Monday, February 14, 2011

More fads and fallacies

The argument about Gardner’s book goes on at Wikipedia. Mostly incoherent ranting, but there was an interesting comment here:

The main arguments given above are that the two critics are biased against the
book and have a POV that shouldn't be considered. Just by putting this out
plainly in itself shows the ridiculousness of the statement. It doesn't matter
at all if the critics are biased against the work, their critique [sic] is still
critique, no matter how incorrect it may be toward the work. Especially
considering the fact that all critics will have a POV, whether it is for or
against a subject. Picking and choosing which critic [sic] comments we should
include (which in terms of the people trying to remove this section above means
only including positive comments toward the work) is something that is
fundamentally against the purpose of Wikipedia and the neutrality we are trying
to achieve. We do not decide which critics' comments to include, we include all
of them.
Leaving aside the confusion between criticism which is biased (which usually means, the critic has some financial, emotional or other non-intellectual reason for making the criticism), and criticism which is plain mistaken, and leaving aside the fact that none of the main arguments referred to has actually claimed that the two critics ‘have a POV that shouldn't be considered’, there is an important point here. Wikipedia editors aren’t allowed to edit on the basis of their own view about what is correct. If I edit an article about the flat earth I can’t let my own view about the shape of the earth obtrude into my contributions. As the comment says, it doesn’t matter if the critics of the boook ‘The Earth is Round’ book are biased against the the work, their criticism is still criticism, no matter how incorrect it may be toward the work.

Now there is a Wikipedia policy called ‘due weight’. This requires that each article fairly represents all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint. And it notes that “the article on the Earth does not directly mention modern support for the Flat Earth concept, the view of a distinct minority; to do so would give 'undue weight' to the Flat Earth belief”. But in practice this only works for subjects where the majority view is manifest and obvious. In the case of a book such as Gardner's, which was published more than 50 years ago, giving due weight to criticism is difficult or impossible. As I noted in my earlier post, it is easy for the proponents of junk science to cherry-pick criticism from sources – some of which may even be reliable in the Wikipedia sense (i.e. published in a peer-reviewed journal) – to give the appearance of neutrality.

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