May 14th, 2006


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09:52 pm - on Wørds and Wisdom... (and a little about Women at the end)

truth·i·ness (trōōth' ē nəs)
n. The quality of being "truthy, not facty."
So recently, (and to some extent repeatedly, over the last year or so) I've had the opportunity to discuss the merits of Wikipedia1 with ludimagist and others. As an academic, and in fact a sometimes professor, Meron seemed to have a great deal of problems with Wikipedia. As a borderline psychotic with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I happen to love it.

Let me take you back to a simpler time. A time before the internet, a time before blogging and myspace and google. Let me take you back to the dawn of civilization. Let me take you back to 1981. I was but a wee lad of negro and chinaman descent, living in the ghetto. A hungry little boy with a runny nose, playing in the street as the cold wind blows, in the ghetto. Back then, if someone asked me a question or I was say, given a report to do on space, I couldn't very well just go to the Encyclopedia Britannica. We didn't have that in the hood. We had Funk & Wagnalls. And the answers to all questions were contained within. Many a school report was written by consulting Funk & Wagnalls. The problem is that all information contained within it was both heavilly editted and out of date having been published some 4 years earlier. Plus most ghetto families, being what they were, were missing a volume or two. Its not like anything important occured between LACE and MAOTS anyway. Fuck Volume 15!

But now we have Wikipedia. An enclopedia on the web. And its always up to date. Why? Because unlike the lame Funk & Wagnalls of the past, where if you wanted the 1983 edition instead of the 1977 edition you had to go over to your grandmothers, Wikipedia is updated all the time, because ANYONE can update it. So all of the really smart people in the world, who are can't get dates because they are extremely annoying and pedantic can put all of that to use by self editting the worlds largest encyclopedia.

Since anyone can edit it, you of course end up with the problem that any piece of information is immediately suspect. If I want to be 4th in line of succession to the British Throne, the HOVAdammit, I'm only a quick edit away from anointing myself the Duke of York. And there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it. Well except of course, they'll change it back.

My basic love of Wikipedia comes from this. Since the dateless contributors are constantly fighting back and forth to install their version of the truth in the wiki, eventually it reaches a sort of equilibrium of things that are kind of "true enough." And I'm firmly of the opinion that true enough is usually good enough.

Meron pointed out that he wouldn't let his students use wikipedia as a reference because of its obvious dubious reliability. But the thing is, I'm not writing academic papers. I haven't had to write one in 8 years. Usually I don't care so much about the intricate details of any given fact. I care about a cursory overview of the facts and what people at large think about the fact. Like Stephen Colbert says, Truthiness! It's about thinking with your gut. It's about truth. Not facts. Maybe Wikipedia gets some of the little details wrong here and there. Who cares. It just feels right. And at the end of the day pathos is so much more important than ethos.

The same can be said of the internet in general. When I want to know something, say, what the capital of Uganda is, I don't really look it up anymore. I google it. And I just trust that the answer I get is right.

So that leads us to today's question. Is Wikipedia a good idea? Do you go there when you need information? Do you trust it? What about the rest of the internet? How do you decide what's trustworthy information and what's not?

Also, if you haven't voted in my hottest women poll (replacement for the original which I deleted), please do that too. I'm shutting it off tuesday night so get your votes in as soon as possible. And hey, get some of your friends to vote in it. I want a good sampling group.


1. For those not in the know, wikipedia is basically an online encyclopedia. A grand repository for all great knowledge of the universe. If you want to know about something, then wikipedia can probably tell you all there is to know about it. There is a small catch. One that's barely even worth mentioning. The small catch is, it could be completely wrong.

(80 comments | Leave a comment)

 
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Comments:


[User Picture]From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 03:00 am (Link)
I love wikipedia. Even if the information in the article is completely wrong, there's always a huge argument about it on the discussion page, where you can figure out what the truth is by who's making the fewest spelling errors.

Actually I find the articles themselves remarkably good, all things considered.

And more often than not, I'm not really seeking truth or accuracy. When I'm browsing Wikipedia (which I actually do fairly often) what I'm looking for is information. Bits of Knowledge(TM) to jam into my head, mix with other things, turn into ridiculous story ideas like the Pangboche Hand being the hand of Jesus, who lost it in a fight with a yeti during his "missing years" in the orient. The story's called The Hand of God and it will be huge, just like the Da Vinci Code. With Jimmy Stewart!

