Group 6 Dispute Results

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The Dispute at Issue

A Wikipedian posted a RFC seeking suggestions of alternative, non biased ways to describe Representative Jonathan Christopher "Jon" Porter's voting record, or even if it should even be discussed at all on his Wikipedia page.

Group Discussion

While I can see that the issues of the voting records are chosen to portray Porter in a particular light, as long as they are accurate I don't see harm in the posts. Other Representatives have their voting histories listed on their respective Wikipedia pages (Eliot Engel, Nancy Pelosi and Brian Higgins). If someone wants to add additional, accurate listings of votes or political positions, then they should feel free to do so. Members from both parties, as well as independents, should feel free to contribute to the page (as long as it is accurate), thus creating a page that reflects both sides. But the page does not need to be bifurcated into a "Democratic" view or "Republican" view with corresponding titles because this may attract a reader with a particular political preference to focus too heavily on one side's view or the other's. Cseif 17:55, 7 January 2008 (EST) Cseif

  • Having examined a variety of other Senator and Congressperson's pages (Steve King, Tom Latham, John Thune, Tom Harkin, etc.), I think it is clear that simply deleting the entire section is not the best solution. Other than a person's biographical/educational information, the political positions of a person who is notable enough to be in Wikipedia because they are a member of Congress are probably some of the most important pieces of information a person looking up their bio will be curious about. Additionally, I agree with the above idea that separating it into Positions: according to Democrats and Positions: The Republican Rebuttle is the solution because I don't think that two biased accounts somehow become a neutral, encyclopedia account.
  • First, I think that what the section is called is largely semantic--pages of other members of Congress call the section positions, political positions, ideology, voting record, etc. Keeping beliefs or the like out of it is smart; it could be chaned to Political Positions and Voting Record to conform to other pages.
  • Second, I think one thing that would go a long way toward making this section more neutral is where it says things like "Porter has been given a 13% by the AFL-CIO, indicating an anti-union voting record" to remove phrases like "indicating an anti-union voting record." What should be done instead is to link to the AFL-CIO and people can make their own judgments about what such a decision by the AFL-CIO means.--Mvogel 18:40, 7 January 2008 (EST)

I agree with Meika that deleting the entire section would not be ideal. The information provided in “Stance on Issues and Voting Record” section give readers a glimpse into Porter’s ideology and his current position on key issues. However, I also agree with the post that mentions using negative terminology to describe Porter’s position creates a bias. Separating the title into “Democratic View” and the “Republican Rebuttal” may be a possible solution. However, I feel that it is unnecessary as long as the section neutrally presents Porter's stance on the listed issues. Furthermore, the inclusion of voting records should be used as long as it is not expressed as proof of Porter's opinions. Once we draw a conclusion from the voting records, we err by making assumptions that the voting record indicates a certain stance. In the absence of solid references that draw such conclusions, the assumptions should be omitted. Finally, I do not see a problem with labeling this section as "Stance on Issues and Voting Record." KStanfield 19:24, 7 January 2008 (EST)

I agree with Meika's positions regarding the need to have voting record information, the title of the "Positions" section being secondary, and the desire to have as neutral and encyclopedia-like an entry as possible.

It might be helpful to look at the entries for the rest of Nevada's Congressional delegation. The positions sections can be found here:

Sen. John Ensign

Sen. Harry Reid

Rep. Shelley Berkley

Rep. Dean Heller

Rep. Berkley has only a paragraph summing up her major positions; Dean Heller has a number of separate paragraphs that amount to a cursory overview of his positions. Like Porter, Heller is a fairly new Member of Congress. I think it's clear that the other representatives have more neutral entries than Porter's.

I think we should pay attention to (1) the issues covered and (2) the substance of each issue entry. As an example of how which issues are covered affects the entry, singling out that Porter "opposes equal pay for women" (which appears to result from his vote against a bill, not his sponsorship or co-sponsorship of a bill and, presumably, not a major campaign theme of his!) might act as great a bias as what the entry says.

I suggest two ways to pick the issues covered. First, we can look at Porter's Congressional website and campaign website to see which issues he highlights.

I don't think that allowing the Congressman to pick which issues are most important to him acts as a substantial bias; after all, it seems that he would campaign and talk about those issues most. A second [more time-consuming] approach is to do a Westlaw, Lexis or Google News search to see which issues garner him the most press coverage.

As for the substance of the entries, references to news articles appear to be the standard but perhaps there is a more unbiased way to summarize those articles.

