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on Wørds and Wisdom… redux

largeSo I’ve been taking this class called Digital Media for my English PhD. It’s about… well, digital media… because you know, we’re like the masters of the English language and that’s what we came up with. Anyway, we’ve been talking a bunch about collaborative projects and such and we’re discussing Wikipedia this week. While reading some articles in preparation I remember when I got into a discussion with Meron Langsner back in the day (in this case the day was nine years ago… 2006… because we’re fucking old. But lets just pretend it was like 2012 and we were 21, because it makes me feel better). Anyway, back in the day, when Meron was in grad school still, working on his PhD and I was in the real world crying myself to sleep every night while saying “Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” I realized that he and I had fundamentally different views on Wikipedia.

I ended up writing a blog about it way back then. Actually, I guess I wrote a blog about that and pimping a a sexiest woman poll I was doing at the time for another reason. But anyway, I ended up rereading it and all the comments from it tonight. This is the best thing about the blogging. A decade later (where a decade is three years because I’m young and virile, dammit) you can revisit the thoughts of your younger self and laugh at how ridiculous you sounded.

So I went to do that tonight and it turns out that nine years later (ok, fine, fuck it… I’m old) I still feel the same way about a lot of things. I still love wikipedia. I still think that for most real-life practical purposes, it is better than “real research.” Will it tell me something with 100% accuracy? Well, no… though actually, in 2015 I think it does even better than I thought it did in 2006. I guess really, I feel like, it will tell me something with 99% accuracy 99% of the time. That other 1% of the time… it’s a crapshoot. Maybe it’s 95% accurate. Maybe it’s 1%. Who can tell? But it turns out, my stance on that now is just the same as it was back then… “fuck it, that’s good enough.” I actually referred to it as Truthiness at the time, but that was mostly because I was a big Stephen Colbert fan, and I knew even then that I wasn’t using he term exactly how he envisioned it. But you know, close enough…

That’s where things got interesting. In 2015, the world for me and Meron is sort of reversed. I made the off-handed remark then that I hadn’t had to write an academic paper in 8 years. But through a complicated set of machinations, I’ve since gotten the agents to plug me back into the Matrix, and since they ignored my request to make me a forgetful rich and famous actor, I now write them all the time. Meron on the other hand took the red pill and is now out in the real world, the poor bastard. But things were different back then…

If I remember correctly, Meron’s premise in our original argument, hinted at in his comments, was basically that the fatal flaw in Wikipedia is that you can’t trust it’s validity because of it’s Wild West. Since anyone could edit anything and there was no concept of authority or peer review, that made everything suspect. My argument was that we didn’t need centralized authority because automatic checks and balances by enough nerds who really care about some minute little subject, be it modernist poetry, thermodynamics or the plot to s1e14 of Firefly and can’t get a date will simply jointly fight back and forth until they correct it to where it is “true enough.” In fact, I’m like 100% positive that at least a couple people, reading this right now, know exactly what the plot s1e14 of Firefly is without googling it or going to the Wikipedia page. In effect, my argument is that it’s not so much not peer reviewed as it is peer reviewed by everyone who cares.

It’s just that nobody vets the peers.

I’m not so sure it matters. To the extent that Wikipedia is useful, I argued that the consensus reality of whatever most people believe about modernist poetry, thermodynamics or s1e14 of Firefly is far more important than any universal truth, whatever that means. Here, in the comments you will see a sidebar conversation between Max (max1975), Katherine(marmal8) and myself as to whether or not universal truth even exists that degenerates into postmodernism and the meaning of truth and really, is it any wonder I decided to go back to grad school?

