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Forum:Essay standards

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So, what essays can we host and what shouldn't we? I'm all for anything that stands up to defend what we're against, on a right-to-reply basis, but every now and then we get someone's pet theory about something or other. Are we just a free webhost for every daydreamer wanting to tell the world what popped into his head last night? Totnesmartin (talk) 18:56, 13 April 2011 (UTC)

A simple policy would be just to ban the so-called "drive-by" essays from editors like JimJast who are not here to contribute to the Wiki but only to post their essays. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 04:01, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
I agree with Listener. If someone has made it clear that their sole purpose of being here is to flout their own stuff in a non-collaborative manner--and if they seem to be continually trying to justify the "missionality" of that stuff when a consensus emerges that it's not at all on-mission--then they're really not participating in the community as its intended, and fuck 'em. P-Foster (talk) 04:18, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
What about off-topic essays by those who do or have contributed to RationalWiki? Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 04:58, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
If they are here to contribute, they are using the essay-space as intended, to hold possibly off-mission writings from the editors. Mjollnir.svgListenerXTalkerX 05:08, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
I'm not a techie really, but to my understanding the resources consumed by an essay is basically zero unless it is popular. And if it's popular and draws a lot of reads and discussion, then it starts showing as a blip of bandwidth use and whatnot - but of course we shouldn't be getting rid of popular things, anyway. So I don't really see the problem here. If you think there's trouble sorting out the wheat from the chaff, it would be better to create a Mission Essay category instead.--ADtalkModerator 05:02, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Yes, we need to be very clear about what problem, if any, we are trying to address here. Something in the form of "Essays which don't fit X criteria are a problem for the site because of Y and therefore should not be allowed". I emphasize "problem for the site" because a reason along the lines of "I don't like them" would not be the best.--BobSpring is sprung! 06:12, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Another thought occurred to me on this about the difference between articles and essays. We zap articles (sometimes) on the test "Do they fulfill the mission?"- do they add to the site. What should the corresponding shorthand test be for essays? I would suggest that the corresponding broad test for essays should be "do no harm." Do they harm the site?--BobSpring is sprung! 06:24, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
I don't think - in most cases - having a few crank essays around does much harm. I do object to people heavily promoting their essays in other locations like on article talk pages, which is something single-issue editors often do, but the solution to that is not to tolerate that kind of link-spamming rather than deleting the essay. If an essay is overtly offensive or contains spam advertising, we can delete it, as we would with this kind of content in any other location. If there's evidence that a user is using RW essayspace to promote their views more widely (e.g. hosting an essay here then linking to it in a bunch of other websites), then we might consider deletion as cases like that can reflect on the site's image. But if it's just posted here for the benefit of RW readers, & tagged with an appropriate essay template, I see no harm in keeping it around. ŴêâŝêîôîďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 07:15, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
We should perhaps apply article rating to essays too, to help people find interesting essays. Totnesmartin (talk) 07:57, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Yes, I had been thinking about something like that as well. I was also thinking of suggesting an on-page voting system so the opinion the site had of the essay's content could be easily seen. Ranging from "utter crap" to "excellent". That way we wouldn't be embarrassed by weird things being attributed to us and perhaps people might be reluctant to put something up which would be clearly described on the page as "utter crap". --BobSpring is sprung! 08:19, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Ratings for essays would be nice. ТyTalk. 11:42, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Quick'n'dirty - should we enhance the essay header to make it much clearer that inclusion, in no way, endorses the views of any essay. Because, apart from that, JimJast's time cubes or EL's abortion rants don't in any way harm us. Jack Hughes (talk) 11:55, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Definitely. Re article ratings, we could put a single wigo voting icon at the top of each essay for readers to vote it up or down. We could then also have a WIGO:Essays page, with the same voting buttons collated from all essays. WēāŝēīōīďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 12:20, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Add a wigo vote button to the essay template? Interesting. Perhaps we could do the same for funspace, as a way of determining "funniness" ТyTalk. 12:22, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
As a rather dim-witted old man I don't have the wiki-fu to implement this but I'm heartily in favour and will support anyone who can. I think a voting system is, in some ways, more of a counter argument than all the reasoned rebuttal on the talk pages. Jack Hughes (talk) 13:27, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Wigo-style voting will rapidly become a clusterfuck as people won't know the right number to put on the essay - the previous number will be somewhere on some other page. Wikia has a star rating system. But these are details. Totnesmartin (talk) 14:40, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Poll extension? Like, dislike, yak goat? ТyTalk. 14:41, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
There's no need for numbers, just a unique poll ID for each essay e.g. <vote poll=JimJastGravitationEssay> etc. WēāŝēīōīďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:30, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

