Axe grinding

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So, one recent issue we've had in Wikipedia is of a user with an axe to grind. He comes to Wikipedia, and attempts to begin writing NPOV articles about a topic which has been argued about for the past 150 years, generating numerous books and articles, and extensive discussion in every book on the history and philosophy of science. A topic about which he holds a particular view, and since he hasn't bothered to read much about the other side, a topic about which he doesn't understand the other side's arguments.

What's the right approach? I don't think we should encourage people to learn through editing articles on Wikipedia and constantly getting corrected. While it's cute and fun for the axe grinder, it's mostly annoying to everyone else.


Do you want to give the specifics?

There is a class of people who will always be tempted by the (mistaken) notion that the 'pedia presents them with an opportunity to paint their version as the "truth". I think all of us have been guilty of that at some point, to at least a minor extent.

As some general comments - the 'pedia has dealt with many contentious issues, and will continue to deal with many more. We all say that "all newcomers are welcome" and that we are "non-exclusive" in our approach, and for the most part this is true. However, people will turn up and take a topic like "abortion", "new age", "creationism vs science' or whatever, and feel that because the article does not present their viewpoint as the "truth" they will attempt to change it. If a complete newbie picks a REALLY sensitive topic to make drastic edits to, they might feel beaten into the ground by the people who have already been through 10 kms of text debate and who could be a bit "curt" in their attitude towards the ressurrection of "old issues".

One real advantage of the meta environment is that we could (and should!) use it as an archive of the pages of debate these topics generate. Newbies could be directed towards the lengthy debates that have already happened, which will either make them better informed, of sufficiently daunt them from going down that road (and yet still retain enthusiasm for the overall project).

If someone has really got an axe to grind, then the best approach is to pose them a list of questions in a talk page, and ask for their refutations. If they are sufficiently "clued in" about the concept of NPOV they will get with the program and fall into line, and think about their answers.

Other options involve going to Wikipedia-L and looking for collective support of your viewpoint against the other. The 'pedia is a collaborative project and you will usually find someone who is interested enough to add some weight to the debate.

As for Wikipetiquette - remember you are attacking a "viewpoint" and not the "presenter of the viewpoint". I have had some outrageous disputes with LDC on some topics, but that has no bearing on my high assessment of him as a person and intellect.

The final alternative is just summary deletions of their modifications. Obviously this is a last resort, but justified if the newcomer simply refuses to collaborate. I have no desire to see someone discouraged from further participation in the project, but the integrity of the 'pedia must always come first. - MMGB


I know the specific case you're refering to, Greg, but I think you're being a little harsh. The contributions are being made in good faith, and there are various people working with the contributor to achieve NPOV. Work like that is slow-going and sometimes frustrating; usually if something like that is taxing my patience, I just take a step back and recuit a few people to keep an eye on things.

Good faith isn't good enough. He simply doesn't seem interested in reading the literature, and I assure you that it's very inefficient to teach him by constantly editing articles. If we aren't a community, it's much less efficient to reach consensus. GregLindahl

As for learning through writing articles, I think it definitely should be encouraged... within certain guidelines. It's a great way to learn about a topic, but only if you're willing to do some research. If a person knows almost nothing about a topic, he should research first, write articles second. --Stephen Gilbert


I dunno -- I can think of a lot of axe grinders -- currently we may be building up to a re-match of the Polish-Prussian front. I'm personally very concerned that we've got more than a few people out there who think that linking to any distantly connected web site makes an article better. That, and information that may well be copyrighted is being taken from other web sites (and I don't mean looking at three fairly good sites on a topic, combining, cribbing, and paraphrasing). Examples are passages of works and/or their translations that could not have been done by the wiki author.

Don't mean to come off as a gyno-canine, but I really think that, if there is to be a Wiki guard, we should come up with some more clear-cut guidelines for writing NPOV, supportable articles. And yes, I'm still working on a primary/secondary source article to add to historiography. I'm just getting tired of people getting accused of unfair acts of deletion (he deleted because he didn't agree), when sometimes things are deleted because the methodology for writing is just WRONG. Unfortunately, in order to demonstrate that there are certain basic rules to writing an article (transitions, chronological or geographic context, information having to do with the stated topic, and complete sentences are favourite), I think we'll have to come up with more specific guidelines than presently exist. JHK


Gosh, I hope you're all not talking about me (blush). I meant no harm, and I think I've improved somewhat.

For instance, I am now more likely to propose a change in the /Talk section, rather than unilaterally change text.

I admit that I came off a bit abrasive at first, and I apologize, Greg, for teasing you.

I've finally come to the view that old hands like LDC, Greg, et al., understand the Wiki nature and the goal of this encyclopedia project better than I do, in many respects. So I've begun to be more careful. Ed Poor