Which brings us back to 2015. Basically, for Meron and I, the shoe is literally on the other foot. Actually, maybe I should say metaphorically. Except literally means metaphorically now; even the OED has given in on that. So even though I’m not even wearing shoes right now —and I’m guessing neither is Meron, since it’s almost 5am, and unlike me he actually sleeps like a regular person and I am talking about figurative shoes, and really, not even the other foot, since I’m basically talking about us switching shoes between our different feet and it would be silly for us to put the other person’s shoes on the wrong feet even in this ridiculous analogy, so we’d just end up wearing the wrong person’s shoes on the correct feet, and this sentence got way too long, and I did hat on purpose — you understood the meaning of what I said when I said literally. Why? Because consensus reality works, HOVAdammit! We can be as pedantic as we want about the meaning of literally, but when someone says the shoe is literally on the other foot, we know what they mean because enough people socially constructing the meaning of a concept makes it true. Or true enough.

So 9 years later (FUCK!!!) I am in the opposite place to where I was when I wrote the original blog, but I think I still feel the same way, and if anything moreso. So really I’m kind of interested in what other people think. Much like last time (and everything else I say here), I’m interested in academic and non-academic opinions. I’m guessing the prof who teaches this class will likely be interested in what my random peanut gallery of followers has to say too. I’m especially interested in what Meron, Katherine and Max say, just because I’d love to compare the OLD version of them to the current ones. But everyone else to, whether you knew me back then or not.

Do you trust Wikipedia’s accuracy? Do you trust the editing method? Do you care that it might not be 100% “true.”

Also… anyone who can create a wikipedia entry for ME and make it stick that says that I am 24 years old, and a rich and famous actor, I will give five dollars cash money!!!! Another five if you mention Cosmic Hellcats. That’s right! $10 up for grabs. That kind of money can change your life.

33 comments for “on Wørds and Wisdom… redux

  1. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Am I the only person who pretty much never uses Wikipedia? I don’t have a real issue with whether or not information there is accurate (it’s on the internetz it must be true!)

    I’ve just always really hated the interface.

    • avatar
      mav
      March 23, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Mickey: I’m curious. What about the interface do you hate? I mean, I see a lot of differences between the 2006 version and the 2015 version, but since I don’t know what things you don’t like I don’t know if it’s better or worse.

  2. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Question of context. Excellent tool for those who–always and without thinking about it–use critical thought.

    Like Britannica or World Book or whatever.

    But do you want FYC students using it for their research? Well, no.

    What’s most interesting (to me) is the assumption that enough people who care about X will have the leisure time and motivation to donate labor to vet, edit, write entries…..

    There are problems galore with this idea. Not problems that show up in descriptions of Firefly, per se, but Modernist literature? Oh boy….

    Which is all to say it’s a fascinating example of hegemony in action, yeah?

    And this raises the question of who writes this stuff. [insert gamer gate reference]. And when/how we should be comfortable with that notion.

    I *think* if you juxtapose something like Wikipedia with Conservativepedia or whatever that load of horse crap is, you can see what I mean…

    • avatar
      mav
      March 23, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Les: honestly, the MAJOR reason I don’t want my FYCs using it is because I know that I’d be setting them up for problems later on in their academic career. If it were up to me, sure they could use it… for the things that it’s designed to be used for, at least. Which is sort of the point of the class I’m in. Wikipedia is a tool. And it’s a useful tool. Just like any encyclopedia.

      Here’s a for instance. Going back to the original post, say I tell my students to “write a report on space.” But since it’s college, I probably expect something more like “write a persuasive argument for or against the American usage of the Russian space program for transport to the ISS during the current political climate with the lack of a NASA run shuttle program.” And if you think that a kid isn’t going to go to Wikipedia to get starter ideas there, you’re deluding yourself. And you’re deluding yourself pointlessly.

      You’re also deluding yourself if you think they’re not going to go there If you ask them to close read Eliot’s The Waste Land. And why shouldn’t they? Is it the finest in academic criticism? Of course not. Is it quotable? No, and it’s not designed to be.There’s no “source” to quote. But it will give them a general understanding of the poem and a place to start with. And if they follow a link from the Wiki entry to some scholarly article, so much the better. Is that really worse than using MLA International Bib? Why? Because we say so?

