CZ Talk:Dispute Resolution

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How's this looking so far?? --Larry Sanger 14:51, 29 August 2007 (CDT)

It looks good, although somewhat indigestible. As a guiding document it will be fine, but possibly we will need to split it up into sub-areas, just for people to get their heads around it.--Martin Baldwin-Edwards 14:54, 29 August 2007 (CDT)
I think the idea of a Lead Workgroup Editor is important for streamlining decisions. I have to say, however, that when such people rule finally in their own areas of expertise, it can be hard for them to separate out their own biases. More often, it is likely to be an intelligent disinterested party who is most inclined to resolve neutrality issues. For example, if I were in a conflict about Bill Clinton, I'd far-and-above take a Gareth Leng--a Scottish physiologist with a great handle on neutrality--over a person more closely situated to the topic by nationality and discipline. Perhaps the idea of Neutrality Editors is worth considering.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 15:16, 29 August 2007 (CDT)
Since the workgroup lead is going to have a lot of administration type duties as well, maybe they don't have to be editors. We could use people that are trained and good at resolving these issues whether they are authors, editors, or CEOs. --Matt Innis (Talk) 15:25, 29 August 2007 (CDT)
On Stephen's point, I agree absolutely. In my own work, it has been a great advantage to me to work on countries with which I have little personal connection, whereas people who are focused on their country of birth are not only narrow in experience,but also very narrow in perspective. Transferable skills is the key idea, I think.
On Matt's idea, I think that ideally we need for workgroup lead people who are broadly-based in the area, are at least of the intellectual standard of editors, and have proven skills in management or dispute resolution. I fear that the combination is quite rare, though... Without the status of editor for workgroup leader, it is likely that the others would not respect the process and we could have real legitimacy problems.--Martin Baldwin-Edwards 15:37, 29 August 2007 (CDT)

Steve, I agree with the idea that neutrality disputes are at least one special class of dispute that may call for a different method of resolution, one that is not so open to abuse. A group of Neutrality Editors might do the trick. Let me think some more about it; my concern is that for a long time I thought it would be the Judicial Board that would handle neutrality issues. But I can easily imagine that board getting too busy and becoming a bottleneck. So an intermediate "appeals body" seems to make sense. But then, we are already talking about an Editorial Appeals Committee. Here is what I propose. Since it is concerned with the interpretation of rules, not the creation of them, let's make the E.A.C. part of the "judiciary," and answerable to the Judicial Board. The J Board hears only the most difficult cases, as well as cases that involve getting rid of people (which bypass the E.A.C.).

I agree that there is no reason for these appeals bodies to be limited just to editors. I already have someone in mind for the Judicial Board who is not an editor, in fact.

More below. --Larry Sanger 11:19, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

I think it would be useful to make a distinction between disputes concerning individuals in their personal capacities, and complaints against CZ official bodies or processes. For the latter case, I suggest an Ombudsman and some assistants; s/he would be answerable to the Executive Committee of CZ, and could be removed only by unanimous vote. With luck, the procedure might not be needed, but I offer the idea anyway. --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 11:39, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Thanks for that, Martin--seems to be an excellent distinction. Whenever the notion of an ombudsman was floated before, it struck me vaguely as a good idea but I wondered what relationship it would bear to our dispute resolution procedures. The idea of having a separate venue for making complaints against bodies and processes makes a good deal of sense. It also helps solve a problem we were struggling with earlier (as you know), of how to deal with complaints by people who are leaving. --Larry Sanger 12:56, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Editorial Appeals Committee

The section on The editors role in conflict resolution looks promising. I think the Editorial appeals committee will work to solve most, if not all, of our problems. --Matt Innis (Talk) 16:02, 29 August 2007 (CDT)

