expressing a collective opinion. Coretheapple (talk) 19:17, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
The disclaimer, which is standard, makes it clear this is my opinion. Here we use "editorial" for opinion pieces from Signpost editors, such as this editorial from last month. Gamaliel (talk) 19:22, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Oh I see. They should call it something else, like "essay." Anyway, this is all a side issue. I think your basic point is correct, and also that the Signpost was mistaken in devoting so much space to the Examiner conspiracy theories. Coretheapple (talk) 19:26, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
How would an editorial not be an opinion piece? Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 18:57, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
For many newspapers, editorials are printed on the left-side of the letter to the editors page, on behalf of the entire editorial board. Some editorials are signed by one or more board members. The right of this page, above the letters, features signed opinions by editors or syndicated columnists. The succeeding page often has more syndicated columnists and freelance/syndicated writers. While the organization differs among papers, a clear division between signed opinion pieces and editorials is conventional. LLAP, Dear ODear ODear (is a) 19:14, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
Hence "editorial" versus our usual "op-ed;" we don't operate in print, nor do we have syndicated columnists. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 19:38, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • Is there a word in the dictionary that defines "an article on Wikipedia ethics from someone in the paid editing business, who was banned from Wikipedia for paid editing, whose agenda is to justify paid editing, who does not disclose in his Examiner article or in his bio his being involved in paid editing and his long history of conflict with Wikipedia over his conduct, his socking and paid editing, including that he was banned?" Coretheapple (talk) 22:37, 6 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
shouldn't have deleted the article if there was no conspiracy. Now it looks like there was. Instead defend the article, don't write an article like this after the fact saying there was nothing wrong with it. Popish Plot (talk) 16:00, 10 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  • I don't see a conspiracy theory and a real issue. Both is part of a tunnel vision in some WMF departments. Found by someone with an agenda, who is not trustworthy at all unless his allegations are not thoroughly fact checked. -- (talk) 20:55, 11 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]


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