      As to the question of “Who writes this stuff” and “how comfortable are we” that’s totally the point of discussing it (both in my class and here). The difference between Wiki and Converstativepedia though is reach as defined by audience. Any time you limit the reach to a specific population, bias will sink in and effect the consensus reality “truthiness.” Sometimes you want this. If you’re looking for the Conservative POV, then that site is probably better than Wikipedia. But the openness of Wikipedia means that you’re going to have a much more net unbiased POV just because of the larger population segment warring for equilibrium.

      To put it another way, can you really argue that say lit journals are “unbiased”?

  3. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Weird, Les. Not that you suggest people use critical thought reflexively, but that you’re taking an elitist and maybe anti-communist stance.

    I usually think Wikipedia is predictably bad. On s1e13 of Firefly, I have tremendous confidence it will be absolutely accurate, if shallow. On controversial topics (“men’s rights,” Israel/Palestine, etc.), I am much more skeptical, but I actually have found it to be better than I expect. It’s unfortunately far too easy to find citations to absolute cranks, like this guy, whose page serves as a beautiful example of everything wrong with Wikipedia: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Shamir

    But then many pages have wonderfully useful and accurate information. Meanwhile, the clever people who are above all this have their own problems. There was a controversy over whether an encyclopedia of multiculturalism should have an entry on Zionism written by an anti-Zionist without even having any entry on generic or any other nationalism. Experts, feh!

  4. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I think that when you consider wikipedia, you have to consider some of the politics of its founders. Sanger and Jimbo Wales are both informed heavily by Objectivism; not to do my normal “Randroid! Unclean!” spiel, but because I think objectivist epistemology (the idea that there is one definitive truth about something) informs the NPOV policy and ultimately harms the capabilities of the article. There’s also the fact that the articles are generally just so horribly organized; good academic writing has to educate, and most wikipedia articles really don’t do that well.

  5. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 10:08 am

    No, Matt. Anti-pseudo-democratic. If we *all* had leisure time and access to donating our labor, Wikipedia might be perfect…..and perhaps impossible to navigate.

  6. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I’ve since adjusted my opinion on Wikipedia a bit.

    I still do not entirely trust it, but I not trust it less.

    They have added some oversight to it, and there are movements for people who do understand subjects with some authority to get involved in editing it.

    I would also say that some of our disagreement stems from disciplinary biases as to what makes a source authoritative. In most scholarly contexts, to cite Wikipedia as an authority as opposed to a phenomenon is to hold oneself up for mockery.

  7. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Les: honestly, the MAJOR reason I don’t want my FYCs using it is because I know that I’d be setting them up for problems later on in their academic career. If it were up to me, sure they could use it… for the things that it’s designed to be used for, at least. Which is sort of the point of the class I’m in. Wikipedia is a tool. And it’s a useful tool. Just like any encyclopedia.

    Here’s a for instance. Going back to the original post, say I tell my students to “write a report on space.” But since it’s college, I probably expect something more like “write a persuasive argument for or against the American usage of the Russian space program for transport to the ISS during the current political climate with the lack of a NASA run shuttle program.” And if you think that a kid isn’t going to go to Wikipedia to get starter ideas there, you’re deluding yourself. And you’re deluding yourself pointlessly.

    You’re also deluding yourself if you think they’re not going to go there If you ask them to close read Eliot’s The Waste Land. And why shouldn’t they? Is it the finest in academic criticism? Of course not. Is it quotable? No, and it’s not designed to be.There’s no “source” to quote. But it will give them a general understanding of the poem and a place to start with. And if they follow a link from the Wiki entry to some scholarly article, so much the better. Is that really worse than using MLA International Bib? Why? Because we say so?

    As to the question of “Who writes this stuff” and “how comfortable are we” that’s totally the point of discussing it (both in my class and here). The difference between Wiki and Converstativepedia though is reach as defined by audience. Any time you limit the reach to a specific population, bias will sink in and effect the consensus reality “truthiness.” Sometimes you want this. If you’re looking for the Conservative POV, then that site is probably better than Wikipedia. But the openness of Wikipedia means that you’re going to have a much more net unbiased POV just because of the larger population segment warring for equilibrium.

