Transparent authority

A forum like TP is unique in providing a community to share information and opinion. It is civil, welcoming and non-political. That’s why I read so much here.

One concern I have at TP, and elsewhere, is the appeal to authority.

Most of us post our experience and opinions. Sometimes we suggest our opinions or advice is a little more. That it’s highly informed because we are especially informed and experienced. Most of the time, that is benign. If someone at TP says they have a better understanding of a problem because they work in IT, I listen carefully, because I have worked in IT a long time and can recognize a phony from the real deal. This is really an appeal to our experience and not authority. An appeal to authority almost always is an appeal to a position of authority.

For example, if we are discussing how a regional power outage has affected a large area and how long it’s going to take to restore power, most of us are offering experience, opinion and links to news articles. But if I say ‘I am the Director of Disaster Recovery for a major State and I know what I am talking about’, another standard applies. I am appealing to authority, my own authority. If I am unwilling to identify myself by legal name and contact information and only offer an avatar named ‘CreepyBunny’, most of us will discount anything I say – forever.

Or if you write that expert opinion about XYZ is clear and settled, but your links are to other articles saying the same thing, without publicly available facts and named authorities, you are misleading your audience. It is sleight of hand to trick them into believing your view is ‘authoritative’. Manipulation.

When a journalist writes about a topic and quotes ‘anonymous sources’, it may be exciting and dramatic, it might support your opinion too, but it’s still between the peanuts and the beer.

Why? Because authority is always transparent. If your comments, advice or orders are not offered with your full name and verifiable contact information, then you are just like the rest of us, or maybe another ‘CreepyBunny’.

Wikipedia can be like this. It can be wonderful to get up to speed on a topic like Calculus, the Ford F150 and Italian cooking. There can be many documented authorities quoted in the articles too. But many of the editors that write these articles are anonymous. If I read about a fast developing story or a controversial topic it takes a lot of time to read the links and see if any of the editors are transparent.

So what’s the big deal?

Read this:

Wikipedia and Saudi Arabia

Borncity transparency


  • Comments (7)

    • 4

      “If I am unwilling to identify myself by legal name and contact information and only offer an avatar named ‘CreepyBunny’, most of us will discount anything I say – forever.”

      Not sure if I’m reading this right, but as the only frequently posting bunny on this site, I can’t help but wonder if this is about me. If not, please take this as feedback that the topic of the post is somewhat unclear, and some examples of actual TP comments would be helpful.

      If I say something and don’t give supporting documentation, it’s probably because I thought the supporting documentation wasn’t needed. That’s implicitly an appeal to my own authority. I think I’m trustworthy. But if you have doubts or just want more details, I’m usually happy to help and search for supporting documentation. In general, even when I am knowledgeable enough to be an authority on some subject, I think others benefit more from getting enough detail to understand for themselves rather than just believing.

      I’ve been posting on this site for 1.5 years now and have tried hard to keep my comments informative, understandable, and accurate. I think that’s sufficient reason to trust me as a source of information, or at least to consider my posts worth reading. Discounting everything I say forever, just because I don’t want to share personal information, seems strange to me.

      • 1

        I could be wrong but maybe it’s not about you in particular and the choice of username example is just an unfortunate coincidence. But I agree that the topic is/was a little unclear: I originally wrote a comment which I then deleted because I realized I could have misunderstood the point. But the comment must have been seen and OP’s reply (below) makes me think that it’s about learning to discern the validity of a source.

      • 2

        “I could be wrong but maybe it’s not about you in particular and the choice of username example is just an unfortunate coincidence.”

        I hope so. And maybe I should take it as a compliment that my avatar made an impression. 🙂

        “OP’s reply (below) makes me think that it’s about learning to discern the validity of a source.”

        That’s an interesting topic and very important. Also, unfortunately, a lot more complicated than just whether the source provides their full name. Here’s a relevant TP post on that.


      • 3


        No! It’s not about you at all!

        It’s just a random name. I never looked closely at your avatar. It’s not you. It’s not anyone at TP.

