Archive for May, 2007

For the record

Sysop TK has recently provided a list on mr. Schlafly’s talk page of the people he believes are responsible for the vandal attacks on Conservapedia, including your columnist among them:

Most of this isn’t the several people using the “Ice” account, but Tmtoulouse, ColinR, AmesG, AKjeldsen, Palmd and Sterile, among others and their many socks. The poor things are so devoid of a life, they crave argument for arguments sake. Feel free to contact me for a more complete list. —Sysop-TK /MyTalk 17:18, 22 May 2007 (EDT)

I would like to state that I resent this implication. I have never engaged in vandalism against Conservapedia, and would never dream of doing so. I believe the only reason why I am on that list is because of my activities on RationalWiki, which, that is true, has been a hang-out for some of the vandals that have attacked Conservapedia in the past. However, I have not been connected with these activities.

In a recent IRC conversation I have asked TK to remove my name , which he refused. I would call upon him to produce evidence to back up his claim, except that I know he can have none, and that it is well-known that he does not consider evidence necessary.

I know that the management of Conservapedia believes highly in moral laws. I would like to ask, what kind of moral laws support unsubstantiated accusations against an innocent men? I am not a Paulus, and this is not Caesarea, but still: For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.

Bigger*, better, faster!

Sweet suffering Saint Sebastian on the Sousaphone in a short story by Susan Sontag! RationalWiki 2.0 is online and ready to fulfill all your needs for cutting remarks, sharp commentary and insightful analyzes!

Find it at http://www.rationalwiki.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

*Well, ok - maybe not quite yet.

Column 10: Breaking news, again!

Ladies and gentlemen: We bring you, fresh from the source, two new stories of administrative mal

Firstly, this morning’s usual browsing of the Conservapedia logs revealed the following entry in the Block Log:

This is remarkable on two levels. Firstly, if we take a look at the comment quoted, it says the following…

Geo.plrd May 20th, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for the heads up Icewedge!

…which is in reply to the immediately preceding comment:

Icewedge May 20th, 2007 at 6:42 pm

This will all become moot tonight at 6 E.S.T., when the largest attack on the CP servers to date will be made.

Now, maybe it’s just because I’m a little dense, but I can’t for the life of me see anything related to Wikinterpreter here. As far as I know, Wikinterpreter has never posted here (EDIT: I should read the comments more thoroughly), and since I assume (or at least hope!) that the Conservapedia sysops do not have access to the IP addresses of people posting here, I wouldn’t expect them to know either.

Partly out of curiosity, and partly because this is something that at least tangentially involves me personally, I tried looking further into the matter, and came across another disturbing fact:

That’s right. Conservapedia sysops have now begun to delete the user pages of blocked people, making any kind of investigation of their actions through the use of page history virtually impossible. This kind of wanton destruction of, so to say, ‘public records’ really makes my historian’s heart bleed (does that make me a bleeding heart historian? Hm), and is a huge step backwards for transparency on Conservapedia.

I said this was remarkable on two levels. The other level is, of course, that it is explicitly stated on the official page on Differences with Wikipedia that,

15. We do not ban users based on their comments elsewhere, such as on their own blog. Wikipedia will monitor users’ blogs and ban them for their exercise of free speech on their own blogs.

This must now be said to be factually incorrect, since Wikinterpreter was in fact blocked for making a comment elsewhere (disregarding for the sake of the argument the fact that I can’t actually find the comment in question). Perhaps optimistically, I expect that this policy will now be changed to reflect reality, or that Wikinterpreter be unbanned and some disciplinary action be taken against Sysop Karajou for this breach of policy.

This morning’s second story is about a edit made by Sysop TK on Aulis Eskola’s talk page. I would ask you to examine this edit before reading on.

Now, what is going on here? A Sysop is found altering an entry on a user’s talk page, where he changes two hyperlinks, the one to this Column, the other to Rational Wiki.

I am a little unsure about whether to call this an act of vandalism, but there is a pretty strong case in favor of doing so. If not, this still represents what I think is the greatest departure yet from the otherwise long-standing Conservapedia principle that “a user’s talk page is his castle”. As in the other story above, I expect that policy will either be changed or disciplinary measures taken.

(By the way. Here’s a fun little hypothetical supposition: What do you think would have happened if this had been Sysop TK’s talk page being edited by someone else? Something to think about.)

On another point, the edit confirms what I have suspected for a long time, that there exists a serious misunderstanding about who I am. Sysop TK seems to think that I am actually the same person as Sid_3050, who was banned back in April. I am not quite sure why this misunderstanding exists, because surely a simple examination of the server logs of Conservapedia should quickly be able to disprove that theory.

In any case, it is not correct. I am neither Sid, nor PalMD, Colin_R or any of the other people that TK thinks are associated with the so-called Icewedge Cabal*. I am User:AKjeldsen from Conservapedia, as I also state quite clearly in About the Author I am not a sock puppet of anyone, nor have I ever or will ever use a sock puppet. And given the amount of time and energy I spend criticizing TK here, I think the least he could do is to hate me personally, rather attributing the credit to someone else. If TK is still in any doubt about my identity, I invite him to email me at kjeldsen@villaluisarecords.com (see that? The address has ‘kjeldsen’ in it, too) so we can get this… very, very strange confusion cleared up.