My issue with it is cumbersomeness. One might find this only transfers a disupte rather than solving it. :-D  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 16:07, 29 August 2007 (CDT)
At wikipedia, it would. The key here is that Constables ban someone who does not obey the resolution. Harsh, definitely, but effectively stops there as far as the wiki is concerned. --Matt Innis (Talk) 16:09, 29 August 2007 (CDT)
Cumbersomeness (a cumbersome word, that) is a reasonable concern. Committees are famously slow. If several people have to weigh in, you can't get things solved in a few hours, in most cases; be thankful for a few days, and hope for less than a few weeks. But this slowness needn't gum up the wiki works. The Editorial Council is very slow, but so far I don't think that its slowness has made the wiki any slower. If an Editorial Appeals Committee is slow, then it will be used relatively seldom, which is a good thing. Top-down governance is best regarded as a last resort in a project that thrives on bottom-upness. --Larry Sanger
I fail to see how a Committee is any less top down than a Neutrality Editor. To me it is a matter of attitude. Disputants cede some of their own authority whenever they go to another party or body for resolution in a matter. Also, the fact the committee would NOT be used frequently due to cumbersomeness and lack of speed is probably a very good reason to have Neutrality Editors. We want to prevent crises, and intervene early, not wait until things really come to blows. Providing a streamlined way, such a Neutrality Editor, to solve conflicts best serves that purpose. I am mindful, however, that this need not be an either/or matter between a party and a body, but both may be the better way to go.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 13:27, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Well, I was saying that the Editorial Appeals Committee would be specially chosen to deal with neutrality issues. They would be Neutrality Editors, so to speak, they just wouldn't be called that. I agree that both would be top-down. I think what you are suggesting is that we empower individuals to make specific "rulings" on specific cases. Right? --Larry Sanger 13:34, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Yes, precisely, not a matters of fact but neutrality, and according to protocols that ensure they really are removed, disinterested parties.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 13:40, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Maybe a Neutrality Workgroup with authors as well and Larry being our first lead so that he can teach everyone what neutrality is... Then that lead becomes the final voice on neutrality. --Matt Innis (Talk) 13:44, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
I'm puzzled, because I'm agreeing 100% that we should have a body devoted (at least in part) to neutrality issues. Are we, perhaps, disagreeing about the name Editorial Appeals Committee? Or is it you think there should be a workgroup (or committee) that focuses only on neutrality issues? If the latter, why? Why only on neutrality? --Larry Sanger 14:05, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
I can't speak for Steven, and perhaps I should not have intervened in your discussion. I am in favor of the EAC, though I feel that the name suggests authors cannot be a part. I feel they should be. The Neutrality workgroup was in response to Steven looking for a neutrality editor, but I was thinking that we need more than one... thus the workgroup. This workgroup would only be concerned with neutrality to address situations where editors were unclear about whether certain information should be in the article or not. --Matt Innis (Talk) 15:06, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

Will the proposed Editorial Appeals Committee be formed from an Editorial Appeals Workgroup or ALL the editors will comprise the Editorial Appeals Workgroup? Supten 00:03, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

Actually, on my revised notion, the committee would answer to the Judicial Board, not to the Editorial Council. There then remains the question what relationship would exist between workgroups and the J Board; see below. --Larry Sanger 12:05, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

What is "neutrality" for an advanced encyclopedia? it requires an deep understanding of the scholarship to be neutral; people who are not experts will have a very difficulty understanding the nuances and the years of academic debates that underlie the issues. They will have to immerse themselves in the scholarship before they can make a judgment and in effect become experts. Richard Jensen 15:35, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
I think that's absolutely false. Why does one have to be a credentialled, board-certified "expert" to be neutral? Here's an example: On the Tennis page, let's say, we have an "expert" who has a degree in Sports History maybe, from Texas A & M. He's written 7 books about various aspects of sports and sports history. In the tennis article he writes dogmatically, and emphatically, "Bill Tilden was the greatest male tennis player in history. He was better than Budge, Vines, Kramer, Gonzales, Sampras, and Federer." Period. Someone, a "non-expert" but someone who has played and followed and studied tennis for 50 years, says, in the Discussion: "Nonsense. Bill Tilden was a wonderful player, sure, and he *may* have been better than all of those other guys, but we'll never know. So I'm going to change the statement to read: 'Bill Tilden was the greatest of the early tennis players and still considered by some authorities to be the greatest of all time, but this is by no means a unanimous opinion; indeed, the general consensus today is that either Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, or Roger Federer is the greatest of all time.' " The "expert" then replies that *he* has the credentials, is obviously an expert, and is obviously being neutral in making his judgment. End of argument. My own feeling is that *I* personally, Hayford Peirce, know just as much who is a candidate for being the greatest tennis player of all time as any credentialled expert you can find. And I think that in an argument as above, I could act as an absolutely neutral observer who could try to sort this dispute out. And I'm sure that in any other field you care to name, that the same thing would hold true: that there are non-credentialed experts who are 100% capable of being neutral. Hayford Peirce 15:59, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
In response to Hayford, I consider a person who "has played and followed and studied tennis for 50 years" to be an expert on tennis. Academic credentials are not involved in tennis--Reminds me of my daughter who got an "A" in tennis in college but could barely hit the ball; she explain the grade was based on essays she wrote on tennis! My point is that someone who does not understand the nuances and complexities of a topic will have great difficulty seeing what is bias and what is neutrality.Richard Jensen 16:57, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
That's alright as far as it goes, but it can be a veil for the right to push a viewpoint. It falls apart very quickly with topics like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Cuba, Fidel Castro, and many others one could name.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 17:25, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Let me add a topic on which I have some expertise, in so far as one who has written an undergrad thesis on the topic that has been cited in journal publications. An article on the country Haiti. People very well understand the nuances and complexities of that topic, but rare is the person and difficult it is drop one's own biases and write neutrally about the topic--you are just not going to get this expert and this expert to agree (if you can get them to even work together). A Neutrality Editor does not need to know or see all of the nuances and complexities. They need to see the conflict and know how to bring resolution to it between some sometimes stubborn and pig-headed disputants.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 17:37, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Richard, you make a good point. This is also why you need to be part of the process, as does Hayford. --Matt Innis (Talk) 17:17, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
For some subjects, expertise is not so central. For others, such as my own area, it is central. Everyone has an opinion on (im)migration issues, yet there are few people in the entire world who have a sound grasp of the issues in any depth. And I think this applies in many areas. On the other hand, this is not to say that all expertise has to be credentialled and certified: did Richard Jensen say that? Scholarship is not conferred by diplomas, it is acquired through close study and decades of struggling with the topic. Perhaps, Hayford, you are an expert on tennis: credentials are not the issue. --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 16:30, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
Exactly. Why should an editor have to explain this to every author that comes along. By the same token, occasionally that editor may need a little reminder, too. Instead, a neutrality workgroup editor can just review the discussion and make the decision, maybe expalin some of the finer details, and everyone can move on. That way we avoid the escalation that eventually has everyone putting up defenses and choosing sides. --Matt Innis (Talk) 15:44, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
And what will happen if the proper editors of a workgroup all disagree with the neutrality editor? --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 15:49, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
The EAC. The neutrality workgroup is just there to prevent the escalation due to a neutrality issue, which I think most of our disagreements begin as. --Matt Innis (Talk) 16:11, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
This is how I see it, too, Matt.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 16:39, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