        No one at TP is an authority. Your postings, and mine, build our reputation, not authority. Our reputation is based on the value of our postings, nothing else. Neither of us claim authority based our posts or on a position of authority. I have seen one recent post that claimed a position of authority and that claim was transparent. Good on them. (Colonel Chris Ellis, PhD)

        Our reputations are built on the strength, timeliness and value of our posts.

        You have a good reputation, IMO.

        If I post about a topic at TP that is a big deal, that is controversial or unsettled, and I rely on a post on Wikipedia, or any other anonymous source, like Reddit, to suggest this is ‘settled and the experts have spoken’ I hope everyone would take it with a grain of salt. (ex. the cause of the power outage during Texas Storm Uri) You would have to read every footnote link and read many of the other articles the editor(s) have contributed to before forming an opinion of the value of that post. Very few people will take the time and simply take the ‘settled’ comment as true. The Saudi’s relied on that bad habit.

        Journalism and the Internet is full of dishonesty and hidden agendas. It requires us to develop skill at determining if people are who they say they are or not – and that takes time. When I see people link to weak/anonymous sites, I assume they are well-meaning or naive. But I don’t assume that of the people at anonymously-sourced sites.

      • 4

        Thanks for clearing that up Shaun. I think we’re mostly on the same page regarding the value of sketchy websites as sources of information.

        I still consider Wikipedia as a mostly reliable source of information, and will tend to trust its contents until there’s reason to suspect an issue. But it’s not flawless.

        There are also rare occasions when I will carefully review sketchy sources of information due to the lack of higher quality alternatives. As an example, in Jan 2020 there was a terrible situation going on in China and none of the reputable sources covered it well. I worked hard to vet sources that I would typically ignore, then tried to raise the alarm. My alarm was dismissed purely based on sources with no willingness to consider my reasoning. Very frustrating because had a strong reputation after many years in that community – all of which went out the window in a heartbeat with one look at one of my sources.

        Anyway, seeing the truth can be hard. I promise to do my best in that regard. And I’ll happily work with others who are trying as well.

    • 1

      Our resilience has to be based on good information. Without timely, reliable and good information we may find ourselves in dangerous situations.

      Here is another example of a website posting highly polished misinformation. Many news sites cited it as a highly reliable source because of the credentials of the people involved – and the message supported their messaging. This was the use of transparent authority to support very dodgy information to mislead people.

      Do not read this with your political sensibility. If you do, you may miss the whole point. If we read this and think ‘well, I support their goals, so I’m ok with it, because it hammered people I don’t like’ you will have missed the whole point; people you don’t like can use the same technique very successfully too.

      Focus on the techniques used to spread misinformation and imagine how you would examine or research it to see if it met your criteria for authenticity and verifiability and then accept or reject it.

      Hamilton 68

      It may be difficult to accept the ideas in this post. If so, and you’re still interested, it may be easier to watch “Mr. Jones”, the story of Gareth Jones and Ukraine. It’s a movie on Amazon Prime. (there are 2 movies with the same name. Watch the one in 2019).

    • 1

      @Scott Byron,

      The point is not TP members compared to Saudi Intelligence, it’s posting supporting documentation that is unreliable by nature – anonymous or sketchy sources. The article in the link is a high profile example of the danger of anonymous sources or editors.

      (a sketchy source would be a website 30 days old, an ‘About’ page with no useful information, a Twitter/Mastadon account one day old from an unknown person, a domain account one day old or with no contact information)

      The article I linked to made that point; the Saudi Government, and probably others, take advantage of the opportunity for anonymity of Wikipedia editors to manipulate articles for the benefit of the kingdom, under the guise of being truth seekers and all around good guys (Wikipedia’s reputation).

      Imagine reading an article about ‘The Brotherhood of XYZ’ in Country of Blah and reading it was group of traditional families protecting family values and rejecting values that threatened them. That might sound nice if you support those values. But it’s written by Blah Intelligence under cover of the editor’s anonymity. You might want to know that. You might question what you are reading. Blah’s manipulation might not work.

      The problem is that many websites use anonymity for manipulation. That is not happening at TP.