Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Power of Polarization

Maybe badly polarized groups can accomplish things after all:
In this paper, we explore the effect of team political composition on performance through analysis of millions of edits to Wikipedia’s Political, Social Issues, and Science articles. We measure editors’ political alignments by their contributions to conservative versus liberal articles. A survey of editors validates that those who primarily edit liberal articles identify more strongly with the Democratic party and those who edit conservative ones with the Republican party. Our analysis then reveals that polarized teams—those consisting of a balanced set of politically diverse editors—create articles of higher quality than politically homogeneous teams. The effect appears most strongly in Wikipedia’s Political articles, but is also observed in Social Issues and even Science articles. Analysis of article “talk pages” reveals that politically polarized teams engage in longer, more constructive, competitive, and substantively focused but linguistically diverse debates than political moderates. More intense use of Wikipedia policies by politically diverse teams suggests institutional design principles to help unleash the power of politically polarized teams.
“Higher Quality” basically translates to how well-developed the article is, with those infamous “stubs” as the lowest rung.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"Well developed" in this case basically translates to "has had more time spent on it".

A politically divisive article gets edited back and forth by each side of the argument over and over. It ends up following all the rules and guidelines for formatting and presentation, because each side is invested in finding fault with the other's work.

Compare to items of discussion in congress. Bland topics don't receive much attention. They get brought up, they are very briefly examined, and then they are voted on and concluded without much concern. Often these topics are given very shallow examinations, lacking in detail or nuance. And sometimes procedural correctness is ignored and corners are cut, with the intention that they'll fix it later in committee - or perhaps not at all.

But a big, contentious, controversial topic? That can get debated for weeks or even months. Every little bit of procedural correctness gets invoked, every little rule broken gets pointed out, and much more time and effort goes into things.

But does that necessarily mean the quality of the work is any better? We like to think that spending more time on an endeavor increases the quality of the work done, but this isn't always true. Sometimes, you just waste a lot of time - particularly when you're vying with rivals, and want to discredit them and their position by weaponizing the bureaucracy against them.