The reason I think authors need to be part of the process is the same that those who are afraid that no-one will repect the decision if it is not editors that make the decision. If there are no authors in the process, then authors have no reason to think the process is there to listen to them either. I would suggest that for every editor we lose, we lose 100 hard working authors. That goes a long more with our idea of "lots of hard work with gentle guidance from editors", instead of "do as the editors say or else". --Matt Innis (Talk) 16:49, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

No offense I hope--I agree that it sounds like a good idea on first glance--but after some thought, I don't like the idea of individuals acting as peace brokers on neutrality issues. If we had a sufficient supply of people that were absolutely, unquestionably well-suited as neutrality editors--I have dreamed at length of creating a profession of people who can be called upon to issue neutral judgments--but we have no such body. Who has not discovered by now, to his or her satisfaction, just how rare individuals are who fully understand the implications of neutrality? I worry that we will end up with people who do lasting damage to our practices and reputation for neutrality. I think that a group of people--which could include authors--would be much better at arriving at a "neutral" solution to a difficulty.

I also am inclined to agree with Gareth that it's better if we have one workgroup for all sorts of appeals on content questions. (Whether workgroups can be used for appealing decisions is another question, which I'll leave for later.) This is because, as again we've discovered time and again, that content disputes tend to concern many different policy aspects at once. To take an instance we haven't encountered yet (to my knowledge), someone might question the propriety of including a certain source in a bibliography because the book is so partisan; that's an issue about bibliographies and neutrality. And the controversial questions about science articles often combine issues of neutrality with issues of fact and of credibility. And imagine adding to those questions a situation where one editor's expertise is challenged by another editor.

These are similar in a way to real legal disputes. The question presented on appeal is often simple: yes or no. But the facts of the case give the court an opportunity to interpret the principles, often very complex and interconnected principles, behind the decision. Imagine how complicated the law would be if we had to decide whether a dispute were a neutrality dispute, or some other sort of dispute, in advance--and when it might be "all of the above."

If we have just one appeals body for all content policy matters, matters are obviously a lot easier to handle. We do, in that case, have to trust that the appeals body has adequately mastered the basics of CZ policy. No problem there--we'll just write a bar exam.  ;-) --Larry Sanger 11:50, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Let's call it the Content Review Committee. --Larry Sanger 11:52, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Shortage of editors?

I think there is a problem. The articles entailing significant conflict tend to span workgroups, or be outside them - e.g. Jesus, Intelligent Design, Scientific Method, Pseudoscience, and those with political overtones where neutrality is about tone as much as content. Thus, I don't really see examples of conflict that can be resolved by a clear academic voice. Indeed, as the disputes often embrace editors with (if not comprehensive) relevant standing, it's hard to see us finding other editors with greater authority than those already involved. Nor can I see that recourse to a constable will help (in general) except to moderate behaviour; its a confusion of roles.

We are about writing good articles, first and last, not simply articles that cover everything at whatever cost to comprehension and impact. Whether an article is readable, interesting, coherent, logical, sensible, fluent, neutral in tone, attractive in presentation - these are important issues for guiding an article but can be judged by anyone, and these are lodestones that can guide an article past contentious areas.

