“Coase’s Mormon Penguin” — Or “How to REALLY Turn the Bloggernacle Into Something Fantastic”

In my day job, I work for one of the world’s leading zealots for openness–especially as it relates to educational content.

Last year, Dr. David Wiley asked me to read an article entitled "Coase’s Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm" by Yochai Benkler (since this article was published in the Yale Law Review, I thought there might be a SMALL chance that some of you lawyer-types in the bloggernacle might be a bit interested).

Anyway, this article explains why initiatives like Linux, Wikipedia, Slashdot, and the Open Directory Project have been so successful.  If you don’t know anything about these initiatives–all you need to know is that literally thousands of distributed volunteers created and run these projects–and that they have had a significant impact on the world.  Benkler calls this "Commons-based peer production".

Well–if any of you happened to catch my Sunstone presentation, you’ll know that while I have great respect for the bloggernacle, I believe that it is underachieving in a few major ways.  I do love the posts, and the conversations–but I believe that we can do even greater things than we have done so far.

The project that I’m most interested in creating is the following:

  • A topical directory (wiki-based) for issues in Mormon Studies, that provides well-written, well-researched, semi-authoritative "whitepapers" on each of the major historical and cultural issues facing Mormons today.  These would be non-polemical….neither apologetic, nor antagonistic.  The audience would be LDS folk who come to the internet for the first time seeking answers to tough questions…but are seeking a truthful, open, honest discussion of the basic "facts" (as best as they can be established)
  • Each of these whitepapers would reference the seminal articles written Sunstone, Dialogue, JMH that discuss these issues, and might even link to significant blog postings in the bloggernacle.
  • Screencast presentations for each of these whitepapers would ultimately be created, to reach out to the newer generations that are not much into the written word, but apprecaite a multimedia approach.
  • Ultimately, I would love to see mini-videos or even documentaries created based on these whitepapers…shown each year at the "Sunstone Film Festival" or something of this nature.  This could obviously extend to documentaries about Mormon issues, people, etc.

This wiki has already been created, and is ready for collaboration. If any of you are interested in participating, please let me know. 

John Dehlin
Aspiring Member of the Bloggernacle Community

P.S.  I know that FAIR is also working on a similar project.  I think this is good, and I fully support this endeavor.  I even envision a cross-linking between our directories over time.   I just believe that in addition to the apologetic stuff, and the anti-Mormon stuff, some people would benefit from an organized directory of content that presents the evidence without arguing in favor of, or against, any foregone conclusions.


  1. How would LDS writers write neurtral, non-apologetic papers? There is always a bias.

    Second question: What would qualify a paper to be classed as “semi-authoritative”? The writer’s education? Calling? Point of view?

    This project sounds a lot like the late lamented “All About Mormons” site, which was very thorough but not authorized. Would it be similar?

  2. Ben, good call! John, as a friendly suggestion and for whatever it’s worth, I’d suggest editing the part of your post where you talk about FAIR. You currently say, “we need a more neutral, fact-based, non-polemical version as well,” which could be offensive to both FAIR and the more fact-based critical folks. What should you replace this with? Hard to say — how should one characterize the desired “middle ground” here? Something like, “some people would benefit from a forum that presents the evidence without arguing in favor of any foregone conclusions.”

  3. Yeah, I definitely didn’t mean to offend the FAIR guys. I’m more and more impressed with them each day.

    I changed it to “I just believe that in addition to the apologetic stuff, and the anti-Mormon stuff, some people would benefit from an organized directory of content that presents the evidence without arguing in favor of, or against, any foregone conclusions.”

    Thanks for the feedback! We need a wiki-blog…so you guys can edit the stuff directly!!!

  4. From everything I can see, FAIR is trying for objectivity. Yeah it’ll probably take a little while once it goes public. (That’s just the nature of wikis — it takes feedback) Yes, it’ll provide Mormon answers. But I don’t think it’ll shy from the bad stuff. I think the tone they’re trying for is more akin to Bushman’s.

  5. Sounds like I need to join FAIR (if they’ll have me), and check out what they’re doing. I certainly don’t want to duplicate what they’re doing…I just would want to make sure that:

    1) No ad-hominim (sp?) arguments were being used
    2) Hard facts were not being omitted
    3) The FULL (known) truth was being told…separate from the justifications or excuses.

    I would love to samples of what FAIR is trying to do. Any idea how I can do this?

  6. This sounds like a great idea, but I think the biggest problem would be the risk of redundancy with anything FAIR sets up, and the existing Wikipedia.

    As a point of reference, here is the wikipedia article on the Book of Abraham:


    How would you envision an article in a new MormonStories wiki to be different?