Why I oppose a gold standard for essays[edit]

Simple: Because RationalWiki has always, and always should, welcome those who disagree with us. Sure, if it's poorly written and only a couple paragraphs long, it's an obvious waste of a couple kilobytes and should be deleted. But I don't think deletion simply because someone is in disagreement is ever called for. In fact, I'd argue and have argued the contrary: that it is good to have such essays because 1) they allow us to hone our own opinions and 2) it gives us an opportunity to change the mind of someone who we think is in the wrong. Furthermore, what's wrong with off-mission essays? What if I wanted to write a rant about something that isn't technically on-mission? Something like, say, my opinions on how to bake a pizza? Why should that get deleted? Perhaps moved to userspace, but certainly not deleted. But, there again, these are just my opinions. AnarchoGoon Swatting Assflys is how I earn my living 15:05, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

Because pizza belongs in recipe space. ТyTalk. 15:08, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Agree with the Goon but when a one topic editor joins purely for the purpose of dumping some outre idea that has nothing to do with anything Rational, for or against, then I don't see why we should give them houseroom. --Scream!! (talk) 15:12, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Yes, Goon. We have, and should, welcome those who disagree with us. But, if we use JimmyJast as an example, that's not a question of disagreeing with us. That's a question of somebody who's not even wrong spouting off irrelevant nonsense. P-Foster (talk) 15:24, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
But fairness reqires from you to present your train of thoughts that leads you to your conclusion. Otherwise it is just hot air that one can't argue against. Do you want also to know how what you are doing is called? JimJast (talk) 16:27, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
I'm with Goonie on this. WẽãšẽĩõĩďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:31, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Ditto. Though I'm crawling out of a hidy-hole to expand a little. RW is more than just a collection of articles. Indeed, look at the page counts and you'll find that discussion outnumbers pages by a long shot - whether that by the SB, WIGO talk pages, debates and so on. Considering this, it is quite disingenuous to limit essays on quality as even the worst essays can be the spark for a decent discussion. In fact I recall a template that highlights that sort of thing, pointing readers to the talk page as being more interesting. By putting any kind of limit or cap or topic to essays, we deny the chance to discuss something on its merits - however good or bad. I don't believe it matters whether it's short, disagrees with an established orthodoxy, or is just a huge drop of green ink, if it can't be refuted in a rational manner on a talk page or counter-essay (and I'd actually be all for linking counter arguments between essays) then by extension that opinion must be correct. I believe any talk about putting a standard on essays is just an expression of frustration with certain topics. That's understandable, true, but it's not a reason to try and clamp down on essays that "suck". Some people might just want the practice at refuting things, others may take those points on board and use them elsewhere. We've set ourselves up as a free and open forum to host this sort of thing, the worry shouldn't be that we host crap (whether it's actually bona-fide crap or not) but whether that crap goes unanswered. ADK...I'll withstand your flightdeck! 16:57, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
how much space does text take? How about we make a "Shit essays go to your userspace and can't have images" rule--Brxbrx (talk) 16:43, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

My driveway.[edit]

I have a driveway, but I don't have a car. If I come home from work and see that my neighbour, whom I know well and spend a lot of time with, has parked in my driveway, I think nothing of it. Obviously, he was in a jam and needed to stow his car somewhere for a bit. If a stranger knocks on my door and asks to park his car in my driveway, I might be a little apprehensive, but if it seems like he might be a Pretty Cool Guy that I might want to have as a friend, then sure, he can park in my driveway. Maybe next time I'm stuck, he'll help me out. If I come home and someone is camped out in my driveway, making a lot of noise to get my attention, leaving his garbage everywhere, arguing with me that I don't know what a driveway is for and won't help out in terms of the rest of the property and doesn't even bring a smile to my face, I'm calling the cops. I see the essay space as our collective driveway. P-Foster (talk) 19:36, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