We need, in cases of conflict, recourse to a group of editors from any background. If disputes do not revolve around factual issues but around issues of tone, balance, neutrality, presentation the issue to be judged is not a strictly academic one but should be about what steps are in the interests of making the best article that is possible. I think editors/authors whose expertise is outside the area of contention might be better placed to make recommendations, guided by these considerations, that would help resolve a conflict, and this would be better than adding another participant to a conflict. i.e. input from those the articles are intended to be read by; their perceptions of whether an article appears balanced and authoritative is important.

Finally we won't get final resolution without an approvals process that works for contentious articles. We don't have a workable mechanism for approving say Intelligent Design, even though that article now seems to be stable and in good shape.Gareth Leng 04:09, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

Gareth makes an important point, which previously I have also made in another context, about the viability of this "federalized" workgroup structure. Can I suggest a compromise?
(1) That we have broad workgroup structures, i.e. not Economics or Politics but Social Sciences, with a General Area Editor to help manage conflicts
(2) That General Editors from any discipline can [and perhaps should] be brought in to help with dispute resolution etc.
The appeal of this arrangement is that there would be some division of academic subjects allowing a degree of independent direction appropriate for each area, alongside a cross-over between broad disciplines which not only would help with disputes but would also tend to promote coherence within CZ on those tricky issues. --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 04:29, 30 August 2007 (CDT)
We have hundreds of authors that are underutilized. Many of them are better at solving disputes than we editors. --Matt Innis (Talk) 08:50, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

Agree with both. Gareth Leng 10:05, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

Gareth makes an excellent point that I suppose I didn't adequately grasp until he made it. But I think we need to be very clear about where or how specific expertise is irrelevant to judgment. If there is a dispute about a matter of fact, or about whether such-and-such is generally regarded as a credible resource in the field, or how widely accepted a certain theory is, then in these cases expert input is clearly needed. But most disputes about neutrality, copyediting matters, comprehensibility or level, family-friendliness, and many other matters surely are irrelevant to particular expertise. For the latter, what we want more than expertise is good judgment, which is, as we all know, not at all perfectly correlated with expertise. But the trouble is distinguishing these two kinds of issues. Is there really a workable way to distinguish "expert" issues from "wise generalist" issues?

But if I understand him correctly, that isn't a problem Gareth needs to solve, because the upshot of what he suggests--he can correct me if necessary--is that workgroups should not play any role in appeal. (I assume that he is not disputing that editors should have the "front line" decision-making role they have always had.) If Prof. Bestertester of the Philosophy Workgroup says that the article must read such-and-such, and Joe Blow disagrees doggedly, then Blow appeals to a broad-based Editorial Appeals Committee--not to the Philosophy Workgroup. And this is so regardless of the type of issue.

I can see a way of making this workable for purely factual disputes. The committee has a set of rules (which can be adequately complicated--the rules have to be understood only by the committee, after all) that it can use to distinguish "expert" from "wise generalist" disputes. For the expert disputes, then, it actually calls on the relevant experts, of course. In other words, smart people, like courtroom judges, are capable of recognizing when to consult the relevant experts.

I can see two fairly clear advantages to having a unified, generalist appeals body. (1) Arguably (perhaps Surowiecki would argue this), a generalist body, particularly if large enough, would be more reliable because it has a broader range of knowledge and experience to draw upon. (2) Maybe more importantly (and certainly more persuasively), frankly, as we know, entire fields can have certain biases. A generalist body can help put a damper on these.

There are also a few disadvantages, I think. One is something Martin raised above, namely, that the results might not be as credible, and the structure itself not attractive, to many academic specialists. You all have seen how many people come and say, "You need an X (more specialized) workgroup." I think a few people have told me that they would participate more if we had some more specialist workgroup that suits them in particular.

Another disadvantage: lack of scalability. As I argued in this forum post, this sort of centralization might in time create an unwieldy bureaucracy. What would a centralized system look like if we had 250,000 articles instead of 2,500, and 100 times the number of people (and problems!)?

I'd like to ask whether Gareth (or others) really are suggesting that workgroups have no appeal role at all. I see that Martin is suggesting that we have super-workgroups, and that they have some appeal role. --Larry Sanger 12:47, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

I think, as things stand, it would be better to avoid relying on workgroups -- if only because of a shortage of alive editors. The workgroup area, perhaps a "Faculty" by university analogy, is my preferred locus for appeal. It could utilize non-expert arbitrators, who would be common to CZ, or it could bring in other Faculties' experts. This way, you get enough expertise and academic legitimacy along with some shared CZ approaches. The broad knowledge of a generalist body is combined with subject-specific expertise. --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 13:03, 30 August 2007 (CDT)

