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Wikipedia:There are no oracles

Avoid this charlatan, Wikipedia doesn't have any oracles! If you want to know what the community desires, you'll have to ask.

There are no oracles of community opinion. Sometimes an editor will use a phrase along the lines of "the community is calling this into question", or "the community does not want […] " as an attempt to gain the upper hand in a debate. It acts as a rhetorical fallacy, painting any opposing view in the light of "not belonging to the community". This is often seen in interactions with a certain foundation, but nearly as often such rhetoric is directed towards the few prolific editors who actually do things on Wikipedia.

"Oracling" often occurs when thousands of hours of volunteer time have been spent, spurred by a single angry individual who is made aware of the issue and make it out that it is suddenly facing "public scrutiny" for having "snuck change in through the backdoor". Equally valid to the no-oracles fallacy is this fallacious reasoning, as there are no backdoors (or at the very least, they are few and far apart). If something goes unquestioned for years, and is being questioned now — that's what matters. Prior history is not incriminating unless things were knowingly in violation of policies or community decisions. They almost never are, and implying they were violates WP:AGF.

Taking the role of 'interpretor of community opinion' is often used to mask true debate, and it is performed by writing a wall of text that discourages others from getting involved. It is a very effective strategy, and best overcome by ignoring the rambling (often incoherent) message and pointing out that the user is "oracling".

"Oracling" relies on a great deal of arrogance in assuming ability to interpret the "will of the community". 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 is also important to remember that consensus changes, and so does "the will of the community".

No single Wikipedian entitled to "interpret the will of the community" or act as arbiter of "community consensus". Experience may make you better at gauging what the community is likely to decide, but no one is ever certain — and Wikipedia's non-hierarchic nature demands we lend an ear to newcomers and those of dissenting views — just as much as we should listen to entrenched users. On Wikipedia, when there are two or more sides, even if you belong to the majority — one can never ignoring the minority.