And if I really need the truth, I can see whether there's any disagreement on the discussion page, and do further research with google.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:44 am (Link)
ok... I was gonna say, that the problem was that info that you find in wikipedia might not be there the next time you read, because I didn't see anything about Jesus in the Pangboche Hand article. It took me til the 3rd time I read this to realize that you were saying that you came up with the idea that it was jesus's hand, and not that that was an actual theory that I'd never heard.
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:13 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:26 pm (Link)
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:42 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:54 pm (Link)
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 02:36 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 02:59 pm (Link)
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 07:22 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 07:43 pm (Link)
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:48 pm (Link)
From: marmal8 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:35 pm (Link)

I recently finished Foucault's Pendulum.

From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:39 pm (Link)

Re: I recently finished Foucault's Pendulum.

From: marmal8 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:57 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: duckmonster Date: May 15th, 2006 - 10:49 am (Link)
I'm a fan of wikipedia. The only thing it's bad for is, as you say, writing academic papers. And even for that, as long as you never use it as a source, per se, it's fine to read the article. You can use it to dig into other avenues that you might find not otherwise have known were related, perhaps. It'll give you the broad overview before you dig into details. It's a good tool.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:46 am (Link)
right, that's kind of one of the things I was getting at. Its really just as good as any other encyclopedia. In fact better, since its more up to date. Funk & Wagnalls, or Britannica or whatever really shouldn't be your only source when you're writing your report on space anyway.
From: mokatz Date: May 15th, 2006 - 12:46 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:20 pm (Link)
From: marmal8 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:26 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: cuddlyd00m Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:00 am (Link)
I use it. Even for academic purposes. However, in those cases, my main purpose is to get a basic idea of the topic, and check their outside links to get more info. I also check the discussion pages to get an idea of what parts of the page are under suspicion. Generally, though, the pages on biochemistry/bioengineering tend to be pretty accurate. For the most part, people don't bother posting on those pages if they don't know what they're talking about, and you're not going to be getting wikigraffiti over there. (Really, who the fuck cares enough to mess with an explanation on matrix-associated laser desorption ionization mass spectroscopy.)

The problem I generally have is that I can use Web of Science to find journal articles on whatever topic, but I'm going to be getting specific information on tiny minutiae within that topic. In the case of MALDI-MS, I had to look it up to find out what the damn acronym meant. Minutiae don't help me - I need an overview. For that, Wikipedia is perfect.

All of that said, I _never_ use Wikipedia to look up anything related to current events. People are just too likely to want "their" version of events to be recorded for posterity, without disclosing their innate biases.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:57 am (Link)

EFIL 4 SM-IDLAM!

Bitchez!



uh... yeah...

as for current events, I don't know that I think its useless. Its just not authoratative. Especially in the very near term. Say a US Senator is assassinated. 5 min. later, the news would be all over the internet. Wikipedia will have the story. Granted there will be some mistakes, like, probably some people will report it wrong and it'll be the president. Others will report it wrong and it will be the entire Capitol building blowing up. But within the hour, that should mostly calm down and we'd have the basic facts right. And in the meantime, the sociological game of telephone is pretty interesting too. If you want absolute facts, use google news. And in the near term, that's going to be skewed too.

Obviously, I picked a very exaggerated example. But look at any real story. Katrina coverage, War in Iraq, NSA wire-tapping, whatever. Any newspaper is going to have a slant one way or the other. Wikipedia is interesting because its slant is always moving. Did Bush do something illegal with wiretapping? It doesn't really matter in the long run. What matters is whether the US people believe he did or not. I find that in general wikipedia is a pretty reasonable barometer for that sort of thing.
[User Picture]From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:19 pm (Link)
Why does "truthiness" link to http://www.sexydesktop.co.uk/index.htm?
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:23 pm (Link)
it was a by product of the same mistake that caused me to accidentally erase the other post. Namely, I copy one post to make the second. Anyway, its been fixed now.
From: max1975 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:43 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: viscous Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:46 pm (Link)
I love wikipedia. I read articles there probably at least every other day. I correct grammar/diction errors when I see them. I would have to say that I inherently trust it unless something seems fishy.

Wikipedia is one of my favorite places to look at pictures of things (say, animals and plants) with my son. They have some great photos there.