For the rest of you, good night, and good luck.

*The existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny.

Fun fact: A clean slate

Did you know…

…that one of the most controversial editors on Conservapedia regularly wipes entries from his talk page, instead of archiving them like any reasonable person would do? It’s true!

Fun Question Time! Why do you think he does that?

UPDATE: This practice seems to be spreading:
http://www.conservapedia.com/index.php?title=User_talk:Ed_Poor&curid=10983&diff=171081&oldid=171080

Notice to the Conservapedia Sysops

I notice that you have archived the Sysop abuse page, but forgot to include a link to the archive. I’ll just put it here, for your convenience:

http://www.conservapedia.com/Editing_Conservapedia:Sysop_and_Admin_Abuse_Archive_%2804/11/07-05/19/07%29

Oh, and while you’re at it, you may also want to actually do something about all those abuse reports, eh? If it’s not too much to ask.

EDIT: Well, this is long gone. But fear not – archive.com runs to the rescue! Only from May 13th, so there’s a couple of days missing, but much better than nothing.

http://web.archive.org/web/20070513125150/www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Sysop_and_Admin_Abuse

Unfortunately, Conservative’s very own abuse subpage appears to be gone beyond retrieval, though.

Column 9: On legitimate authority on Conservapedia

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back. Except for a few minor incidents, things seem to have quieted down over at Conservapedia (probably because there’s hardly anyone left to make trouble). So today, we shall take a step back and discuss leadership.

Leadership is in my opinion the one point where Conservapedia has failed most miserably, and leadership problems seem to be behind the majority of the problems that plague the site. For that reason, it would be interesting to make a closer analysis of the style of leadership or “government”, if you will, that is being used at Conservapedia. For that purpose, we shall take our point of departure in the book Economy and Society by the German sociologist Max Weber.

In Economy and Society, Part 1, Chapter 3(i,2), Weber supposes three fundamental sources for legitimate domination, i.e. an exercise of authority that meets with at least some level of approval from those who are subject to it. These three types are rational/legal grounds, traditional grounds, and charismatic grounds. Rational grounds are those “resting on a belief in the legality of established rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands”, traditional grounds are those “resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them”, and charismatic grounds are those “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism and exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him”. In other words, domination can be legitimate because viz. “it speaks with the force of law”, “it has always been that way”, or “I trust this guy to do the right thing”.

According to Weber, any given government gains its legitimacy from one or more of these sources. It can (rarely) be purely of one type, or it can be mixed to different degrees from two of or all three of the different sources. Briefly explained, the purest type of legal/rational authority is the strict bureaucracy. Only the supreme official is elected, and even he is limited by a “sphere of legal competence”. Everyone else in the administrative staff are appointed. The purest type of traditional authority is the patriarchy found in e.g. tribal societies and early medieval monarchy. It is based on personal loyalty to a ruler who acts on the basis of ancient, or supposedly ancient, rules. The purest type of charismatic authority is more difficult to describe precisely, because it is very dependent on the charismatic ruler himself. However, Weber explains that, “An organized group of subject to charismatic authority […] is based on an emotional form of communal relationship.” And that, “There are no established administrative organs. In their place are agents who have been provided with charismatic authority by their chief, or who possess charisma of their own. There is no system of formal rules, of abstract legal principles, and hence no process of rational judicial decision oriented to them. But equally, there is no legal wisdom oriented to judicial precedent. Formally concrete judgments are newly created from case to case and are originally regarded as divine judgments and revelations.” In contrast to the rational/legal and traditional authorities, which are both heavily oriented towards rules, although different types of rules, charismatic authority denies such rules – it is “specifically irrational” and “repudiates the past”.

We shall now examine how the administration of Conservapedia fits into this structure. We can dismiss traditional authority right away. Conservapedia has only existed for six months, which even in the quickly-changing environment of the Internet is too short a time for traditional authority structures to form. That leaves us with rational/legal and charismatic authority.

At first sight, Conservapedia may seem to fall pretty squarely in the rational/legal category. It has a set of rules and guidelines, to which the leader is theoretically also subject, and it has a bureaucratic staff in the form of the sysop team. However, a closer analysis and a comparison of the modus operandi on Conservapedia with the description in Economy and Society shows certain important differences.

According to Weber, “Legal authority rests on the acceptance of the validity of […] mutually interdependent ideas.” Among these are that, “the typical person in authority, the ‘superior’, is himself subject to an impersonal order by orienting his actions to it in his own dispositions and ideas.” And in conformity with this point, “it is held that the members of the organization, insofar as they obey a person in authority, do not owe this obedience to him as an individual, but to the impersonal order. Hence, it follows that there is an obligation to obedience only within the sphere of the rationally delimited jurisdiction which, in terms of the order, has been given to him.” And further, “Each office has a clearly defined sphere of competence in the legal sense,” and “[the official] is subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of his office.”