    To put it another way, can you really argue that say lit journals are “unbiased”?

  8. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Oh heavens, I’d never make that argument, Chris (re: lit journals). So biased on so many levels by so many notions of aesthetic principle (not the least of which is ignorance).

    And of course students go to Wikipedia…. The problem is not going to Wikipedia (in academia) but stopping there. That’s why I’m against students using it as a citation (and don’t allow that). Can they look at it?

    Sure…and I’m open about that….after I edit some nonsense into and out of a page anonymously.

  9. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I have heard more than once about profs editing in random nonsense into Wikipedia before an exam or paper is due as a means of making students go to more respected sources.

    I used to require my stage combat students to do reports on a fighting system (any time period, any culture). I told them that if they used Wikipedia I would hire someone to kick their asses in the style they were reporting on so as to make them understand the importance of primary research.

  10. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 10:48 am

    If the problem is stopping once you’ve looked at Wikipedia, Les, is that different from any encyclopedia, or do we expect more here? Also, Michael, while I totally agree the organization is terrible (and began writing as much myself), so too with 32-volume collections sold door-to-door. The problem is mostly just made worse because Wikipedia isn’t limited in the same way, no?

  11. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    I’m really confused, because Chris Maverick and I are the same age, but he says he’s old, and I’m still 25 (just like I was in 2006). Given that reality is an illusion, I can’t understand why Mav doesn’t just imagine that he’s also 25.

  12. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    But as a serious response. In my work, I used to (and thankfully no longer) have to deal with writers who got their facts wrong. Checking their facts against Wikipedia served a couple needs: quickly checking the facts and checking that they didn’t just straight copy content out of Wikipedia. I didn’t need to have a full understanding of a topic, just enough so that I could be sure they got things right. It was right enough for my purposes.

    For academic work I would say to use it as a starting point to get a basic understanding (sometimes; physics articles are nearly incomprehensible to me, thanks dateless nerds) and mine the footnotes for authoritative sources – the ones you will actually cite in your paper.

    I still say, how do we know it’s not true? The whole discussion Max and I got into is so interesting; I read his point as that there’s an objective truth out there and my point is maybe there is an objective truth, but how do we know when our version of the truth matches the objective truth? I still maintain that we don’t.

  13. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I think my point was we have to assume there’s an objective truth (acknowledging that we may never know what it is) in order to have a good faith argument… But that was a long time ago and I was only like 15.

  14. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    You can pry Wikipedia from my cold dead hands, or when you give me something that is at least 2-out-of-3 of faster, cheaper, or more accurate.

    Hardly a day goes by when I don’t have an “I wonder about…” moment and go read an entry (or ten.) This morning it was the Cauchy distribution, after seeing it reference in a blog post about testing random number generators; last week it was to find the artist of “What It’s Like”; the week before that it was congressional apportionment and who would lose seats if DC were counted towards Maryland’s US House delegation. I love it. Just… don’t use it for controversial current events.

  15. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Generally speaking I find it extremely useful for the purposes I use it for, which is most commonly looking up some pop culture tidbit (who is this comic character I’m unfamiliar with, when did that song come out, how many seasons of this show were there). I also use it a lot to give myself an overview on a subject I may be curious about but don’t need to know in deep detail (what’s string theory about, what’s the difference between knitting and crochet, when was Henry VIII king). In all these cases I have a pretty high degree of confidence that Wikipedia will either be completely accurate or at least accurate enough to suit my needs.

    I think where the greatest pitfalls are likely to be found are in subjects that are mired in controversy or subject to passionate but not necessarily factual opinion (think Ferguson, climate change, Obama, women in gaming). I think those kind of subjects lend themselves more to editing wars than simple pop culture or more esoteric bits of knowledge.

    I also think that the concept of changing a page just for lulz has gone by the wayside a bit. Nine years ago some people may have found it funny to alter things to give us Duke Maverick, but I suspect that’s no longer really a significant concern these days. Plus most pages are good about including footnotes with reference links. All that said, I’m not sure I like the idea of students using it as a source, perhaps as an initial tool to give themselves an overview, but not as a final source of facts. But for every day basic info gathering where being most likely accurate is good enough I think it’s a beautiful tool.