Your neighborhood sucks, but your explanation is golden. ТyTalk. 19:41, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Good post! ThunderkatzHo! 19:52, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Arguing from analogies always gives you some problems. Consequently I give you multiple differences between P-Foster's driveway and essay space.
  • A driveway is a physical thing which exists in the real world: RW essay space exists in cyberspace.
  • The driveway is limited in terms of its size and cannot be easily expanded: essay space is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. Expansion is not a problem.
  • A car parked in P-Foster's driveway prevents another car being parked there: an essay in essay space not prevent an other essay being written - it could even encourage it.
  • P-Foster cannot easily ignore a car parked in his driveway: he is free to acknowledge an essay or ignore it.
  • A driveway has one single owner who can set whatever rules they like about its use: RW essay space is owned by by multiple users with differing POV's.
  • P-Foster's driveway is, by definition, private: a wiki which states that it invites people to sign up to debate has created a space for public debate and access.
  • P-Foster can insist that somebody move their car: P-Foster cannot insist that somebody delete an essay.
  • The neighbour's parked car is expected to leave at some point: an essay is a new resident.
  • P-Foster world really prefer that no cars were parked in his driveway: however we want people to write essays in essay space.--BobSpring is sprung! 10:15, 15 April 2011 (UTC)


Are essays released under CC BY-SA 3.0 like all other original RW content, or do authors named in the essay template retain copyright?

This should probably be clarified, especially as things are often moved from mainspace into essay. WèàšèìòìďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:04, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

It seems pretty clear as it is right now: "Unless explicitly noted otherwise, all content licensed as indicated by RationalWiki:Copyrights." P-Foster (talk) 20:06, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
I've also wondered about copyrights and essays. There are a couple of essays I'm interested in sharing with RationalWiki, but I don't want to cede my rights over them so I've held off. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 20:11, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
I think if you make a statement at the top of the essay stating that you retain all rights & it's not to be used without permission, that would be OK. However, I also think that some people post essays on the assumption that they retain intellectual property, while not actually stating this. For clarity, I think it would be a good idea for the essay template to say "The copyright of this essay is owned by {{{2|RationalWiki and released under CC-BY-SA 3.0}}}" so that the author's name can be added as an optional parameter if they wish to retain copyright. WèàšèìòìďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:22, 14 April 2011 (UTC)
Yes, adding something about copyright to the essay template would be good. Star of David.png Radioactive afikomen Please ignore all my awful pre-2014 comments. 20:46, 14 April 2011 (UTC)

Why I write essays here[edit]

I don't agree on the whole with the worldview of the majority of the editors of this site; but I edit here because I want to engage with that worldview, to see what the proponents of it will say in response to mine (sometimes I may also write essays orthogonal to my worldview, like my essay on smoking; but hey even that essay got the debate going). Even if we don't end up agreeing, maybe I'll learn something from arguing with them and they'll learn something from arguing with me. As such, Essay space is important to me; but what's really important is "Essay talk" - if no one responds to my ideas, positively or negatively, what is the point of me posting them? And people have been responding to my ideas; it has been a mostly disagreeing response, but hey it's a response, I'm happy.

Whereas, I think some of JimJast's essays, it is hard for people to engage with, because he doesn't seem to be clearly agreeing or disagreeing with the primary worldview of this site, but going off on unrelated tangents.

As to article talk pages, if you have an essay which is relevant to the topic of the article, what is wrong with giving a link? Of course the primary discussion of the essay must live on the essay talk page, not the article talk page. But, if readers/editors are interested in the topic of the article, they may well be interested in the essay too. Essays are best for the site when they are responded to; if a talk page link is the difference between an ignored essay and a heavily debated one, isn't that good for this site over all? --(((Zack Martin))) 09:53, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Originality vs. missionality[edit]

The main reason why people take issue with Jim's essays seems to be that they're not written for the benefit of RW and on-site discussions, but rather material that has been out there for a long time. That's a concern which I share - it's not that these essays are harming RW, but they do not provide any benefits either. They weren't written with the community and its interests in mind, which resulted in a (predictable) lack of interest. Then there's the tl/dr factor and the problem that they cover the material in a way that's incomprehensible not just to the average editor, but apparently all of them. The latter two shouldn't be general criteria for exlusion per se, but they're obvious result of not caring about the community's interests in the first place. So, my take on this is to propose we look at originality instead of missionality first whenever essays like this pop up. Ask questions like "Is this something that was originally written for this website?", "Is this something that engages the community?", "Does this provide fodder for an interesting on-site discussion?". If the first criterion is met, the last two should follow most of the time anyway. Not many people will put in the effort of writing an RW-exclusive essay about something that would predictably fail to attract anybody's interest. Give people maximum leeway and the benefit of the doubt as long as their essay is original, only delete them if it's incoherent or nothing but trolling.