I have a deep trust in the collective good faith and good sense of CZ contributors, though each of us individually may be prone to moments of madness. I think that we can trust that any appeals body drawn generally from contributors will have the wisdom to defer to expert opinion in matters of fact, and will have the sense to distinguish between such matters and matters of broader judgement. Leaving ppeals on matters of judgement to a narrow workgroup has I think pitfalls, partly because of the shortage of editors, but more because of the very human tendency within a group to defer to the most senior and respected mmbers of that group even in matters where their expertise is not strictly relevant. I think a relatively small group might be best, one that can acquire experience and develop a modus operandi, and a set of working precedents, that can form a stable basis for expansion or federalisation. Perhaps each workgroup might nominate one member initially to act on such a trans-project body, a nominee who might be an editor or an author? However it is formed, I think this body should have the remit not only of resolving disputes but also of resolving approval of contentious articles.Gareth Leng 04:46, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Relationship between policy workgroups and editors

The following is something that I posted on the constable workgroup, where we are coming to grips with "the recent unpleasantness" from the Constabulary's point of view. I thought that this really needed to be said more publicly.

First, let me say that we agree at least that it is good to have individuals and groups specializing in particular policy areas. It's perfectly obvious that such groups are very useful.

But the fact that we have (or will have) those policy specialists does not imply that editors lack broad editorial authority--that their authority is limited to whatever areas of policy in which we lack specialists. I hinted at an argument, which perhaps I should have spelled out. So here goes.

Right now I stipulate that we have (or soon will have) two groups specializing in particular aspects of content policy: topic informant and media assets. Now, let's suppose the project expands to 1000X its current size, and we have workgroups specializing in virtually every aspect of every policy. There are workgroups on fact-checking, copyediting, style, family-friendliness, neutrality of course, and for each of the subpage types (and aspects of these), and so on. You name it: if there is a distinct segment of CZ content policy, we've got a workgroup that covers it.

Now, suppose that representatives of these policy workgroups have the authority to overrule editors on questions of policy interpretation. Indeed, if we take what you say about the media assets workgroup as a rule, editors should lack any special authority to interpret policy. After all, when it comes to making any decision, in the long run, we will have some sort of covering policy, just to offer guidance. So if an editor wished to make a decision on a disputed question, there would be some citable policy; but then the editor would lack any special authority precisely because all citable policy has "policy specialists" who are the only ones to interpret that policy. What are editors for, then?

To this argument, you might have any of several responses.

(1) "Right, let's get rid of the editors, the bastards."  :-) (I assume this isn't your response.)

(2) "I don't say that editors lack any power to interpret policy; they can overrule rank-and-file authors; but the policy specialist workgroups can overrule them. So we're just putting the policy specialists above the editors, not removing their authority."

(3) "OK, editors share equal authority to interpret policy with these workgroups; if there is a conflict between a workgroup and an editor, they appeal to another body, such as an Appeals Committee. The workgroup lacks the authority to overrule an editor; in other words, an editor can force an appeal."

And then there is another option that I'm sure you would find unacceptable:

(4) "The policy workgroups are merely advisory. They help hammer out policy, and they instruct people about what it is, but when it comes to settling disputes, they entirely lack any authority; editors outrank them. They can appeal an editor's ruling, but they do so essentially as an author."

In practice, however, there might not be any clear distinction between (3) and (4). I'm not sure which I would choose. But I do bear in mind that editors frequently don't know or don't care about the relevant policy, and policy specialists will help a lot, after all.

Now, I don't know whether you would choose (2) or (3), if either of them. But you do imply that editors should be able to be overruled by the media assets workgroup, so I imagine you would favor (2), if you favored either of these. But I would be opposed to this, because in practice I am very sure that it would mean the irrelevance of editors. Consider: should we have an Approvals Workgroup? You might say that Nancy Sculerati and Russell Potter made up such a workgroup. But they worked as equals with editors; their situation was described by (4), I think. But perhaps they should have had the authority to approve articles. "Of course not," you might say--but on your reasoning, why not? It's very, very easy for editors to misunderstand or disregard our article standards, you know. In fact, I'm sorry to have to admit, this is more often the case than not. I've been personally disappointed in this area. A number of approved articles are probably not up to snuff, and I've personally de-approved some that clearly weren't. Why shouldn't this be placed in the hands of wiser people who specialize in approval standards?

I can imagine a whole hierarchy of policy workgroups that essentially buries editorial authority altogether. This would have two completely terrible effects. First, it would remove any incentive to join us as an editor. Without any authority in practice, why care about being an editor? Second, it would create exactly the sort of top-down bureaucratic hierarchy that is the antithesis of what makes wikis work. Wikis work not because they use wiki software, but because what the software is used for: bottom-up collaborative work. Well, we must not give that up. And we won't; I won't permit it.

