From SaveTheWorld - a project of The Partnership Machine, Inc. (Sponsor: Family Music Center)

Revision as of 20:51, 14 February 2016 by DaveLeach (talk | contribs)

What are your rules?

Rules (that are conditions of participation) are simple and short:

No irrelevant material – profanity, advertisements, or other spam will get you instantly banned. Personal attacks will be deleted and you will receive a warning, if they seem subtle and perhaps not intentional; if they seem mean you will be banned. Contributions only marginally on the subject of an article or a subheading will be deleted.

No legally prohibited material – plagiarism or copyrighted material. No plagiarism: if you quote somebody, use quote marks and say who you are quoting; and even if you give credit, don’t copy and past large portions of copyrighted material. (Using much more than 5% of a copyrighted book or article can get you in court, if you are not criticizing it.) Violators will be banned.

No lying. No “Devil’s Advocates”. Don’t goad opponents in conversation by playing “Devil’s Advocate” by saying you believe what you don’t, making the errors in what they are saying a moving target for your opponents. A test of whether this is what you are doing is if you agree with a position at one point and dispute it in another, without clarifying the difference or admitting you have changed your mind. This is our most subjective rule.

You won’t be censored for any sincerely held, rationally presented political or politically relevant religious view. Our format allows you to disagree with anyone. However, you will be challenged.

You don’t have to back anything up. That is, you won’t be banned for not backing up anything, or for disagreeing with everybody. However, if you contribute something so counterintuitive and lacking in backing that the question arises how you could possibly believe it yourself, and you ignore subsequent requests to better explain your idea, your contribution may be moved to a “Hit and run” or “abandoned” category.

Our purpose is to persuade people who used to disagree. We trust it is also your purpose to persuade, or at least to seem reasonably intelligent. So we offer several tips you might want to think about even though following them is not “required” for you to participate. These tips aim at common sense relationship skills that will make you more persuasive in any situation.

What information is required to register? Your real first and last name, state, political party with which you are actually registered, and any 50 character max description with which you would like to further clarify your political and/or religious views, will be displayed wherever you leave an edit

In addition we need information we will not display: your email so that, without displaying it online, other participants can contact you through the website’s “inmail”.

To confirm your real name, party registration, and state, upload an image of your voter registration card. If any information on it is not current, submit the updated details. If you are an adult citizen who is not registered to vote, please register before you contribute to our forum; it will indicate your seriousness about correctly understanding issues.

If you are an adult but not a citizen, please upload an image of an immigration form showing your name and address. “Noncitizen” will display after your name when you contribute.

If you are a child, please get your parents involved! They can quote you as part of their posts. For example they can write, “My 11-year-old says....”

Why do we have to register with real names and party affiliation?

Our goal is agreement among real people so that we may work together: not merely agreeing what corrections ought to be made and how they should be made, but making them. Consensus between anonymous faceless contributors is meaningless, to the extent action is the goal.

Another reason anonymity will defeat our purpose is that this discussion desperately needs decency, clean language, and respect – if not for each other’s views, at least for each other as human beings made in the Image of God whom God loves even if we can’t figure out why.

In an anonymous blog you can spew heartless nonsense from the shadows of anonymity so that your friends, family, and coworkers will never learn this side of you and will continue to think you are normal. What you say here, you say publicly, with your real name.

The “comments” sections of internet articles are dominated by anonymous “trolls” to whom relationship skills are The Enemy. They are divisive, profane, insulting, off the subject of the article, and they lie, misrepresenting even their own positions. They appear to be driven to shock rather than to elucidate.

Newspapers don’t publish anonymous letters to the editor. Before the internet, it was very difficult for people who wanted to publish their views anonymously to find an outlet. People with opinions were expected to take responsibility for them. Even when that may be a little bit costly. Names with opinions make them way more credible. One’s expertise or personal knowledge of a subject can be established only with a name. Your name on your positions also tells readers how committed you are to your positions. They see that you take them seriously, which makes them take you more seriously.

You can’t “take a stand” anonymously. People pay more attention to people who “take a stand” than to people who hide from accountability. If someone has information whose publication under his true name will get him killed, then by all means, he needs to be able to post anonymously. If that is your situation, you can surely find someone willing to post information for you in their name. But in this “land of the free, and home of the brave”, real danger is seldom anyone’s reason for posting anonymously.

