Wiki: Standard Reference or Original Research?

by wedrifid 2 min read25th May 201119 comments


My understanding of the purpose of the lesswrong wiki has been that it is a collection of well established concepts and local jargon that we can use as a reference and an easy way to communicate across inferential distance. The material on the wiki (I assumed) was to be summarised from prominent and uncontroversial blog posts that are already referenced to from time to time. Yet on several occasions I have seen pages edited with new content straight from the author's creativity.

A stark example was brought to my attention recently by User: bogus.

Please read the Less Wrong wiki page on Mind-killer, which summarizes the arguments for not doing politics at LessWrong better than any 'sequence' or blog post could.

What? I certainly hope not. If it the content isn't straight from a post then get it off the wiki and make it a post! And if the meaning of a concept differs in emphasis from that used in a sequence then so much the worse for your wiki comment.

Looking at the aforementioned mind-killer page the kind of thing I do not expect to see on the wiki is this:

many of these political virtues were identified by Bernard Crick in his work In Defense of Politics.

Huh? Bernard Crick? Since when was Bernard Crick part of an uncontroversial well established concept of 'mind killing' on lesswrong? The only reference to that author is in one comment by bogus in a post that is itself obscure. I've got nothing against Bernard Crick but I think the way to go about sharing the good news about his work is by making a post on him not injecting references into the wiki. Because then the new content has a chance to be vetted, commented on and voted on by the users.

Less obvious but to my mind more important is the distorted emphasis the article places on the subject, such as in the opening "politics is a mind killer" paragraph:

Political disputes are not limited to standard disagreements about factual matters, nor to disputes of personality or perspective or even faction: they involve matters that people physically fight over in the real world—or at least, matters that are to be enforced by the government's monopoly of violence.

That is kind of true. At least it isn't quite misleading enough that I would outright downvote it if it were a comment in a thread. But it certainly distracts from the core of the issue. On the other hand the related Politics is the Mind-Killer page nails it with a paragraph from an actual blog post:

People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation... When, today, you get into an argument about whether "we" ought to raise the minimum wage, you're executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed... Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back - providing aid and comfort to the enemy.



What the mind killer page does have in its favour is links. Apart from links to the PITMK posts and the color politics page it links to the related Paul Graham post which is also commonly referred to here. So basically if I was a wiki editor I would probably just nuke the content and leave the links and do the same thing whenever I found wiki pages that are original content. This is perhaps one good reason why I don't spend my time editing the wiki. ;)