  16. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    If you were okay with students using Encyclopedia Britannica for their research, then you should be okay with students using Wikipedia for their research.

    *Most* research shouldn’t *end* with the encyclopedia.

  17. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    First, thank you everyone for a wonderful contribution to my class discussion…

    Trying to catch up after being away from keyboard all day:

    Matt: certainly, some pages are more accurate than others. I think that stands to sort of the thing with wikipedia. How up-to-date/accurate the information is is directly proportional to how culturally relevant that thing is (with some wiggle room here, it’s not an exact formula and it depends on your definition of relevant) to the population the forum serves. So to take Firefly, vs Shamir. It looks like about twice as many people have edited Firefly’s main page this year as Shamir’s which means the population at large (Wikipedians) care twice as much about it. The hope would be that the things people care more about bubble prioritized to the top. Just like Bittorrent. I’m betting if I looked, I could find a lot more people seeding the movie Insurgent, which is #1 at the box office than say The Bicycle Thief (1904) even though the latter is almost certainly a more important movie in the grand scheme of film. I don’t consider this a detraction.

    Michael: I actually agree with you on the flaws in the theory of objective truth, which I sort of gestured to both this time and nine years ago. There isn’t one. I prefer consensus reality. That said, I don’t think the stance of the founders really hurts the ability to reach consensus reality all that much. It’s an arbitrary style to strive for, and it’s a fine one, because the point of wikipedia ISN’T to present bias, it’s to “present” objectivity, even when that isn’t possible. So is it a fallacy? Sure, but it’s a stake in the ground. But it’s NOT academic. It’s not supposed to be. I think a lot of the flack it takes is that it’s not “good academic writing” but 99% of the people using it aren’t academics and aren’t trying to be, so why should they hold themselves to that standard? Who says that standard is even better? For these purposes, it’s not. Shakespeare isn’t good academic writing. Neither is Derrida (I often say that there’s no way Derrida would pass my FYC class…) or say, Alan Moore, or J.K. Rowling. But they’re better for their purposes than academic writing would be. I don’t write here the way I write my academic papers, because that would be boring as shit and none of you would pay attention to me. And I wouldn’t write the same way on Wikipedia.

    More later after I eat dinner and read what the rest of you said.

  18. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Chris, the answer to that depends on how broadly you read the role of ‘academic’ writing. For the purposes of discussion, I view “academic” and “educational” as the same thing: writing that’s intended to teach, and which engages in a constructive argument as part of that teaching. Encyclopedias are academic documents — they have a goal to convince and educate, and Diderot would be the first to argue that his goal with the Encyclopedia was to spread Enlightenment thinking.

    Good academic writing must be readable, it may require a specialist background, but that shouldn’t be the final test for whether writing is academic or not. I have read literary theory academics who are murdering us with oblique prose, and I take that to mean they’re bad academics — akin to the frauds in computer science who spend half their paper regurgitating basic statistics in order to beat the audience into submission with gratuitous equations. I don’t have much use for an academy that doesn’t engage with the world, and academic writing that encourages disengagement frustrates me.

    The real question (and this goes back to Matt’s response to me earlier), is what is wikipedia -for-. I think wikipedia’s tragedy is that it’s caught in an NPOV policy which, combined with the communal editing, chains it to a “single paper article” format that encourages mediocre, turgid and self-contradictory circular writing. The Objectivist copout I suggested earlier is that, “oh there’s an objective truth, we’ll point you vaguely in the direction of it and hope for the best”.

    There’s much more it could do. The wiki format can encourage sic et non style debate, support multiple essays from different point of views, and curation essays to walk through them, but to do so, somebody has to decide what the encyclopedia wants to be. Is it intended as an updated world book? You’re supposed to look at it as the first reference and use it to find quality sources? It’s really intended to provide people an opportunity for self-expression by letting them write articles on their passions (God knows, the major difference between most good and bad writing is that bad writing tells you more about the author).