Wikipedia allows anonymous edits, which creates huge problems. Edits aren’t entirely anonymous; the numerical “IP address” of the web host used by the contributor is recorded, which is about as informative as knowing someone’s voter registration number but not their name. But in 2007 a tool was developed to match people with IP addresses, and Wikipedia found out that the groups making anonymous edits favorable to themselves included the CIA, the BBC, the Australian government, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Democratic National Campaign Committee. The BBC used anonymous edits to vandalize an article about President G. W. Bush.

What does this forum do that others don’t?

Here is an overview of other formats, showing their limitations in serving the need addressed by our Forum:

Newspapers. Articles by staff reporters are featured. They are supposed to report both sides of issues, and usually they do at least call someone opposed to the positions they favor to get some quote from them.

But reporters are unaccountable when they don’t explain the angle of the story, ignore the context of quotes, doctor the wording of quotes, ignore the evidence or reasoning given during an hour-long interview which they summarize in 50 words, or otherwise transform the positions of their ideological opponents into “straw men” - positions never taken by their opponents, but which they find much easier to ridicule even to fellow opponents of their views. An angle never hinted at during the hour-long, friendly, sympathetic interview. This format leaves a trail of destroyed reputations which reduce the ability of opponents of the newspaper’s favored positions to contribute to society for decades.

Limited accountability is found in the “Opinion” page far from the front page. Anyone able to stuff “the rest of the story” into 200 words is welcome to submit, and some of the criticism will be printed. There is also a “corrections” box in tiny print, stuffed on any random page with a half inch to spare. This is a place for misspelled names or wrong dates, not a place to report distortions of a reporter. It is this lack of accountability, enabling abuse of their monopoly on information, which has led to the dramatic decline of newspapers over the past half century as a growing segment of the population finds the facts they know unrepresented and distorted, so they find alternative news sources or create their own. This decline began before the internet and continues even as they have gone online.

Blogs. Any individual may post his own articles or opinions on his own website. Unfortunately it is rare to find such a writer who even makes a show of contacting an ideological opponent to learn his view.

Accountability is limited to the “comments” below the article. Unfortunately the “comments” sections are dominated by anonymous “trolls” to whom relationship skills are The Enemy. They are divisive, profane, insulting, off the subject of the article, and they lie, misrepresenting their own positions, and apparently are driven to shock rather than elucidate.

Some comment sections are “moderated”, meaning they are not posted until a moderator approves them. One problem with that is most websites can’t afford enough staff or attract enough volunteers for the job. A second problem is the difficulty of developing objective enough rules to distinguish between valuable ideas from borderline ideas and spam. This leads to the third problem: suspicion among readers that the moderator is only there to censor disagreement, so there is no use submitting a comment if you disagree.

The more fundamental problem is that few comments, even of those most acceptable, add to the information in the article. Most are only tangentally relevant to it. They typically consist more of reactions to each other than to the subject. And indeed, bloggers rarely express any interest in having their claims added to or corrected, which supports the suspicion that moderators might incline to censor such contributions.

Yet another problem, for the purposes addressed by PMF, is that comments are not organized by subject. You can’t look through a file of 500 comments and find the two or three that address a particular aspect of the subject. You can’t even search them, because the website displays only a few comments at a time, which take a little time to load because of the “avatars” (pictures by each name) and the ads. These challenges face the comments section after articles in online newspapers, as well as after individuals’ blogs.

Think Tanks. “Think Tanks” are organizations which hire scholars to produce articles and research on a variety of topics. They fill the need to create much better researched information on current topics of public concern than is possible in 500 word newspaper articles or 300 word blogs, by researchers with university credentials on their topic unlike news reporters whose credentials are in reporting, which is kept continuously available as opposed to blogs and articles which are mostly forgotten after a few days.

But if they are accountable to anybody for their errors, there is no transparency about it. Not all researchers even post contact information. Their organizations do, but if you contact them with a proposal or a correction there is no assurance that you will hear back from them, or if they do, that they will seriously consider your idea. Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a remarkable forum that consistently turns up in the first page of search results if not in the top two or three results. It is a Think Tank with the resources to produce over 5 million articles as of January 2016, growing by 20,000 a month, and to keep them reasonably updated and perpetually available. By comparison, Encyclopedia Britannica has 40,000 articles in paper and 120,000 online. Microsoft’s Encarta has 70,000.