At this point I don't know what I would do without wikipedia, so I'd have to say it is a good idea.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 01:52 pm (Link)
I probably read at least one thing in wikipedia a day. A lot of times I don't even go to google first anymore. If I'm ever wondering about some piece of trivia or history or whatever (and this happens a lot), its nice to just be able to go there and look it up.
[User Picture]From: jeremiahblatz Date: May 15th, 2006 - 02:20 pm (Link)
Wiwkpedia r00les. Yeah, if you're writing a paper on space, you shouldn't use it as a source, but that's mainly because it's not useful as a source, not because it's not authoritative. If you want authority, use primary sources and introduce your own bias, as opposed to using Britannica or Encarta or Wikipedia and using somebody else's.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 03:15 pm (Link)
yeah. My point is, in reality I never actually write academic papers these days. If I did, I'd want actual books and stuff. Usually I just want to know a little something about something... encylopedias in general are great for that. Wikipedia is awesome for that.
[User Picture]From: sui66iy Date: May 15th, 2006 - 02:25 pm (Link)
I, too, love wikipedia, though it has led me astray in the past. For academic research, I depend more heavily on citeseer.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 03:19 pm (Link)
example of a lead astrayness?
From: sui66iy Date: May 15th, 2006 - 03:54 pm (Link)
From: sui66iy Date: May 15th, 2006 - 03:59 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: auros Date: May 15th, 2006 - 09:09 pm (Link)
My professional experience -- I'm a linguist -- has been that when I find a conflict between an "expert" source and Wikipedia, if I go and talk to a native speaker in person, nine times out of ten, Wikipedia was right.

So, I'm all for it.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2006 - 09:25 pm (Link)
hmmm... ok, I find that incredibly interesting. Can you give me an example of when that happened?

(by the way, I assume you came back for the results of the hottest women poll... they are forthcoming, I'm just giving people a little longer to vote... I was an idiot and wiped out the original post, with all the comments - luckily I had scored all of them already)
From: auros Date: May 15th, 2006 - 09:54 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: marmal8 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:01 pm (Link)
I like Wikipedia and am certainly willing to accept it as a source. The information on Wikipedia is certainly more accurate than the information on some random website created by someone like me. Moreover, it is more up to date than whatever encyclopedia is in our school library (quite possibly the World Book because we are only the quasi-hood).

As for the dubious accuracy, I have to disagree, because 1) as you said, dateless wankers change it back and 2) archived versions are kept on the site. One day I was looking up "Cinderella" on Wikipedia, as I was planning a unit of instruction. The link totally went somewhere non-Cinderelly. So I just accessed the previous version of the page. Granted I'm not wiki-wise enough to change it back (I've had two dates this year; I simply haven't had the time!) but I got the information I needed. While I don't expect 7th graders to know how to find the previous version of a page, I would hope college students could figure it out.

Finally, Wikipedia contains links to other sites, which might be acceptable to someone who requires a static representation of knowledge in our fast-changing world.

Mostly though, I just let my ADD run wild on Wikipedia. I think it might make an interesting lesson, to see which links students followed if I started them all at the same place. Then again, I would have to check if *certain* pages were filtered out.
[User Picture]From: marmal8 Date: May 15th, 2006 - 11:29 pm (Link)

and then i thought on it some more

Wikipedia is acceptable to those who accept the postmodern nature of knowledge, that there is no 'one truth' which is out there and can be known. Wikipedia recognizes that knowledge is socially constructed and that the common perception of reality becomes reality.

There, that ought to piss someone off.
From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:04 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:16 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:30 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:55 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 01:22 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 01:25 am (Link)

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From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 03:18 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 08:23 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 11:46 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: chrismaverick Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:28 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 08:09 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:38 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:55 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: chrismaverick Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:25 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:45 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 02:35 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 08:17 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 11:35 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 12:06 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: chrismaverick Date: May 17th, 2006 - 12:50 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 01:27 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 01:51 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 02:46 am (Link)

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From: marmal8 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 08:42 pm (Link)

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From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 09:00 pm (Link)

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From: marmal8 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 09:39 pm (Link)

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From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 10:23 pm (Link)

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From: marmal8 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 11:21 pm (Link)

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From: max1975 Date: May 18th, 2006 - 03:41 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: chrismaverick Date: May 17th, 2006 - 12:47 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 01:32 am (Link)

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From: chrismaverick Date: May 17th, 2006 - 01:52 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: max1975 Date: May 17th, 2006 - 02:56 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: chrismaverick Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:21 am (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

From: marmal8 Date: May 16th, 2006 - 08:07 pm (Link)

Re: and then i thought on it some more

[User Picture]From: adamm Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:47 am (Link)
This is *EXTREMELY* inaccurate, because I know girls who I think are hotter in real life, and of course anyone on the cover of Maxim can be made up to be hotter (and probably is, I just don't recognize their names). But these are the girls that leave me with the fuzziest adolescent memories.