Think about this, because it's very relevant. Wikis work (when they work) because people come together as free agents, each with similar rights, without having to ask anyone for permission to work. Editors work shoulder-to-shoulder with authors, making decisions when the need arises. The attraction of CZ to contributors is the idea that decisions are distributed, among authors first, but then distributed among editors who have authority over authors. But the decisions are still distributed, meaning that there are no specific assignments of decisions to editors. This is why CZ works as well as it does work. The notion of parceling out decisions to policy workgroups based on type of policy would, in the long run, create a bureaucracy that would undermine the growth and flexibility of the project.

You might reject all these options, however, and say that the media assets workgroup is a special case workgroup, because it deals with legal issues. The people who deal with legal issues must be above rank-and-file editors, because only they can be counted on to have the knowledge necessary to keep us out of trouble. But if so, I would say that the media assets workgroup is not the relevant workgroup to deal exclusively with legal matters. There should, instead, be a Copyright Workgroup, or a Legal Workgroup, staffed by actual lawyers, and certainly not the non-lawyer types who have very strong opinions about the requirements of the law. In the law, maybe more than in any other field except medicine, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

In the absence of people who are actually expert at legal thinking, who should interpret our legal policies? Well, if we lack a Copyright Workgroup, or a Legal Workgroup, then I would advocate for either what (3) or (4) above imply: authors are of course our first line defense; then the Media Assets Workgroup; then editors; and finally, conflicts among these can be appealed to another body, perhaps an Appeals Committee. Finally, if there really is a serious and consequential difficulty involved, the decision will be made by me and ultimately our Board of Directors (which currently, strictly legally speaking, is the Tides Center's Board of Directors). That's because I and the Board of Directors are the ones who are actually legally responsible for this project. --Larry Sanger 10:56, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Larry, this is all good and very important stuff, which needs serious discussion. Might I ask you to slow down a bit?, otherwise certainly I cannot offer anything to the debate [I have several days of catching up with very delayed obligations]. Probably, there are also some others who are not around much in this summer period, so unless you think the policy needs rapid enactment.... --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 12:01, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Excellent advice, Martin, thank you. Yes, I'll work on something else until next week. --Larry Sanger 13:23, 31 August 2007 (CDT)


Just thinking about this in practice "The author may appeal the matter to the appropriate workgroup, by e-mailing the Lead Editor of the workgroup. If there is no Lead Editor,] the appeal should be sent to the Editorial Appeals Committee, which will handle all other appeals [in lieu of an active Lead Editor for a workgroup]. (See below.) And, until the Editorial Appeals Committee is established, the author may appeal to the Editor-in-Chief."

I'm concerned on two grounds, first, if the issue transcends subject matter (e.g. representation of ethical issues about stem cell research, or animal research), then the subject specific editor might not be transparently a neutral arbitrator. Second, this presupposes that disputes can be nailed down to a single clear issue at a single point in time; they are more likely to be diffuse, even vague, ongoing concerns about overall balance, tone and insinuation, not really resolvable "at a stroke". Can I suggest that all appeals go first to the committee, who may then swiftly refer a case back to a workgroup if they feel that the dispute is one that can and should be resolved by specialist authority. May I suggest that one practical response of the committee, if they consider the case as within its remit, might be to appoint one of its number to look into the case in depth, who will begin by characterising the dispute, by coming to an agreed accurate summary of each viewpoint. He or she may then make a provisional recommendation, guided by CZ policy, which should not involve disciplinary action, but might take any other form (e.g. recommending continuing guidance from a nominated ombudsman), which will be openly presented to the remainder of the committee for comment and revision?Gareth Leng 11:19, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

Root and fruit

I am thinking very seriously that an enormous cause of project conflict ultimately boils down to a very simple thing: a lack of separation of author and editor powers.

If constables cannot act as constables in articles they are authoring but must obtain an uninvolved constable, and if editors cannot approve articles they have written but must obtain an uninvolved editor (both as it should be), then why have we empowered editors to be editors on the articles they are authoring?

Think about--better, research it on the wiki and see if this has not been a huge root of conflict. With some exceptions, this lack of separation of powers has created not "gentle expert oversight", but essentially a class of Wikipedia-like admins with the power to win their viewpoint not with the ban button but with just a word. Strip this away, make all non-trivial contributors to an article authors, and you will find editors actually "writing for the enemy", and "gentle expert oversight" actually flourishing, because it will always be another editor who has power over an authoring editor's work.