Should we make all of these suggestions to our feuding Wikipedians, or are we supposed to do the substantive work of actually editing the entry? --Will 19:52, 7 January 2008 (EST)

I just went through a random (meaning every 20th representative in state and district order) survey of house member's wiki pages and found that a little more than half have a section akin to "politics" "positions" "ideology" "beliefs" "stances" or some combination thereof. One page that I thought was a helpful model was Jim Costa's. His page included a more objective set of scorecard reports from project vote smart: see Jim Costa. This list reports the score from the NGO, but without the kind of commentary that is likely to involve bias. Also, many pages use "controversy" as a section title where a particularly contested issues are raised. This might be a more appropriate heading for some of the items now included under Jon Porter's "Stance" section. WillM 19:56, 7 January 2008 (EST)

My understanding is that we don't actually edit the page, just offer our suggestions. Anyway, after reading through the convo so far, here is a short summary of what seems like some consensus ideas:

  • The section should stay in some form; the current name for it is fine
  • Posting scores from different organizations (like the AFL-CIO) but without biased commentary, similar to Jim Costa, seems like a more factual summary of record
  • Naming the issue subsections in a less biased way (such as Minimum Wage instead of Opposed Minimum Wage Increases) will help neutrality and also more easily allow for additional information to be added in the future
  • Adding a "Controversy" section may allow the section on the issues to be more neutral--Mvogel 20:18, 7 January 2008 (EST)

I also like the idea of having a separate section for "Congressional Scorecards" just listing the numerical scores without commentary. In addition to Jim Costa, this has also been done for many other representatives, including Joe Baca and Mary Bono Mack. I also like the idea of the "Controversy" section which will allow readers to view multiple perspectives and come to educated decisions themselves. Overall, I think Meika's summary is a good summary of all our views. Any other comments? Should I go ahead and post this on the RFC page? Cseif 21:30, 7 January 2008 (EST) Cseif

As I'm the last person here and I can't see any edits on the wiki page I think it falls to me to make the suggestion. My own comments would be to broadly agree with the consensus that has already been reached. I tried to find an example of how this is dealt with in other encyclopaedias but only turned up more wiki based encylcopedias. The best of these was Source Watch which seemed to have quite a neutral if a little chaotic entry style. I think it wouldn't harm to have a look at how other sources, perhaps even in the printed media, maintain their neutrality when giving details about a member of congress' voting record. I don't suppose there is a really obvious canonical source for this that isn't immediately obvious to a non-american? I'll post Meika's suggestions in 30 minutes if there are no further comments? Douglasmcmahon 23:25, 7 January 2008 (EST)

I have just posted a slightly modified version of Meika's bullet points to the wiki talk page. I chose to put it under the RFC section but on reflection it might be better under the entry where the two users are having a slightly more heated debate. I've posted my entry below, if anyone wants to change it do so and make a note and i'll then update the comment on the wiki talk page to reflect any edits.

Some suggestions for resolving the problems with the "Stance on issues and voting record" Section:

  • The section should stay in some form; the current name for it does not exhibit bias and similar sections are found on other congressmen's pages. This is because other than a person's biographical/educational information, the political positions of a person who is notable enough to be in Wikipedia because they are a member of Congress are probably some of the most important pieces of information a person looking up their bio will be curious about.
  • Posting scores from different organizations (like the AFL-CIO) but without biased commentary, similar to Jim Costa, seems like a more factual summary of record.
  • Naming the issue subsections in a less biased way (such as Minimum Wage instead of Opposed Minimum Wage Increases) will help neutrality and also more easily allow for additional information to be added in the future.
  • Adding a "Controversy" section may allow the section on the issues to be more neutral.

Douglasmcmahon 00:07, 8 January 2008 (EST)

So far, there hasn't been much activity on the page. One user agreed with our group's comment. See Jon Porter Talk. KStanfield 18:18, 8 January 2008 (EST)

Current Status

As I was researching Project Vote Smart to find some information to try and make some of our suggested edits as we discussed today, I came across the Wiki Controversy on the home page of our class wiki and read through it. Since the suggestions we made seem to have been well received so far, I think at the moment it is perhaps best to leave things as they are unless there is more discussion on the RFC. Interestingly, at the end of the discussion of the Harvard class project on Wikipedia, they list the pages that each group discussed and as a result need checking--for ours, they say "From Group 6 possibly lots of pages, this one 1st (congressman Jon Porter)" which I assume is because we linked to other pages as references, but not sure. --Mvogel 19:02, 8 January 2008 (EST)

Thanks for pointing this out. I went and read the dispute and thought it would be wise to leave a comment disclosing what had happened and that the advice was given as part of a class project. Douglasmcmahon 20:35, 8 January 2008 (EST)