I had never seen ProCon.org until a few hours ago. Having looked over it, I’m surprised that I didn’t know about it before.
ProCon.org is a cluster of issues-oriented websites written and maintained by a staff of hired writers (bright young researchers fresh out of college, from the looks of it), all under the management of a non-profit group with a $700,000 yearly budget. For example, here is their Euthanasia homepage. There are homepages about many other hot-button issues, including “Should marijuana be a medical option?” and “Should prostitution be legal?” and “Is sexual orientation determined at birth?”
The general concept seems, on my first glance, to be very interesting and solid, and the results have the earmarks of being well-executed. There are several standard resources, such as a “1-minute overview,” “Top 10 Pros and Cons,” etc. These would appear to be very valuable resources for students and researchers, although I would suspend judgment on that until I had read through a few of these in great detail, and gotten some expert opinions, which I haven’t done. In addition, there is a wonderfully refreshing full (and well-organized!) disclosure of information about the organization itself (and see this and this and this).
But the most interesting aspect of the site may be its voluminous collection of pro-and-con issues pages. They are organized around groups of topics, and within each topic there are one or more questions. There is a separate page about each question. On the question page, there are two columns, listing “pro” and “con,” and in the columns, quotations from various named sources. Each source is exhaustively described.
The whole project looks wonderful, from the point of view both of a researcher and of someone who loves neutrality in educational resources. My compliments also to whoever designed the site and its software. It is remarkably well-laid-out.
I’m writing about ProCon because I think it is fascinating in several ways. In one way, it represents a wholesale rejection of the idea of community editing, which in this day and age is fascinating. I am impressed by what happened when somebody decided simply to pay a dozen researchers to create free, reliable (apparently), open (in the sense of “full disclosure”), and neutral content. Could Wikipedia have assembled this website? I’m laughing. How about CZ? Well, maybe! But probably not, because this sort of highly organized content, with specific, agreed-upon rules (such as the five-tier “credibility ranking” system) would be rather hard to execute by the herded cats of CZ (much less Wikipedia). Why do I say that? Because I have tried to organize complex content types and complex projects within my various online projects. I’ve occasionally succeeded (as with subpages, sort of), but it is very hit-or-miss (again…as with subpages). Besides, I can also tell you from similar experience that a lot of the work that has gone into ProCon.org is “gruntwork,” and not the sort of work that people sign up to do as an online volunteer.
I am also impressed by the apparent care and thought that went into making the resource as a whole both neutral and open. They seem to have really thought out just what you would have to do in order to create a neutral debate site, and have gone far above and beyond the approach that most newspapers or encyclopedias take. Among other things, I am glad that they both let partisans state their own views as forcefully as possible, and give amazingly full information about the partisans and their affiliations. In short, I am heartened that — it seems — there might be somebody out there who believes as much as I do in the possibility and beneficiality of neutrality. Of course, I am aware that there might be some people who are not convinced on this point. I know that a lot of people detest all attempts at neutrality and insist that it is in principle impossible. (But I think they are confused.) So I open the question up to you: is ProCon.org neutral? Does it illustrate ideals that the likes of CZ and Wikipedia should be following?
(By the way, I have no connections at all, that I know of, with ProCon.org.)