Synthetic Facts and Mild Illness

It's always the same when I get a cold. First I have a ticklish throat, just a little. Then I start to get a headache. Then my stomach starts to get grouchy, often conspiring with my throat to make me nauseous. And then all the symptoms explode at once and all that is left of me is a pair of smoking slip-on shoes.

In more interesting news: the BBC, along with several leading British newspapers, recently published a piece of nonsense in an obituary which obviously resulted from using Wikipedia as a primary source. The Register wrote about it here.

As every smart-arse in the Western Hemisphere has been pointing out, Wikipedia does now have a reason to tell us that composer Ronnie Hazlehurst, at the age of 72, wrote a tune for a manufactured teen pop group. The open content encyclopaedia, as we are told ceaselessly, does not care if things are true or not.

The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. "Verifiable" in this context means that any reader should be able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source.

Reliable sources such as Reuters, the BBC, the Times, the Guardian and the Independent. It seems that Wikipedia has lead to the invention of the synthetic fact.

Wow, I'm grouchy today.


zhoen said...

Wiki has actually had better long term reliability than regular encyclopedias.

That the major media "journalists" use that, alone, as their source, damns them more than wiki.

I've been grouchy for weeks now. I feel your irritation.

Bobby said...

Nope, I think you're on to something there. What are we going to do when the internet so entraps us, so hypnotizes us with its instant providence of search results -- so much so that we forsake books and vetted information.

Geosomin said...

We run into that at work all the time - grad students giving us stuff in research reports they found on the web as fact...and us having to remind them that no - a published scientific report and journal reference is *not* just something from the internet...It's amazing what scientific "truth" is out there. Not that I want censorship....people just really need to be more discerning. There's enough wierdness out there that I could probably put together a funding grant proposal for a ultra speed high velocity monkey conducting velocerator using valid empirical internet data that shows the definite need for near-light speed monkeys.
Hm...Wait a minute I think I'm onto something.
Back in a bit...

Pacian said...

First of all, let me just say that I think Wikipedia is a fantastic resource. When I provide links on this blog about technical things, I've often found those pages from the citations on Wikipedia articles. BUT.

@Z: Yes, that's bandied around a lot, but reliability is only one desirable function of an encyclopaedia. I think something to value in any resource is a commitment to uncovering the truth.

@B+G: I don't think science has much to worry about this kind of thing, since there will always need to be a structured system of qualification and peer review, but I worry about current affairs reporting (including the reporting of science). What happens when a substantial number of Americans are getting their news direct from Michelle Malkin?

zhoen said...

Actually, I was simply damming old style encyclopedias, the multi volume masses of years old information, written in absolute tense, that children use to write reports on animals and countries. Wiki probably is a bit more up to date, on average. Damming wiki with faint praise.

Misinformation is nothing new. I have never had personal knowledge of a news story that wasn't in some fundamental way incorrect. I don't trust any of them as far as I can throw them. So I just throw things at 'em.

zhoen said...

Another comment, sorry. Interesting commentary about history on the web at Early Modern Notes.

Pacian said...

Interesting. A busy time to be a primary source, for sure, all that jostling for attention.

Diddums said...

It's like standing on rock that turns to sand... total truth is strangely hard to pin down.

PS I thought I'd been quiet on my blog lately, but look at you. :-).

Diddums said...

Oops - was reading your blog posts upside down. Talk about confused. I HAVE been the quiet one... sorry.