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Why the Opinion Piece Below is Appropriate for Signpost
The above gross design using syllogism levels is analogous to the way I used to design the functional flow of operating system software. I design my opinion pieces the way I used to design OS software. The final stage for software is putting the design into code. The final stage for an opinion essay is putting the design into words. I try to use as few words as possible and still maintain the integrity of my argument, because saying the same thing in fewer words is always more powerful and hard-hitting. I try to make sure every sentence is absolutely necessary for the integrity and power of my argument. I start with the first of the above-mentioned syllogism levels, flush it out with words, and then move on to the next level, etc. Of course I then edit and edit and edit and finally pass it on to my editor friends. Only then do I post my opinion piece in public.
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS ON THE TALK PAGE HERE (I'm not sure if that's the normal procedure??)
By Carmen Yarrusso
Carmen Yarrusso, a software engineer for 35 years, designed and modified computer operating systems (including Internet software). He has a BS in physics and studied game theory and formal logic during his years with the math department at Brookhaven National Lab. He lives in New Hampshire and often writes about uncomfortable truths.
Nobody can deny WMF has done a great service to humanity. Wikimedians and especially Wikipedians around the world deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for their outstanding efforts. But there’s a political zeitgeist in the air that began with the Arab Spring that WMF can and should be part of.
The WMF should stop pretending it’s politically neutral (NPOV). The declared philosophy of the movement (see Movement roles/charter) expresses a clear political POV. There’s lots of implied politics in trying to “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
WMF was part of an amicus brief in the past. There’s been chapter and community political activism, including the recent Italian Wikipedia shutdown. The recent Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) forced WMF to take a clear political stance. WMF even helped organize an Internet Censorship Day: http://americancensorship.org/ , urging people to lobby Congress and petition the US state department against SOPA. That’s political POV!
But expressing POV on Internet censorship or expressing a commitment to free access to knowledge, transparency, openness, independence, quality, and privacy is fundamentally different than expressing POV in an encyclopedia article. The very essence of political knowledge is understanding and critically evaluating conflicting POV.
Considering the present state and direction of our world, which is largely controlled by politics, isn’t it time for “the world’s largest free knowledge resource” to openly acknowledge that free political knowledge is at least as important to humanity as free encyclopedic knowledge? Isn’t reliable knowledge about what our respective governments are doing in our names at least as important to our well being as reliable knowledge about the Brooklyn Bridge or the French Revolution? Encyclopedic knowledge becomes rather moot if we destroy our planet earth.
Currently there’s no comprehensive source of reliable political knowledge. Deceptive 30-second political ads on TV are certainly not a source of reliable political knowledge. Blathering TV pundits are not a source of reliable political knowledge. Even our mainstream media are not a source of reliable political knowledge. On the contrary, they often provide specious propaganda disguised as reliable political knowledge because their revenue is deeply dependent on special interest money. Though the Internet provides many sources of reliable political knowledge, it’s spread out (hit or miss) and very difficult to assemble into a coherent body of knowledge on any given political issue.
Thanks to WMF and the power of the Internet, countless millions of people around the world have access to a free source of vast, reliable encyclopedic knowledge. But these same countless millions have no source of reliable political knowledge, the kind of knowledge they need to critically evaluate the policies and actions of their government representatives. Why not? You Wikipedians have the power to change the downward spiral of the planet and to radically change the course of history by providing a free source of reliable political knowledge.
By trying to maintain a staunch NPOV policy with no exceptions, the WMF has been throwing out the baby with the bath water. The WMF already has the infrastructure and the vast resources needed to provide the world with a free source of reliable political knowledge if it could get over this misplaced NPOV mindset and realize that political knowledge can be provided in a neutral manner where the WMF facilitates (necessarily POV) political knowledge without imposing its own political POV.
This idea is described in more detail under Proposals for new projects (see WikiArguments: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/WikiArguments). Here are the basics of how a political knowledge “Wikipedia” would work as opposed to the present encyclopedic knowledge Wikipedia:
For articles in the encyclopedic Wikipedia, NPOV makes perfect sense. But for articles in a political Wikipedia, POV is the essence of an article. Also, the basic standards for articles in a political Wikipedia would be very different because of the POV nature of the articles.
For example, in the encyclopedic Wikipedia, there’s one article called Brooklyn Bridge. It should not be arbitrary or subjective or contain original research, etc. Essentially anyone in the world could edit this article. But in a political Wikipedia, there would be four (POV) articles for each subject: one pro and one con POV article that only select government representatives could edit, and one pro and one con POV article that virtually anyone in the world could edit.
As a fictional example, let’s suppose some members of Congress propose legislation to build a new Brooklyn Bridge. Under the subject: HR 999 Proposal to build a new Brooklyn Bridge, there would be one pro and one con argument edited only by members of Congress and one pro and one con argument edited by the general public.
What makes POV articles in a political Wikipedia fundamentally different from typical POV articles (e.g. op-eds) on the Internet or mainstream media is this: they would be created dynamically in the same manner as articles in Wikipedia, by an evolving consensus of interested people (with a complete history of revisions), which tends to produce a more reliable, higher quality article.
The introduction to WMF’s annual report states: “All of the Foundation’s technology initiatives can be boiled down to one goal – reducing the barriers to sharing knowledge.”
The barriers to sharing political knowledge are orders of magnitude greater than the barriers to sharing practically any other type of knowledge. In fact governments around the world purposely make it very difficult for the people to even obtain reliable political knowledge, much less share it, because hiding such knowledge benefits the special interests that hold sway over these governments. A political Wikipedia would greatly reduce these barriers, make it easy to share political knowledge, and thereby expose political deception and corruption.
From WMF’s Strategic Plan: “Access to information empowers people to make rational decisions about their lives. We believe the ability to access information freely and without restrictions is a basic human right.”
Wouldn’t reliable political information empower people to make rational decisions about their lives at least as much as reliable information about the Brooklyn Bridge or the French Revolution? Wouldn’t clearly-written pro and con arguments presented by our government representatives to explain and justify their positions empower people to make rational decisions about their lives at least as much as clearly-written encyclopedia articles? Wouldn’t information about what our government is doing behind our backs be at least as much of a “basic human right” as information about the Brooklyn Bridge or the French Revolution?
From WMF’s Strategic Plan: “We know that no one is free from bias. But we believe that mass collaboration among a diverse set of contributors, combined with consensus building around controversial topics, are powerful tools for achieving our goals.”
The very same powerful tools could be used by a political Wikipedia to produce reliable, high quality political knowledge just as Wikipedia tends to produce reliable, high quality encyclopedic knowledge. You Wikipedians have developed an extremely powerful political tool that could revolutionize world politics and government, but you’re using it only for encyclopedic knowledge.
The sheer clout of WMF would practically force government representatives to participate. Honest representatives would welcome such a respected and prominent place to explain and justify their positions. Dishonest representatives would be motivated too because refusing to clearly explain and justify a position is obviously intellectually dishonest and they'd pay for it politically. As Thomas Paine said, “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
The time is ripe for Wikipedians to join the emerging worldwide freedom movement in a leadership role by promoting the full use and power of the Wikipedia concept to provide free political knowledge to the world. Time is not on our side.
For more details please see: WikiArguments: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/WikiArguments.