  19. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    More comments:

    Les: Yeah, that’s true. Wikipedia is only as good as the donators who want to take the time to donate to it. So yes, there’s better information on Summer Glau than there is on T.S. Eliot, because her fans are more willing to donate time to putting it there. It doesn’t HAVE to be that way. But, I think what happens is that the fans of the more academic pursuits tend to think of it as a waste of time, so they don’t put that effort in. Modernist poetry scholars want to be recognized for their work. Firefly scholars don’t care as much.

    Meron: But I’ve always contended that it isn’t FOR academic citation. That’s not now, nor was it ever the point. Its purpose is to store accumulated knowledge not replace the forums in place for generating that knowledge. That’s why they adhere to the NPOV that Michael was pointing out the fallacy of. If I’m writing my dissertation on the specifics of 17th century stage fighting choreography with swords, I need a better source. But I also never would have gone to Funk & Wagnalls or Britannica if I were writing that dissertation 40 years ago. But I’m NOT doing that. Instead, if I’m going there, it’s more like I’m wondering “what the fuck is an epee and how does it differ from a saber?” and for a non-expert wikipedia answers that question just fine. By the same token I personally wouldn’t bother with wikipedia for an explanation of Laura Mulvey’s visual pleasure essay or for the specific plot details to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, because I’m an expert on those things. But it would give a fine overview of that to some random person who just need to become familiar with it. Maybe there are mistakes? Maybe someone misunderstands scopophilia or confuses a plot element of Rorschach from the film with the book, but it’s good enough for most purposes. I joked a couple days ago (and I’ve done it before) that memorizing π to 100 digits is dumb, because when I need to compute the area or circumference of a circle I just use 3. Not 3.14. THREE! And I even know more digits than that. But for the amount of accuracy I need whenever I need to do geometry in my head, which is almost never… three is plenty good enough.

    Matt: I agree there 100% No one is saying “do all your research at wikipedia and stop there.” As I said above (and Dale says in his comment), I wouldn’t recommend that for any encyclopedia, and honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it for any source. I encourage my students to check multiple sources for EVERYTHING they write. That means a literary journal (or medical or math or chemistry or whatever) that tells you the trivial answer you are looking for shouldn’t be the last place you look either. But you need to start somewhere. And even though I’d argue that the purpose of wikipedia isn’t Academic (with a capital A), it’s as good a place to start as any.

  20. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Katherine: I’m fine for pretending that I am perpetually 24. But as I was writing this, I found that I needed to talk about the past… so I couldn’t be 24 both now and when I wrote that nine years ago. I guess since I was arguing against objective truth I could say I was 24 both times. But then my head started to hurt.

    Max (and Katherine): see, I DON’T think we need an objective truth to have a good faith argument. We can assume one to start a conversation (in the 9 years ago post, I used the earth revolving around the sun, which is only true from a fixed exterior point of reference, from the point of reference on either body to the exclusion of other bodies either object revolves around the other) but we don’t really need one. Key in point, the stupid blue/black gold/white dress from a couple weeks ago. Objectively, we can agree that the actual dress is what we call call blue and black, even though the chemical makeup of my eyes and the laws o physics don’t allow me to see it that way, but really that’s not even true. Because color is an abstract construction anyway, both sociologically and physically. It’s a trick that our brains use to deal with light emission phenomena. But we don’t need that actual objective truth, or even the common simplification to have the discussion. In that case in particular the entire reason it’s interesting is because of the lack of consensus and objectivity. Otherwise who’d care? You’d just say “it’s blue/black and all the white/gold people are broken.” Which some people did say, but if it were that simple it never would have gone viral.

  21. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Dale: Exactly, I’d say that for Wikipedia is actually right for at least 90% of casual searches. Or right enough (Like I said, I’m fine with Pi being 3). And anything above 80% is awesome.

  22. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    I’m not pretending! Ask anyone who interacts with me but doesn’t know me very well how old I am!