If it is not original, but something that was already hosted elsewhere - like Jim's material - things become more problematic. I understand P-Foster's concern about people using RW as a mirror for their personal stuff. The drain on resources is obviously negligible, but it means taking advantage of the site without giving something back (i.e., providing material for discussions). In such cases, authors should first be expected to ask themselves whether their material is suited for RW, and maybe ask others when in doubt. If you've got a school essay or blog post lying around that deals with one of the many topics that frequently spark discussions, be it philosophy, politics, religion, science or whatever, there's no harm done in posting it. Since this range of topics is so wide and goes way beyond what's included in the mission statement, "missionality" wouldn't work as a criterion unless you define it in such a broad way that it becomes meaningless. If, on the other hand, it's a lengthy tract on something that would require significant expertise in a particular field simply to understand (like Jim's essays), maybe put up a link first and ask whether someone's interested in discussing it. Put it in the SB or some new section of the essay portal, anywhere it's visible.

I know, that's apparently exactly what Jim did in his first attempt and was told to stop, but that was supposed to be an article, not an essay. Anyway, if people copy material from elsewhere, that should be reason for deletion, but only if it's not beneficial for other editors. So we should allow these essays some time to remain and see whether others develop an interest in it. If they don't, I'd say go ahead and delete them, but not immediately after they're put up. If a deletion suggestion has been made and a few days pass without anyone objecting or showing an interest in the subject, that should suffice as a reason. Again, Jim's case is a bit special, because he's tried repeatedly to get people to read his stuff, he tried to link to them from elsewhere, and it was already obvious that nobody cared. I'll stop now before this ventures too much into Forum:Deletion_policy teritory, but the bottom line is that originality should be an important criterion for (non-)removal. Röstigraben (talk) 08:54, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

If an essay posted here is not original, the onus is on the author/poster to declare or attribute it with an appropriate copyright statement. If they don't, they are releasing it under CC (see copyrights section above), which is problematic if it's something which is hosted under copyright elsewhere, and outright crazy if it's a PhD they're preparing, as JimJast claims his essay is. WėąṣėḷőįďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 09:24, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
All the more reason to stress this point. That would also be an opportunity to remind would-be authors of the consequences of submitting existing material and ask them to pay attention to the community's interests at the same time, maybe by creating a disclaimer that's diplayed during essay creation or somewhere on the portal. Röstigraben (talk) 10:35, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
Honestly, I don't give a damn about Jim's silly essay. It's his spamming references to it at great length on totally unrelated pages. (before you ask, Jim, I can't be arsed to give links) I think Maratrean's stuff is probably stupider, but at least he limits his references to it to relevant pages. --Scream!! (talk) 17:36, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

Some Standards Surely?[edit]

I agree with the points above about not trying to enforce an arbitrary quality level on essays, but is RW really prepared to host anything? If somebody were to write "Essay:Why White People are Genetically Superior to Blacks" or "Essay:The Holocaust Happened - but it was Justified", for instance, would those essays be kept? If somebody went further and created something like "Essay:Why I hate niggers", what then? I'm sure you can all imagine essays that get even worse than those.

As Mill wrote in On Liberty, each right has a corresponding responsibility. Does RW want to support the rights of those who would use them irresponsibly? –SuspectedReplicant retire me 17:13, 16 April 2011 (UTC)

I would say that it should be the same standards as userpages no slander racism or obscenity. Beyond that I'd say that anything not explicitly prohibited is permitted.--BobSpring is sprung! 18:58, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
We've deleted overtly racist & misogynist essays before without much opposition other than from the authors. Stuff which actually offends people & fosters hatred is a completely different kettle of fish to leftfield quantum woo. WëäŝëïöïďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:18, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
The only other test which I mentioned somewhere else is "do no harm". Does it harm the wiki? I don't think the essays which have caused dissent recently harm the wiki. On the other hand I think this does.--BobSpring is sprung! 19:25, 16 April 2011 (UTC)
Oh and this one too.--BobSpring is sprung! 19:36, 16 April 2011 (UTC)