Wikipedia:There are no oracles

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Avoid this charlatan, Wikipedia doesn't employ any oracles!

Sometimes an editor will use a phrase along the lines of "the community is calling this into question", as an attempt to gain the upper hand in a debate. This is an attempt to take the moral high ground, painting any opposing views in the light of "not belonging to the community". This can be seen in interactions with a certain foundation, or else prolific editors who do things, often for years before suddenly facing "public scrutiny".

What the phrase often masks is that there is a debate, with two or more sides, with the editor in question (even if among the majority) entirely ignoring the rest of the editors that agree with whatever is being called into question. It also relies on a certain degree of arrogance to assume that one may interpret the "will of the community" in this manner. The decisions and wills of the community are per definition ephemeral and changing, and no single Wikipedian has any special power to elucidate the wills of the community. We have some methods to gauge the current state of community opinion, such as Wikipedia:Requests for Comment, talk-pages, and noticeboards. But without clear results queries run through such systems — interpreting the communities wishes and wants is to stand on shaky ground. It may give way at any time, and like the oracle perched above the abyssal gorge in the image above, you may fall into the depths below when you find your interpretation does not hold.

Implied consensus is an important aspect of Wikipedia, and the fallout over an issue on Wikipedia and subsequent debates to determine consensus does not mean that all cases where the losing party reigned were wrong prior to the debate — or that any hypothetical community "would have disapproved — had they only known of the issue earlier". How the community decides in a certain debate depends on: who was there; at what time the question was asked; by whom it was asked; and how it was formulated; who voted first — and on what option; etc. If you do not believe this intuitively, there is ample evidence in the political science field, including that we vote according to how we percieve others to have voted — which obviously influences the open ballot system that is Requests for Comment (no matter how much we say that polls aren't votes). Therefor such a statement is a clear case of hindsight bias, and it is often very likely that a different result would have been reached, if only an ever so slightly different result.

This doesn't mean that the result of any given RfC is de facto wrong, as that would be to cast aside the notion of the possibility of achieving anything resembling consensus or democratic choice. What it does mean is that you should be very wary when trying to interpret consensus, and the will of the community, especially when you don't have a clear consensus. Even in the face of overwhelming consensus you should also take care not to assume that the most extreme interpretation of support is the true consensus. It also strongly supports the notion that consensus changes, as the will of the community does as well. No single Wikipedian is entitled to interpret "the will of the community" or consensus more than any other. Experience may give you an increased likelyhood at being able to gauge what the community will decide as the result of an RfC, but you can never be certain — and Wikipedia's non-hierarchic nature demands we lend an ear to beginners as well as those of dissenting views to that of the majority.