 —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 10:02, 3 September 2007 (CDT)

Geez, that's the way I thought it *was* -- that "editors" couldn't act as "authors" on the same article! I must have seriously mis-read some of the CZ rules when I first got started. I agree 100% with Stephen: of *course* editors shouldn't be allowed to be authors on an article, except, say, for correcting a typo or a misspelling or something akin to that. It is *extremely* pernicious to have it the other way! Hayford Peirce 12:13, 3 September 2007 (CDT)
That's how it is...technically. The way you thought it was may be how it is...technically.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 12:32, 3 September 2007 (CDT)

This is a new proposal about how to solve the problem; it isn't an explanation of what caused the problem in the first place. I wouldn't feel I could even evaluate it until it is much more carefully worked out. Prima facie, it doesn't seem obviously wrong, but it's yet more overhead and less actual freedom and collaboration to forbid editors from directly working on certain articles. Editors can't actually make changes on the articles they edit? OK, how do we distinguish, within all the articles assigned to a workgroup (and thus to an editor of that workgroup), which are the articles of which he/she is claiming an "editor" role, and those in which he/she is claiming an "author" role? Also, maybe more importantly, why think that this will solve the problem? Many of our disputes are between authors, or between editors, not editor-and-author. Moreover, suppose I'm playing the editor role for an article, and you disagree with something I say. How is this different from the situation we're now in, as to the problem of dispute resolution? --Larry Sanger 13:02, 3 September 2007 (CDT)

Those are all good questions that you raise and I don't have answers for all of them. But, as things stand right now, I think one of the main problems is that there simply aren't enough editors. If every workgroup had 4 or 5 or more editors, then disputes between *two* of them could be settled by the others. Ditto for disputes between one editor and one author (or even more authors). If there are enough editors and authors involved with any given article (or at least enough editors lurking in the background), then disputes will eventually be taken care of. At the moment, however, we know that there *aren't* large numbers of editors lurking about. So let's create a concrete example dealing with the present moment. I've written a bunch of articles about tennis, including long ones about Bill Tilden and Pancho Gonzales. Let's say that in recognition of all that work you invite me to be a Sports Editor (assuming I had some academic credentials to back this up). You also make Stephen Ewen a Sports Editor. And a gentleman named Bill Smith joins CZ as an author and immediate begins making edits to the various tennis articles. In the Tilden article, he says that Tilden's homosexuality was widely known to the general public throughout the 20s and 30s and that he was a role model for the developing gay community. I, as the *author* of the article, write in the Discussion that I've never seen any sources backing up these assertions and that, as far as everything I've ever read, Tilden was deeply closeted until his initial arrest in 1946. The argument goes back and forth for a while, with me citing various sources, with Bill Smith citing nothing except his own opinion. As a Sports Editor I feel greatly like kicking Bill Smith in the butt, very hard. But I can't -- I'm just an author in this case. What I *can* do, is appeal to Stephen Ewen as Sports Editor. He hasn't added anything to the Tilden article except once, to change the date of Tilden's last Wimbledon victory from 1931 to 1930, an obvious typo on some author's part. Stephen looks over the disputed areas, notes that I've cited umpity-ump sources as backing up my assertions, that Bill Smith has merely cited a couple of Web sites that he himself runs, and decides that Bill Smith should stop trying to make his assertions within the article. End of that problem (as long as Stephen enforces his edict). In the meantime, Stephen has also created an article about Professional Badminton and written several hundred words about it. Bill Smith begins making edits to this article also, some of which are clearly wrong. Stephen objects -- but has to appeal to *another* Sports Editor: he can't revert, beyond a certain point, the egregious Bill Smith by himself -- another editor has to step in. Hopefully there would be a *third* Sports Editor by now, one who have some distance from the two others. Admittedly, the above example is pretty simple-minded, but, in theory, it could certainly escalate into many thousands of ill-tempered words, just as other notable disputes have in the last couple of months, one of them simply concerning the use of the word "brilliant". If Editors and Authors had *clear* roles for *each* article, I think disputes could be more speedily resolved than they are now. ...said Hayford Peirce (talk) (Please sign your talk page posts by simply adding four tildes, ~~~~.)
You should write a play or two, Hayford:-) But remember to put your signature on them! Seriously, I agree that the editor shortage has some implications -- especially concerning limitation of powers when involved in writing an article. I must confess that I had not realised that there was no limitation. However, in light of the supply-demand problems, for the moment I think the best way forward is to allow the current editorial discretion. When [if] it goes wrong, we will know what to do... I am not sure that there are so many cases thus far, where this was a major concern [unless there is a hidden reference to the PD images dispute]. This latter will be resolved shortly, by the way. --Martin Baldwin-Edwards 15:03, 3 September 2007 (CDT)
There isn't any limitation of editor powers at present. But this seems to be a not-entirely-uncommon misunderstanding, so Hayford isn't alone. --Larry Sanger 15:15, 3 September 2007 (CDT)
Lack of active but registered editors, and editor-authors acting as their own dispute-solving editors in articles they are writing--could it actually be that the latter is just as much responsible for the former, as vice-versa? And that does not even get into authors.  —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 15:49, 3 September 2007 (CDT)
I don't know if it helps, but we had three editors on the Chiropractic article and we had many many disagreements for direction and tone, etc.. While I was a chiropractor and Nancy was a medical doctor, Gareth seemed to act as a moderating voice that sided with neither. The key was that he LISTENED to both of us and worked to create something that both of us could agree to. It was not the article that either of us wuld have written, but I think it ended up pretty neutral. More important, the article touches on things that I have never seen written for the public. The fact that it is written by an MD, DC and PhD has to mean something for credibility. HOWEVER, also note that we did eventually reach a point of impasse on the Critical views of chiropractic as we do not have the dispute resolution process ironed out.. yet. I do look forward to getting back to it. --Matt Innis (Talk) 16:15, 3 September 2007 (CDT)

