Thursday, May 19, 2011

Web 2.0 Nonsense on Stilts

Here. Nonsense on stilts.  Every cliche or stereotype of 'Web 2.0', and Wikipedia as well.  It begins with the (desperately flawed) study in Nature which supposedly showed "few differences in accuracy" between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, comments approvingly on the "bogglingly complex and well-staffed system for dealing with errors and disputes on Wikipedia", without mentioning about how astonishingly corrupt this system is.   It argues that there are three main advantages to Wikipedia:

  • Wikipedia offers far richer, more comprehensive citations to source materials and bibliographies on- and offline, thereby providing a far better entry point for serious study (yes, but many of these 'citations' are completely fake, as was proved in this case, and many others are simply cherry-picked).
  • It is instantly responsive to new developments (and yet articles like Durandus or Roscellinus are entirely plagiarised from the century old Catholic Enyclopedia and Britannica 1911)
  • It has 'history' and 'talk' pages (of course, but as the article immediately concedes "a load of dimwitted yelling and general codswallop may also emerge", and usually does).
And then we move on to McLuhan, and the stupid idea that "technology alters cognition itself". 
The computer thus holds out the promise of a technologically engendered state of universal understanding and unity, a state of absorption in the Logos that could knit mankind into one family and create a perpetuity of harmony and peace.
And so Wikipedia, along with other "crowd-sourced" resources, is wreaking a certain amount of McLuhanesque havoc on conventional notions of "authority," "authorship," and even "knowledge."   We have reached 'the end of truth'
Wikipedia is like a laboratory for this new way of public reasoning for the purpose of understanding, an extended polylogue embracing every reader in an ever-larger, never-ending dialectic. Rather than being handed an "authoritative" decision, you're given the means for rolling your own.
Fortunately the commenters were somewhat better informed than the author of this silly and foolish article.  One of them writes

This article is foolish and actually mischaracterizes what Wikipedia is doing. Wikipedia is based around a strong hierarchy between experts and everyone else. Credentialed experts do primary research. They look at the actual stuff. Wiki-editors do secondary research. They read the sources that the experts write and debate the meaning of those sources. This is the governance that is built into the site, and it is a hierarchical one. Wiki-editors would only be “fellow travelers” with experts if they did primary research themselves. But how many times have you seen wiki-editors cite their own research in French or Russian archives, or their own experiments on bacteria, or their own mathematical proofs? Never. And that’s the difference.
Wikipedia hardly devalues experts. It enshrines them like never before. Every statement in a Wikipedia article has to be backed up with a citation to an article or book produced by a journalist, an academic, a scientist, or some other credentialed expert who has carried out primary research according to currently prevailing methods in journalism or academia. In no way are the wiki-writers “fellow travelers” with these expert sources in the governance of the site. Their job is only to debate which wording best characterizes the existing expert sources for the purposes of an encyclopedia article. This is all great as a learning exercise, and I applaud them for doing so, but it does not equalize experts and readers.
Correct.  Not that even this works, in many cases, but I have discussed all that elsewhere.


William M. Connolley said...

Oh come now. If you're going to complain about nonsense on stilts, you need to write sense yourself. "and yet articles like Durandus or Roscellinus are entirely plagiarised from the century old Catholic Enyclopedia and Britannica 1911" is just wrong. R says:

Sources and references

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. [1]

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Roscellinus". Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.

That isn't plagiarism. That is honestly admitting sources.

Edward Ockham said...

I have had this argument before. David Goodman (DGG) sums it up well.

Edward Ockham said...

I found another one today, without even the blanket 'incorporates'.

"Morland's wife was a beautiful and virtuous woman". Indeed.

Glad to see you popping in, William :)

William M. Connolley said...

> without even the blanket 'incorporates'.

You are wrong:

"This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "George Morland". Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press."

As to DGG: I think he is wrong. Wikipedia defines it as "Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work,[1][2] but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries".

That seems about right. In particular, the "nebulous boundaries" clause applies here; I don't think you can seriously come down too hard on this article.

What I mean is: I say it isn't; you say it is. Reasonable people can take both sides. You need a better example.

Also, I notice you say "entirely plagiarised", which (if true) pretty well vitiates DGG's "What is inexcusable, is that the precise parts that sere copied from
the particular sources are not in general indicated.".

Stopping by: I read all.

Edward Ockham said...

>> I don't think you can seriously come down too hard on this article.

For me this is plagiarism - wholesale copying. 'Incorporates' suggests 'includes'. If you diff it against the source, there is hardly anything different.

In any case, the point was about 'new developments' - I still say it's an irony that complex technology gives us a 100 year old source.

I'm planning a post on one of these articles showing how scholarship has developed in 100 years - hope you are still around!