Angelina Jolie
Jeri Ryan
Jenny McCarthy
Jolene Blalock (T'Pol on Star Trek Enterprise. Not kidding.)
Carmen Electra
Paris Hilton
Pamela Anderson
Brianna Banks
Jessica Alba
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Denise Richards
Natalie Portman
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:27 am (Link)
and you have been tabulated (even if you did comment on the wrong one). I was gonna post results tonight, but there's still a couple people I'm waiting to hear from, and I'm too tired right now anyway. So if you want to invite someone else to vote you're still welcome to. So long as they do it soon.

But check back sometime tomorrow night or wednesday morning for the results.
[User Picture]From: muh0m0r Date: May 16th, 2006 - 12:55 am (Link)
Collaboration (and the driving force behind it) is a rather broad topic, too broad for this post. I'll just say that because Wiki is created by collaborative efforts, it is reflective of our society. If 90% of people were irresponsible pranksters, this would be a very common occurrence. But it isn't. I would trust Wiki as much as I would trust the directions given to me by a stranger on the street: follow them up to a point, and if the information is not confirmed, ask someone else.

But I do use Wiki. It is not quotable in an academic paper, but it always provides enough references that do result in information supported by real facts and publications. Its condensed nature eliminates the need to look for references all over the Internet.

I find that Google is more convenient for looking up interesting tidbits (I use the keyword define a lot). But Wiki links often come up on the first page of Google results anyway.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 16th, 2006 - 06:18 am (Link)
the stranger and directios anology is a very good one.
From: ludimagist Date: May 17th, 2006 - 05:31 pm (Link)

I guess I should check in as well

It's funny, I had a few RL discussions about this recently. My own experience, which fits into the general consensus, is that when I read articles on subjects that I have researched extensively I find them to be full of errors.

Lately I'm fairly invested in historiography and archival research, niether of which Wikipedia is any good for. Last semester when I saw it in the bibliography of a conference paper and told one of my favorite profs about it h nearly went into shock. I don't know of any serious scholar who would write a Wikipedia entry, and if they did I doubt it would have any place on an academic CV.

At the moment I'm actually contracted to write a couple encyclopedia articles for an academic press. The fact checking and editing that I have to go through is pretty intense, and this is by experts, not by random people on the internet.

I know you said you don't need to write academic papers (though you will if you do go back to grad school), but what it comes down to is trusting experts vs. trusting hobbyists. If you're reading up on Harry Potter fandom, by all means go for it, in that case the hobbyists are the experts and there is not all that much that is "information" as such. I see it as a sort of "folk knowledge." Many of the entries on theater look like they were written by excited undergrads who just took their first history course and are still regurgitating myths, and a lot of the martial arts entries look like their primary source of information was Black Belt magazine.

I have used it to look up the rules of Yut when I was given a set as a gift, but I wouldn't look at it if I were about to give a lecture on Commedia del Arte, except maybe to refresh myself on some of the common misconceptions.

You make a case that sounding informed is more important than being informed, while I know you're (sorta) joking (thank you Mr. Colbert), I also know that if you actually wanted accurate information you would make a serious effort to look for it.

For a few more viewpoints, there was a discussion in my journal about this a while ago that's here:

http://ludimagist.livejournal.com/194285.html

That linked to this discussion that I started here:

http://www.livejournal.com/community/academics_anon/891519.html
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 17th, 2006 - 06:00 pm (Link)

Re: I guess I should check in as well

You make a case that sounding informed is more important than being informed, while I know you're (sorta) joking (thank you Mr. Colbert), I also know that if you actually wanted accurate information you would make a serious effort to look for it.


Actually, I don't mean to make that case at all really. Maybe slightly in jest. My real point is more along the lines of what Katherine is discussing back and forth with Max in comments above. That being the post-modern definition of knowledge. It's not about sounding smart. If it was, we'd just use lots of big words and not care what they meant. It's about having an understanding of what society at large considers the truth to be, which for most (maybe not all) practical purposes is somewhere between indistinguishable from and better than the truth anyway.
From: ludimagist Date: May 17th, 2006 - 06:42 pm (Link)

those who believe absurdities tend to commit atrocities

From: ludimagist Date: July 3rd, 2006 - 06:58 pm (Link)

a couple recent articles on this topic, just for the record

 

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