Larry, to reply to your initial post in this thread.... What I have proposed is certainly an at least partial explanation of what has caused problems in the first place, and I think there is evidence that it more than that of conflict levels but the level of inactive editors and authors. I think the proposal I am talking about avoids the need to pick so much fruit caused by an issue and deals with it at the root. To restate things, I am saying that the root of so much conflict is simply that there is no separation of author and editor roles, i.e., that editors can act as editors in articles they are authoring, and that the level of power this gives is pernicious--is not conducive to "gentle expert oversight" and "working shoulder-to-shoulder"--and that it is itself a root of conflict, plus lowers participation and retention levels.

You asked, "How do you distinguish between authors and editors within an article?" It is simple. Authors author, i.e., the act of authoring means the contributor is acting as an author and has only those rights, even though that same contributor may hold editor status for articles they are not authoring. One either acts as an author or as an editor in a given article, never both, although there should of course be due consideration for the contributor(s) most knowledgeable (the experts), obviously the person who holds the credentials. Author-author conflicts--and again, all non-trivial contributors to an article are acting as authors and have only those rights--are resolved by appeal to an editor (editors edit), who in order to act as such in the article must have authored no more than trivially to the article (Hayford's scenario above is very apt). Editor-editor conflict, as I am delimiting "editor" here, and all disagreements with an editor's decision--that will require mechanisms like a Committee and so forth, as you have proposed here.

In sum, I think a separation of editor and author roles will facilitate a culture that will bring down the overall amount of conflicts, plus raise participation and retention levels.

 —Stephen Ewen (Talk) 02:04, 4 September 2007 (CDT)


I think we all recognise the same things as bad practise (when we see them in others, if not in ourselves) and all recognise the same things as good practise. Rather than try to legislate against the bad, perhaps we should concentrate on promulgating the good, if only because bad practise can take so many different forms in so many different circumstances that legislating against it might impede the good along with the bad.

I sense agreement that we need some project-wide group to facilitate dispute resolution, acting for the good of the project as a whole. We have legislators (the Editorial Council) and enforcers (constables), but we also need interpreters of policy - this new group. It seems to me that the role of their members should be to guide articles away from disputes and towards approval, and promote good practise, in part by gathering and collating examples of good practise and precedents for resolving conflicts, in line with their understanding of project policy. I think that they should not have any disciplinary role (though flouting their guidance might become an issue for constables).

I think that disputes often arise prematurely. Neutrality and balance can't be judged line by line, but must be judged from the article as a whole. A wise arbitrator might often say "let's for now leave this issue aside, until the other sections have been written. Then we'll come back to it, if there is still a problem"

Stephen's excellent points alert me to several things. It is the authors that are critical to this project (whether editors as authors or authors as authors), and the role of editors (as editors) should be essentially to use their experience and expert knowledge to support authors, rather than to restrain or censor them.

But there is another issue. It seems to me that we have made a mistake in not giving a role for authors in approval mechanisms. On important issues of balance, neutrality and presentation, all project members have a valid input important for the Approval process.

Perhaps anyone should be able to nominate an article for approval, anyone should feel free to express support or reservations, and only the final decision needs expert/independent endorsement. But there may be occasions where approval should be vetoed on project-wide grounds (neutrality, balance etc.). Thus the new group should have an instrumental voice in approvals of controversial articles, and should be able to block approval in some cases, and in other cases be able to override an editor's block if it is not based on technical issues of expertise. Editors have a special role by virtue of their expertise, but the power of reason is not given to editors alone.Gareth Leng 07:03, 4 September 2007 (CDT)

Without commenting on anything else (which I am deliberately holding off doing, as I said I would), I think the suggestion that authors may nominate articles for approval extremely exciting. I really want us to do this. (Of course, only editors can actually approve articles, but authors could nominate.) It's the sort of thing I'd tell the Editorial Council, "This is what we'll do--anybody object or want to vote on it?" --Larry Sanger 09:47, 4 September 2007 (CDT)