On Miscreants

I don’t want to give too much attention to the news of the day in the philosophy blogosphere (I’m not going to link to that place so forgive the obscurity of this post) when, alas, i am the headline, accused of being a “miscreant”  — a word that sounds much more sinister than its definition, “a person who behaves badly or misbehaves the law.” I do admit to having acted badly in the past and occasionally running a stop sign. Mostly, I am haunted by a memory of standing by — when a kid in school was bullied — instead of standing up.  That memory motivates me to this day to stand up, especially when the matter is of little concern to me personally.

Such is the case with a certain institution related to my profession, philosophy, that has branded itself as a service to the profession but has done much more harm than good, not to me personally but to many people who do philosophy otherwise than the mainstream and also to many junior women in the field.  Over the past several months, the profession has largely come to see this.

Over the years, I have not stood by.  And I am proud of that.  (Evidence is on this very blog.) Thanks to a few years of training and practice in survey research methodology I have been a serious critic of a certain project that aims to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of doctoral programs in my discipline.  My primary criticism has been that the methodology is flawed all the way down.  There is nothing at all redeeming about this project’s methodology.  It begins with biases and ends as a result completely biased.  Now, finally, this is widely recognized and the project has been thoroughly discredited.  Good.

But now I am being called by the author of this project, perhaps in desperation, as a miscreant and a vandal to boot.  Supposedly I (he says without any proof) am a vandal for editing this certain person’s wikipedia page.  Let’s make a few things clear here:

  • any wikipedia entry belongs to the entire world and not the subject of it
  • a wiki by definition is a website that can be edited by anyone — so editing does not equal “vandalizing” but rather it means contributing to wikipedia
  • a wikipedia entry should be balanced, including both positive and negative news, all of which should be properly sourced
  • it is against wikipedia policy for the subject of an entry to police the entry and delete anything negative
  • the history page of the entry will list all the changes that have been made, including attempts by editors to add material that gives balance, including, for example the other side of a news article that was otherwise used to give a glowing remark
  • attempts to “out” pseudonymous editors can immediately lead to someone being blocked from wikipedia

Enough attention to this matter, enough I hope to correct errors but not so much as to fuel further controversy. I think we’ve all got much better things to do.

UPDATE: I should also correct the claim that “the Wikipedia editors eventually put a stop to her mischief.”  It is actually the other way around.  After this person threatened to sue me, I contacted a high-level editor at Wikipedia and asked for help.  That editor got in touch with this person and told him that were he to try to do so that the Wikimedia Foundation would hire the best law firm in my area to defend me.  That is the last time he ever threatened to sue me. So, readers, please note that nothing he says should be believed.