[Citizendium-l] Editorial dispute resolution

Hasan Murtaza hasan_murtaza at hotmail.com
Tue Oct 17 15:39:24 EDT 2006

This system of rules is one way to handle the conflicting viewpoint problem 
which I came up with.

In all cases, the intermediate steps and discussion leading up to the final 
result would be kept online, and would be as interesting to people following 
the story as the final result itself.

Trivial case:
0. if there is an obivous troll who, then reject its comments, and refute it 
if need be.

The more common case will be when there are are two reasonable people who 
both stick to their guns and refuse to see eye to eye on an issue.  Then:

1. The editors should present both of them with each others point of view, 
restated by the editors  in a neutral form (by then the editors should have 
quite a lot of practise doing this.)  The ultimate hope in this stage is for 
a resolution to come from the two parties themselves.

2. if conflict still persists, then either do a "reductio ad absurbdam", 
which where the hope is that insisting on adding more depth to the 
discussion will force each party to consider their view more carefully.  In 
this type of resolution, the whole issue is taken out of the realm of 
opinion and reduced to nothing more than fact.  Then each side has the right 
to put as many facts as they want on the table, but both parties will not be 
allowed to draw any generalizations from it or insert anything resembling a 
conclusive opinion in the final article:  the result will look like a tanlge 
of facts inside the elegant prose of an article, and it will be as visible 
as a scab on the surface of healthy skin.  Obviously any discussion can go 
no furthur nor can it influence anybody once you have removed all 
generalizations and opinions.  But this is the hidden "metabolic cost" of 
conflict, and so the result will be a desire to avoid all such behaviour in 
the future.  When the issue has been considered calmly, then maybe the 
article would be cleaned up in the future by more disinterested authors.

One funny anecdote helps to illustrate the idea of stultifying your 
opposition.  In the 1800s there was a run on the banks in San Francisco, and 
people were withdrawing their money from the banks due to rumours that a 
large bank was going to fail (and this cascade of events starting taking all 
kinds of banks down.)  The local Wells Fargo bank manager saw a mob of men 
angrily asking to close their accounts, so he loaded up all the money in the 
vaults into a wheelbarrow and took it out front and declared "now gentlemen, 
I intend to pay everybody back in full, but I am going to count this money 
out exactly to make sure you won't be missing even a dime."  So he started 
to count out dollars and cents, two or three times, all day, until most of 
the men just got bored and left.  The result was that his bank was saved 
when others crashed.

That sounds to me like the perfect way to handle troll like behaviour.  Take 
it to the extreme of rigour and let the trolls exhaust themselves expressing 
themselves in submitting facts--but do not allow them to express an opinion 
(since that is what the trolls are lacking...they do not have enough empathy 
to even deal politely with their opponents, much less understand them.)  
These two rules will be enough to handle most of the problems which arise.  
If not, then just adding more editors and authors to the discussion should 
reduce it to one of the two options mentioned above.