Wikipedia is the personification of accountability; anyone can correct its articles, and yet is in turn subject to others who may remove edits based on rather objective criteria. Yet none of this information or debate is forever deleted; a record of all edits, as well as deletions of edits with reasons given, is kept available, although they are organized only by date and not by subject.

There is no process for correcting errors or biases in encyclopedias which get past staff.

The ad hominem attacks, irrelevance, self promotion, spam etc which plague comments sections is effectively dealt with by Wikipedia volunteers.

There will certainly be overlap between our articles and Wikipedia articles, and overlap between our rules and theirs.

But Wikipedia has limits which prevent it meeting the needs which PMF addresses.

Original thinking censored. Wikipedia does not allow original research, original ideas, or even original syntheses of published opinions or research. Our forum welcomes original thinking, because we want solutions.

Mainstream publishers must approve. Wikipedia accepts only references to opinions and facts published by “a published, reliable source”, even though Wikipedia acknowledges controversy about what sources are “reliable”. There is no consideration for the fact that the two sides of a controversy have different views about which sources are “reliable”. Its examples favor “mainstream”, “established” sources, which, on controversial political topics, lean liberal enough to have launched [ “Conservapedia”.] Generally, “Most international and national newspapers, magazines, and scientific journals” are reliable, but “"Self-published books, personal Web sites, and blogs are largely not acceptable as sources." (Wikipedia:Verifiability)”

Mythical “Neutrality”. Wikipedia requires the mythical “Neutral Point of View” (POV). Our forum does not honor neutrality on whether a claim or opinion is right or wrong. We want right to be vindicated and wrong to be put out of its misery.

No new information. Wikipedia does not allow new information, or breaking news. Wikipedia actually says:

Such content may well be true, but as far as Wikipedia's policies are concerned, true isn't enough. Information must be verifiable, which means it must be backed by a published source outside Wikipedia. Simply put, Wikipedia must never be the first place that news appears. If a tree falls in a forest and it's not reported elsewhere, then Wikipedia isn't going to report it either. [1]

Nothing about yourself. You can’t write about yourself; not even in an article others have written about you that contains lies about you.

We also tend to discourage authors from writing about themselves or their own accomplishments, as this is a conflict of interest. If you have notable accomplishments, someone else will write an article about you (eventually). Wikipedia:Autobiography has more detail on this.

Consequently, you can’t link to evidence you have published elsewhere. Thus, the top world experts on a topic can’t contribute their expertise to Wikipedia’s articles edited by relative amateurs. This is probably the primary cause of a higher error rate in Wikipedia articles than in encyclopedias.

It is Wikipedia’s goal of the mythical “neutral point of view” that creates the possibility of a “conflict of interest” in writing about your own research. Normally, in writing about themselves, people emphasize the good stuff and omit the bad, leaving a picture that is not “neutral”. Our forum values any contribution that is relevant, and the more expert it is, the better.

Complicated rules. Wikipedia reports criticism of the complexity of its rules. “It's harder and harder for new people to adjust.” “... the sheer complexity of the rules and laws governing content and editor behavior has become excessive and creates a learning burden for new editors.” “Wikipedia's rules have had the unintended effect of driving away new contributors to the site.” [See “Excessive rule making”.

However, the 4th “rule” in the “Simplified Rule Set” is

Ignore all rules (IAR): Rules on Wikipedia are not fixed in stone. The spirit of the rule trumps the letter of the rule. The common purpose of building an encyclopedia trumps both. This means that any rule can be broken for a very good reason, if it ultimately helps to improve the encyclopedia. It doesn't mean that anything can be done just by claiming IAR, or that discussion is not necessary to explain one's decision.

Nevertheless our forum has Wikipedia beat for simplicity. Our rules fit in a short paragraph. Our “tips” are completely optional; violation of them will not get your contributions deleted or reverted, as happens in Wikipedia: they are strictly for your benefit. They are principles that will help make you more persuasive in any situation where you are trying to reason with people who disagree.