  23. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Steve: I will agree there. I think it really starts to fall down on current events. But that’s to be expected. I mean, they’re current, even for something updated in constant flux that means they’re going to be outdated pretty fast. But you’re speaking more to the controversial nature of them. My response would be that it’s a starting point. If you really want to know the latest on Ferguson, you’ve got far better places than wikipedia. There’s news sites. If you want something in depth for a controversial topic, it’s just like wanting something in-depth on Meron’s fight choreography example or my T.S. Eliot one. BUT, if you’ve never heard of Ferguson, because you live under a rock or you just woke up from a coma when you were frozen in the arctic after fighting Nazis 70 years ago, the wiki page on Ferguson (or Obama or Palestine or whatever) will give you enough of an introduction to follow a conversation people around you are having even if it is biased. To go back to the Firefly example, even with that, where it’s going to be pretty good because… you know, dateless geeks in their basement and all… wikipedia isn’t going to be the BEST place to learn the intricacies of Firefly. It’s just good enough for the rest of us.

  24. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Michael: Ok, there’s a lot to unpack there. I think I disagree with you that academic and educational are the same thing. I’d say “academics” is concerned with the discovery and further of knowledge in specific areas. I’d say “education” is concerned with teaching and imparting knowledge. Most of grad school (at least for me) isn’t really about “learning” as it is discovering. Academics. On the other hand, I went to professional wrestling school too, and I took driver’s ed. I wasn’t trying to change wrestling or how people drive. I was trying to learn. Education!

    I think the differentiation is important because I think that’s the “pedia” part of wikipedia (and encyclopedia). I think you’re right in that the “wiki” format can lend itself to many purposes, and there are in fact academic wikis that are on a much smaller scale. It’s just that no one has made a broadly successful “Wikacademy” yet, and maybe they should.

    But Wales, hero or villain that he may be, always from day one said that Wikipedia was intended to be an encyclopedia, and encyclopedias were never the be all end all of academics. In fact, as I mentioned in the 9 years ago post, even going back to when I was in 3rd grade, LONG BEFORE wikipedia existed we were told we weren’t supposed to be using encyclopedias for our research. Just no one ever bothered to say why, and that was a flaw with education (or academics) even back then. The WHY is that it’s not very in depth. It’s not intended to be. Like I said, if you’re frozen in the arctic for 70 years, *pedias will help you catch up. If you want to be an expert in something, of course you need to go father.

    And there’s the problem, obviously at a collegiate we expect even freshman to do more in-depth research. At least we think it’s obvious, because we’re academics. It actually isn’t. No one ever tells them that. No one ever tells them why. I always make a big point of telling them why they need to find the best sources for my class. I want them to be experts on their topics. They should know more than I do. They should be teaching me about their research. Because college is about academics and basically we’re playing for points.

    But before college, not so much. If I give you an assignment in 3rd grade to write a 2 page paper about Christopher Columbus then honestly, why the fuck wouldn’t you use an encyclopedia? What are you demonstrating by reading someone’s 400 page history text? Nothing! You’re trying to get some basics down. 1492, Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria, gets lost, robs and rapes some natives, gives them syphillis, dies from the flu. DONE! That’s two pages worth of research when it’s written out. And nothing new is said. Nothing interesting is said. We don’t expect that in primary education.

    Most of the time, when I want to know something, I’m not trying to be academic. That’s why we have majors in college. For academics, even undergrads, we specialize on a very narrow focus that we want people to be able to think critically. Wikis can be a tool for that but wikiPEDIA is a really crappy one. But it’s still a good start, because if nothing else I can say “who was Christopher Columbus? Ok…. hmmm… maybe I’ll take that syphilis angle and see where I can go with that…” and start researching it. But most of the time, I don’t want to know that. I want to know enough to follow a conversation. I want a very basic cursory education, and I’d argue that 99% of the time in the real world, that’s what knowledge gathering is.

