↑ comment by Viliam ·
2020-08-03T14:36:35.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
In theory, Wikipedia strives to be impartial. In practice, the rules are always only as good as the judges who uphold them. (All legal systems involve some degree of human judgment somewhere in the loop, because it is impossible to write a set of rules that covers everything and doesn't allow some clever abuse. That's why we talk about the letter and the spirit of the law.)
How to become a Wikipedia admin? You need to spend a lot of time editing Wikipedia in a way other admins consider helpful, and you need to be interested in getting the role. (Probably a few more technical details I forgot.) The good thing is that by doing a lot of useful work you send a costly signal that you care about Wikipedia. The bad thing is that if certain political opinion becomes dominant among the existing admins, there is no mechanism to fix this bias; it's actually the other way round, because edits disagreeing with the consensus would be judged as harmful, and would probably disqualify their author from becoming an admin in the future.
I don't assume bad faith from most of Wikipedia editors. Being wrong about something feels the same from inside as being right; and if other people agree with you, that is usually a good sign. But if you have a few bad actors who can play it smart, who can pretend that their personal grudges are how they actually see the world... considering that other admins already see them as part of the same team, and the same political bias means they already roughly agree on who are the good guys and who are the bad guys... it is not difficult to defend their decisions in front of jury of their peers. An outsider has no chance in this fight, because the insider is fluent with local lingo. Whatever they want to argue, they can find a wiki-rule pointing in that direction; of course it would be just as easy for them to find a wiki-rule pointing in the opposite direction (e.g. if you want to edit an article about something you are personally involved with, you have a "conflict of interest", which is a bad thing; if I want to do the same thing, my personal involvement makes me a "subject-matter expert", which is a good thing; your repetitive editing of the article to make your point is "vandalism", my repetitive editing of the article to make an opposite point is "reverting vandalism"); and then the other admins will nod and say: "of course, if this is what the wiki-rules say, our job is to obey them".
The specific admin that is so obsessed with Less Wrong is David Gerard from RationalWiki. He keeps a grudge for almost a decade, when he added Less Wrong to his website as an example of pseudoscience, mostly because of the quantum physics sequence. After being explained that actually "many worlds" is one of the mainstream interpretations among the scientists, he failed to say oops [LW · GW], and continued in the spirit of: well, maybe I was technically wrong about the quantum thing, but still... and spent the last decade trying to find and document everything that is wrong with Less Wrong. (Roko's Basilisk -- a controversial comment that was posted on LW once, deleted by Eliezer along with the whole thread, then posted on RationalWiki as "this is what people at Less Wrong actually believe". Because the fact that it was deleted is somehow a proof that deep inside we actually agree with it, but we don't want the world to know. Neoreaction -- a small group of people who enjoyed debating their edgy beliefs on Less Wrong, were considered entertaining for a while, then became boring and were kicked out. Again, the fact that they were not kicked out sooner is evidence of something dark.) Now if you look who makes most edits on the Wikipedia page about Less Wrong: it's David Gerard. If you go through the edit history and look at the individual changes, most of them are small and innocent, but they are all in the same direction: the basilisk and neoreaction must remain in the article, no matter how minuscule they are from perspective of someone who actually reads Less Wrong; on the other hand, mentions of effective altruism must be kept as short as possible. All of this is technically true and defensible, but... I'd argue that the Less Wrong described by the Wikipedia article does not resemble the Less Wrong its readers know, and that we have David Gerard and his decade-long work to thank for this fact.
If the impression of lesswrong is distorted, then this may be a problem of what kinds of thing on lesswrong are covered by media publications?
True, but most of the information in media originates from RationalWiki, where it was written by David Gerard. A decade ago, RationalWiki used to be quite high in google rankings, if I remember correctly; any journalist who did a simple background check would find it. Then he or she would ask about the juicy things in the interview, and regardless of the answer, the juicy things would be mentioned in the article. Which means that the next journalist would now find them both at RationalWiki and in the previous article, which means that he or she would again make a part of the interview about it, reinforcing the connection. It is hard to find an article about Less Wrong that does not mention Roko's Basilisk, despite the fact that it is discussed here rarely, and usually in the context of "guys, I have read about this thing called Roko's Basilisk in the media, and I can't find anything about it here, could you please explain me what this is about?"
Part of this is the clickbait nature of media: given the choice between debating neoreaction and debating technical details of the latest decision theory, it doesn't matter which topic is more relevant to Less Wrong per se, they know that their audience doesn't care about the latter. And part of the problem with Wikipedia is that it is downstream of the clickbait journalism. They try to use more serious sources, but sometimes there is simply no other source on the topic.Replies from: Sherrinford
↑ comment by Sherrinford ·
2020-08-03T21:13:31.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for the history overview! Very interesting. Concerning the wikipedia dynamics, I agree that this is plausible, as it is a plausible development of nearly every volunteer organization, in particular if they try to be grassroots-democratic. The wikipedia-media problem is known (https://xkcd.com/978/) though in this particular case I was a bit surprised about the "original research" and "reliable source" distinction. Many articles there did not seem very "serious". On the other hand, during this whole "lost in hyperspace", I also found "A frequent poster to LessWrong was Michael Anissimov, who was MIRI’s media director until 2013." (https://splinternews.com/the-strange-and-conflicting-world-views-of-silicon-vall-1793857715) which was news to me. In internet years, all this is so long ago that I did not have any such associations. (I would rather have expected lesswrong to be notable for demanding the dissolution of the WHO, but probably that is not yet clickbaity enough.)