As I have discussed extensively in previous columns, and will likely continue to do so, none of this is true for Conservapedia, however. Conservapedia has rules and guidelines, but these can hardly be said to constitute an “impersonal order”, and for the most part, they aren’t being followed by the administrative staff in any case. There are no clear demarcation of competences, no clear processes for anything, and very importantly, no structural means of recourse in case of possible mismanagement. In case of e.g. an unjustified block, the only means of recourse available to the average member of the group is an appeal to the blocking official or to the supreme authority, mr. Andrew Schlafly.

This would seem to have very little to do with authority based on rational/legal grounds (although the site management has been very eager to argue otherwise). And because of the relative youth of the site, we have already ruled out traditional authority (with which it has very little to do in any case). That leaves us with only charismatic authority, and we quickly find that the management of Conservapedia does indeed share many similarities with that type of authority.

As quoted above, a significant characteristic of government by charismatic authority is the lack of administrative organs and processes, and of judicial precedent. Further, “There is no hierarchy; the leader merely intervenes in general or in individual cases when he considers the members of his staff lacking in charismatic qualification for a given task.” This is all consistent with what we see on Conservapedia.

We can conclude that the management of Conservapedia is based in charismatic authority with some aspects of rational/legal authority added (but often disregarded). What does this mean for Conservapedia? It means that the site can count on the loyalty of those who agree with the purpose and who believe that the leader is the right man to carry out the project that he has set for himself. But it also means that site has nothing to attract the loyalty of those who do not agree fully with the project and with the leader. The leader will effectively have no authority over these members of the group, and this will result in problems as soon as the first conflict arises with them.

In Weber’s explanation, “It is recognition on the part of those subject to authority which is decisive for the validity of charisma. This recognition is freely given and guaranteed by what is held to be a proof, originally always a miracle, and consists in devotion to the corresponding devotion, hero worship, or absolute trust in the leader. But where charisma is genuine, it is not this which is the basis for the claim to legitimacy. This basis lies rather in the conception that it is the duty of those subject to charismatic authority to recognize its genuineness and act accordingly. Psychologically this recognition is a matter of complete personal devotion to the possessor of the quality, arising out of enthusiasm, or of despair and hope.”

(It should be mentioned that while this refers extensively to divine revelation, charisma is by no means limited to religious leaders. Napoleon was just as much a charismatic ruler as e.g. Moses. Also, while this point is beyond the scope of this Column, it is interesting to note that Conservapedia has many similarities with a religious group. It is based in charismatic authority, it has an administrative staff with the power to “excommunicate” (i.e. block) members, and it is developing something that closely resembles a mythology (such as a foundation myth, the opposition to Wikipedia, and the great “Icewedge” enemy)

And later, Weber adds that, “The only basis of legitimacy for [charismatic authority] is personal charisma so long as it is proved; that is, as long as it receives recognition and as along as the followers and disciples prove their usefulness charismatically”. Those members of the group who do not recognize the charisma of the leader will almost necessarily have to reject the legitimacy of his authority and either place themselves in opposition to him or separate themselves from the group.

This is exactly what we have seen on Conservapedia in the recent month: A massive crisis of legitimacy. The great amount of media attention that Conservapedia attracted in early March resulted in an influx of new members to the group that were attracted by general interest or curiosity, rather than by a strong belief in the project or by the charisma of the leader. These new members did not recognize the charisma of the leader, and, because of the absence of other sources of legitimacy, therefore rejected the legitimacy of the site management’s authority as a whole. Parts of management responded to this rejection with a high level of belligerency, thus further escalating the crisis. The rest is history.

We can draw a few conclusions from this. Firstly, as long as Conservapedia is based on charismatic authority, mr. Schlafly will most likely maintain complete control of the project, but it will only be able to draw members from a very small pool of people who can unreservely agree with the project and its current form of government. It must resign itself to relative obscurity, except for the occasional spike of interest from the media. It is possible that this is what management wants, and in that case, nothing ought to change.

If it is not, and at least they openly state that it is not, there must be changes. The management of Conservapedia will need to base its authority less on charisma and more on one of the other types. Traditional legitimacy is by its nature not really viable for an Internet project, especially one so young as Conservapedia, so the only option is to move towards a greater reliance on a rational/legal basis: Clear processes, reasonable rules that are actually being followed, and, in general, greater accountability and transparency in the exercise of authority. This will be a difficult process, but I would be happy to offer my services in helping the Conservapedia management to achieve it. They have only to ask.

While we wait for that to happen, I wish you all a good night, and good luck.

Fun fact: Copyright

Did you know…

…that using the copyrighted logo of the Boston Red Sox in a Conservapedia userbox is not ok? But using the copyrighted front cover of a 2007 book release in an article on Eleanor of Aquitaine is not only ok, but also not non-encyclopeadic? It’s true!

Keep up the good work, gentlemen.


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