    I would also be leery of having such an endeavor associated with an apologetic group like FAIR (or an antgonistic group, for that matter). The most important component for objectivity is the acknowledgement that you might be wrong.

    If someone is organizing content but can’t sincerely express the possibility that the Church might not be “true”, it will color their presentation, no matter how hard they try.

  7. I think there will be some overlap with standard Wikis. However I think the detail will be different. The other difference is that, from what I can see, more common questions will be presented and answered on the FAIR wiki that the standard Wiki just doesn’t address.

    I’d also note that the wiki doesn’t address such things in the Book of Abraham such as

    o patriarchal priesthood
    o astronomy
    o comparisons with other creation texts
    o names in the text
    o human sacrifice
    o arguments regarding the Grammar and the Kirtland Egyptian papers
    o listing the arguments by critics and potential answers

    That’s not to downplay the standard wiki (nor to raise expectations of what the FAIR wiki will initially supply) Merely to point out the limits of the current wiki.

  8. Oh, as for demos, the wiki is still very early. Many pages have nothing but questions to direct the entry. I suspect it’ll be a while before it’s ready for even a beta release.

  9. One immediate difference I can see between what’s on Wikipedia and what we hope to accomplish is that we are shooting for a target audience that is much less sophisticated than wikipedia or FAIR seem to be targeting.

    We are shooting for a USA Today or Newsweek level of writing…not an academic journal. We intend this to be very readable, accessible, and simple to the average Mormon.

    I would love to do this on Wikipedia, but I’ve experienced MAJOR problems with anti’s and apologists hijacking and thrashing over editorial policy. The democratic nature of wikipedia, for me, is a bit too democratic.

    I believe in a representative republic, not pure democracy. :)

  10. P.S. I would love it if FAIR would be willing to collaborate on something like this:

    1) A representative from FAIR, the “neutral” Mormon Studies community, and the anti- or ex-mormon community could collaborate on, and agree upon, the basic, relevant facts….in good faith

    2) And then rebuttals could be written by each major faction, as add-ons to the agreed-upon core text.

    Anyone think this is possible?

  11. I think this is an excellent idea. One thing that struck me as problematic however.

    In your categories, you list the following:

    Church-Sponsored Violence, Especially at Mountain Meadows

    I have several problems with this:

    1) There is no definitive proof that the Church sponsored the massacre at Mountain Meadows. In fact, in the literature that I have read (and in my opinion), the people who believe the Church responsible tend to overstate the case.
    2) You presuppose the above. Any article exonerating the Church Leadership would not seem welcome. And that is an article that could be important.
    3) Other than Mountain Meadows, what example can you come up with of “Church sponsored” violence? I cannot off the top of my head. If you can, fine, the category is valid, but I think the mention of the massacre is not.

  12. Sam,

    You make all good points/questions.

    This topic wasn’t entered by me….and I’ll probably work to get it either removed or rephrased (by collaborating w/ the other authors).

    I agree that the Church’s involvement in MMM shouldn’t be classified as “sponsored”, and that the connection is even tenuous.

    So thanks for bringing this to my attention.


  13. John: I think that creating an online Mormon Studies wiki is a great idea, but I suspect that you are being wildly optimistic about whether or not you can create neutral statements of facts that all parties can agree on. My point here is political not metaphysical. I am not claiming in some pomo fashion that there aren’t facts. Rather, I am pointing out that the intellectual politics around Mormonism are so charged, that regardless of what you do, someone will always accuse you of being biased. In other words, if universal agreement is your criteria for success you are almost certainly doomed to failure. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply to stake out a position, present an argument for it as fairly as you can, and let it go at that.

  14. Nate,

    I agree. We’re gonna have to not only arrive at a position (with hopefully not an excessive amount of consensus), but then we’re gonna have to find a way to encourage participation from those who are in basic sync w/ this position. Not easy, to be sure.

    Definitely will be challenging….but at the same time, I’m surprised at how much consensus I’ve seen between FAIR, several members of the bloggernacle, and myself….and even among some of the disaffected. So I remain optimistic–but with eyes wide open.

    Thanks for the thoughts! It would be fun if we could do this collaboratively between the blogs.

    I hope to stay in touch w/ you and the folks at T&S on this. I’m sure your input would be invaluable.


  15. “So thanks for bringing this to my attention.”

    No prob, John. Thanks for your quick response. By the way, I enjoy very much your podcasts. I am a Master Mason as well and I enjoyed John K.’s podcast, although I didn’t agree with all he said.

    Thanks again,

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