  25. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Mav, we do need to assume there’s an objective truth, because without one I would have no hope of ever enlightening you, or vice versa. You can’t have a good faith argument if you’re not willing to admit the possibility that you’re wrong. You’re trying to change my mind, but I like my mind the way it is, so why should I even give you that opportunity? Without an implicit appeal to objective truth, you cannot hope to enlighten me, you can only trick me, browbeat me, bully me, or exhaust me into taking your side, and at that point I would not even have the satisfaction of having learned something today.

  26. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Max: I disagree. Take the dress. Depending on what version of truth we use it is gold or blue. That’s totally subjective, but we don’t need to come to an objective truth about it to learn from the disagreement.

    Similarly most arguments: democrat vs republican, Palestine vs Israel, Automan vs. Manimal. I’d say that the most interesting arguments don’t have an objective truth. And to the extent that neither side is ever “convinced” it doesn’t matter. The usefulness is in the little bits the needle does move and the side comments that fall out of the argument. Like when you’re arguing Automan vs. Manimal, sooner or later someone is going to remember to point out that Streethawk fucking ruled!!!

    And for the little bits of objective truth that do exist, at least in so much as they’re objective enough to not argue about, Wikipedia is pretty good at those. (Like. I dunno. How many Super Bowl rings people have)

  27. avatar
    March 24, 2015 at 12:03 am

    a) the dress thing was stupid and I’m not gonna waste time talking about it

  28. avatar
    March 24, 2015 at 12:18 am

    b) you admitted little bits of objective truth do exist. I win. The thing is, I don’t need the argument to conclude with absolute agreement that automan is objectively better than manimal, but I do need to know that if I fly you to the moon and show you the footprints there, you will admit that as factual evidence that I am awesome enough to fly to the moon and not come back with some bullshit argument about consensus reality invalidating the existence of moons, because I swear to god I’ll leave you there. Without snacks.

  29. avatar
    March 24, 2015 at 12:36 am

    I actually never really thought that NO objective truth exists. That was more Katherine. I mean, I could argue against anything from the theoretical existential standpoint where nothing exists at all, but it’s late and I don’t want the headache.

    My argument was actually kinda the opposite. Namely that I don’t care about objective truth in most circumstances because it isn’t terribly useful and subjective truth is far more so, at least in most cases.

    So I can agree that there was a moon landing which is objectively and subjectively true (at least at least according to consensus. As you point out there are idiots who go the other way.) I can agree that Manimal is a better show than Automan and that Cop Rock is far superior to both, which is subjective and you might disagree.

    But here is the kicker. I also say that the year 2000 is the first year of the 21st century. People like to argue that that its the last year of the 20th because there is no year 0. They consider that objective. But centuries and years are subjective anyway. We totally just made them up. So on the Korean calendar its 4348 right now, for the Chinese its 4711, for the Jews it’s 5775 and the whole debate is dumb. So I argue that the 21st century began on Jan 1, 2000 because that’s when the people partying for it said so.

    For the record Wikipedia consensus actually disagrees. They say 2001.

  30. avatar
    March 24, 2015 at 1:25 am

    Yeah that’s the thing, if someone claims that no objective truth exists, they are essentially saying nothing exists at all, and my (already limited) desire to engage in conversation goes *poof.* And if we’re arguing over something more important than how how utterly Automan would destroy Cop Rock guy in a dance-off, the discussion will usually at some point touch on facts, on which there is often disagreement, and we have to admit that there is at least theoretically a reality to those facts that both sides would be bound by if it was clearly ascertained.

  31. avatar
    March 24, 2015 at 3:27 am

    People don’t go to the encyclopedia to learn objective truth. They go to the encyclopedia because they’re too embarrassed* to ask their friends “So, uhh… what is ‘Israel’? I’ve never heard of it.”

    *Or it’s 2am and all their friends are asleep. Or they’re aware that it’s a nation or something somewhere in the world, and even though they’re aware that ‘nations’ are consensus driven subjective classifications, they still want to know the consensus view on its subjective existence and the approximate location of its borders… oh hey, look, they’re disputed, and more-so than most.

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