>From: "Larry Sanger" <sanger at citizendium.org>
>To: <citizendium-l at lists.purdue.edu>
>Subject: Re: [Citizendium-l] Editorial dispute resolution
>Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 00:53:55 -0700
>David Goodman gives us a typology of debates, which I found very
>interesting.  He's right that we should bear in mind that these different
>types of dispute might require different types of resolution, and that any
>approach to dispute resolution should potentially be able to deal with all
>of them as effectively as possible.
>He also suggests that we should have what we called in Nupedia days
>"articles in disagreement."  In other words, when there are different
>approaches to the same issue, then we have "one or more scholarly articles
>or books presenting their respective contentions."  We hashed this issue to
>death in the early days of both Nupedia and Wikipedia, and I'm willing to 
>it again.  (In fact, I can put my hands on some extended argumentation 
>this pretty quickly, written last year, if you're interested.)  I will say
>only this for now, that it's arbitrary which positions are to receive their
>own articles, and it's arbitrary which *topics* receive biased treatment in
>this way (should Republicans and Democrats, and the French ;-), have their
>own articles about George W. Bush?).  And most importantly, this won't
>result in an *encyclopedia* but instead a *partisan catalog of opinion*,
>which is not what an encyclopedia is.
>The neutrality policy, outlined here:
>is inconsistent with your proposed policy, by the way.  And I've made this 
>"Fundamental Policy"; see:
>I will explain this at length, but there is little chance that we will
>abandon it as a policy.
>Sarah Tuttle says the voting idea (which I didn't mean to say I supported,
>by the way) is "an awful idea" or "in need of fairly strong refinement."
>Speaking candidly, I agree, and Sarah's vivid example (of the meeting of 
>IAU that decided on the definition of "planet") illustrates one main 
>with it.  Even with a roomful of genius-level scientists you're still going
>to be dealing with well-known socio-political dynamics of groups trying to
>decide stuff by vote, you know, the stuff that got Socrates killed (right,
>Nicolas?--inside joke).  So I have to say she's got an excellent point
>there, Andy.
>Sarah then suggests we use talk pages to give feedback.  It's not top-down
>in the least, at least not if people share equal rights to edit the 
>But the problem is that the talk pages are where editorial disputes will
>Sarah then raises a separate problem: "There are a limited number of
>experts, and a relatively unlimited number of enthusiasts, many who are
>exhausting. And many who contribute brilliantly. If what the experts must 
>is constantly sort these piles while not alienating the exhausting ones? 
>It will be over."  I'm not sure of that.  We need to try it out and quickly
>adopt some sensible guidelines for editor-author interaction.  We have
>*declared* as fundamental project policy that editors will have the
>authority to make content decisions--not to be exercised in a totally
>peremptory way, but they *will* have that authority.  If you set down the
>game rules in this way, I think a lot of people will be only too happy to
>defer to people who understand fields better than they do.
>I know this is certainly true in my case.  For example, as a fiddle 
>I know I can say a lot about Irish traditional music that might be usable,
>but I would be perfectly happy to defer to the likes of, say, Mick Moloney,
>who is a true expert in the field.  And I don't think I'm at all unusual in
>this willingness, either.  In fact, I much suspect that the shrill people
>who demand total epistemic parity, so to speak, like Clay Shirky's
>supporters, are actually in a minority online.  It's only the fact that 
>are so, er, talkative that makes them seem so common online.  I think we'll
>discover that there are many, many more of another sort of person, who is
>rather more modest, who really wants to make a positive contribution to a
>collectively-created resource, and who would not be put out too much if
>someone who understands a topic much better takes the trouble to correct 
>or her.  That's how I'd feel, even if it meant that my work were completely
>transformed--as long as I got some feedback explaining why, and as long as
>it appeared the expert was open to true collaboration and dialogue.  I 
>then I could regard it as a learning experience.
>If the doubt is that *experts* will be willing to collaborate with
>*non-experts*, because it will be too exhausting to do that and not 
>the non-experts, that's another thing.  I think we will attract the sort of
>author who will not be as quickly alienated by editorial decisions as they
>might on Wikipedia.  I mean, the Wikipedia community has a sense of
>entitlement about their equal share of decisionmaking authority.  So if an
>expert comes in and starts throwing his weight around, so to speak, they
>often get upset.  Well, we can expect the dynamic here to be different
>precisely because our members will have to endorse some fundamental
>principles that require deference to expertise.
>I also think that editors who would be inclined to be too peremptory with
>authors will find the very idea of the Citizendium, in which editors and
>authors are expected to work "shoulder-to-shoulder," ridiculous.  And if
>they are abusive, or fail to explain why they revert the work of authors
>(i.e., non-experts), they'll receive a warning; and if they don't change
>their ways, they'll be excluded from the project.
>Anyway, none of this is to solve the problem of editorial disputes, but 
>gone on too long for this evening anyway.  I'll try to catch up more
>tomorrow.  I am intrigued by Göran Wallin's actual (if complicated) 
>for solving the problem.  Seems like most of the rest of you are 
>denying that there is a problem to solve, or that the system shouldn't be
>set up in such a way that this problem can occur.  But if the system is set
>up according to the current plan, not only can it occur, it most certainly
>will occur.  And then, as I said, when two people who are both editors of
>the same article disagree irremediably about some question regarding the
>article--and that can happen, David G., for two Communists working on the
>"Communists on Communism" article, as everybody knows, and by golly, it's
>*more* likely to happen among people in the same camp, isn't it--we *do*
>need some procedure for solving it.
>OK, I do want to respond to one suggestion, made by Paul Tanner.  It is 
>it's actually not so bad if it's the most stubborn of the Ph.D.s who end up
>in charge of CZ, in the same way that it's the most stubborn of Wikipedians
>who have ended up in charge of WP.  But I disagree.  The most stubborn are
>the most motivated, and the most motivated are the most ideological, and 
>most ideological are not the best sources for an encyclopedia.  I think 
>is why people (on both Left and Right) find so much to complain about,
>regarding the ideology of Wikipedia and its failure to follow its own
>neutrality policy.  And I know I am not alone in this analysis, many others
>have made it before.
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